December 2018 – January 2019


Notes from a strip club

By Lola Button
Work as a stripper wasn’t quite what this newcomer imagined

I shave my vagina. My legs, arms and armpits. “Everything,” Jacinta had said. I cover myself neck down in an expensive, gritty lotion and buff my skin pink. Dry off. Next, fake tan, fake fingernails. I paint my toes and singe my hair into a sleek curtain. Over round eyes and pale lashes, I paint heavy, angular shapes. I throw on trackies and a loose shirt and grab the keys to my tired Subaru.

The club at the bottom end of King Street is fronted with shadowy brick, the entrance like the mouth of a cave. Behind the heavy doors there are already a few girls on the floor and a cluster of men at the bar, biding their time. Petite bartenders wear tiny skirts that bounce gaily on their arse cheeks as they carry stacks of plastic cups. Can’t have shards of glass beneath people’s heels. And knees. The men look at me as I pass in a hurry; I’m not protected yet by my persona, “Roxy”.

I’m pleased to see Robyn in the locker room. It’s “Miami Night”, which calls for bright colours, and she’s wearing a lurid pink bra and a thong that vanishes into her crack.

“Hey, rookie.” She winks at me and waggles her hips. Her bum moves independently above excessively tattooed legs. I pay my club fee of $60 cash to the House Mum and sign in before getting changed into a tiny sequined bikini. The MC crashes in while I’m half dressed. He’s a very large bald man with a smile like Buddha.

“Roxy.” He presses his fingers together and feigns praying to me. “Would you stay on stage two, three minutes longer tonight? Sienna’s show might run a bit late.” I agree automatically.

“You know, you don’t have to say yes to that,” Sienna says quietly as he leaves.

I shrug. “It’s only three minutes.”

“It’s not that. Don’t let him take advantage of you, ’cos he will.”

On my first night, I’d looked up and down the road before going inside. Jacinta, the rostering manager, swallowed a laugh when I tried to hand her my résumé at the interview. “Don’t need that, honey.” She asked me to take off my clothes instead.

I am experienced, adaptable, and will be a valuable addition to your workplace. I chucked it in the bin.

Starting out, I was clumsy.

“I don’t know what to do,” I said, wincing. Ruby, my “trainer”, was probably close to 30 and thin, with small breasts and wide hips that drew figure eights when she walked.

“Just do what you do in a nightclub, but slower. Or do you have a boyfriend?”

“Not anymore.”

“Well. Just do what you used to do for him.”

Neither suggestion helped.

“I’ll show you.”

She took my arms, and in one swift movement had me sitting, back against a sticky leather couch, arms firmly by my sides.

“Tell them straight up that it’s no touching – on the third strike, get security. They have to pay you first. That’s important.” She squatted before me and spread my legs. “Say something sexy, though, like ‘Show me the money and I’ll show you the honey.’”

I laughed, but she was serious. Her movements became snake-like, her face coquettish: eyes half-closed; wet lips curling, parting and closing. She traced acrylic fingertips up my thighs, in my hair and across my waist, maintaining fierce eye contact. Then she turned around, bent over and pulled down her lace thong. Had I been a customer, I’d have reached, brain dead, for my wallet and handed it over at once.

In what I thought of as the “locker room”, because it felt so much like high school, Ruby introduced me to Jade, one of the club’s prized showgirls, whose reputation as a Miss Nude World finalist preceded her. She greeted me unsmilingly. When she left, Ruby gave it to me straight.

“You have to understand, there’s a hierarchy here. Don’t expect the girls to welcome you with open arms. Be nice, but don’t be too eager – it’ll look like you’re sucking up. Lots of girls come and go, so people don’t get attached. Got it?”

She gave me a brisk pat on the shoulder. I wanted to seize her arm and ask her to stay with me, but she’d glided off on 8-inch plastic pumps. “Your first table’s in half an hour – don’t be late, or it’s a $50 fine.”

