I have been dancing for eight years. I don’t know where the time went. At first, it was meant to just be something I did to get ahead but it has become a big part of my life as well as a part of who I am.
Eight years ago, I only walked into the strip club because my best friend at the time and I had spent the past summer struggling to feed our families and living paycheck to paycheck. I had a young child and she was pregnant. Her child’s father, a guy I had grown up with, was unemployed and struggling to find a job. One hot, August day, we got all dressed up and applied dollar store lipstick to one another’s cheeks and lips and took pictures of ourselves in hats and boas. “After I have the baby I’m going to try to get a job as a stripper” she said, as I drew a thick line of eyeliner around her blue eyes. “You have to audition with me.”
I shyly dismissed her request, saying I could never do a thing like that. “My mother would pull me off the pole by my hair if she found out.” I might have been a mother but I was still a daughter living in my mother’s house.
By that November, I had enough reasons to put aside the morals my parents had taught me and climb on stage with my girlfriend for an audition. We were so nervous and awkward, I thought we would never actually get hired. I was very surprised when they asked us to come back the following Saturday night. They could have turned us away and life would have taken me down a different path but they didn’t. They said yes, and so began the forward trajectory of the life I know.
Becoming a stripper changed my life. It allowed me to feed my family and catch up on all of the unpaid bills we’d incurred. It also gave me the financial independence I needed to break away from a bad relationship. It brought people into my life that I never would have known otherwise and taught me things that working at the mall or at a daycare center couldn’t have.
While my number one reason for becoming a dancer was to earn money that I so desperately needed, it came to be something that fulfilled other missing pieces in my life. Prior to working as a stripper, I lacked certain social skills that I never developed in grade school or high school. I was dorky and shy but I was a young woman who yearned for attention from the opposite sex. I was able to acquire social skills over time and right away I realized that I was something worth looking at. It wasn’t that I hadn’t known before, but at the time I had an inattentive spouse who was more often than not, uninterested in me. Don’t get me wrong. We’d had good times in the past but our relationship had soured and we were struggling. I was starving for attention and love while he yearned for freedom and solitude.
At the club, men paid attention to me. They said nice things about me and listened to what I had to say. It was also a sexual outlet for me as well. I loved parading my sexuality around on semi-public display. I was a very young woman who thought about sex often. Being immersed in an environment that was saturated with sexuality made me feel like I wasn’t crazy. For a dorky girl like me, being thrown into a strip club was like sensory overload. “What? You’re going to pay me to sit on your lap? Me???” It was pretty awesome and it really gave my self-esteem a boost.
Over the first couple years, I had a love/hate relationship with men. I didn’t realize it at the time but when I started dancing, I was deeply wounded. I had trouble trusting men yet I hadn’t given up yet. I’d spent so long trying to understand the man I loved but had failed time and time again. I’d read books about men and books about relationships and psychology but I really didn’t know much about dealing with the opposite sex. I didn’t know whether I loved men or hated them. I simply didn’t have enough experience with them. In the club, I met all kinds of men. I saw the best of them and I most certainly saw the worst of them. I did my best to take advantage of the bad ones or just stay away from them. I embraced the company of the good ones and hoped they would show my wallet some of their kindness.
It has been eight years since I started dancing and I think I finally have a healthy relationship with the opposite sex. Being a woman who dates men and also the mother of two sons, I think this is pretty important.
People don’t realize how much working as a stripper can teach you about life. I’ve seen men and women at their worst behavior as well as at their best. I’ve come in contact with so many different people and heard so many of their stories. I’ve learned some of the most essential things from this job. Because I spent eight years working as a stripper, I will be a better writer, a better lover, a more understanding friend, and most importantly, a better mother. I could not have gained this kind of knowledge and understanding by just taking more college courses.
So when someone makes a comment that puts a negative connotation on the fact that I am a dancer, I get kind of angry about it. To write this experience off as something to be ashamed of or something I just had to do because I was broke, is to ignorantly undermine everything that I’ve learned from it.
Being a stripper makes it difficult for me to keep a long lasting relationship. Every guy I date acts like he’s cool with it and understands why I do it at first. Then most of them break down after the first couple months of dating a girl who grinds on the laps of other men for a living. Of course there are men who are open minded and who do truly understand but they are few and far between.
Every guy has his own creative way of dealing with it too. I was in a three year relationship with a DJ whom I’d met at the club. He just couldn’t deal with having to share me. He would go outside while I was doing lap dances, put his hands on the brick wall of the building and push all his weight up against it, as if he could knock it down if he pushed hard enough. My youngest son’s father used to go through my stripper bag and freak out when he found handcuffs and skimpy little dresses. He would come to the club and sit in the back as I worked. Then he’d ask me who every guy I talked to was and how I knew him. This was a huge change from the relaxed, cool guy who used to stop by for a beer and just hang out while I worked. He went mad only a couple months into the relationship. He later had to reexamine his policy and switch to a “Don’t ask, don’t tell policy”. Still, he often made remarks about the job that implied that it was worthless and essentially an embarrassment to our family.
