Back in the day, I spent untold hours in strip clubs. I’ve written about it here and here. In my “sober” life – in the time since then, I’ve spent almost no time in strip clubs. Dan Savage once said, “Strip clubs are where you go to watch a little bit of every person in them die.” There’s truth in them thar words. There is often something profoundly soul-destroying going on in them. Not always, but often.
Among the “sex-positive,” there seem to be two basic views of strip clubs, sometimes co-existing in the same person:
They’re pathetic, the people in them are pathetic, why would you go there? Violet + Rye, on their super-hot Uncommon Appetites blog, epitomize this view. They recently wrote, in a post on how stripping can be hot, “I’ve never been big on strip clubs, personally. There’s something about the ick factor and the type of guys that frequent them that make my skin crawl a bit. The atmosphere is also a bit of a put off for me. So I never go.”
[Parenthetical rant: Because I’ve been one of those guys, because I know a lot of those guys, and, just, well, because of who/how I am, I recoil against judgment like this. I know that the guys who go to strip clubs represent a fairly accurate cross-section of the male population (as do the guys who are johns). I also know that the motivations for guys (and women) in strip clubs vary widely: some are there to kill a portion of their soul; some, to revive a portion; others, to exercise power in one forum where they can; others, to abase themselves; some, just to have fun.
It’s one of the problems I have with Violet + Rye: their web site is incredibly hot, their take on sex is for the most part, totally sensible. But they communicate – to me, at least – a slightly self-satisfied smugness – “we’re hot, we have it all figured out, and those who aren’t, who don’t, are somehow beneath us, worthy of judgment.” That turns me off almost as much as their hot images and videos and taste turn me on. Not quite as much but almost as much. Surely, I have some envy: when I was in my 20s, I was repressed, ashamed, and just starting off on a 20-year-long journey of compulsion, obsession, addiction; they are just having a lot of really fun, hot, sex. But… but….]
Anyway, back to my point. There’s a second stereotypical sex-positive view of strip clubs: They’re Fun!
A few weeks ago, I found myself in a relatively unfamiliar position. Without going into the details, in my real life, I found myself in a very uncomfortable situation, one that in the past was highly correlated with a lot of my “acting out” behavior, back when I was a sex addict (whatever that means). Now, at this point in my life, for the most part, if I find myself tempted to “act out,” I write. Or meditate. Or work out. Or call a friend. You know – I handle it functionally.
But on this day, for a weird confluence of reasons, I didn’t.
Instead, I walked down the street and went into New York Dolls. New York Dolls is a strip club. It’s a small one, in New York’s financial district. I went in in a zombie-like trance that just about any addict knows: I didn’t so much decide to do this as find myself doing it. This isn’t to disown responsibility; it’s to describe the experience as felt by me. I knew this wasn’t consistent with my conception of myself. (I have nothing against strip clubs – in fact, I think they’re a lot of fun. But for me to have a lot of fun in a strip club, I have to be going in in that mindset, planning to have fun, and probably doing it with my wife or a friend. If I stumble into such a club in a trance, it’s a whole ‘nother thing.) Today, N – for the most part – doesn’t act out. He has a healthy (if overdeveloped) sexuality that’s deliberate, thoughtful, examined, not impulsive and compulsive. On that day, N’s alter ego, his predecessor, did act out.
So I went in, and/but quickly I regained about half of my composure. I resolved to have the experience, but to pay attention to it, not to lose myself in it. I noticed my posture, the way that my body slumped perceptibly as I sat in the chair. I noticed my bitterness, my aggressiveness, my resentment, all coursing through my body as I had incidental, awkward interactions with dancers, waitresses, restroom attendants, patrons. And I sat up. I stopped slouching, let go of my bitterness, and resolved to enjoy myself for the few minutes I’d allotted myself to be there.
A Brazilian dancer, brunette, stepped down from the stage and walked over to me. We engaged in the small-talk that one does in that situation – “What’s your ‘name’?” “Where are you from?” “Have you been here before?” “How long have you been here?” “What (else) do you do?” I asked her to dance for me. And, within a moment of her taking off her top and commencing gyrating, of my grabbing her ass and pulling her toward me, onto me, she said, “Oooh, you’re so STRONG.” She stroked my chest, she asked if I work out, if I’m a fireman or cop.
I’ve been around this block. Women have said these things to me in strip clubs. I don’t take it (that) personally. Ok, sure, it feels nice while it’s happening, but I understand that it’s a game.
