Craig Seymour remembers stripping in Washington, DC
I spent much of those first few weeks at Secrets trying to find my comfort zone. It was about figuring out what kind of stripper I was going to be. Would I be one of those
flash-dancing pole spinners, or would I follow in the paths of those showboys who had a trademark shtick, picking up a dollar with their ass cheeks or placing a quarter on their hard dick and
then flicking it out into the crowd?
Each of these options held its appeal, but then again, I knew they would never work for me. Spinning around the pole seemed too much like a sport, and since I was always the kid
who couldn't pull off even the most elementary magic trick in grade school, I figured any type of razzle-dazzle stunts were out of the question. Basically, I opted to be the guy who
comes onstage, quickly takes off all his clothes as if taking part in some emergency preparedness drill, gets a hard-on, and then wanders around absently playing with his dick until
someone walks up with a tip. I did so little dancing or any other type of movement that a lot of customers thought I was straight -- which was not necessarily a bad thing when it came to
tips. Most gay guys have nursed a straight-boy fantasy at some point in their lives.
lthough I was a little nervous about my performance at first, I also learned that there was almost no way to make a mistake as long as I adhered to the general guidelines of the
club, which at the time were limited to "Don't yawn onstage" and "Don't let them stick your dick in their mouths."
On one of my first nights, I was dancing onstage when a short, bald guy walked over to me. I moved closer to him and, misjudging our relative distance, poked him in the center of
his forehead with my hard dick. Everybody around us started laughing. I kneeled down. "I'm really sorry," I said, embarrassed. But then I saw that the bald man was laughing, too. He
spent the rest of the night trying to "accidentally" get me to knock him in the head again.
Finally, I said to him, "Isn't this getting a little old?"
"Never," he asked, laughing and stuffing a wad of dollars in my sock. "So, what's your name?"
"Craig," I said, kneeling down. "What's yours?"
"Michael," he said, with one hand on my cock. "Are you new here?"
"I just started working here, but I've been working at the Follies for a couple of months."
"Well, you're quite good at what you do."
"Hey," he said. "Do you mind if I rub your ass? You have a beautiful butt."
"OK, but no fingers."
"Promise," he said, crossing his fingers.
Then I turned around and bent over on my knees as he rubbed my ass cheeks. I let him do this for about a minute, then I turned back around.
"Wow, that was amazing," he said. "You're a beautiful guy."
"Glad to be of service," I said with a smile.
"Now, one last thing," he added, tipping me another few bucks. "Will you hit me on the head with your cock again?"
"I guess," I said, before tapping him on his bald dome again. All his friends started clapping.
"Thanks," he said. "No bullshit. You've made my whole night, my week even."
"No problem," I said, giving him a hug.
The idea that I could make some guy so happy by simply hitting him over the head with my dick and letting him rub my butt gave me a rush. There was something appealing about
the whole experience of letting a stranger feel my body. It was all about sensation, skin on skin. And the surprising thing is that for the most part, it didn't feel gross or sleazy. In fact,
the whole thing made me feel strangely powerful, like I'd been given a new way to communicate.
That night, when I arrived home, Seth was already asleep. But as I climbed into bed, after taking a shower, he turned over in his sleep and put his arms around me. I lay there
and thought about the lyrics to one of my favorite songs by the seventies soul-sister act the Emotions: "Blessed that be the ties that bind." I knew that what Seth and I had was
real, grounded, tight, binding.
But I also knew that there was something equally real going on with me and some of my customers, like Michael.
I felt the pleasure I gave to them. There was even something pure and innocent about the way they so nakedly exposed their desires, the way they so openly derived pleasure
from someone they thought was beautiful. Sure, the whole thing was based around the exchange of cash, but that didn't solely define what went on or how the customers felt about
it. Money was simply how each story began.
Everything at the club was far more complex than I even imagined before I started dancing myself. This became especially clear as I had the chance to get close to some of my
fellow dancers, my comrades in this brotherhood of boys gone wild. Between sets, we'd shoot the shit in the Secrets dressing room, which was really a large, restaurant-quality kitchen due
to that goofy DC law requiring all bars to be fully equipped to serve food.
The talk often ran to occupational hazards like how to keep your dick from chafing after being rubbed all night (most guys used Elbow Grease, but there was a small but vocal
cocoa butter contingent) and how to stop those customers who try to stick their fingers up your ass (when you kneel down, sit on the heel of your foot). These discussions bonded us
despite our differences. Some of us were gay; some were straight; others figured it out day by day, dollar by dollar. But we all had to grapple with what it meant to let other guys pay to ogle
us and feel our business.
We were also aware that we were doing a job that many people thought was disgusting and degrading. But for most of us, it was a job choice like any other, amounting to
a compromised negotiation among ideals, capabilities, and opportunities.
The only difference was that stripping made you shockingly aware of the chasm that can exist between who you think you are and what you're willing to do for money.
The dressing room was filled with a constantly changing cast of characters, as guys started stripping, quit, disappeared, and then, more often than not, reappeared. ("I guess
rent's due," I once overheard a customer remark upon a dancer's return to the scene.) There was Patrick, a sturdy All-American type who stripped on nights when wasn't playing the lead in
a local production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and Puppyboy, a short, skinny guy who crawled along the bar on all fours, occasionally lifting his leg like he
was taking a whiz. (This was all cute until one night he stuck his rump in a customer's face and accidentally let out a short, sputtering fart. At that moment, he quickly lost the
four-legged shtick, hopped to his feet, and dashed back to the dressing room, red-faced.)
Then there was Sid, a straight bleached-blond punk and unapologetic hustler known for offering tips on topics like giving a professional blow job. ("Get the money in advance, then try
to get the guy to wear a condom; if he insists that you suck him without a condom, tell him you have cold sores.")
And Danny, a sort of gyrating cautionary tale, who was returning to dancing after a breakup with a longtime boyfriend. Fifteen years earlier, a boyish Danny was the hottest guy on
the block, and he had a reputation for over-the-top temper tantrums. One time he hurled a shot glass across a club and shattered a full-length mirror. "I'm too old to pull that shit now,"
he told me one night, while stepping into a jock strap. "Still have my twenty-seven-inch waist, though."
The key to getting along at the club was learning to live with other people's contradictions. It didn't take long to realize that a person's stated sexual orientation had nothing to do
with how he might act at the club or the sex he might have for money. "Straight" and "gay" lost meaning for me. I soon barely noticed when, say, Steve -- a married, blond,
surfer-looking dude who liked to show off pictures of his towheaded daughters dressed for church -- got into a customer's car and soon had his head bobbing up and down on the driver's lap.
Money was the all-purpose justifier for almost any type of behavior. It helped many straight guys explore homo aspects of their sexuality without having to own up to
boy-on-boy stirrings. Just as frisky, sexually ambivalent frat boys use the excuse "I was so drunk last night," straight dancers could do almost anything with another guy as long as bills
The money also helped assuage outraged girlfriends, wives, and other family members. A straight dancer once told me about the time his mother caught him putting together
a construction worker costume -- tool belt, hat, G-string -- for a stripper-of-the-month contest. She was shocked to find out that her son was entering a nude dancing contest at a
"But Ma," he said, "first prize is five hundred dollars."
"Five hundred dollars," his mother said. "You should've told me. I would've made you a costume."
Excerpted from All I Could Bare: My Life in the Strip Clubs of Gay Washington, D.C. By Craig Seymour. Published by Atria Books.
|Author Profile: Craig Seymour
|Craig Seymour stripped through grad school and now teaches journalism at Northern Illinois University
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