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My sweetheart inside Club Starlight, negotiating with the Madam.
One golden Saturday my sweetheart and I brought champagne up to her roof, where there’s a pool, to laze about. We were definitely dating and really into each other, though hadn’t yet had much of any “talk” that put boundaries on our relationship. Pretty quickly we both realized we were casually checking out the chicks in bikinis. “Do you mind that I’m doing this?” she asked. Nope! “Do you mind that I am too?” A-OK with her. Sweet.
This is where we started to share more about the “types” we generally go for. I have historically dated more feminine women, or at least ones who’re pretty girly in bed, often with big racks. (I now have a theory that I have yet to un-prove: The bigger the boobs, the bigger the problems. Ever since realizing this, I feel like they’re really not worth the trouble they’re attached to.) My date, who is soft and gorgeous and fairly androgynous, does not possess these qualities, thank goodness.
“Wow, so you and I check out the same girls?” she asked me.
That was a sincere “awesome,” by the way, with nary a hint of jealousy nor self-consciousness. That's just how she is, confident and completely secure. Rad. From here we started commenting on the blonde in the turquoise Gucci bikini, and her friend in a similar black one… The French gal on the phone… and hey, while we were secretly objectifying off-limits women, why not discuss our feelings about strip clubs? The verdict was unanimous: We love them.
On the spot we planned a romantic date for that evening involving dinner, followed by a stroll to a strip club. The trick was to find two such places within walking distance, and Yelp came to our rescue, suggesting Club Starlight for our entertainment.
After dinner, we enjoyed a moonlit and trash-filled walk through a filthy and sad part of downtown Los Angeles, past the Mayan, an ominous-looking club with ancient tribal Central American faces carved into its façade, where gang members like to shoot one another inside, and onto a desolate block bearing our destination.
There was no sign outside, nothing that bore any resemblance to us entering partytime. Inside, a man in a beige suit standing a good half level above us behind a counter stared at us through semi-closed lids. “You do know this is a gentlemen’s club,” he said drily. Yes, we told him, we are aware of that. He motioned to a small placard that read the entrance fee was $6 per person, or $25 for a couple.
That interesting markup fee didn’t deter us. After paying, we turned around and noticed about a dozen young girls -- likely no one over age 25 -- wearing flimsy pastel dresses, giggling, huddled together in a large round booth behind a veil draped from the ceiling.
They had that air of longhaired dogs bought from puppy mills, that haven’t ever been taken on a walk and aren’t brushed enough, shit solely indoors on the cheap carpet, and sleep on satin pillows. The beige suit man ushered us past them, through a labyrinth of veils and gauzy beaded or fringed curtains, into a dark room where there was no music, and no one onstage. Were we there early? He seated us at a booth similar to the one in which the girls shivered against each other, and left.
Another man, more subservient, nearly bowing, with a small towel draped over his forearm, approached. “There is a two-drink minimum,” he said. “Only soft drinks, no alcohol.” We ordered two Cokes and politely asked him what the hell was going on. He said we pay $30 per hour, plus tips, for one girl to come and “entertain” us, and then quietly stalked off to retrieve our sodas.
My sweetheart and I turned to each other, wide-eyed. I immediately said, “Let’s get one!” She agreed that it seemed like a good deal, pretty cheap actually. We’d be spending way more than $30 an hour if we were watching dancers in a more traditional strip club environment.
Plus, the weird, semi-frightening curiosity of the adventure we were on was too exciting to not investigate. Did “entertain” us really mean what we thought it did? Were we about to seriously test our limits as a budding couple?
When the waiter returned with our drinks we asked him how we were supposed to get a girl to come over, and he said we had to settle with the stern-looking madam in dark-frame glasses sitting at a small table behind a laptop. The one who in turns stared at us coldly, and then pretended we didn’t exist.
My date volunteered to take care of the situation. I saw her leave and stand in front of this woman for a very long time before any words were actually exchanged. Then she came back to me, kind of blushing, saying, “You should go pick who you want.”
I was just about to go do that when the beige suit manager man came back, clearly very angry. “This is a gentlemen’s club,” he barked. Yep, we’ve already established that, we said. We’re fine. “This is for couples only,” he continued.
“But we are a couple,” I said.
“A couple is a man and a woman.”
“You knew we are both women. And we are a couple. You’re being really homophobic,” I told him.
My girlfriend started laughing. “Whoa! You’re treating us like second-class citizens,” she said.
“I don’t care,” the manager replied. “You need to leave. Get. Out. Now.”
I demanded he give back all of our money, even the cash we’d spent on our Cokes, meanwhile delivering an impromptu speech about discrimination and the fairly recently overturned status of Proposition 8 in California.
He all but threw the money back at me and briskly walked us to the door. On our way out one of the girls yelled, “Hey, where you going?”
We told her we were being kicked out.
“Come back!” she called after us.
That didn’t happen.
Outside, our mood quickly turned from shocked and incredulous to pretty sad.
We walked back to her apartment to talk about how terrible we felt. Neither one of us ever wallows in some kind of oppressed reality. We live in California and mostly stay away from Prop 8 supporter types, so it’s not something that really comes up, not something we ever think about. But being gay-bashed -- and in a brothel, of all places… suddenly the seriousness of inequality and senseless hatred came seeping in, and it felt scary.
We couldn’t let the night end like this. We shored ourselves up with another glass of champagne, toasting each other, then called a cab and headed to West Hollywood, where the proper strip clubs could seriously care less who or what you want to fuck, all they see when they look at you is dollar signs -- mutually agreed objectification for the sake of easy entertainment, just the way we like it.
Crazy Girls lived up to its name that night. Immediately we were feeding dancers dollars, laughing to each other as one of us continually got felt up or had her stockings shredded by an enthusiastic gal in a bikini. (OK, it was me.) Actually, my girlfriend, as I now call her, got me I think six lap dances with anyone I wanted, let me totally pig out in a dark corner, and wanted to hear all the details, which, I promise, were a blast though not juicy in any sense.
She and I totally survived one of those borderline-not-OK things you try out as a new couple, then get you caught up in a weird whirlwind, and accidentally end up being really big lessons about how you two interact.
Later I asked her what she was feeling in that brothel, and she told me she “definitely didn’t want to fuck a hooker that night.”
But what if I'd wanted to?
“I would’ve watched,” she said.
I love this woman.