Thanks to Caty Simon and the folx over at Tits And Sass who edited and republished this story!
A slightly different version of this piece was originally posted on Akynos’ blog, blackheaux, on November 8th
A personal history of being a Black stripper
It’s about fucking time! That’s all I can say about this stripper strike organizing.
I am excited to see more and more gentlemen’s club/exotic dancers taking this business seriously enough to take matters into their own hands. I think for far too long those of us in the adult entertainment industry have gotten engulfed in the socially acceptable invalidation of stripping as actual work, so that we’ve allowed ourselves to neglect so many of the labor violations, discrimination, and downright illegal actions by management, patrons, and staff that just couldn’t fly in other legal businesses.
I remember seeing dancers getting sexually and physically assaulted by patrons, while the bouncers employed because our naked bodies afforded them that job would do absolutely NOTHING. I recall one time a patron ejaculated on my ass as I gave him a standing lap dance at the bar. I went to the bouncer on duty at the time. He shrugged his shoulders and dismissed me.
The male staff who were employed by the club as stage managers or bouncers were also known to sexually violate us. Although they were employed by the same space we all occupied at the same damn time, they felt they were entitled to free feels and who knows what else from the dancers. If it was a nice day, they’d just insult you for even working in such a grimy industry.
Then there was the highway robbery in fees the club would charge the dancers who were coming in there to work—i.e., bring the establishment business. When I was in the game in the 90s, house fees were only just being implemented. They went from $5 to $20 in what seemed a matter of weeks.
Public perception often shapes law and policy, and vice versa. Without legal precedent or social acceptance we become prey to shoddy business practices.
I was 17 years old when I entered the clubs. I started with Al’s Mr. Wedge in the Bronx. It was the club I worked at exclusively then for a few reasons: Another club, The Goat, was closed by the time I got in the game. And besides, the legendary talk around this club sounded as if it was just too much for my bougie ass. For some reason, I just didn’t like Golden Lady, because its size and structure intimidated me.
And all my attempts at auditioning at clubs like Sue’s Rendezvous and whatever the name of the juice bar near Dyre Ave proved fruitless. I was too dark.
I recall once I went into Sue’s with a friend of mine, this mixed chic by the name of Jackie. Tall, light skinned, sorta looking like a young Mariah Carey, she was half White and Black. I went into Sue’s with her with the confidence that I would be allowed to dance in another club and increase my chances of making money. Young and naive, it didn’t dawn on me that when they told me Jackie could audition and I couldn’t it was the result of discrimination against my complexion.
Jackie ended up working at the high-end clubs in the city. Me and my Black ass had to keep it gutter and stay where they were not too picky.
I want people to stop being surprised that racism, colorism, and other biases against womxn (and Black people/or anyone with “dark” skin) exist. Determining who is worthy of making a living can be as superficial as how far from Whiteness they appear to be.
This shit is real.
Racism is real.
And colorism is also as fuckin real. The world is not existing in a post-racial/post-colorism mindset. It will never ever be like that. Now with racist humans writing code, even algorithms are becoming racially biased.
According to this piece in Inked Magazine, the situation with how promoters and club owners treat the professional dancers has gotten worse. Our very own stripper queen Cardi B describes clubs where there are no discerning characteristics between bartenders and strippers. Outright wage theft, which also occurs in underground entertainment such as burlesque shows, is a big issue within the sex industry. (Remember, management illegally charges the workers money to enter their clubs and work, so outright wage theft happens on top of this more subtle wage theft.)
The image of sex work has been so debased by mainstream media and common folk, I can almost guarantee that every sex worker has had an encounter where someone tried to rob, swindle, or con her for her money. Emphasis on “her”, because I cannot fathom male entertainers enduring this continuous violation and assault on their chosen field of employment.
The bold-faced theft of dancers’ money by Instafamous models, faux bartenders, and even club promoters speaks to the dangers of stigmatizing sexual labor, and exposes some of the violence that occurs within this market when adult entertainers are speaking and no one wants to listen. This financial violence could be prevented if laws protected sex work, especially where it’s already legal.
Racial bias in other forms of sexual labor
In the world of heauxing—I am talking about actually selling pussy or intercourse—discrimination based on race and complexion has been a part of the culture for far too long. As a Black sex worker who is “dark”—I am actually of medium complexion—I am not afforded the luxury of charging the same rates as White girls or even the womxn who are Black but light skinned.
Even womxn who are visibly unattractive are allowed to charge substantially higher rates than my fine ass, simply because they may be White. (In case you’re confused, by “unattractive” I mean just fuckin ugly and stank looking. You can GTFOH with your word policing, okay? I ain’t got the time.)
It is automatically assumed by clients that my rates are drastically lower than what I would actually charge a person for my time simply because I am a darker skinned Black. This is the racial coding of society, and why things like Blackface, as harmless as your shallow racist ass may think it is, are actually acts of violence. Racism has been instilled so deeply into our culture that mofos can’t fathom that I am not gonna entertain them for less than $250 per hour. Some potential clients have been shocked at my pricing. These are the same ones that wouldn’t bat an eye at the $500 plus dollars that a White provider would charge for lesser services.
I’ve also had many irritating as phuck conversations with cohorts of the Whiter kind about rates and what clients are willing to pay because of yes, my skin. They could not understand why my rate was so low. For a while I charged $150/hr, and it took a lot of time convincing myself and re-branding to raise them up from that, because I knew that interest would dwindle initially. And less interest could mean less money. Although I would try to tell these White people, who I know just wanted the best for me, that no matter how they see me that does not equate to what I can charge in the eyes of racist clients, they still believed that I could get more.
