Monday, June 16, 2014

Strippers Aren't Objects. They're People.

Regular readers will know that I have a tendency to look at people and wonder about their stories.  Everyone has something going on under the surface, something in their past, something happening in their lives that might be influecing their decisions now, might be impacting how they feel right now.  I see tis insight as a huge benefit because it helps me to recognize that everyone I encounter has a story to tell - and that most of the time, there is no point in getting angry at the person who cut me off on the highway because I'm not part of their story.  I don't know what's going on in their world, in their life.

My friend Karen is one of those people - you might catch a glimpse of her in the background of a picture, you might see her at the store or driving down the street.  You'd see a beautiful woman with a beautiful family.  And just like so many of us - she has a story.  And she's sharing a piece of it here today.


This is a very difficult post for me to write. It’s been in the making for a number of years, as it is both embarrassing and extremely painful. I’m in the process of healing, but it’s a long process, and acceptance is part of that. Accepting that I made some terrible past decisions that are affecting my present life in ways that were highly unexpected at the time. Many couples visit strip clubs together or use pornography together to enhance their sex lives or spice it up a little. We don’t. Ever. Many men have porn in the house or occasionally go to the club for a bachelor party or look at naked girls on the Internet. My husband won’t (by his choice, not by my permission). This post is why.

I keep writing this and then deleting it. For years, I’ve written it, decided it’s no good and won’t make a difference, and deleted it. For years I’ve decided it was too painful, and I’ve deleted it. For years I haven’t healed. I’ve been a sinking ship. Now I’m taking my family down with me. I’m not just hurting me anymore. It’s time to repair the wounds.

Worthless is a word that I use to describe myself often. Useless and failure are a couple more of my favorites. Purposeless. No good. Garbage. I have a very hard time looking at my wonderful life, my beautiful children, my amazing husband, my dream home, and feeling as though I deserve any of it. I’m positive that at any moment, my family is going to realize what trash I am and it will all be taken from me. For years, this is what I was told. For an entire decade of my life. I still believe it, and I’ve got to stop believing it, because if I don’t, the prophecy will self fulfill. Not because I’m worthless, but because I’m too damn negative, and ain’t nobody got time for that.

I’m 34 years old. I’ve been with my husband for 6 years and married for 2. I have a BA in Political Science from Indiana University, where I won a scholarship for having the highest GPA in the department, graduating with a 3.995. I raise two boys and a girl, who are amazing little people. I’m funny, I’m pretty, and I’m smart…and I started sex work when I was 18. I didn’t find anything wrong with it at the time. I had monetary goals, and it seemed to be the way to meet those goals as quickly as possible. I didn’t have any feelings one way or the other about sex or nudity or modesty. I’d been working other jobs for years, and it just seemed like another job to me, only higher paying. I was hanging out on the streets of Broad Ripple one day and was approached by some guy offering lots of money under the table, so I took it.

I made one decision on one day of my life when I was 18 years old, and it has ruined my life ever since. At 18 years old, I made the decision to become an object instead of a person.

I have been a member of quite a few Internets groups over the years, a lot of them full of moms. Every now and again the discussion of pornography and strip joints comes up. Whose husband is allowed to go, whose husband isn’t, whose hides it, who goes as a couple, etc. It always ends in a fight about the definition of infidelity and respect for one’s spouse or significant other. The camp of “strip clubs destroy marriages” versus the camp of “jealousy destroys marriages”.

I’m in a completely different camp. The camp of “strip clubs destroy women.” My reasons for not buying have nothing to do with infidelity. I’m not a jealous person. I do not feel disrespected if my husband finds another woman attractive. We don’t partake of this sort of spice because I absolutely refuse to pump money into an industry that destroys lives. Not the lives of the PATRONS (via broken marriages) but the lives of the WORKERS. If you are visiting these establishments or buying these movies or clicking these websites, you are absolutely, 100%, beyond a shadow of a doubt, helping to ruin these women’s lives. I know that may be hard to hear, but it’s straight from the horse’s mouth. Insider info. THE TRUTH.

When you walk into a strip club audition or to a casting for a porn movie or to apply for a job as a “live” model at the jack shack or submit naked pictures of yourself to a number of websites, they verify your age with several pieces of identification to make sure you are a legal adult (to cover their asses with the courts). What they do NOT verify is that you are mentally stable, have no past history of abuse, or that you’ve been taught what is and is not a healthy sexual relationship. Why would they? If they only hired empowered women who ENJOY sex work for the sake of the work, they’d be left with, maybe, 1% of their employees.

I worked all over the country in the sex industry over a decade of my life. I have met thousands of sex workers, from the girl in the rinky dink strip joint in the middle of nowhere to the high-profile, multi-million dollar porn star. I believe that out of these women, THOUSANDS of women, I have met MAYBE 2 that had a healthy view of WHY they were doing the work they were doing. If the stripper you’re talking to tells you how much she loves her job, she’s lying to you. If you think you’re watching the 1% of workers who enjoy it, you’re lying to yourself. Porn stars do interviews talking about how wonderful their lives are, how sexy they feel, how much they love to turn YOU on. THEY.ARE.LYING. They have a product to sell! They aren’t going to sell if they go to a magazine and whine about how much of a piece of shit they feel like day after day. Consumers believe them because it makes them feel better about getting off to these women. I have sat in hotel rooms with many a high-profile porn star. All of them have personally told me how much they hate their jobs. Most of them have gone on about how they hate themselves, as well, and almost all of them were addicts. I know because I was sitting in their hotel rooms because I was delivering their drugs.

The rest of us are just trying to survive. The industry counts on women like me. Down and out, nowhere to go, depressed, abused, told we aren’t worth anything. Then along comes some guy, and he tells you you’re pretty and can make a ton of money to get out of whatever situation you’re in, except they glamorize the situation you just got yourself into.

So you think to yourself, I can do this, it’s no big deal, it’s just another job. Only it’s not. You go for a few shifts, and it’s great! You make a ton of cash and everyone tells you you’re pretty because you’re the new girl.

Then you aren’t the new girl anymore, and your freshness has worn off. Some other barely legal, gullible or abused woman has taken your place. This is when the road to ruin really starts. This is when every flaw you ever had, and even flaws you didn’t know you had, begin to be pointed out to you, hundreds of times a day. Men come into the club, and they verbally abuse the women because they want to look at the women, but they don’t want to give them a dollar, so they make up reasons not to. If they’re mean to the girl, the girl will walk away in a huff, and the dollar will stay in the wallet. So each day your breasts are too big, your ass is too small, your face is too round, your ribs are showing, you have too many freckles, you have an ugly haircut, your nose is too far to the left, one of your knees is a little higher than the other. And who cares, right? You’re just a stupid stripper, and that’s all you’ll ever be. You’re not even human…

There’s a LOT more to this story, but I’ve reached my pain cap for the evening.


I invite you to click over to this post on Karen's blog - Pride and Parentage.  You can read parts 2 and 3.  And hopefully this opens your eyes and your heart and gives you another look into something you maybe never knew about people.  A grim reality that society wants to sweep under the rug.

I also hope you'll leave messages of support for Karen.  It takes a lot of courage to share something so private so openly and I'm honored that she let me share part of her story here.

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Kola said...

wooooooowwww! This is truly something. I almost want to reach out and give her a hug. This is the most heart-felt, honest thing I've read in a long time. I have no words. I just...gosh. I'm truly speechless. She's so brave

Karen M. Peterson said...

Wow. What a brave post. I've already believed a lot of this about the industry, but this just really solidifies those beliefs.