When he suggested we get married, I looked him in the eyes and said, “You have to love all of me or it won’t work.” Of course he professed his deep love for me and apologized for his every wrong. I heard him. I believe he meant it but I didn’t feel all of it. There was something missing. “I don’t know if you love all of me….” I said.
“I’m telling you I do. What do you want me to say?”
“I mean her.”
“Brittney. The stripper.”
He gave me a big speech on how it didn’t matter because it’s not like I’ll still be a stripper when I’m fifty. “It’s just a job”, he said.
Oh but it isn’t.
When I auditioned that first day, eight years ago, I was asked to choose a stage name. I thought about it. Who would I be? There were so many beautiful names that I could have chosen but they all seemed wrong for me. I wasn’t a Roxy, a Tiffany, a Candy, a Destiny, or a Marilyn. Angel was too innocent. Sin was too evil. I thought of the pop music videos my friend and I had watched to teach ourselves dance moves.
This was back when Britney Spears was all over the tabloids and the news for her bouts of trauma, mental illness, and infamous roller coaster relationship with the father of her children. She’d been such a symbol of teen beauty and perfection, then rebellious youth and a sex symbol. Then she became the picture of mental illness. She was so beautiful, famous, and rich. Yet she was so utterly broken.
I was beautiful. I was broken. I was struggling inside, too. I changed the spelling slightly to make it my own and the name has been mine ever since. I don’t think I look like a Britney. Britneys are usually blonde I think. Still, the name carries meaning and it was chosen for a reason. When it became my name, I gave it new meaning by living in it.
For me, the name Brittney represents the fighter within me, the young woman who wasn’t afraid to pursue a better life. Brittney is not a separate entity from the person I am but rather, she is part of me.
No matter how old I get or where life takes me, my soul will not change. She will still be part of me along with everything I’ve learned.
Being a stripper is also a lifestyle. You get used to working in a place where wearing pants is not a requirement and the bathroom stalls don’t have doors. Everyone’s business is out in the open, often on display just like our bodies. It is normal to have a conversation about whether or not we like anal while we calmly apply our eyeliner at the start of our shifts. It is normal to trade stripper outfits with a drunk girl in the dressing room or to discuss the way expensive sushi wreaked havoc upon someone’s lower digestive tract over the weekend. You won’t find this overall openness among the staff who work at a department store or movie theatre. Because of it, we live our lives differently.
As far as our customers go, strippers see a wide variety sexual quirks and interests. I pay careful attention to the things men tell me turn them on. A stripper’s job is not to offer a customer sex but to play into the fantasy he wants. Because I choose to do this for a living and because of the things I see while doing it, I am far more open minded and probably more sexually intelligent.
Sometimes I feel like I am less a stripper and more a counselor. I hear countless stories of failing marriages or near perfect marriages that lack one thing, usually either sex or a mental connection. Other times it’s the lack of communication or just the everyday stressors that put pressure on couples everywhere. I see girls I work with go through the motions of controlling relationships. I see single mothers and divorcees making it on their own. I see young girls entering new relationships and with stars in their eyes, they ask me, “Do you think it’s really love?” Because of the fact that I am headstrong and I keep an unfavorable profession, relationships are a struggle for me. However, I do know quite a bit about them and the essential components of making them work long term. Much of this I credit to my years spent working in a strip club.
Ever most importantly, I see what can happen to a child in the absence of loving parents. I’m not saying all strippers and all of our customers are products of child abuse or neglect. The whole ‘Daddy Never Loved Me’ stereotype dancers get makes me sick. I do, however, meet a lot of people who have been victims of child abuse or neglect and like a ripple effect it has spread outward and affected their entire lives.
I worked at children’s camps and daycare centers since I was old enough to have a job. I learned the essentials about caring for children long before I became a mother myself. I saw mothers and fathers drop off young children with sippy cups and blankets in tow and drive off in their Mercedes and Lexuses. I saw couples spending top dollar for summer camp and the best early education program available for their children. I saw overworked nurses yearn to be with their babies but have to drop them off at daycare so they could work their twelve hour shifts. I saw young mothers drop their babies off in their ShopRite uniforms or all black bartender getup to go make their living. I taught their children arts and crafts and led them down the hall to the sports teacher who taught them forty five minutes of soccer or gymnastics for an extra weekly fee added onto their bill. I learned how to take a feverish child’s temperature and clean up vomit without flinching or getting sick myself. All of these things helped make me a good mother but the strip club taught me the rest.
Because of everything I’ve seen in the darkened corners and dimly lit booths of a strip club, I will mother my children in a more wholesome way. I will not only do what is best for them as children, but also what is best for them as the men they will one day become. I will take everything I know about people, life, and the world, and apply it when I am making decisions for my sons. I would have loved them this much anyway, but because of what I know, perhaps I will love them better.
I know it is hard for most men to be with a woman who does what I do for a living and enjoys it but I would like to think that I’m worth the heartbreak I cause. In the past when men I’ve loved wanted nothing more than for me to say goodbye to stripper life, I wished that I could see it as they did. But no matter how much a romantic partner hated it, I never could. Being a stripper changed my life for the better and helped make me the person I am today. I think that if someone truly loves me, they’ll understand this and be able to love me for everything I am, patent leather, feathers, stillettos, and all.