Should I keep dancing?
February 26, 2013 8:16 PM   Subscribe

Should I keep dancing (at a club)? By dancing, I mean topless dancing, lapdances, typical men's club activities.

I've had some serious financial issues, and in an effort to get my head above water, I started to consider what it would be like to dance at a club. Well, I did it. And I am having extremely mixed feelings about what happened.

At the same time that I feel ashamed, I feel sexy and powerful. I love to face my fears and I love the adrenaline rush of pushing myself outside of my comfort zone. And yet, I am having trouble sleeping, thinking about what I did. I'm walking around with my arms crossed, as if I couldn't be clothed enough, and I feel...forgotten somehow. I came home and looked at myself in the mirror, and all I saw was a little girl. I can't explain it, but I feel lonelier than ever. Invisible, even though it was just me up there, with everyone looking. I can't decide if I should go back. I feel like I'm standing on the edge of a cliff, daring myself to jump. I want to and I don't want to.

I don't know how to reconcile the two sides of how I am feeling. Not to mention, I need the money. I am wondering, will it get better? Should I continue?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (16 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Give us a few more details on the money. Can you live without it? It appears you experience negative feelings about it and that you are at best ambivalent about it.

I'd see if I could do without the money if possible. Have a plan for the next employment step in your life, even if it is only aspirational.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:26 PM on February 26, 2013

This is just after your first day? You don't have to decide about it right now, you'll still have both options in the morning. For now, tell yourself that you are grateful you've made progress on your finances and pushing yourself to try new things, and sleep.
posted by yohko at 8:29 PM on February 26, 2013 [3 favorites]

I think it would be better for you if you had a plan -- that is, you are going to do this for X amount of time, to save Y amount of money, so that you can do Z. That can give you a better sense of control and agency over what you are doing. If you don't have a plan, then you'd probably be better off if you weren't doing this.

Also, make sure you don't get into drugs and drinking while you're doing this.
posted by empath at 8:40 PM on February 26, 2013 [7 favorites]

From an anonymous commenter:
I am a former sex worker. What I've learned about myself is that I have very little tolerance in my life for cognitive dissonance. It's important to stay on speaking terms with yourself. Like you, I struggle with finances. I want you to feel safe, and I want you to feel aligned with your decisions. Please, as someone who did sex work, listen to your body. Above all else. You don't have to do it. You don't need anybody else's permission to stop, either. You can just say, "No, I'm done with looking at myself in the mirror and seeing a little girl. I am a grown woman, and I don't want to do this anymore. I will apply for food stamps, I will ask people for money, and sex work is not an option for me." That is your decision, and you get to choose. Always, always choose yourself.

If this helps, and I hope it does, please read this link:

I wish you all of the best. And, in the end, I want you to always feel like your body is home.

With love, from a stranger and former sex worker. I hope you listen to yourself. For you.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:47 PM on February 26, 2013 [57 favorites]

If you do this, keep a journal and work through how you feel and why you feel that way. View it as an opportunity to do a kind of intensive therapy. Expect the work involved to include many hours of introspection and for that piece to be a significant burden. If that is too much work for the money, then don't do it.
posted by Michele in California at 8:59 PM on February 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you do end up sticking with this, know that there are a ton of sex workers writing really thoughtful, insightful stuff about sex work from within the industry. There's a lot of "sex work is so empowering!" because it absolutely can be--but also because everyone likes to cast their life choices in a favorable light, particularly when those choices are so stigmatized in mainstream narrative (and when people who disagree are told that they're victims & that their own experiences & feelings are invalid). Which is to say, folks writing positively about sex work from the inside might be more "this is amazing!" and less "I'm not really sure what I think of this yet." But nevertheless, what other folks who've done sex work have to say about it may help you think through the layers of your own experiences.

(I'm not super up on sex worker blogs, but you might start with Melissa Gira Grant's Post-Whore America. Read through the right sidebar if the main posts aren't your thing.

Good luck--and follow your gut.
posted by tapir-whorf at 9:22 PM on February 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm walking around with my arms crossed, as if I couldn't be clothed enough, and I feel...forgotten somehow. I came home and looked at myself in the mirror, and all I saw was a little girl. I can't explain it, but I feel lonelier than ever. Invisible, even though it was just me up there, with everyone looking.

If these few sentences are representative, whatever you decide about stripping, you should keep writing, because you have real talent.