On the stage, which I couldn’t help notice was shaped like a giant cock, I clung to the pole for dear life in my 6-inch heels (the lowest ones you can get). But I learnt to copy the dancing pretty quickly. It was a basic cycle of walking around the pole, touching your boobs, squatting down, touching your butt, gyrating your hips, flicking hair, touching your boobs again. All while wearing a facial expression that suggests you might come at any moment.

There were guys who scanned you from the toenails up and looked you dead in the eye with a predatory glint. They made me feel truly stripped. The braver girls homed in on these desperate characters; they were the ones who’d pay to have you for hours for a private dance, which was big money at $50 for 10 minutes. But it also meant constantly having to rebuff uncomfortable comments: Come home with me tonight. Let me fuck you. I’ll pay anything.

A drunken cube of a man with a thick Aussie drawl put his enormous hand on my arse at the bar. I removed it gently, then threw my arms around his neck and stuck out my lower lip, pretending to hate the “no touching” rule. When I offered a private dance, he reached into his wallet and handed me a wad of notes for a service he was too drunk to claim. In the bathroom I counted my money, then dampened toilet paper and wiped his sweat off my neck.

Sometimes men bought me, and at times it seemed that I bought them. My bared skin could be a mask; my near-naked body kept them from looking me in the eye. They were so easy, these guys. I’d drape myself over them, laughing, accept with gushing gratitude the drink they bought me and then leave it in the bathroom. A sweaty, pot-bellied man from India bought me a shot of expensive vodka and asked if I liked his body. “Yes,” I cooed, and poured the vodka in an ashtray when he looked away.

When I spoke to a few people on the outside about my new job, they all asked the same thing: Are the men disgusting? I gave different answers. I told two girlfriends that the guys were just foolish and easy. They came into the club with their eyes popping and paid obscene amounts of money to look at tits. I’m protected, I said. When I’m Roxy they don’t know me, really, so they don’t affect me.

In truth, I was being affected by these men in a way that surprised me.

Once, years ago, I picked a fight with a guy outside a bar because he sauntered up to me and my friends and fixed us with a sleazy eye. The memory is foggy; I think I suggested he was insecure about the size of his dick, because he grabbed at his crotch and yelled back, “You wanna see it?” I’d recently had a few bad experiences with boys, and I completely lost it. He was every sexist arsehole in the world. I shrieked at him as one of my friends pulled me away.

When I started working at the club, I expected to see men this way. But I was taking their money, so I was willing to shut up. Arrogant and complacent men exist in abundance. You can pick them at once. There’s something in the way they walk: the swagger that comes from a lifetime free from being stared at, assessed, propositioned and grabbed.

At the club, I began slinking off to the secluded smokers’ area every so often to gather my thoughts. I was constantly nervy, and it was the only place where you could get fresh air, albeit through a window covered by a thick grate. One particularly dead night, a man walked in after me, surprising me a little. He was a hulking guy but moved nervously, like an inexperienced driver trying to operate a truck. He glanced sideways at me and nodded before sticking a fag between his lips. I made the sort of mental gear change into “Roxy”, detaching myself from shame at my own unfamiliar behaviour.

“Hi,” I said, and curled my mouth. His head sunk into his shoulders, and he nodded again. The door swung open and another man rolled in, short and beaming, with a shaved head and projected chest. On seeing his friend in the corner, he growled humorously.

“Hidin’ out, are we, Matt?” He looked at me. “Here, love, show my mate a good time, will ya?” With a flick of his wrist he opened his wallet and whipped out a long green note.

“Seriously?” The decision to spend a hundred dollars on his friend had taken this guy all of two seconds. He thrust it at me, laughing, and waltzed out. Matt and I looked at each other awkwardly. It was my job to put him at ease, but he was a grown man – probably 20 years older than me – and I felt like a little girl in a costume.

“Uh, this buys 20 minutes – is that okay?”


We sat down in a lounge area surrounded by sheer curtains, and I asked whether he minded if I took my shoes off. He shrugged.

“It’s Matt?”


“What do you do, Matthew?”

“I’m a garbologist.”

“A what?”

Apathetic, Matthew explained his job as I climbed onto the couch and performed the sexy slow-dance grind. To distract from the fact that I wasn’t very good at it, I tried to keep him chatting. When I removed my micro bikini top and thong, he stared at my naked body a little sadly.