And by “more”, they meant starting at $400–$500/hour.
In many group discussions I have to intervene when fellow darker skinned Black sisters feel that because they see one or two Black providers charging high rates that they can just start singing about how “this can be done!” No, bitch, it can’t.
For one, you have to lose a lot of money in order to take the time to build that brand and let it seep into the subconsciousness of the heaux clientele. So I hope you all have other jobs, because you’re gonna be fucked if you have rent to pay. In some cases it’s better to see 5 clients at $150 than it is to have 2 at $250.
And secondly, and most importantly, racism has affected us on a micro level. You have to have the self confidence of a Nigerian internet scammer to pull off this sort of shit. You literally have to beat it into your system that you are worth it. If you slip, and think that you will not get the amount you want, you have sent a message to the universe and it will fuck you. Believe that.
While I have the self-confidence of Nefertiti, at times it’s incredibly hard for me to get $250. And for this, I don’t even engage much in the labor. Men are fuckin annoying. And I am tired of meeting up with so many of you that don’t know that soap, water and a wash cloth can also be used to clean your ass. But that’s another conversation altogether.
Racism in mainstream media against Black sex workers
Just one example: In an episode of The Secret Diary Of A Call Girl, the mixed race Black hooker Bambi demanded that the madam upgrade her rates to that of Belle’s because she was fuckin tired.
Let’s keep in mind that I believe Belle stated that she charged “a lot.” If I recall correctly, “a lot” was only 200 to 350 or so pounds, which to me is average. So imagine what Bambi’s rates were.
Could you be a dark skinned stripper?
Racism is pervasive as fuck. It takes an enormous toll on the emotional, physical and psychological being of the people it affects. And as you can see reading what the women in the stripper strike describe, it’s financially debilitating.
So for those non-sex workers who’ve cackled the idea of strippers, or any sex workers for that matter, organizing for the right to take their clothes off, ask yourself: what is work? And after you’ve figure that out, ask yourself if you could stand up in six-inch heels all night, swinging from a pole in them while donning a skimpy outfit. Through an entire eight hour shift, could you talk to strange men with bad breath, fragile ass egos, and too much cologne, who are broke or cheap as fuck? Could you deal with management up your ass about stupid random shit, male entitlement, other womxn who aren’t designated to do your job stealing your money, and then having to battle stigma because we live in a repressed ass world whose entire population is rooted in sex but somehow always wants it to be hidden?
Could you do that and deal with racism and colorism on top of it?
My new lover is insisting that I should get back in the clubs because I look so good.
For one, my back has caught up with me after all my years of drop splitting.
On the second hand, those strippers work too damn hard. I’d rather suck dick all night.
On the third side, three things happened:
- Several years back, I was convinced by someone very close to me to go into a Bronx club and audition because money was slow and I needed it now. Sigh. Light-skinned privilege won’t even allow bitches to see the reality. When I got to the club, not only would they not even let me in, the woman at the door claimed they weren’t hiring. As she walked towards the person at the booth, you could see her mouthing and gesturing “No.” Humiliating. After I was rejected, I said I would pay to come in and have a drink. After all, I schlepped all the way there from Brooklyn. When I stepped inside, trust me, all the womxn were light-skinned. By the way—-yes, I called first.
- A couple years later I would call Sapphire’s here in New York, and straight up ask them if they hired Black girls. I just didn’t have the time to go all the way to the fuckin east side of Manhattan if I wasn’t going to get in. I told them my complexion and height. After confirming they hire everyone and they were indeed holding auditions daily, I put on a wig, a tight dress and some make up. I get to the door and the door man makes a fake inquiry only to tell me they have hired all the girls they need already. I left, humiliated.
- Cut to last year: a gal I met at a members-only club I dance at from time to time calls me to dance at a party. Keep in mind, I strip in theater-type shows, so I usually come ready to do theater shit. To my utter shock, it’s some all Black house party event with a young crowd of Black men. After trying my best to revert back to my booty shaking stripping ways, the party was finally over and I could take my shameful ass back home. So I wait on my $150 pay, which was the agreement. The girl who ran the party didn’t like me so much that she only wanted to pay me $50. If it wasn’t for another girl and her boyfriend that night demanding I get paid what was agreed, I would have never gotten that money.
Yes, we all think that when it comes to sex and sexuality that any woman can “just” make money. It’s not true. The darker, older, shorter, thicker you are, the more your rate and value are automatically diminished. It’s not because we don’t think we are worth it, it’s because with all the microaggressive and often times outright aggressive manipulations that are ingrained in our culture against Black people and especially darker Black people, we don’t get a choice in the matter.
While you may not like the idea of the stripper strike because you’re a classist, racist, misogynistic, sexually deprived asshole, stand with the strippers. #StandWithSexWorkers
Management is almost always made up of simple-minded people who miss out on the money they could earn if they would just have a variety of womxn working in their clubs. The “lower-end” strip clubs know what the deal is. And I am sure they have no shortage of money by allowing different types of womxn to work their stages.
I salute the strippers spearheading this campaign. And I am sorry that they are now being blacklisted by promoters for taking a stand. If you want to help them, PayPal them some money. The hustle isn’t easy, but keep in mind it’s also a legal way for people to earn money to feed their families, pay bills, and keep a roof over their heads. The adult industry all around should be respected, and darker-skinned Black sex workers especially deserve that respect.