29 July 2010

Zoe and the Boogieman

You know already that I've been reading a lot about stripping. Well, let me tell you about Bare and my mindspace these days.

I finished Bare yesterday. It is not a yay-happy stripping book. It doesn't paint the whole industry as evil, it doesn't preach to you, it doesn't even draw many conclusions. It's a biography, a combination of the author's autobiography and the stories of women she knew as a stripper. It's about success in the industry and what the might really mean, about what you would do for money, about an insane situation twisting your thoughts and ideas of yourself, about sketchy boundaries and hard limits and seduction into a system that you think you can master without letting it master you. I am not very good at portraying in words the things I feel from books, the soup of thought-emotions roiling in my mind. There comes a time in stripping when you have to take a hard look at what you're doing and determine who's using whom, and whether you're okay with that. Are you using stripping to get something you want or is the system consuming you, masticating your soul and preparing to spit out an aging whore who bears no resemblance to the young woman who first grabbed that pole?

Elisabeth Eaves, the author, tells the story of one of her friends, whose name is Zoe. Zoe started stripping at bachelor parties when she was about 20 and later added a few shifts a week at the Lusty Lady, a local Seattle peep show that closed down a couple of months ago. She started because she loved to travel and didn't want to be tied down to a boss and a paycheck at a regular 9-5, and wanted the ability to move around whenever she chose. It should surprise no one that I felt with her on all of these points. As of the pubication of the book, ten years on, Zoe was still doing it, still mainly parties. Many of her boundaries had erode over time: she did toy shows regularly even though they used to bother her and sometimes still did, and she was actively considering an offer from one of her regulars to have sex with him for money. She didn't know how to handle new people when she wasn't acting in her stripper persona; she became mousy where she normally was bold. She had no plans to get out of stripping; she'd decided to wring every last dime she could out of it, for however long it made her money. It was the axis around which her life turned, the lifestyle that made the rest of her lifestyle possible. She couldn't get out and didn't see why she should want to. She still advocated that young, smart women get into it.

Everything in the above paragraph makes me sick to my stomach. It makes me ill inside to think that I could end up like that, oblivious to everything that is eating me alive. I tell myself that I couldn't do that, that it's not possible anymore, that I'm too habitually suspicious of myself, of my ability to acquire noxious bullshit like this, to let it stick around so long. I have Steve, who is just as good if not better at sniffing out bullshit and who is strongly invested in my continued sanity and well-being. We wouldn't let it happen. We wouldn't let it happen. Not to me.

I have told myself too many huge, pretty lies over the years to believe myself anymore. I have no idea where the truth lies or if it exists. I know, in my intellectual brain, that it cannot exist and that we're all operating without a map -- off the edge of any map we can try to paste together from mutually agreed-upon nonsense -- but it doesn't help when I feel soulsick seeing myself dancing spaced-out for customers, grinding without looking at them, checked out. Not there. No one home. Dead.

I tell myself I wouldn't let myself get that far, that I'd check myself and run for the door long before that. But fears -- well, hell, if fear were always rational the stock market would be a perfect system and we wouldn't be at war in Iraq right now. I've survived getting knocked up without ending up in the horror story I used to weave for myself about how badly that could go, and now I guess my brain wants to fill the gap with a new boogieman. The same boogieman: identity-death.

And that surprises me. It shouldn't but it does nonetheless. I already feel as my identity is a small, fragile, cherished, and loathed thing, something I can't live with and can't live without. It's intriguing that something so absurd and about which I feel so ambivalently is the leading edge of my worst-case-scenario fear. But then fears do need an emotional charge to leech energy off of. Time, experience, and contrasting experiences will take the edge off the fear. When I eventually do amateur nights at Deja Vu, when I start dancing at Extasy*, when I start doing capoeira here and belly-dancing, when I learn to connect to the goddess and explode life-energy like a human prism -- all of these things will dull the edge of that baseless fear. I know what I'm getting into it for, and I know when to get out. I'll take the money (and the sexuality/sensuality/spirituality training) and run.

*The only club in the area that doesn't do lap dances. Ask me about the weird enforcement of anti-prostitution laws that makes this the case. It's worth the two-and-a-half-hour roundtrip commute each day not to have to stop creepy men from pawing at me and trying to pay me to grind on them.

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