“You’re perfect.”

I felt strange. I wanted to flirt and tease and joke, but accidentally we fell into a real conversation. Matthew told me that he was newly divorced. He’d fallen in love with a woman a good 10 years younger than him. According to him, she’d waited until they merged their bank accounts before claiming never to have loved him and demanding a divorce. Whether or not this story was true, I felt an unwelcome sadness and warmth for this small large man, and I sat curled up beside him and put my hands in his hair. He asked me if I’d like to have dinner with him, and when I said that I couldn’t, he didn’t press me.

At the beginning, I often wondered why men paid for this experience and, particularly, why some regularly came back. The “no touching” rule was strictly enforced; there were security guards and cameras in every corner. It seemed that guys were paying big money to sit on their hands and gaze at what they could not possess. It made no sense; for the cost of an hour of a girl’s time at the club, they could have gone to a brothel and actually had sex.

A young Italian boy at a bucks party peered guiltily into my face as I sat on his lap. “I’m not disrespecting you, am I?” he slurred, as I removed his hand from my breast for the second time. Almost every customer asked that question. They’d press me about the conduct of other men, eager for me to tell them that they were more decent, even while making sexual comments and clumsily grabbing at me. When reprimanded, they’d shrink back like guilty children, saying sorry and vowing that they really were “a good guy”. They seemed to look to me for affirmation, and many were curious and gratified when I talked about myself. They wanted to be invited behind my persona, for me to trust them, and to see them for “who they really are”.

Some men would feebly beg you to come home with them, but when I told them they couldn’t even touch me, they still bought dances. I wondered if this experience, paying a girl just to dance for you, to sit on you and talk to you, removed something of the fear and pressure that might accompany sex with a prostitute: the fraught experience of exercising their desire on someone they know cannot desire them back. I don’t think many men know what they’re looking for when they come to a strip club. Maybe they see it as a neatly detached experience, and that’s what they’re supposed to want.

When I took up the job I was ready to fight the assumption that the male spectators would have all the power. I wanted people to see me as taking advantage of them. But I didn’t expect the overwhelming and uncomfortable compassion I felt, and, at times, pity. When they sought assurance that they were different to most guys, I’d picture their idea of the “most guys” guy. He’s a perfect villain – a sweaty, leering Neanderthal who blunders in, dick swinging, and casually uses words like “slut”. I’m not saying he doesn’t exist, but I never encountered him.

I quit after only a few weeks. I was a bad stripper. I’d start every interaction as “Roxy” and end it as “Lola”. I spent most of my time sitting at a table, staring at other girls as they worked. They fascinated me endlessly. There was a toughness in the way they could flick between who they really were and the persona they wore. I struggled to do that. I could be strong against the staring and the sexual comments of the men. It was their humanity that made me uncomfortable. After a man told me about a failed relationship, or asked so earnestly whether he was “different”, I found it hard to turn away and say “time’s up”. So I’d spend far too long with someone and get paid far too little and end the night with my emotions as exhausted as my feet.

One night while I sat on a bar stool and stared at the girl onstage, a freckled man with dark hair and a gentle British accent asked if he could sit at my table. I was tired so I decided not to talk him into a dance. I asked him whether he came to the club often.

“I honestly don’t even know why I’m here. I’m travelling and was curious.”

“To be honest, I dunno why I’m here either. This is my second night, and I’m not sure I’m any good at it.”

We discussed the politics of sex work. Neither of us had particularly formed or substantiated beliefs, and we laughed shyly together, strip-club neophytes. He said he was an actor, and we talked about Waiting for Godot, eagerly reciting bits we could remember.

“I think I should buy a dance from you, but it feels weird,” he said as he handed me $50. I led him into a private room, more nervous than I’d yet been. I took off my lingerie but kept dissolving into laughter, feeling bare when he looked me in the eye.

“I need a sec to put on my stripper persona if I’m going to be able to dance for you,” I said.

“Please sit down,” he said. “Can we just talk?”

Lola Button

Lola Button is a Melbourne-based creative writing student and works at a cinema.

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