But even though it might give you plenty of material for a Great American Memoir (Mob of Dicks?; Mobbed by Dick?), I don't think you should keep stripping.

I would say the very few strippers I've talked to-- met just by chance over a couple of decades in the coffee shops I used to go to all the time-- did feel lonely and somewhat derealized, partly because stripping separated them-- irrevocably, I had the impression they thought-- from the great majority of women who did not strip, and to whom the strippers felt inferior despite themselves, and because stripping had darkened their view of men in general so much it was very difficult to have an intimate relationship with any particular man.
posted by jamjam at 10:36 PM on February 26, 2013 [4 favorites]

i don't know how to reconcile the two sides of how I am feeling. Not to mention, I need the money. Will it get better? Should I continue?

First and foremost, you need to take that key question, "will it get better?" out of the passive voice and decide exactly what you are and are not willing to accept. Because if you continue dancing because you need the money, without getting that squared away, it won't necessarily get better but you will become numb to it, and that can send you down a bad road.

I'm a guy, so I can only relate on a limited level, but I have been friends and roommates with dancers over the years so I think I have some insight to offer, for whatever it's worth.

From what I've seen, the dancers who are able to come to terms with the mixed feelings you mentioned, and keep their heads on their shoulders, can make the money they need to do the things they want to do, and then get out on their own terms. Others get caught up in the lifestyle and become damaged on a certain level, having a hard time ever getting back to being able to have normal relationships with people. It is a dangerous game. Sex, money, power, drugs, alcohol and all. It is designed to chew girls up and spit them out. That doesn't mean you have to play by those rules, but that is the work environment, on some level, at all times, even in the most progressive, woman-owned establishments.

Some girls get addicted to the power they have over the guys who will line up for a chance to be manipulated by a dancer. Others get manipulated themselves, into a cycle of ever increasing degradation. And plenty of girls make it out not all that much worse for the wear. I think every former dancer I know who quit dancing on her own terms would say that she had a lot of good and valuable experiences in the business, but if she had it to do over again and had the option to not become a dancer, she might like to try that instead. Because like everything else in life, what you do shapes who you are, and being a dancer does harden you and change the way you relate to other people. Not necessarily in a bad way, but again, it is what it is. If you know that going into it, and can keep your head screwed on straight, it can be a viable path to get to where you want to be in life. I've seen it happen. But I do think the odds are against it.
posted by Balonious Assault at 10:54 PM on February 26, 2013 [7 favorites]

I'm not a dancer. But it sounds to me like you might not be cut out for this any more than I am. You pushed through your fears to do it once, and that's pretty awesome. But it sounds as though you're uncomfortable with the idea of continuing. If I were you, I would listen to the creeped-out parts.

Then, that is (one reason) why I am not a dancer. I would not react well.
posted by Because at 11:24 PM on February 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

I feel like I'm standing on the edge of a cliff, daring myself to jump

I think its interesting you used that analogy because to me it highlights the danger you sense. Jumping off the edge of a cliff can leave you seriously hurt, or dead (inside, in this case). Is the money worth the risk? Is there any job you can take for money that wont lead to the possibility of the real and metaphorical damage that can come from working in the sex industry? There's no judgement about it, and each to their own choices, but this path seems to spell danger to you.

You feel powerful, because you pushed yourself out of your comfort zone, and that's great. And its good to test your mettle now and again and prove that you have inner strength. But you also feel ashamed, lonely, invisible, forgotten, you're having trouble sleeping... Do you think those feelings would lessen or strengthen over time if you were to continue? You also mention feeling lonelier than ever - were you feeling lonely before? Is that something you might want to address first? If you're going into that work with rock-solid self-esteem then you might be fine, but if there are already issues with how you feel about yourself and your life, is that the best industry to be in?

I think the contrast you're feeling between sexy woman and little girl is also interesting. You sound a little lost, and I could be projecting away for all I'm worth, but it feels like you're at a kind of crossroads with who you are and who you want to be. Maybe take some time to work through all the other stuff, and if you feel strong enough at the end of it you know the dancing will always be there. Take care of yourself.
posted by billiebee at 1:50 AM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

I did phone sex at two different times in my life and it didn't really bother me that much. Perhaps because it was my alter-ego doing the nasty-talk, and not me.

