Lest you be moralistic or just easily bored by stories of “good girls gone bad,” allow me to clarify: I was a scantily clad dancer, got paid for it, had another career that didn’t require me to wear pasties, and that’s not what this story is about.
Because who hasn’t already read at least a dozen iterations of the stripper confessional, including the “I was a ballbuster by day/panty dropper by night” variety, whereby a “respectable” everywoman tours through strip clubs for kicks and learns something profound (strippers are just like you and me! Every woman has a stripper inside of them!), and the “I paid my way through law school by selling sex” stories, which usually invite readers to see stripping or other sex work as a grim but lucrative stepping stone to greener pastures?
So, no, this is not a sex-positive manifesto nor a cautionary tale. This is a story about love and obsession. This is a story about synchronicity. This is story where I tell you that you can truly make things happen by putting together a Stevie Nicks playlist, lighting a few candles, and vaguely meditating on some witchy shit.
I was never a fangirl. While my cohorts swooned over Jordan Knight and mooned over Elliot Smith, I felt medium toward just about everyone. Yes, of course I’d get passionate about particular songs, movies, books (in the case of Goldfinger, I enthusiastically champion all three). But when it came to naming favorites, I just couldn’t commit.
I didn’t become a fangirl until I discovered the awesome/kickass/holy-shit-you’re-goodness of writer Mary Gaitskill. I was on holiday break from my first semester of grad school when I read Because They Wanted To, her second collection of short stories. Each story was a love affair: The thrilling headiness of discovery, the muddy joy and pain of recognition, the gut-punch ending. With each final sentence, I’d close the book, attempting to relish each story before moving on to the next, but I ended up reading through the book within a weekend. I immediately sought out her first collection, Bad Behavior, and then her novel, then scoured the Internet for every interview and essay and so on for weeks until eventually I heard Mary in my head, narrating my life back to me.
It was great walking through my messy, often drunk, almost-30 life with the exquisitely perceptive narration of my new favorite writer. It made ambivalent sex seem “wry and true.” And it made any feeling and thought I had about myself seem so not unique. If Mary Gaitskill could speak so piercingly to my own experience, it was likely that other friends of mine were having similar how-would-I-possibly-express-this-fucked-feeling-to-others thoughts, and still we all kept on truckin’. 'Cause that’s what you do.
But of course, a fangirl wants to make it a holy experience: I was being spoken to.
It turns out my new obsessive writer-crush on Mary Gaitskill was well-timed. She released a new book that year, so she was promoting it in New York City, where I lived. I went to her reading; afterward I stood in line, not with her new book, but with Bad Behavior. I was the first person in line, arriving just as she was sitting down. I felt like an awkward creep. I might have looked it.
Me: [handing MG the book] "I just want to tell you how much your stories have meant to me. They, like, are just so, like…I don’t know…great. And, like…so, I don’t know…important.
MG: [taking book, locking eye contact with steely, serious, blue eyes] "Thank you. Well, you look great. What’s your name?" [signs book, hands back]
Me: [walking away, nodding idiotically] "Thanks."
I “looked great”? What did that mean? Was she picking up on the creep vibe and placating me? Was “great” a synonym for “cool”? Was Mary Gaitskill checking me out?
The second time I met Mary Gaitskill I was dancing on top of a platform at a publishing collective launch party (between 2008 and 2010, literally every event in New York City hired go-go dancers). Just before I saw her, I heard an event organizer say to a guest: “Mary Gaitskill just walked in.” And after a few more minutes of bumping and grinding, I was approached by an excitable redhead, who we'll call ER, with Mary Gaitskill at her left shoulder.
ER: "You are fabulous. What’s your name?"
Me: [in personality drag] "Why, thank you, darling [presenting right hip/buttock to prompt tip-placement]. My name’s Belle."
ER: "Oh, you have to meet my friend, Mary. Mary, this is Belle."
ER: "Mary, let’s tip her."
Now, because I would not want to invoke the ire of Mary Gaitskill’s publicist, or Mary Gaitskill herself, I should say that Mary Gaitskill might not have actually placed the dollar in my G-string. I was having what felt like a series of mini seizures during the exchange and cannot be totally sure of the order of events. I do know that money was slipped under a nylon-Lycra string; I know Mary Gaitskill had agreed to give me money because her friend thought I was fabulous; I know that they immediately walked away afterward.
So what’s the takeaway? What did I learn from becoming a fangirl? Well, nothing, except that sometimes life can pour on some magical glomming agent that pulls you and something else together in a way that makes you want to believe in tarot cards and your Susan Miller reading. That hearing voices is never a good sign unless you’re in grad school, in which case it’s just a matter of course. And that being half-naked in public is probably the easiest way to get approval, or at least attention, from your favorite writer, musician, or politician.
Also, if you’re a writer, you should probably also become a go-go dancer, stripper, or burlesque dancer. The world will always want more stripper confessionals.