Jacq The Stripper Is Vulgar, Bubbly, And Sharp As A Stiletto

Photo credit: Rachel Lena Esterline

The Est. is the new home of sex, gender, love, kink, and what-the-hell-is-that-all-about podcast “Why Are People Into That?!” hosted by educator, activist, and media maven Tina Horn. In addition to juicy interviews and between-the-sheet tales, you’ll also get exclusive first-person essays by Tina, the culture eviscerator, as she traverses the shoals of sex work and social justice.

Be sure to check out last week’s episode about the leather-studded world of BDSM with dominatrix Troy Orleans.)

Stripping is the one kind of sex work I’ve never really done. I did audition to dance at the now defunct Lusty Lady peepshow once. (That worker-owned bastion of unconventional naked babes was a fixture of San Francisco’s North Beach from the mid-1970s until 2013.)

At the time, I had read Lily Burana’s Strip City and Carol Queen’s Real Live Nude Girl, and gotten finger banged in the tiny, grimy booths as a customer more than once. I was 24 and didn’t really know yet what kind of sex work I’d be good at, but the Lusty seemed like the right fit for a hairy-legged, tattooed punk like me.

When I called the madams about auditioning, they told me to prepare by putting on sexy music and practice looking horny. I was such a rockist at that point, the only music in my vinyl collection that could be remotely construed as erotic was the melancholy funk of Sly and the Family Stone’s “There’s A Riot Goin On.” I played it alone in my apartment and stared at myself grinding in the mirror, not quite convinced of my own performance.

I showed up to audition with a little pink bikini and bright red pumps to change into; I’m sure it was quite obvious that I wasn’t yet used to undulating — or really even walking — in such attire. The Lusty “stage” was an enclosed room of infinity mirrors, bright theater bulbs, and a deep red carpet that matched my shoes. The other women on shift that day were very kind to me as they flaunted their superior skills straddling the pole and poppin’ their luscious butts.

I’m positive I looked both stiff and limp as a noodle as I tried to make eye contact with the customers in their dark booths. I tried to bend and sway and smile, but somehow this was not the right place for me to get in touch with my hustle.

The frank exhibition of femininity was never quite my “whorientation” (as we say in the sex work world to describe the part of the industry where you feel most powerful). I’ve always been much better at BDSM, although honestly that tends to involve some of the same tease and denial of strip clubs, just with less lycra and more latex. I’m glad to have spent at least half an hour on the business side of those revolutionary plexiglass windows, but they did not offer me a job.

Despite lacking the skill set personally, strippers are probably the kind of in-person sex workers I’ve patronized the most. It’s probably the most tacitly accepted adult entertainment — less shame-loaded than porn, less transgressive than seeing a dominatrix or an escort. Recently, a friend of mine invited me to come see them dance at Pumps in Brooklyn. My boo and I saddled up to the bar with pockets full of dollar bills and discussed who we liked more — the super tall babe with the spandex pot leaf minidress, or the perfectly coiffed pin-up girl with Amy Winehouse cat-eyes.

We sat at the bar sipping tequila whispering to each other about our friend’s day-glo platform shoes, or the way another girl scissored her legs around the pole and twirled like a weathervane in the wind. At the end of each song, the dancers would descend from the stage and rotate around to everyone seated at the bar. Each lady would graciously smile and press her breasts together and up to accept cash for her trouble.

“Stripping is probably the most tacitly accepted adult entertainment.”_

I had a strategy for our night at the club: Come up with a budget for drinks and tips, spend it freely, and then take my broke ass home when the cash was spent. Part of why I felt confident with this etiquette was because I’d read a certain zine: How To Be A Feminist At A Strip Club by Jacq the Stripper.

Jacqueline Frances is a multi-threat: a stripper (natch), a comedian, a self-published memoirist, a cartoonist, and a very savvy swag-maker. I’d devoured her fast and loose book The Beaver Show (clearly I’m much more accomplished at reading stripper memoirs than stripping myself) and on my winter puffy vest I proudly wear an enamel pin she designed depicting a pink cat with a dollar sign for an asshole.

Jacq the Stripper takes to the streets. Photographed by Rachel Lena Esterline.

I met Jacq this year at Videology in Williamsburg, where she and Valerie Stunning hosted a sex workers-only drinking game screening of Showgirls (one sip for lesbian tension, two sips for dramatic arm movements — you get the idea). She is one of my favorite kinds of artists, the ones who have the same energy and personality in person as they do in their art. In Jacq’s case this is frank, vulgar, brightly colored, effervescent as a glass of bubbly, and sharp as a stiletto.

Jacq came over to my place on a hot summer day to tell me all about her new project Striptastic, to make tzatziki (because “you can’t smell garlic breath through a podcasting mic”), and to record an episode of Why Are People Into That?! — all about strippers.

Striptastic is a full-color illustrated coffee book which Jacq successfully Kickstarted this year. It’s based on a survey she conducted of 300 strippers from around the world. I think it’s just what the world needs: the contemporary truth of the “exotic dancing” industry, told by diverse voices, depicted in gleeful power by Jacq’s illustrations, comics, and clapbacks.

Unlike me, Jacq has successfully auditioned and worked long shifts at tons of strip clubs from Sydney to New York City over the past six years. She has honed her wit and matter-of-fact sensibility on countless patrons of stage dances, table shows, lap dances, and champagne rooms. Her attitude is quite simple: Stripping is entertainment and should be regarded as such.

“Stripping is entertainment and should be regarded as such.”_

A charming — and telling — panel of ‘Striptastic.’

People who go to strip clubs are looking for novelty, variety, and immersion. Jacq thinks it’s funny they call them “Gentlemen’s Clubs,” when really it’s a potently female space. She also points out that you can’t really have your phone out in the club, so you’re in a timeless space where you can flirt openly. Yes, strippers are hustlers. The club is selling an experience, and the dancers are there to play the confidence game, to persuade you to part with your money.

But being a mark means agreeing to let someone tell you a story you want to be told. In the case of the stripper, that is the tale of a world in which carefree indulgent sexuality is the only thing that matters. That, and cash.

A flannel-flanked fantasy rears its Oedipal head.

As for why people would be into stripping, Jacq says, “It’s very empowering when you realize you can stand naked and make money. A woman who uses her body and profits is terrifying, so we’re shamed into being afraid to do it.”

Not all of the women I’ve watched dance naked or semi-naked were the type I generally like to date. But I love women and I really crave attention from them, especially when they’re sparkly and brightly-colored and glossy. As a club patron, my voyeurism is activated; for once I don’t worry that I will make women uncomfortable by staring at them.

Jacq the Stripper drops it like it’s hot. Photographed by Rachel Lena Esterline.

The everyday social contracts and very real dangers that often prevent us from connecting are suspended, replaced with a new contract: Play by the house rules, keep the cash coming, and you can have attention from beautiful women to your heart’s content. Ten years after my mediocre Lusty Lady audition, I feel I understand so much more why people gather in these spaces to worship naked women. I gladly parted with all my cash that night at Pumps. Those woman should all be rewarded; it takes incredible power to be that mesmerizing.

“It takes incredible power to be that mesmerizing.”_

Get yourself a copy of Striptastic (a celebration of dope ass cunts who like money) right here(!) and stay tuned on Dec. 15th for the second half of Why Are People Into Strippers?!

All illustrations by Jacq the Stripper.

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