Communities that form out of the need for support for each other, don't need to always hold the same views and opinions to be effective.
A group of women came in one evening to the strip club where I worked. In their mid-thirties, they were dressed nicely but not conservatively. There were about five of them in all and they all had one obvious trait in common: they all wore the same look of disgust.
They sat at the stage and put up their two dollars required minimum to sit there. Arms folded in mock boredom. They snickered and sneered at each performer as they danced. They leaned over and whispered to each other. Eventually, their whispers turned into open jeers as they became bolder.
As word of these women spread through the club, I watched a phenomenon unfold.
No matter who they targeted, whether it be a popular dancer or a decidedly unpopular one. Whether they insulted a skinny girl or a thick one, an outgoing one or a shy one, they angered every single dancer who was there that night.
Like a band of naked transformer robots, all the entertainers pulled together, to form one giant sparkly and overly-perfumed super machine bent on the defense of the others. A Stripper Tron if you will.
The women got a taste of their own rude medicine. Their behavior was mirrored back to them in the form of smirks and looks of deathly malice until they were finally asked to leave.
The copasetic kumbaya moment was over. The stripper alliance ended and everyone went back to fiercely competing for the attention and money of the other patrons.
A community forged by stigma isn’t bound by conformity
There are many dancers and staff that I have worked with over the years that I would prefer not to associate with. Some hold extreme political views, have questionable ethics, or are just utterly unpleasant to be around. Some are smart, while others are quite stupid. There are as diverse as humanity itself.
But when faced with a shared adversary that represents the overall disapproval of polite society, we were all one at that moment. No one cared that these hateful women insulted a dancer they didn’t like. I certainly didn’t. Our differences didn’t matter because we are all bound by one simple thing. We were all strippers.
I absolutely hate glitter. Does that make me less of a stripper? I find it unethical to promise something to a customer that I will not provide in order to make more money. A position that many other dancers think is patently stupid. And yet they defended me just the same. As I defended the dancer, who insists that vaccines are unnatural poisons.
The women who were hell-bent on insulting us didn’t consider any other factors except that we were all strippers. They didn’t bother to wonder if we were students, mothers, or decent human beings. To them, we were just strippers. Just as we were all strippers when we felt attacked.
Had we not solidified when it was important, the behavior of those women would have gone unchecked. They would have stayed and disrupted our business and left feeling justified in their utterly unjustified righteousness.
Finding like-minded humans is validating. Especially when a specific trait is something that invites ridicule from other groups. It feels good to have support, but if that support is contingent that everyone holds the same opinions or beliefs it isn’t much of a support system.
We are all different. We all come from different backgrounds and have different experiences that shape our perspectives and worldviews. But a community brought together by stigma must come together in spite of their differences if they have any hope to combat it.
Read Erin’s series Tales from the Strip Club: Interviews with Strippers