Strip City: A Stripper’s Farewell Journey Across America

I finished this one: it was pretty excellent. Burana is an awesome writer, and even though I don’t agree with some of her perspectives on stripping (as they don’t resonate with me), she really does capture a lot of the complexities that stripping entails. There are a lot of passages that spoke to me in different ways, and while I would want to type them all up here (okay, I practically did type them all up- I couldn’t help it!), it would take too long. Although I could recap her story and talk about what I thought in detail, it sounds more enriching for me to go back through and find the places that meant something to me. So here they are.

These first three passages are ones I take issue with, because I think it shows some differences in how I think about my body and how I share it with people while I dance compared to how she thinks about these things. She seems to have some different ideas about female virtue and what exposed genitals mean than I do. I think these passages could resonate with a lot of dancers who haven’t worked through societal messages about female purity and virtue and thus may feel “dirty” or guilty working in strip clubs:

“In every strip club I’ve been to, the stage is a sacred space. Girls Only. Men can approach the side of the stage to tip, but that’s it…The sanctity of the stage is highly symbolic- like a woman’s virtue, her bedroom, her sex- violate it and you violate her.” (p158-9)

Questioning nude strip clubs where dancers do “spread shows” (dancers show their genitalia to customers): “I wonder about the intangibles: Is it frightening to have so many men get close to you at one time? What is it like to go home after spenging the night bouncing your crotch over the faces of people you don’t know? How long does it take to settle back into your body, because you’d have to go pretty far away in order to be that exposed for that long, wouldn’t you?” (p 162)

“Retail vagina…I feel as if the roiling in the pit of my stomach is what has queered my complexion. Retail vagina. That’s got to be what’s at the core of my unease with working nude, at least at a ‘spread club’…” (p 164)

The rest of these passages I love; they resonated with me and my experiences so far, as well as with ideas that I have thought about:

“It takes real nerve for a woman to come to a strip club and it’s a form of female misbehavior I think should be richly rewarded. So I work it-belly to belly, breast to breast. I nuzzle her neck, inhaling her scent. It’s so rare to get any kind of approval from women not involved in this line of wok, I want to draw her excitement deep into my lungs, as if to keep it with me always. If I rubbed up against this woman any harder, I’d end up standing behind her, and she really seems to enjoy it. Here’s to claiming new territory, sweetie. Sisterhood is powerful.” (p84)

“After days and nights of listening to couched offers, half-sincere compliments, and flat-out lies, both giving and receiving, I am desperate to hear soemthing wholly-felt and true.” (p120)

“Stripping takes out of me things that I didn’t even realize I had. The near-nudity isn’t the problem, or the physical vulnerability, or working well outside the margins of acceptable female behavior. It’s the damn neediness: Angry men scowling at me like they can buy me for a dollar, lonely men professing love after a ten-minute chat with the specter of femininity that wafts before them, and confused and desperate men convinced that only if they could get a girl to do what they ask, however outlandish, things will be better somehow.” (p121)

With regards to striptease and burlesque dancing: “Stripping today is more athletic- less subtle and more high energy. We’re in an accelerated culture now. Who’s got ten minutes to spend taking off a glove?” (p141)

“The nine o’clock sun…sneaks in behind the partition and gleams off of the girl’s deeply tanned flank. Her upper body is rather petite- under her shiny red PVC teddy, she has no breasts to speak of, and her face is a little girl’s, but her ankles are thick, her calves sturdy and her thighs firm and mighty. The stuff of R. Crumb’s dreams, the inspiration for a thousand hiphop songs. This girl is a masterpiece. Mother Nature’s magnum opus.” (p168)

Applying at the Lusty Lady in SF: “The only thing dancers have to do is dance naked on the stage behind glass. They earn an hourly wage, so there is no hustling for tips, and many of the dancers are artists, activists, and college students working their way through school…The application is full of unusual questions: How do you feel about men’s sexuality? How do you feel about yourown? Are you comfortable with your body?” (p199)

“Dancing together, naked, side-by-side onstage, we Lusties grow very aware of the individual beauty of our bodies. Not having to compete with one another for tips, we become friends. We become agents of our own path.” (p204)

“I had always lived uncomfortably with the notion that making sex a significant area of inquiry meant that you were a bimbo, a head case, or a person with no better bargaining chip. The implication was that a woman had to choose between her sexuality and her credibility- you couldn’t have both….Like every woman in this country, I came of age sexually bent under the weight of guilt and judgement. My sexuality was something I knew how to use for financial advantage, but enjoying it to the fullest was a foreign concept.” (p204)

“…I couldn’t believe dancers everywhere weren’t up in arms about fees and tip-outs, but traveling the country has mellowed me. Not everyone can tilt at windmills, and most dancers just want to make their money with as little fanfare and frustration as possible.” (p246)

“I haven’t written anything since June. I don’t have the mental energy to spare. My thoughts are absorbed in processing, organizing, evaluating what is happening to me, all that I’m seeing. I don’t mind it being this way, exactly. In fact, it’s kind of nice, like I’ve been given a break from adulthood. My mind has veered away from the demands of the straight world and has lapsed into a luxuriant, meditative dumbness, a lazy inward gaze. My perception is right on, my observations acute, but my intake is skewed. It’s as if everything I see, hear, or touch is cushioned by a layer of cotton batting. Some knob has been twiddled, making the world appear to operate on a several second delay.” (p262)

And probably my most favorite passage near the end of her book:
“Whatever compulsion I’ve got that makes me love stripping, this is that it sounds like. I don’t know if it’s skill, comfort, risk, dissociation, or a combination of them all that, in rare moments, makes stripping seem like a borderline ecstatic state. But I know I’m having one of those moments now. When it just feels right. Righteous. At times like this, I can believe that I have all the hearsts in the room gathered into the palm of my hand. I will never get old. I will never know harm…
It’s like I’m suspended in a narcotic bubble, yet I’m more fiercely aware and alive than I’ve ever felt…It’s indescribable bliss resting on the blade of a knife, the most strange and foreign place I was ever meant to be. I would be helpless to try to explain it, but if had ever known that sensation, you’d never want to leave that warm, wet spot on the lip of the maw.” (p300)

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