Overview:

Kitana was a confident, empowered woman who started stripping after visiting a strip club with her husband and friends. Here's her story.

Reading Time: 6 minutes

This is part of our Taboo Series.

This tall Asian beauty was hard to miss in the club. Being about a foot shorter than her, I had the pleasure of talking to her boobs most of the time. If there was drama or a stripper beef in the club, it never involved Kitana. She had the type of presence and personality that forced you to smile around her. She was someone that no matter what kind of night I was having, I was happy to have there.

Kitana grew up in a happy two-parent home. She had a typical, healthy home life as a kid. Growing up in a liberal Lutheran household, she now identifies as an atheist. Her parents were happily married until her father passed away when she was in her thirties. She went to public school with the exception of one year of private Christian school. She graduated with honors, earned a scholarship to a four-year college, was on the Dean’s list and ultimately finished with a Master’s degree in English Lit. Take that Dr. Phil.

After earning her bachelor’s degree and moving to California from the northeast, she went to a strip club with her husband and another couple. After a couple of trips, she decided to try amateur night, which also served as audition night. She got some advice from someone she knew, and spent some time practicing for her first stage. Despite thinking that she was prepared, her first stage appearance was a self-described disaster. She said she was all over the place, with one of her friends going so far as to say she looked like a frenetic dog looking for its bone. She gave it another try, made second place, and was hired that night.

Kitana was in her mid-twenties and married when she started stripping. Because she and her husband had been to the strip club as customers, he was completely comfortable with her dancing there. Being new to California, the strip club was a place for her to make friends and earn cash while she worked on her master’s degree. Many women start stripping much younger, usually before they can even legally drink, but starting later gave Kitana an edge on those who didn’t have as much life experience or maturity. Having a clearer sense of self and image, makes avoiding the pitfalls such as drugs or toxic relationships easier.

She didn’t avoid all the hard lessons though. One of the first pieces of advice she received from another dancer was to wear regular heels as opposed to stripper heels. It seems like that would be more comfortable, but stripper heels have a high platform that gives the illusion of a higher heel without the discomfort. Kitana, being the smart cookie she is, switched from the ill-suggested regular heels to the more appropriate stripper heels after only one painful night shift.

“It was the worst advice anyone ever gave me,” she said.

Growing up in a Christian household, she wasn’t completely comfortable with nudity or being nude herself. But she was able to compartmentalize herself being nude at the club while performing, as opposed to being naked in a different context. Like most other dancers, she enjoyed being on stage but didn’t have a performer mode as some develop. Some performers create almost a separate sense of self on stage. Kitana didn’t feel that; she was the same person on and off stage as she was in the rest of her life. While she liked to perform, she didn’t do it for the attention, so much as just the sheer joy of performing itself.

“I felt weird about being naked, and thought this might help me get over some of that.”

Many strippers enjoy the stage and the sense of validation it brings. They talk about finding confidence, self-esteem, and a strong sense of self. Perhaps because she was relatively older when she started, she already had that confidence and was comfortable with who she was. She didn’t need to find herself because she became a stripper with all that already figured out. While that didn’t protect her from the bad shoe advice, I think it protected her from the important stuff: the mental and emotional struggles that often come with the profession. Kitana never felt empowered because she never felt like she lacked power in the first place. Rather she describes feeling in power, because she was always in command.

“The feeling of being on stage is not an act of exhibitionism, as some may think. We are dancing in a sexual manner, and the fact that we have no clothes on is kind of irrelevant, to a degree. Instead of people applauding us, they throw money.”

Being Asian worked to her advantage. Being what’s considered “a fetish” served her well inside the strip club especially because she looked quintessentially Asian, and was thin with big boobs. She doesn’t remember guys specifically telling her they liked Asian women. But she says that walking around in the world as an Asian woman, she became kind of desensitized to the fetishization of them, and learned to ignore it most of the time.

She was never one to beg for or, as is usually referred to, hustle for dances. Many times, lap dances require an extensive sales pitch, but Kitana had a more cavalier approach. If they wanted a dance… great, and if not, that was fine too. Their acceptance or refusal only impacted her pocketbook and not her self-worth. This is an attitude and outlook that is not only rare, but difficult to attain. She knew at the end of the day what these random guys thought about her didn’t matter. When customers walk through the door, they relinquish all control. The strip club was her domain, as it is for all strippers. She is the one who makes them feel good because a pretty girl is listening to them. Whatever their motivations are for coming into the club, she had the final say in what happened. Whether that means she is fulfilling a fantasy, lending a sympathetic ear, or they were just trying to get off, she was the one in control.

Kitana didn’t mind lap dancing. She remembers most of the customers that she danced for were respectful. Most of them were lonely, looking for companionship, and sometimes, conversation. She says about 70% were cool, while the other 30%, not so much. But the not-so-great ones tended to be easy to forget. The pleasant ones often became regulars and friends in some capacity.

“Some were really cool, some were not so cool. 70% were the shit, while 30% were just shitty. A lot of them were lonely; they just wanted someone to talk to.”

She had a great relationship with the staff and the girls. She showed up and did her job, and didn’t ruffle any feathers. Kitana never did any drugs, or drank at work. Kitana only recalls one unpleasant incident with a customer where she was disappointed with how one of the managers handled it. After a customer exposed himself during a lap dance, she stopped the dance and told a manager. Rather than simply throw the guy out, he was almost coddled before being asked to leave. But because she always felt in control in the strip club, staying away from both difficult customers, other entertainers, and the staff was easier for her. So she didn’t have many instances like this.

Kitana was concerned about the stigma of being a stripper. She didn’t tell any of her family, and some of them still don’t know. She was hesitant to tell new friends and only did so after attaining a certain level of comfort with them. It’s hard to know how people will react when you tell them that you are or were a stripper. She is less hesitant now to tell people, but is still cautious.

While she was still dancing, she interviewed with a prospective employer for another non-stripping job. An admitted wine snob, Kitana applied to work evenings at a restaurant in their wine shop. The interview went well and the person she interviewed with pretty much offered her the job on the spot. But when he asked about her other job, she told him that she worked part-time as a stripper. She didn’t receive a callback.

“At the end of the interview he asked about my day job, and I told him I was a dancer. His entire demeanor changed and I never heard from him.”

Kitana is completely supportive of stripping and sex work in general. She feels like more oversight will make it safer and a viable job option for many. She would tell women that are thinking about being a stripper to have a backup plan, and go to school. Treat stripping like a job, and stay away from drugs and alcohol. Don’t go into dancing because you want approval, adulation, or validation from men because you think it will fill some void you have. Kitana did things a little backward. Having started dancing and already having a boob job, being married, and completing most of her schooling gave her a huge advantage. While Kitana liked dancing and approached it like a job, the second it started to feel like a job, it wasn’t as fun anymore. She danced for seven years from 1999 to 2007. When she finished her master’s, she quit. She is now a freelance writer, editor, and proofreader.

Read more Tales from the Strip Club: Trouble | Brooklyn | Presley Arcana

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I'm a former adult entertainer and author of Dirty Money: Memoirs of a Stripper and Expose Yourself: How to Take Risks Question Everything and Find Yourself- Humor and Insights from my life as a Stripper....