WHY HELLO THERE

02.20.16 5:01 AM ET

The Surprising Truth About Running Into People You Know While Stripping

What happens when you’re a stripper and you run into somebody you knew growing up? You would think it would be awkward but…

The smoke-filled room is pulsating with hard-hitting beats, drowning out the reality of the outside world. For a moment we escape real life looming beyond its neon-lit walls. One that doesn’t include kids, work deadlines, and lack-luster relationships. For the time that we are safely inside, the normalcy of our existence is put on pause.

So what happens when you enter this lust-fueled lair, survey the room, and are greeted with a familiar face? Have the wig and heavy make-up failed the stripper’s attempt at an identity cover? Does the absence of anonymity ruin the fantasy for men?

While there is an obvious effort placed in creating a fantasy world inside the strip club, it may not be for the reasons you’d think. The strip club is, quite simply, an adult Disneyland. The dark seedy environment isn’t for “damaged women to hide out from society,” but to create an ideal stage for the fantasy to be played out. The scantily clad women in heavy make-up and almost too-high heeled shoes are a costume. The stage names are the characters and personas these part-time actresses take on. The stage names have the added bonus of providing safety and privacy, but many of them aren’t ashamed of what they do.

And for those already inside the club, they too have stripped-off a veil so to speak. They have walked into the front door of an aptly designated building of lust. Yes, the men and women who enter the strip club are equally vulnerable to having shown their cards. They have evened the playing field of judgement and social acceptability. So when the random encounter of two people who know each other occurs, it’s not as big of a deal as one might assume. Sometimes two people in this predicament will simply nod in acknowledgment, and go about their business. Other times, they may take advantage of this moment and catch up on old times. However the encounter plays out, it’s typically always a mutual respect to both parties. The stripper doesn’t judge the patron for being in the club, and the patron doesn’t judge the stripper for being, well… a stripper.

There were a few instances that I ran into a friend from high school at the club where I was a house dancer. I wasn’t uncomfortable having them see me perform naked, or even give them a lap dance. The conversation would generally just end in a “damn, I wish I had asked you out in high school” statement. It wasn’t weird, or shameful for me to have been known as a person, and later seen as a stripper. I was both of those things then, and still continue to be. But the dramatic difference I noticed immediately about strip club culture, was the level of humanness and honesty that was allowed because of the level of vulnerability.

In the real world, we play games. We flirt and banter with people and leave them to decipher what those actions mean. We “guess” if someone likes us, or wants to have sex with us, instead of just asking, and being okay with the response. Women aren’t allowed to dress provocatively, laugh at your jokes, or touch you while talking to you, because that might imply that we are interested in sex. Men aren’t supposed to ask if we’re interested in sex, because that would be rude. But in the strip club, there is nothing gained by indirectness.

Stripper: “Would you like a dance?”

Patron: “No, thank you.”

Stripper: “Would you mind if I sit down with you?”

Patron: “Sure, but I might not buy you a drink.”

In the real world, women might call this guy a jerk, but in the club, the stripper would know she wasn’t promised a monetary benefit from spending time with this customer. She could simply make an educated decision as to whether or not she would be wasting her time. Sometimes guys would be straightforward and say things like, “You’re really pretty but I don’t have any money to buy dances.” A money-oriented stripper would most likely walk away and bark up another tree. Other strippers would assess the crowd, might choose to stay and chat for awhile, but then excuse herself when the opportunity to make money presented itself. Both parties understand the dynamic. The stripper is at work inside the strip club. The customer is there to look at naked women, have conversations with someone who seems to care, and/or experience a lap dance. Nobody feels rejected, confused, or unloved because the two of them weren’t a match. By removing the ambiguity of the encounter, people were able to have their needs and desires met, and simply walk away. If only the real world operated this way… or could it?

Can women be allowed to be sexually expressive and wear the clothes we want, without it being assumed that we are implying the promise of sex? Can we dance and touch and smile and laugh with you, without having to worry that our liberal actions commit us to dating you or sleeping with you? Or is it only allowed when you’re paying for this service, ensuring that there is no confusion? Can our words be the indication of our romantic and sexual interest?

Can men be allowed to express their needs and desires verbally without judgement? Can they say that they are interested in a sexual encounter, friends with benefits, or F-buddy relationship without being labeled a “dog,” a “creep,” or a “sex-addict?” Isn’t knowing themselves well enough to know what they are interested in and available for a valuable quality in a man?

Personally I value someone who understands their physical and emotional needs, as well as someone who can separate love and sex. I suppose that my time in the strip clubs taught me something about the differences between the two. I was allowed to freely give attention without the consequence of sex, and men were allowed to fantasize without the consequence of marriage and kids. Both sexes want love, romance, and sex. But often times, we get tangled-up in relationships for one of those needs, and faking the rest. Women sometimes agree to sex because they want to feel loved, and men feign romance because they want to have sex. I propose that we apply strip club mentality to the outside world. Then we might find ourselves in relationships that are more fulfilling, honest, and respectful.