“We should go upstairs,” she said. “No way,” said I. “I like you, but I’m getting two lap dances and that’s it. I’m sure as shit not paying for sex, or frustration, with you.”
She told me that my touch, my way of being sexually with her, was so exciting, that she was going to have to play with herself as soon as she got home that night. “You should send me pictures,” I said.
“Really?” she said, looking a little surprised.
“Yeah. Show me how you play with yourself.”
Was she playing still? Was she trying to get me to keep her dancing longer? To fuck her for money? Or was she, as she would have had me believe, genuinely turned on?
“Ok,” she said. “Let me give you my number.”
Which she did.
Now – no dancer ever gave me her number before. I’ve seen guys give dancers their numbers (typically writing them on money). Was it her number? Was it someone else’s? Is she trying to get me to pay her for sex? Or something else?
After the two dances, I thanked her and walked out. And I should say: I liked her, as much as it’s possible to determine that you like a topless dancer in a topless club in fifteen minutes. I liked her body and our conversation, and our bodily interactions, were fun. Super-fun. Really fucking hot.
So I left, and I texted her. Something innocuous.
And then I heard nothing. No text back, no confirm on my phone that the text had gone through.
Did she give me a fake number? Was she not interested?
You’ll remember, in my post on “Craving,” that I am occasionally self-destructive, seeking out precisely those situations most likely to hurt me. Well, against my better instincts, two evenings later, I texted her one last time, from my Google Voice number (as opposed to from my cell phone, from which I had texted her originally). “Sad you never texted back. Maybe I’ll see you one day. N.”
I know – pathetic. I was sheepish, embarrassed. But there was a modicum of redemption: she texted back, instantly: “Hi how are u doing? I’m sorry I didn’t know that was you.” (I’m mostly prepared to forgive text-speak when it’s actually in a text. Especially if it’s from someone whose first language isn’t English.)
Back and forth a few times, and then she started sending pictures. Not taken right then – pictures she had on her phone. One, of her standing on a beach in a bikini. One, just of her pussy in panties. And one, of her naked ass.
[Even as it was happening, I was pretty sure I knew where this all was headed, but I wanted to share it with you in real time, and to expose you to both the inner workings of my mind, and the wacky world of strip clubs. So I wrote this – the bulk of the words you read here were written that night, the night she sent those pictures.]
So here’s the (embarrassing) way my mind works:
Even though I know how sex work works, how interactions between sex workers and patrons work, I desperately clung to the fantasy – the fantasy that, notwithstanding the fact that this was her job, that this is what she does, that somehow there was an authentic, non-commercial connection between us.
I’m smart enough to know that the odds are stacked – heavily – against this possibility. But I’m dysfunctional enough, hopeful enough, that in my heart of hearts, I don’t believe (then, or, to be honest, now) that the fantasy is/was wrong.
And there it is, in real time: the pathetic operation of delusion, of narcissism, of self-destruction. I knew rationally that within a few days, I would know, would be able to tell you either that I never heard from her again, or that it became clear that she wanted me to pay her. But I didn’t know that in a bodily sense. So I wrote these words here as a sort of place-holder, a reminder of what I was feeling, what I believed, against all reason and evidence, at a particular moment in time.
Well, neither of those is quite what happened. My self-destructive impulses kicked in, and I pushed pushed pushed her. So hard that the only rational thing for her to do was to pull back. I asked for more pictures, more pictures, and demanded that she tell me she wanted me. It was right around then that she stopped texting back. To my credit, I let it drop after one un-returned text, though, I have to confess, even a bunch of weeks later, I still have the periodic temptation to text her one more time, to stop in the strip club “just to say hi.”
All this? This is the working of an addict’s mind. You’ve seen my mind. You can read all about it here. This entry hearkens back to an earlier time, to a time that precedes this blog, when this was how it was all the time for me – desperately craving, self-destructive, joyless.
And after it all, I’m left confused: was she “interested” in me? Did she genuinely want to fuck me? Or was she grooming me to pay her? If the latter, then why not indulge my mania and just see me, charge me? Or did I really come across as that crazy?
In the end, I don’t care. The learning opportunity had little to do with her, far more to do simply with the decision to go to the club, to spend the squalid hour in the dark watching women, watching her. And I’m thankful that I had the presence of mind to pay attention while it was happening.