SEXW­ERK

Metro Magazine NZ - - Contents - TEXT — AMANDA JANE ROBIN­SON PHO­TOG­RA­PHY — JER­MAINE DEAN

In­side Body­haus, a strip club night cel­e­brat­ing beauty and sex­u­al­ity.

In Novem­ber, hun­dreds gath­ered at Rayn­ham Park on Karanga­hape Rd to at­tend Body­haus – a strip club night for queer, trans and gen­der-di­verse dancers who of­ten don’t feel safe per­form­ing else­where, and for queer pa­trons who may not feel com­fort­able in tra­di­tional strip clubs. Metro was there to ex­pe­ri­ence a cel­e­bra­tion of beauty and sex­u­al­ity.

Iar­rive early and there’s al­ready a line. On the win­dow out­side, a “Safer Space Agree­ment” is printed on hot-pink paper, not­ing that film­ing and pho­tog­ra­phy are not al­lowed, in­struct­ing pa­trons not to touch the dancers, and mak­ing clear the club’s no-tol­er­ance pol­icy re­gard­ing trans­pho­bia, ho­mo­pho­bia, racism, sex­ism, slut-sham­ing, fat­pho­bia, sizeism, ableism, xeno­pho­bia and ageism.

Af­ter an in­duc­tion, staff hand out branded stickers to cover our phone cam­eras and we’re al­lowed up­stairs, where or­gan­iser Sarita Das rushes around mak­ing sure vol­un­teers in hi-vis vests have ev­ery­thing they need. Das wears a black leo­tard and stick-on rhine­stones, their blue pony­tail skim­ming their waist.

I ex­change my cash for tips, printed on re­cy­cled paper, and talk with dancer and hula-hoop artist Freddy Matariki Carr, one of tonight’s stage kit­tens —

the peo­ple who pick up the tips and cos­tumes from the stage af­ter each per­for­mance. “How good does this place look?” she says. The room is gor­geous. Pink and pur­ple lights spin around the room, pro­ject­ing the kind of light that makes ev­ery­one’s skin look per­fect. An end­less loop of shift­ing pur­ple smoke is pro­jected onto the wall be­hind the sil­ver pole glis­ten­ing on the cen­tre stage. A gi­ant disco ball spins above.

A blind­folded body cov­ered in plas­tic wrap lies on a table topped with pur­ple grapes, halved nec­tarines, and smashed pomegranat­es, with a red ap­ple in each hand. At their feet is a chair and a pair of head­phones. I sit and lis­ten to an as­cend­ing tone of breathy moans that never quite reach cli­max. An ex­per­i­men­tal post-porn film fea­tur­ing messy, muddy bod­ies plays on a set of screens be­side the bar. In a shel­tered nook, a per­former dances erot­i­cally be­tween red fab­rics.

It’s not even an hour be­fore the venue is packed. I ask friends and strangers how they heard about the event. Some­one saw it on In­sta­gram. Some­one’s friend is per­form­ing. Some­one read about it in their les­bian Face­book group. “It’s like there’s some­one here from ev­ery dif­fer­ent group I’ve ever been in,” artist Vanessa Crofskey says. She’s right — I’ve al­ready spot­ted friends, old flat­mates, my boyfriend’s old­est child­hood friend, ex-co-work­ers, a friend’s girl­friend’s ex, a class­mate, and, like, six ghosts of crushes past.

“I wish I was wear­ing less clothes; I just came from work,” Crofskey says. I feel the same way. I clock leather har­nesses and g-strings, fish­nets and nip­ple pasties. Ev­ery­one’s brought their hottest look.

Das and the other Body­haus or­gan­is­ers (DJ and queer event fa­cil­i­ta­tor Niko­lai, aka Brown Boy Magik, and per­for­mance artist and strip­per Kyah Dove) take to the front of the room. “Thank you for com­ing to Body­haus,” Das says. “This is amaz­ing and it’s all of our dreams come true, thank you. Look at all you beau­ti­ful queers!”

