A Christian Walks Into a Strip Club
Bare breasts are in my face, the stripper’s top hanging loosely from the bar stool next to me.
I feel like I’ve descended into hell.
The room is bathed in a red glow, like fire is enveloping the place, while disco balls spin delicately from above, illuminating men who watch the main stage with fervent eyes. The bartenders are idle in comparison, wiping down clean glasses to waste away the night, or ducking in and out of the shadows, serving drinks. I run a finger along our table – sticky. I clear my throat and gear up for my first question.
Candy picks up her glass of wine with her well-manicured fingers.
“Money,” she says.
“No other reasons for why you’re here?” I ask her.
I then hear the hypocrisy in my own question. Why am I here?
I clutch the cross around my neck and wonder if I can hold my university tutor accountable for when God looks at me disapprovingly in heaven.
I inadvertently stare at Candy’s breasts again. Thirty minutes ago, I was in a prayer meeting, worshipping Jesus. Now, I’m surrounded by nude women and drunk men. Is this really worth it for a single university assignment?
“I’m also here because this job is fun. Entertaining is a big part of the game when you’re not teasing your client,” Candy says. She looks me in the eyes before asking me her next question: “But why are you here?”
I ignore her accusatory tone and tell her I’m writing a story on a program that seeks to transition strippers out of their industry and into safe and secure employment.
What I leave out is my meeting with my tutor from the day before, who read over the first draft of my feature article. With a look that implied I’m inexperienced and committing a deadly journalistic sin, she said, “Your story isn’t objective. You need to go to a strip club if you want this story to pass.”
Her words took me by surprise. Me? In a strip club? I wanted to shake my cross in her face and call her ill-informed. Doesn’t she know I’m a woman of faith?
I pictured a number of scenarios playing out in real life – mistakenly walking into a brothel and not a strip club, fainting at the sight of naked women, or pulling up the bible app on my phone to negate any weird interactions.
But I held my tongue in front of my tutor, stifling my imagination. I didn’t want to fail.
I’m now neck-deep in the strip club, where women in lacy underwear twirl on stage or provide lap dances in tub chairs big enough for three. I’m angry, looking on as men throw money onto exposed chests, chugging down beer. Don’t these women understand they’re being ogled at for money and subjected to the whims of horny men?
I ask Candy why she’s in this industry if she isn’t forced to be. She tilts her head back and laughs, breasts bouncing, while her glittered body twinkles in the dim-light.
“I love what I do. And I get paid good money. Money that’s paying off my paramedic course. Yeah, this life isn’t for everybody. But we work damn hard to get where we are.”
I’m taken aback by her response. I pause before I ask my next question.
“So, you don’t agree with the program, then?”
Candy takes a swig of her wine. “No,” she says, “I don’t. We are very lucky to be in Australia. We are not underprivileged or without opportunity. If I had a choice to do this for the rest of my life, I would.”
Confidence wafts off her like perfume.
She’s content with where she is. I look around the strip club for answers. Can something contradict what this stripper is saying? Instead, I lock eyes with a girl on a silver pole. She too is topless, and winks at me from afar.
“Look,” says Candy, noticing my discomfort, “I know some girls who aren’t happy stripping. Take her for example,” nodding towards the girl that just winked at me. “She hates this lifestyle. She finds the work hard and competitive. But, it’s a means to an end. This is only a temporary gig.”
I find this hard to swallow. I thought once you were in, there was no way out? I ask as much.
Candy smiles at me like I’m an eight-year-old who just messed up on their maths quiz. “No, sugarplum. That’s not how this industry works.”
She goes on to explain how she was abused at her last club by a client. “My manager turned his back on me as soon as I spoke up. So, I left, and found a home here. No one can hold you back. You decide if you stay or go. And it’s only fair. We pay a house fee to work these joints. So, we decide who we get to trust,” she says.
I simply nod, processing her words. The story I gave to my tutor reflected a desperate, help-me narrative I believed all strippers had. I was under the impression they were financially unstable, or stuck in a cycle and in need of ‘rescuing’, like a princess trapped in a high tower. Turns out, my naivety led me astray.
I tell Candy I have to be real with her and that the true belief I held walking into this strip club is that women like her deserved better. At least, this is the narrative that ran through my head.
She raises one of her pencilled eyebrows. “What changed?”
I offer her a smile. “You, actually. It’s clear you love to strip, and feel confident and safe in what you do, irrelevant of any program. It’s cool to see,” I say.
Candy’s now the one to smile and we exchange a few more words before I reach the top of the strip club’s steps.
It’s no fiery pit, or stairs leading to my impending doom.
I look back and catch a quick glimpse of Candy. She’s taking another sip of her drink, and conversing with a man near the entrance.
Tonight, two worlds collided. We talked, we connected, we smiled. And now, I’m heading my own way, down a crooked pathway, into the night.
Cover by Eric Nopanen