I too am ambivalent about stripping. On one hand I think that it's the stupidest thing in the world that there are guys out there who like it so much that they'd pay all that money just to see boobs. On the other, it makes me very sad that there is such a disconnect in people's minds that the person they're drooling over isn't really a person to them.

I frequently wonder if I had the kind of body that would have allowed me to be a stripper, if I would have done it. I read Diablo Cody's Candy Girl and it made me think that I may have liked it. Probably too much!

I think you can make this work for you if you can be someone else when you dance. However, if you really have a problem, if you hate it, if you find yourself feeling bad about yourself, then there's not enough money in the world to keep doing it.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:25 AM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have no personal perspective on this, but I have a friend who was working on an advanced degree in Women's Studies and became a stripper. She kept a blog, and that may give you some useful perspective. It's also interesting reading in general.
posted by adamrice at 7:19 AM on February 27, 2013

Your feelings are very mixed - but let's look at those feelings.

The "cons" to this are that you are feeling devalued, invisible, and forgotten. The only "pros" I see are that you got a rush from stepping outside your comfort zone, and the money.

The thing is, there are ways to make money and step outside your comfort zone that do NOT leave you feeling devalued, invisible and forgotten. So I would take the good that you've gained from this (the extra money, and the fact that pushing yourself makes you feel good) and get out.

I respect the money being a draw; but even in sex work there's a way to get a job that doesn't put you front and center that way; a college friend spent a year working as the receptionist for a phone sex line - all she did was get the customer's credit card info, forward him on to the phone sex chat workers, and then time the calls and bill people. She didn't have to do anything sexual with anyone at all, and made a decent paycheck (and she had the best stories from work).

There are ways to get money and push your comfort zone that do not also leave you feeling invisible. I promise you, and you deserve to go find them. Good luck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:31 AM on February 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

If I went to any job, where after the first day, I came home and felt the way you did, I'd immediately quit, or plan to get out ASAP.

I've felt like you've felt, due to things that garnered quick gains, for sacrifice of my "morals." Your spirit/emotional self is trying to tell you something. Can you bury those feelings? Maybe. Should you? Probably not. Will they just up and go away? Doubtful, though you may just get used to them. I did, but they tarnished a majority of my years on this planet.

I'm a guy, and I've certainly never stripped (getting tipped in laughs doesn't seem like a good time), but I used to live life in two opposite directions. My moral/core self and my material/gratification self. The longer I lived like that the louder the dissonance created by that separation in the halves, unfortunately for me I found a numbing solution in an ever increasing amount of alcohol.

I know people who do all sorts of "unsavory" things that they don't appear to have a problem with. That's great for them. However, I know what my own moral compass will allow and what it won't. Chances are you do too. Just remember, no amount of wishing I was geared differently so I can make an immediate gain is going to change that fundamental fact that on some level, I am who I am, and I do have limitations, for good and/or bad based on this. "To thine own self be true."
posted by Debaser626 at 10:10 AM on February 27, 2013

The big thing, in times of extreme financial difficulty, is to understand that who you are is not defined by what you do for money.


If you have the financial freedom not to do this, then don't do it. But if you're really, really broke and you need the money, I say keep at it until you can afford to quit or find another way to make enough money to get by for now.

All the moralizing and "I would never do that" answers - have you ever been broke? If not, then you have no fucking clue what you're talking about. I haven't stripped for money, but I've had a lot of odd jobs that made me feel like shit. Like, really mistreated and degraded. And now I have an office and a work issued computer and life is so much better. Hang in there.

To the OP: You are not devalued. You are the same person. You are trying to survive. I have a lot of respect for you, and I hope things get better soon.

Other money-making schemes: Can you sell plasma? Not as much as stripping, but it does offer some fast cash. Do you have time during the day to participate in focus groups or medical studies?

Hang in there.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 1:29 PM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

First of all: you are a good person. Everything you were before this, you still are.

Second: I once shared my apartment with a former stripper, and most of her friends were strippers. I have to say honestly, even though I admired and loved these girls, and we had great times together, very few of them were able to get any form of control over their lives. They all knew the feeling you describe, and it didn't ever get better. Some of them turned over a lot of money, but they used it on drinks and drugs to deafen the noise.

I still see my friend and one other woman, and they are good. So it's not like this will end your life, and you will never have other choices. But maybe it is a sad way to spend those years when you are young and sparkly and should be happy.
posted by mumimor at 3:47 PM on February 27, 2013

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