Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Reflections of a Repentant Strip Club Bouncer

Hello, my name is John, and I’m a recovering strip club bouncer (Hi, John).

I am here today to get some things off my chest. To tell you why my conscience has been bothering me for some time. To tell you how I deviated from a value-driven upbringing into a dark age of seedy scheming as a door guy at a number of topless clubs over a five-year span. Unlike most of the unfortunate women who are drawn or forced into the sex industry due to a lack of viable earning options, I had a number of opportunities to work honestly elsewhere. I wasn’t seduced by ‘the game’ because of what friends and customers assumed to be the obvious perks of working with naked, mostly beautiful women; I was enchanted by the green paper than doubles as morality’s kryptonite.

What’s that? You didn’t think bouncers made much money? Think again. In the strip club money is everywhere, and dancers aren’t the only ones exposing themselves to get it.

The most gratifying experiences invariably occur as a result of hard work and sacrifice: Four years of determined studying results in graduation and a degree; commitment and compromise and extensive planning results in a wedding day; long hours in the kitchen baking, blending and basting result in Thanksgiving dinner. There is virtually nothing worth pride that is not owed to some kind of prolonged challenge necessitating its realization. Though the lap dance results in gratification - the male customer satisfies a primitive need to exert control or fill an emotional void while the dancer benefits financially- the sacrifice of time is not progressive. Indeed, the additive effect of each lap dance is regressive in an emotional sense, and in many cases a financial one. Though women in the sex industry might make more money per hour than a woman with an office or restaurant job, the strip club atmosphere is rife with drugs and drinking. In my experience, it was not uncommon to see a dancer end her shift and spend up to six more hours in the club drinking, smoking, and frequently running to her car or bathroom and returning with a sudden violent cough or case of the sniffles. The strip club lifestyle is a powerful, insidious cocoon of temptation that preys on vulnerability through impulse and illusion. Though her flesh and opportunity are the only requisites for a woman to make money- and sometimes very good money- the ironic twist is that in life’s bigger picture, even if she is strong enough to avoid drugs and alcohol, the sacrifices of dignity and physical and emotional health are much more significant and far less rewarding than those required by conventional professional and academic advancement.

The rituals of the strip club are obviously less visceral and risky than those of prostitution, but the underlying premise is the same- trading sex for money- and while it is an easy and convenient arrangement for the male customer and pimp, for the female performer, it is a tragic existence of subjugation, danger, and indignation. This fundamental reality is the foundation of my regret. Though I worked hard each night bussing tables and moving chairs, and taking out the trash and stocking glassware, I made most of my money via two basic methods: 1) accommodating a customer’s lust by selling a dream, and 2) enhancing a dancer’s income by setting her up with customers possessing fat wallets or no discipline or both. Though I was not self-employed, in a technical interpretation of the word I was a pimp due to my role as match-maker and protector, two services for which I was compensated by one or both of the parties involved. As I reflect on my time as a bouncer, I am amazed at how effectively everyone involved lied to each other and themselves in order to pretend that happiness and genuine gratification could come from such an arrangement.

The ‘easy’ theme is prevalent in the strip club:

• It’s easier to deal with life’s problems by taking drugs and drinking to escape rather than meeting them head-on and seeking healthy, productive solutions. The strip club makes most of its money on alcohol sales, and drugs permeate the landscape. The lifestyle is fast and full of false happiness.
• It’s easier for men to pay women for dances and sex than to bridge the emotional and physical rift that has grown between them and their girlfriends or wives. Many customers are married, and if they spend enough in the VIP sections, some dancers go beyond simply dancing to realize a big payday. The line between stripping and outright prostitution would get blurry on weekend nights at the club.
• It’s easier for bouncers to run around the floor facilitating faux-mating rituals and making more money than 25% of the dancers in the club than it is to check IDs at Joe’s pub and make $8-$10/hour. Though there were scrapes from time to time, the bouncers where I worked, including myself, were not very large or intimidating. We preemptively stopped fights before they happened by shaking hands, arranging dances, and behaving like indentured sycophants who made sure not to trip any testosterone triggers.

Social hierarchies form through the competitive pursuit and accumulation of money, and while the strip club is no different than the rest of the world in this regard, the process is more frenzied and overt since there is a limited time frame (a given shift during hours of operation) for each person to secure his or her piece of the pie. Dancers seek big spenders, servers seek tables with big head counts, and bouncers seek to arrange popular dancers with big spenders and good servers with big tables. Though the bouncers pooled money at the end of the night, the green fruit of our pockets reflected each man’s skill at selling fantasy and his level of camaraderie with the girls; it determined a pecking order based on salesmanship and hustling.

My purpose in revealing the inner workings of a strip club is not to justify or rationalize my involvement in the industry, but I want you to understand how good people- people you might call your friends or brothers or sisters- can be drawn to it because of the vast amount of money it offers, and how cold, calculating structure and desensitization can result from being immersed within it. It was incredibly easy making money off of the backs of women, as so many others do, and for this I will forever be ashamed. I think of myself as a good person, and despite my time as a strip club bouncer, I have healthy respect and deferential admiration for women. I am certain, however, that many of the women in my life who I profess to admire would be severely disappointed to hear of my involvement in the sex industry.

This missive is merely the first small flower of a burgeoning realization. I was wrong for being a pimp; for profiting from the ever-present male demand for sexual gratification. I was wrong for letting money overpower the values and good judgment that had previously been my behavioral barometers. I was wrong for being a liar; for telling myself that the ends justified the means. I was wrong for being weak and for choosing the easy path.

To women everywhere, I was wrong, and I am truly sorry.