62 “A what?” Apathetic, Matthew explained his job as I climbed onto the couch and performed the sexy slow-dance grind. To distract from the fact that I wasn’t very good at it, I tried to keep him chatting. When I removed my micro bikini top and thong, he stared at my naked body a little sadly. “You’re perfect.” I felt strange. I wanted to flirt and tease and joke, but accidentally we fell into a real conversation. Matthew told me that he was newly divorced. He’d fallen in love with a woman a good 10 years younger than him. According to him, she’d waited until they merged their bank accounts before claiming never to have loved him and demanding a divorce. Whether or not this story was true, I felt an unwelcome sadness and warmth for this small large man, and I sat curled up beside him and put my hands in his hair. He asked me if I’d like to have dinner with him, and when I said that I couldn’t, he didn’t press me. of them. But I didn’t expect the overwhelming and uncomfortable compassion I felt, and, at times, pity. When they sought assurance that they were different to most guys, I’d picture their idea of the “most guys” guy. He’s a perfect villain – a sweaty, leering Neanderthal who blunders in, dick swinging, and casually uses words like “slut”. I’m not saying he doesn’t exist, but I never encountered him. I quit after only a few weeks. I was a bad stripper. I’d start every interaction as “Roxy” and end it as “Lola”. I spent most of my time sitting at a table, staring at other girls as they worked. They fascinated me endlessly. There was a toughness in the way they could flick between who they really were and the persona they wore. I struggled to do that. I could be strong against the staring and the sexual comments of the men. It was their humanity that made me uncomfortable. After a man told me about a failed relationship, or asked so earnestly whether he was “different”, I found it hard to turn away and say “time’s up”. So I’d spend far too long with someone and get paid far too little and end the night with my emotions as exhausted as my feet. One night while I sat on a bar stool and stared at the girl onstage, a freckled man with dark hair and a gentle British accent asked if he could sit at my table. I was tired so I decided not to talk him into a dance. I asked him whether he came to the club often. “I honestly don’t even know why I’m here. I’m travelling and was curious.” “To be honest, I dunno why I’m here either. This is my second night, and I’m not sure I’m any good at it.” We discussed the politics of sex work. Neither of us had particularly formed or substantiated beliefs, and we laughed shyly together, strip-club neophytes. He said he was an actor, and we talked about eagerly reciting bits we could remember. “I think I should buy a dance from you, but it feels weird,” he said as he handed me $50. I led him into a private room, more nervous than I’d yet been. I took off my lingerie but kept dissolving into laughter, feeling bare when he looked me in the eye. “I need a sec to put on my stripper persona if I’m going to be able to dance for you,” I said. “Please sit down,” he said. “Can we just talk?” I often wondered why men paid for this experience and, particularly, why some regularly came back. The “no touching” rule was strictly enforced; there were security guards and cameras in every corner. It seemed that guys were paying big money to sit on their hands and gaze at what they could not possess. It made no sense; for the cost of an hour of a girl’s time at the club, they could have gone to a brothel and actually had sex. A young Italian boy at a bucks party peered guiltily into my face as I sat on his lap. “I’m not disrespecting you, am I?” he slurred, as I removed his hand from my breast for the second time. Almost every customer asked that question. They’d press me about the conduct of other men, eager for me to tell them that they were more decent, even while making sexual comments and clumsily grabbing at me. When reprimanded, they’d shrink back like guilty children, saying sorry and vowing that they really were “a good guy”. They seemed to look to me for affirmation, and many were curious and gratified when I talked about myself. They wanted to be invited behind my persona, for me to trust them, and to see them for “who they really are”. Some men would feebly beg you to come home with them, but when I told them they couldn’t even touch me, they still bought dances. I wondered if this experience, paying a girl just to dance for you, to sit on you and talk to you, removed something of the fear and pressure that might accompany sex with a prostitute: the fraught experience of exercising their desire on someone they know cannot desire them back. I don’t think many men know what they’re looking for when they come to a strip club. Maybe they see it as a neatly detached experience, and that’s what they’re supposed to want. When I took up the job I was ready to fight the assumption that the male spectators would have all the power. I wanted people to see me as taking advantage At the beginning, Waiting for Godot, M the monthly — vox
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