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This is part of our Taboo Series.

Despite her name, Trouble didn’t cause much trouble. She kept to herself most of the time, a self-described worker bee in the strip club. She was there to work and make money and didn’t let herself get caught up in the backstage social aspects of the club. When I sat down to talk to her about her time as a stripper, I wasn’t surprised to learn that she really enjoyed the job.

When Trouble was a kid, she wanted to be not just a dancer, but an exotic dancer. The idea came to her after seeing Flashdance, a movie in which the art of dance has a certain sexual vibe. Trouble’s mother was a Godfearing Christian whose views and restrictions around sex and sexuality only made Trouble more curious about it. When she had the chance to explore her feelings, she discovered that didn’t feel any guilt or shame around her sexual feelings. Given her desire to perform, becoming a stripper at 19 was a natural way for her to express herself.

People often say that dancers, even of the erotic type, are athletes and artists. Trouble is a perfect example of both of those things. Tall, slender, and a natural beauty, to watch her on stage is to be absolutely mesmerized by her talent. Many successful strippers aren’t great dancers. Trouble was.

Hoisting yourself up on a pole isn’t a hard task, but doing it with grace and in time with the music is difficult if not impossible for most dancers. Trouble was a master. When she stepped onto the stage, her presence demanded attention. When she got onto the pole and began to move with the music, there was no looking away. Her moves were erotic and sensual, but her level of skill was something I’ve rarely seen. Some clubs have recently added poles that spin by themselves, which makes pole dancing more a series of body poses while the pole does all the work. Still entertaining, but that requires much less skill and strength.

When I asked her how she felt on stage, I wasn’t surprised to hear that she loved it. That she lived for it. Asking the question was really just confirming what I already knew because it was obvious to anyone who watched her.

As odd as it may sound, objectification was the goal. As an adult entertainer, Trouble actively chose that objectification. She reveled in it. Going beyond aesthetic validation, having all those hungry eyes on her was exhilarating and empowering. There is a huge difference between being objectified on stage as an erotic entertainer and being objectified while pushing a shopping cart in the grocery store. The difference is choice. Neither gives permission to strangers to be disrespectful, although it happens in both cases. But only one directly invites attention.

There is a huge difference between being objectified on stage as an erotic entertainer and being objectified while pushing a shopping cart in the grocery store. The difference is choice.

I was surprised to learn that she also enjoyed lap dancing in the same way. Trouble enjoyed the tease and anonymous intimacy of the private dances almost as much as being on stage. She recalls liking most of the customers she danced for. She felt that the majority of men she danced for were kind and respectful. Of course, there are plenty of examples of guys who were difficult, rude or aggressive, but she feels that they weren’t the norm in her case. In many cases, she enjoyed the dances as much as her customers, even to the point of climax.

As much as she enjoyed the job itself, the money was a huge motivator to stay in the business. The freedom and independence of being your own boss and being in charge of your time, makes transitioning to traditional employment a tricky thing to do. Stripping in many cases, allows women to travel. Women can go where they want, when they want without having to request permission from an employer, lose a paycheck, or consume paid time off. So when Trouble had the opportunity to dance in Japan, she took it. She spent seven months, exploring the country and making money. The strip club structure was different, but she thoroughly enjoyed her time there. She knows it couldn’t have happened had she been working a regular job.

As a stripper, Trouble didn’t feel like she dealt with stereotypes and stigmas that many do. Without children, she didn’t have to worry about parent-teacher meetings or awkward conversations about her work with other parents. While she was aware of the judgments and disapproval, she simply didn’t care and never let it bother her. She never felt shame or guilt about her chosen profession, and that attitude saved her from much of the grief that other women felt. She knows who she is and rocks that genuine confidence to this day.

It was perhaps that sense of confidence and independence that kept her at arm’s length from other dancers. She didn’t feel a sense of camaraderie that some do with their colleagues, but rather competition and rivalry. When your money depends largely on your looks, competing with other women for your income can make for a tense situation. Many wear a façade of confidence that mask deep insecurities. Sometimes the strip club is a powder keg, where close bonds can lead to disaster. And in an atmosphere where drugs and alcohol are prevalent, even encouraged in some cases, falling in with the wrong crowd is especially easy.

Not that Trouble didn’t have issues with drugs and alcohol. She did. But she doesn’t connect her alcoholism with stripping. She emphatically states that dancing while intoxicated hurts her money. She didn’t need drugs or alcohol to perform and said it made everything harder. So while her issues with alcohol coincided with her job as a dancer, she got wasted because she wanted to not because she had to. She now has ten years of sobriety under her belt.

While Trouble didn’t rely on or make friends with other dancers, she remembers much of the staff at the clubs she worked fondly. Although she thought that some bouncers didn’t like her because she didn’t tip as much as they wanted, she still felt safe from harm. She saw many of the managers and owners as kind and caring. They were quick to lend an ear, give encouragement, and offer help when needed. She refutes the harsh sleazy mainstream stereotype of men who work in the strip club. Her impression of most of the staff is that they mostly take on the role of a protective big brother rather than facilitators of exploitation. I suspect that some are motivated by the tips they receive from the entertainers, but in an overtly sexual environment, such caring is hard to fake.

One regret

Trouble has only one regret about stripping: that she quit too soon. As she stepped out on what would be her very last stage, she hesitated for the first time in her career. Stripping is considered a young person’s game. And no matter what you look like or what shape your body is in, the looming specter of aging out is a constant buzz in the back of one’s mind. Women as young as twenty-five, can feel as if they are the old ones in the club. It is an endless psychological battle that trips up even the most secure and confident of dancers. The pressure to be attractive and young can be overwhelming and no amount of fake smoke and clever lighting can cover it up. The stage lights may cover the signs of aging in reality, but not in the mind of the performer. The intrusive thoughts that you are getting old are unrelenting, and when they came for Trouble, they ended her career.

Her hesitation on that last stage came from those thoughts. She couldn’t shake the feeling that she was too old to be performing. Those thoughts were lies, but convincing ones. When she had those thoughts before, going on stage effectively sent them back into hiding. The applause and tips beat them into submission, but not this time. This time they won, and when Trouble left that night, she never returned.

Trouble stripped for eight years, and she smiles when speaking of those years. She acknowledges how lucky she was to be in the market she was. She knows that it isn’t as easy or safe in other places as it was for her. Her advice to anyone who might be thinking about becoming a stripper is to do their research. Don’t go in cold or without knowing exactly what you’re getting into. That means reading your contract, understanding local laws, restrictions, and rules in the market you’re going to strip in. As well as what rules are allowed to be broken. Touching may be illegal in many clubs, but is often overlooked and ignored.

But above all, she says the most important thing as a stripper is to be sober. Stripping is a job. It is a job that requires performing and if you don’t enjoy that aspect of it, and feel like you need drugs or alcohol to get on stage, then stripping is not for you.

A sentiment that in my opinion, applies to any profession.

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....