Q&A with the East London Strippers Collective

One of my first nights out when I moved back to London was an East London Strippers Collective party. Since then (September 2017), the ELSC have become – if possible – even more vocal about strippers and sex workers’ rights, raising their profile all over the UK. In this interview, ELSC founder Stacey Clare talks about changes in the law affecting the stripping economy, whorephobia in life and in pole dancing, the life of a stripper and toxic masculinity amongst other things. Enjoy!

Disclaimer

To some of you, my questions will probably appear very dumb. This is probably because, before becoming a pole dancer, I knew almost nothing about stripping. Everything I knew about the job came from highly fictionalised and dramatised stories from movies or books, not from real life.

When I became a pole dancer I started following more strippers and stripper artists on Instagram, I’ve met strippers and I begun talking to them and learning more about the profession. This made me realise how ignorant I was about stripping and the people who do that – an ignorance, I felt, many people share. This post is the first step towards changing that, and I’m so happy to finally have Stacey answering my questions in her own words here on Blogger On Pole for this Q&A. After all, how dumb is it that so much of the music, entertainment and art we consume portrays strippers wrongly when they’ve been talking about their job with their own voice so openly?

You’ve been very active online in the past month with protests, articles in the media and a gallery exhibit. Before we start, is there any message you’d like my readers to become familiar with?

Right now the priority is fighting for workers’ rights in the sex industry – this will protect us from the sort of exploitation that happens to us in clubs such as huge house fees, high commissions, fines, being sacked on the spot etc. So the message to your readers is – if you are a stripper, or you know any strippers or sex workers… please tell them to get in touch! We are collaborating with an amazing union called United Voices of the World, and we are about to start a campaign of industrial action, to stand up for dancers and stop clubs from treating us as they have been getting away with for years. If anyone wants to find out how to be involved email ethicalstripper@gmail.com, or go to www.uvwunion.org.uk.

What does an average day in the life of a London/UK stripper look like?

First thing we do when we wake up in the morning is count the stacks of money from the night before… Haha, not really – I wish! Well, as you can imagine very few of us are early risers. Working into the night, normally means sleeping in the day – but many of also hold down day jobs, or have children to wake up for. Really, like any one in any other job, we are the same as everyone else. Some dancers go to the gym, some like to slob out and eat pizza, some like to go for a manicure, some like to make art. I guess we probably have more hangovers than the average worker, plus we love Uber.

In your brilliant interview with Refinery29 you mentioned that “whorephobia” puts women against strippers. How can we change that to make sure more women take strippers’ and sex workers’ side?

Whorephobia is something that also exists within the sex industry between different types of sex workers – this is also known as the Whorearchy.

Whorephobia is when a stripper says: “Oh god, I would never do XYZ with a customer” or when an escort says: “Oh god, I would never work in a brothel” or when a sex phone operator says: “Oh god, I would never walk the streets to pick up clients”.

Whorephobia is when one woman judges another by her own personal standards, believing she is somehow better, cleaner or of higher morals because she would never… such-and-such. For millennia we have been conditioned to believe that female sexuality is immoral, that women who utilise or capitalise on their sexuality are bad women and that prostitutes are the lowest of the low. We see expressions of this conditioning in campaigns to shut down strip clubs or criminalise sex work.

Essentially for the feminist movement to advance into the 21st century, we all need to recognise that empowering women means all women, no one should get left behind, even if they do a job that you could never do, and can’t understand why someone would. The fact is that people who work in the sex industry are on a spectrum of choice – some of us are very privileged, with a lot of freedom and options, some have limited choice because of social and legal restrictions (immigration for example) and some have little or no choice (dependency or coercion). All these people have very different needs and so policy on sex work needs to be designed to reflect this – criminalising sex work makes those who are the most vulnerable, even more vulnerable. So if women want to become allies to strippers and sex workers, the first thing they can do is recognise that sex work is work, and we deserve to have the same legal protections as people in any other job.

There’s an idea that someone could become a stripper, make loads of money and live her best life – Cardi B being an obvious success story, although you do hear first person accounts of women saving up a lot of cash through stripping. Yet, by following the ESLC and talking to friends who strip it’s easy to discover that IRL there are loads of issues with the job. What’s the reality of stripping and how lucrative is it?

Well, I think Cardi B’s story is pretty rare. She obviously had a strong vision for herself and stripping was merely a step in that direction. I think at the moment, stripping can be a big financial help to someone who is aiming for a specific goal and needs the funds to get there. It’s a sad fact that right now stripping is not an easy job to do, at least because of the working conditions, and I’ve seen a lot of women at every stage (from brand new dancers, to seasoned career dancers) become disillusioned by it. It’s not an industry that you can easily develop a career in, you can’t work your way up in management for example. A very small percentage of dancers do become managers or house mums, but that is not an easy role as that means supporting a business model that exploits other women, so they often end up seen as an enemy.

Don’t get me wrong, it can be very lucrative – you can earn a lot more as a stripper than you can on minimum wage. But you have to work very hard, the hours are long, and the conditions are not great. If you are determined you can do well, but it’s not for everyone.

How have changes in the law affected stripping in the UK?

In 2009 the Policing and Crime Act gave more powers to local authorities to restrict licenses for strip clubs. As a result, many clubs shut down and the industry shrunk overnight. When a strip club closes that means a load of dancers lose their jobs and have to search elsewhere to work. The less clubs there are to choose from means there is greater competition between us, and gives the remaining clubs a monopoly where they can take advantage of the situation by having too many dancers working and increasing the house fees and commissions. Feminists who think they are helping women by shutting down strip clubs are actually adding to the problem – the levels of exploitation have intensified in the last ten years, and we have had enough.