Das wel­comes the first dancer to the stage, per­for­mance artist and orig­i­nal FAFSWAG col­lec­tive mem­ber Mis­tress Supreme. A cheer rises from the au­di­ence as she emerges from be­hind the cur­tain in a black har­ness. Pa­trons start throw­ing tips to the stage as she spins on the pole. The stage kit­tens can’t keep up, haul­ing hand­ful af­ter hand­ful of tips to a nearby table to be counted. By the time the next dancer fin­ishes their set, Freddy and the other kit­tens are im­pro­vis­ing, shov­ing tips off stage into rub­bish bags to be car­ried off and bun­dled up in an­other room.

Coven artist Honey dances in hot-pink thigh highs, fol­lowed by Hades, Siren, Viela and Cxnt­ess. A dancer named Katya closes the first set, be­gin­ning her per­for­mance in a high­lighter-yel­low starkini by de­signer Astro­princess and end­ing up fully nude. De­spite break­ing the strap on her high-heel plat­form shoes, Katya gives an in­cred­i­ble show, and when a 15-minute break is an­nounced, the au­di­ence clam­ber to re­stock their tips.

Be­tween sets, a per­former sits cross-legged and doe-eyed in the cen­tre of the stage, eat­ing a Mag­num ice cream and feed­ing seg­ments of the choco­late shell to women in the front row. Some­one moves through the floor with seven whirring desk fans strapped to their body, cool­ing the crowd, trailed by a helper car­ry­ing a multi-plug out­let and an ex­ten­sion cord. Even in the in­ter­mis­sion, hardly any­one is on their phone. Ev­ery­one dances and laughs and lounges on the couches at the front of the room. I count four cou­ples mak­ing out.

It’s close to 1am by the time the sec­ond set starts. Over the sound sys­tem, Half Queen, an Auck­land DJ best known for host­ing queer club night Filth, re­minds pa­trons in the front row to make sure they’re tip­ping con­stantly. “If you don’t know strip club eti­quette, that’s where the ballers sit,” she says.

The dancers from the first set take to the stage in the same or­der, wear­ing new cos­tumes. More dancers climb the pole in the sec­ond set. More of them get naked, too. Au­di­ence mem­bers hand the dancers tips via their mouth, and some of the best tip­pers are thanked with a kiss. At the end of the night, the au­di­ence have wit­nessed an in­cred­i­ble range of bod­ies, many of which are not read­ily em­braced at tra­di­tional strip clubs.

“This is the au­di­ence strip­pers de­serve,” Half Queen says at the end of the night. “But we’ll never get it, be­cause the whole sex in­dus­try re­volves around men and the cis straight male gaze. This is the per­fect au­di­ence, but we don’t yet have the re­sources or the money for the in­dus­try to be as good as this was. That be­ing said, I can see this event be­com­ing a big thing, and I’m so proud.”

Per­former Katya says it was a to­tally dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence from her work at a tra­di­tional strip club. “For me, the night was an amaz­ingly per­sonal ex­change of en­er­gies. I’ve been a sex worker for a lit­tle over a year now and have never

ex­pe­ri­enced that level of en­gage­ment from a crowd; they re­ally met us on our level. I also made more money from tips at Body­haus than I ever have from tips at my reg­u­lar club, and I usu­ally go on stage over five times a night whereas at Body­haus I went on only twice!”

Or­gan­iser Das says the event went bet­ter than they could have hoped. “I’m so happy. We ran out of tips!” Ac­tor and the­atremaker Saraid Cameron says she can’t be­lieve how good the event was.

“It’s so free­ing and beau­ti­ful and fuck­ing fun and ex­cit­ing.” Other pa­trons agree.

“It to­tally re­in­forced how gay I am,” a woman in a leo­tard and fur coat says.

I leave as the party winds down, feel­ing re­vi­talised and heart­ened that a space like this ex­ists in Auck­land and des­per­ately hop­ing it can con­tinue and grow. I over­hear a woman talk­ing to her friend. “It’s a queer rev­o­lu­tion,” she says.

ABOVE— The crowd show their ap­pre­ci­a­tion for a per­for­mance at Body­haus, at Rayn­ham Park in Karanga­hape Rd.

ABOVE— Body­haus or­gan­iser Sarita Das in a pro­mo­tional shot for the event.

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