These two random memories surfaced a few weeks ago. They both happened while I was stripping, though the incidents were separated by a year or more. What I find interesting in revisiting the memories is my angry non-reaction. I think it’s a woman-thing more than a stripper-thing. You be the judge.
santa fe cabaret
Chronologically, the first incident took place the night I met my escort mentor. I went to dance one night at Santa Fe Cabaret (now closed) for a DFWNites party. I even had a new outfit! I was blonde and tan — firmly in my Barbie doll phase.
Santa Fe had two dressing room areas. I chose the smaller, less crowded one. I wanted to give the regular employees the better area. It was only fair since I was just passing through for this night.
There was a man in the room who was sitting facing the whole dressing area talking to girls. He was an insurance agent. Santa Fe was giving its regular, long-term employees health insurance. (I never got that at any club I worked in.)
He never took his eyes off the girls coming and going (the room emptied onto the main floor, the bigger dressing room emptied onto the stage). I started preparing to change, hoping he would leave. How silly of me! Why would he go? I started changing, furious at his lack of manners. I thought of going into the other room to change, but my whole purpose in being in this room was to not take space away from the regular girls.
I was scowling. I could see it in the mirror (not that I scowl well). I was in profile to him the whole time, but…I had to get naked. By the time I removed my regular old cotton thong and put on my t-back I was so mad my arms were shaking and I had trouble balancing one leg at a time.
I wanted to smash the mirror with my shoe and put the shards into his eyes. Scratch that smirk off his face. (At one point he mumbled “Nice” and I wished for his dismemberment.) But, as is the way of all women, I was mostly mad at myself.
I didn’t speak up. I didn’t demand he leave. I didn’t feel like it was my space to make demands of, even though I felt I was being (visually) violated. I didn’t go into the other room because I didn’t want to be pushed out of my place, yet if it was “my” place, why didn’t I force him to leave? What’s with my stupid polite-girl shit when there’s no use for it?
The night wasn’t a total loss. I made a good friend (whom I still know). Had fun. Didn’t make too much money because it wasn’t that great a club and I didn’t like the floor layout, but everyone was nice. I went home and forgot about that guy. I haven’t thought about him for years. I’m not even sure how the memory came to mind, but it did.
I’ve forgotten how uselessly angry I can get.
Some girls at Baby Dolls told me I could find unique and inexpensive outfits at Plaza Latina, which is on Harry Hines (a notorious stroll in Dallas). I’m game.
I go there one afternoon, making sure to time my visit so I can leisurely shop and still get home before traffic piles up (so I can get ready for work and go out again). The Plaza Latina is a huge building with a ton of little booths inside; an indoor bazaar. It is certainly Hispanic in flavor, but isn’t crowded right now.
The stripper-wear store is right near the front and is the largest booth in the place, the size of a real store. It’s pretty obvious, but I still make a full circuit of the building just to be sure. I end up back in the store and start browsing. There are clothes on the walls and neatly packed into the space — I’d say about 50 items per square foot. Shoes and all sorts of other accessories too. Most of it doesn’t appeal to me, but let’s be honest: stripper clothes aren’t about good taste (at least not clothes for Baby Dolls).
One outfit immediately caught my eye and it ends up being the only one I try on. It’s blinding hot pink, made of small-weave net, with matching marabou trim. Marabou is sort of my trademark. The marabou trim on the skirt stiffens the hem, making it stand out a bit. It’s the sort of skirt I could twirl around in (were I given to twirling). The top is very cropped, with long sleeves and ties in a knot right between my breasts. My stripper-wear is usually more understated than this (even the blind would be able to see this in the club), but the price is right for an experiment. That’s what I came here for: something unique.
The dressing room is directly in front of the shop’s entrance. It has swinging half-doors like a saloon. These are bikini doors, though. The top brushes the top of my shoulders and the bottom barely comes down to mid-thigh. The place is empty except for the suspicious saleslady, so I hurry to change in and out of everything. Thank god I was the right height for the doors, although I could not bend over without my shirt on.
The skirt goes on. I whip off my t-shirt and bra to try on the top (since I don’t wear bras under my dresses in the club, I try on club-clothes sans bra for a true fit).
And I glance in the mirror to see eyes watching me. Actually, I can see down to the tops of his arms.