Do you notice a lot of toxic masculinity in clubs? What’s the typical strip club client?

There’s no such thing as a typical client, just as there’s no such thing as a typical stripper. I’ve seen toxic masculinity in strip clubs, on the street, on my dating profile, in the local supermarket, on TV, in my relationships – it’s everywhere. Toxic masculinity is rife among all walks of life – I’ve met men from all kinds of backgrounds and social classes whose masculinity seemed pretty unstable. I think masculinity is in crisis now that women are empowering themselves, gender roles are being redefined all the time. For thousands of years, societies were built on the premise that women were the
property of men, and were thought of only as dependents. For the last century we have been gradually eroding that culture by granting women the same freedoms that men enjoy – and the fall out is huge. It’s my belief that sex workers actually fulfill a need by providing a service to people where they have a lack of companionship, intimacy, freedom and control in their own lives (and by the way there are plenty of male sex workers as well). Many sex workers consider what they do to be a social service – and I agree.

Do you have to go through any checks to be a stripper – e.g. health, visa, etc?

Licensing conditions today mean that if you want to work as a stripper you must provide ID and if necessary a work permit. That’s it.

What would you say to someone who wants to become a stripper? I’ve heard many women say that!

If you really have a burning desire, and feel in your bones that you want to give it a try – then go for it! If you are hesitant, or you think it’s an easy way to make quick money, just be advised it’s not going to be a bed of roses. Get in touch with ELSC or any other sex worker organisation, so you have a peer support network. It’s much better to be linked in to a community so you can access support and resources should you need them.

There are obvious links between stripping and the pole dance community, but I’ve noticed some people either hype them up or reject them completely. How do you feel about that and what is the correct way to address these links?

I know that the pole community can be a breeding ground for whorephobia, and I’m thankful to those who are making efforts to challenge it when it shows up. There are some incredible pole icons who’ve distanced themselves from their past experiences as strippers, which is a shame. I also find it hard to watch videos of women in pole classes throwing dollars on each other, without ever having stepped foot in a strip club or removed an item of clothing for a random dude.

It’s important to recognise that cultural appropriation does not only apply to race. I understand the definition as stealing or adopting elements of culture from a marginalised group, without giving anything back. Sex workers are an extremely marginalised group, so polers could be more mindful about how they are using sex worker culture. So for a pole dancer to wear pleasers, dance stripper style and throw money around without bothering to champion the voices of strippers and sex workers is kind of insulting. But I’m also grateful that while strip clubs are under threat, stripper culture is being incubated within the pole dance community, since it’s one of the only ways for strippers to redefine their work and find new audiences for their art form. I find events like Dance Filthy extremely positive, women dancing like sluts for other women is pretty radical.

Can you recommend must-follow Insta/FB/Twitter accounts to support and understand the stripping community?

For Strippers:

Jacq The Stripper (obvs)

 

View this post on Instagram

 

Thinking about slapping this sassy bitch on a t-shirt, thoughts?

A post shared by JACQ THE STRIPPER (@jacqthestripper) on

Exotic Cancer (obvs)

 

View this post on Instagram

 

jenny is #notastripper and loves her morals & minimum wage job

A post shared by @ exotic.cancer on

Chase Paradise – @strippercomic

Survive the Club

 

View this post on Instagram

 

Use this opportunity to make your voices heard! Conflating stripping and trafficking risks our jobs and livelihood and further marginalizes and endangers actual victims of trafficking. We know who is responsible for these dangerous misconceptions. We need your voices to show the truth. If you’re in Ohio (or anywhere that has been affected by raids) please answer the questionnaire on my website. Please tag yourself and Ohio babes in this post OR send a DM with your email if you are an undercover lady of the stage. ❤️ we will not be silenced by shame, we will not allow the religious right and greedy political entities to write our narrative for us. Our voices matter. We are not victims. Please tag @thestormydaniels in this post in hopes she sees it.

A post shared by Strippers Unite! 💃🏻Chase Kelly (@survivetheclub) on

For sex workers:

SWARM

X-Talk Project

Release

ECP

What has the ELSC got coming up in the future?

There are rumours that we may bring back our legendary parties – but for now we are on a break from
those. Besides the unionising efforts, I am writing a book. You can support my crowdfunder here.

More Info About Stacey

Stacey is the fierce, feisty, phenomenal co-founder of ELSC. She has been stripping for almost a decade, and has mastered the art of pole dancing.

She can be described as a performer who is blessed with true stage presence, and can silence audiences with her long limbs and mesmerising routines. At 6’1” she is slender and statuesque. Despite having the body of an underwear model, she has a disdain for the fashion industry and is always mindful about how she chooses to allow her body to be represented and depicted.

Before stripping, Stacey was a political rebel fighting for social justice and experiencing every protest/direct action as a performance (in costume or character). As a fine art student, her work concentrated on performance art and theatre, and she still involves herself in community theatre projects that deal with projects that are close to her heart.

Her anarchist roots have led her to apply her political views to her choice of work. She believes that stripping is legitimate work and deserves to be regulated and protected as such. She is tirelessly campaigning with the ELSC to challenge stigma and stereotypes about strippers, and to start empowering dancers by bringing them together to self-organise and create their own working conditions.

More Info About The ELSC

ELSC  promote the self-organisation of strippers and lap-dancers in London and the UK. They aim to challenge societal attitudes towards strip club activity by uniting performers to create their own working conditions and empower dancers.

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