Because my sister is a stripper, harsh judgments of exotic dancers tend to put me on the defense.
Admittedly, I didn't always give exotic dancers a fair shake, but things change when your sister says she wants to be a stripper. When she first told me about how she planned to earn money, I was pissed, in complete disbelief and seriously worried for her safety. Big sister mode took over as I desperately grasped at straws by throwing out random statistics, half-truths and anything else I could think of to dissuade her.
“Stripping is like a gateway to drug addiction and prostitution,” I warned her, wide-eyed and anxious. Even though working at the county jail afforded me the unique opportunity of having negotiation-free conversations with prostitutes and pimps, I never took the time to substantiate my claims by asking them, “Excuse me ma’am/sir, would you say it’s accurate that being a stripper increases the likelihood of one’s involvement in prostitution?”
In short, I had no clue if what I told her was true but I was desperately afraid for her, and I thought my statement would shock her into conforming, something that has never been her strong suit. Finally, I resorted to pleading with her.
“Are you sure about this?” I asked one last time as she nodded impatiently.
We were raised in a conservative household by a father whose sparse yet stern presence lingered long after he’d left the house, and an extremely modest mother who will likely slip into a catatonic state upon discovering this article, much like she did when she learned about her youngest daughter’s plans.
For my sister, the lure of a quick financial come-up cast an unparalleled shadow over anyone’s opinion. We grew up with very little money, so her patience for waiting on a payday had long since run out. She would not be deterred, not even by the threat of a major motherly meltdown. At 18, she was more than eager to trade in a job that paid every two weeks for dancing, a gig that paid nightly.
Meanwhile, I loathed her job and all I thought it entailed even though I’d never visited the place and refused to inquire about the specifics of a typical work night.
As my eyes scanned the row of 6-inch platforms lining the top shelf of her bedroom closet, I couldn't imagine keeping my balance in those death-walkers, let alone gyrating in them on a stage while a group of voyeuristic customers eagerly awaited my nude, hyper-sexual, pole-maneuvering routine.
As women, we all have those days where we long for a Harry Potter-like invisible cloak to shield us from the sight of catcallers. And here she was willingly disrobing and dancing for them. While I wished, hoped and prayed this was a short-lived phase that she’d soon outgrow and look back on in horror, I braced myself for the day I would find out she was prostituting on the side, or the moment I’d find her injecting some god-awful concoction into her veins.
That never happened, but in the coming months, a gradual change took place within me. I began to slowly accept what she did for a living. Yes, my sister was a stripper (she prefers the term “nude entertainer”), but she wasn’t necessarily doomed to a lifetime of addiction, dangerous back alley exchanges or “doing something strange for a piece of change,” all things I had automatically associated with women in her line of work.
And sure, some strippers do have sex for money, but that's their choice as well. As my sister puts it, "There are whores in Corporate America, too."
All this time, I’d regarded strippers as sleazy and figured how they conducted themselves in the club was how they acted everywhere else. But one quick look around my place of employment told me that judging someone’s character by the job they perform was no guarantee for accuracy.
For instance, I worked with some policemen who struggled to assert authority in their personal lives despite the fact that they could wrestle a 200-pound guy on some train tracks in the dead heat of a Texas summer day. Also the perky, upbeat nature of a judge I befriended didn’t necessarily match the steely glare and sharp tongue she used to control her courtroom.
As for money-grubbing, well, exotic dancers just might be. But if the reasoning behind that accusation is because they go to work and expect to get paid for it, then that applies to anyone who has a paying job. The only difference is my checks are delivered via direct deposit, while strip club patrons direct their money onto the stage and ultimately into the dancers’ pockets.
My willingness to accept my sister’s choice also opened my eyes to the fact that for every dancer who chooses to perform sexual favors for extra cash incentives, there is a dancer who has another type of work venture on the side. She works part-time as a certified personal trainer and professional bikini model. Among her fellow dancers are a nursing student, a real estate agent, a day care owner, another personal trainer and two boutique owners.
Thankfully, I have moved past judging exotic dancers, and while my career choice may be more acceptable to society than the path my sister has chosen, I still encourage her to do her best, so maybe I'll take to shining her 6-inch platforms and packing her lunch all in the name of support.
As for myself, I came to realize that my life could benefit from a bit of their gusto, only I stick to incorporating the nude performers’ bold tactics into my passion for writing. I string together sentences as if I’m onstage all alone. One by one, words land in a soft pile at my feet. They twist and turn and tease my audience. And for the right price, I will strip them of all pretenses and hope a satisfied customer finds them worthy of payment.