I can see him very well, which means he sees me just as well. The mirror, helpfully, is full-length against the back wall of the dressing cubby-hole. I’m topless and he grins.
If I turn around to face the doors, well, god knows what can be seen through the doors. They aren’t secured in any way. I can’t face the mirror anymore. I turn to the side, putting my back to the mirror as much as possible. Should I give him the finger? What difference would that make? He’s seen me half-naked without my permission. The fun of my quirky little outfit is gone.
The top fits beautifully and flatteringly. I yank myself out of it and put on my bra, fumbling with shaking fingers. I’m seething and feeling violated. My t-shirt goes on. I bend over to step out of the little skirt. I still have on my socks and underwear but I’m showing more leg than I normally do in public. I bump around the walls getting my jeans on. Then shoes. I wad up the outfit into a ball. I’ll buy it because I want it, but the joy has been ripped from my afternoon.
I step beyond the doors and see him standing to the side of my original sightline. There’s a woman with him who is browsing. The saleslady is helping a mother in the far corner. I glare at the man, who is still smiling. I go to the cash register to wait on the saleslady. He moves in my direction.
The saleslady is still chatting up the customer. I want to grab one of the stripper heels near the counter and bash his face in. How can I possibly explain, in a few concise words, that he had no right to view me in my private moment? That he ruined something that was fun? That he has taken away something from me?
The only solution my aching, pulsing brain can come up with is brute violence. That’s actually not so shocking. What’s worse is that I stay rooted to my spot. I do nothing but shake. My eyes are getting hot. I don’t want to cry because it will be misinterpreted.
This time I’m not even mad at myself. What could I have done? Yelled? Tried to embarrass him? That’s about it. (Not shop here anymore is the obvious solution. I’ve never been back.)
He whispers at me. He’s trying to introduce himself. And compliment my appearance — the gall. I don’t remember anything he said, nor can I even identify him in a line-up. But I remember the gist of it.
I want him to leave me alone. He asks questions about my work. I gesture to the heels. That makes no difference.
The saleslady rings up my purchase and I pay with cash, $20s and $1s. I realize how damning that is in this part of town. She pretends she doesn’t hear him. She pretends not to know why I’m mad. Or maybe she has no idea why I’ve taken offense to this man who is trying to engage me in conversation. She probably doesn’t care.
As I leave, he offers for me to come work for him. I spit out “I work for myself!” and stalk away. Not the most intelligent comeback, but I was doing good not to hit him as I turn sideways to move past him and a clothes rack. The woman he came in with eyes me as I go past.
I wasn’t mad because he thought I could be a hooker. That didn’t offend me. His violation of my space was one thing. Getting a free look was another. Him being a pimp was even worse. He was in business making money off women. He should not get a damn free thing from me. And he got it without even trying. I had no way of making him pay (symbolically or monetarily). No way to ever convince him it wasn’t his God-given right to spy on women in crappy dressing rooms.
Then he tries to recruit me. What — I’m supposed to be flattered? I know I’ve got a good body. I get offers for it every single night. He thinks he’s telling me something I don’t know or can’t fathom? I might be blonde, but I am not going to belong to him. I’m not that dumb.
Though both of these incidents involve stripping, that’s just what I was doing at the time. Street commentary by guys bothers me just as much, only it doesn’t involve me being naked.
I still don’t know how to handle these things or how I could’ve handled any of it better. Not seething with repressed rage is probably a place to start, but how to effectively take my rage out on the person who deserves it? How to change things so I no longer have to worry about this?
Would I react differently now? I sure hope so.
A while back a friend gave me some links on a series of blog posts about street harassment and the powerless, vulnerable way it makes women feel.
I do not want to feel afraid — but I do. It’s my body and suddenly it no longer belongs to me; it’s been shared without my permission. Loss of power indeed. A fundamental loss common to all women yet few men ever once experience it in their lives.
And the flushing hot anger that ultimately overwhelms my body and mind…every muscle tenses until I shake with unleashed energy, I feel red and volcanic — if I cry the tears are lava, all I hear is the fast-pounding sea inside me…I want to scream “Fuck off!” loud enough to rock the earth in its orbit. Loud enough so the lecherous, skulking men are permanently silenced. I want to unearth the secret of Medusa and turn them to stone.
Mostly, I want to push the anger out instead of sitting in my car, fuming, shaking, crying; the rage bouncing around inside of me, never to get out.