The strip club is both a polyamorous playground, and the sexy working woman’s factory floor. When a customer enters our domain, his wedding vows are shelved at the door, and he is imbued with the unspoken understanding that a woman in this space owes no man her loyalty. That’s his wife’s job. At work, a woman’s loyalty is to making money, not making men happy for free. At the strip club, the dancer enjoys multiple paying partners per night, and the man who calls himself monogamous will wait patiently to be next in line. Dancers, too, share partners – and intel, of course. We recommend clients to our co-workers, offering tidbits about behaviour and, most importantly, spending habits. We keep mental notes on every single one of our partners, the ones worth returning to, the ones worth discarding. We are the masters of paid polyamory.
The barflies and the regulars know there is only one way to make friends with strippers, and that is by spending money. That could mean taking the dancer to the VIP, or it could mean plying them with liquor – whatever it is, dancers aren’t going to stick around long if we’re not getting something for our time. We can smell a timewaster from a mile away.
Don Wan was my first client on my first night at Tomcat’s. By the time I met him, he’d been coming to the club nearly every day for the last eight years. Retired with a passive income, Don had spending money – and boy, did we love him for it. Don held court at the same table every night, surrounded by a revolving door of beautiful dancers and a spread of his tasty home-cooked food. Lively conversation was pierced with “Who wants a shot?!” He never let a glass run empty.
Don’s table was a hub, a sanctuary for the wayward stripper. We’d sit with Don, one eye always on the room, and if we spied a quality prospect, we’d excuse ourselves to shoot our shot. Most people don’t realize that stripping is 100 per cent hustle – 50 per cent success and 50 per cent getting rejected. Don’s table meant we had a comfortable place to return to after being turned down. And sometimes, it was Don who would take us up to the VIP.
For my first six months at Tomcat’s, Don booked me for an hour every single night I worked: a negotiated $250 to dance and make out. With all his club clout – he was single-handedly paying a manager’s salary with his nightly bar tab – he would get us the Champagne Room, and in between kissing, we’d sit on the couch, tangled up in each other, watching sports on the overhead TV. At the end of the hour, we’d flip a coin for $50 of my rate. Gambling at the strip club – Grandpa would be so proud. Winning $300 for the hour was euphoric, but earning only $200 made me feel cheap, so I had to put a kibosh on the betting. A guaranteed $250 a night was nothing to fuck with. It gave me a sense of financial security that allowed me to relax during the rest of my shift. What a gift.
Two weeks into my new career at the club, I met another client who’d become a trusty regular. Ron, soon known as “Sophia’s guy,” came in every single week and didn’t see anyone but me for almost three years. Loyal, steady, and in a word: monogamous. It certainly wasn’t my requirement that he only patronize me, but I wasn’t mad about it, either. There was an undeniable status that came with his weekly visits. He either paid me by the dance or by the hour, which always included a dinner – and a foot rub! Swoon! – at the special Don Wan rate of $250. With a large vegan burrito in hand, chowing down shamelessly in my lingerie, there was something about getting paid to eat and eventually gyrate on this kind, funny, generous man’s lap that transcended the transaction. He made me feel like the Queen of Tomcat’s.
Like any excellent client, he also brought me gifts. It was Ron who presented me with that all-important sex worker milestone: a piece of jewellery from Tiffany’s.
“I’m a real whore now!” I squealed at the beautiful silver necklace, that trademark robin’s egg blue box in my lap. He also surprised me with a pair of shoes. Not that other hooker triumph, a pair of red-soled Louboutins, but the most comfortable shoe of all: the Vibram FiveFingers toe shoe. Fashion be damned!
During those initial six months at the club, I was half hustling dances, half raising support for the first Modern Whore Kickstarter. Many of my clients became artistic patrons, and Ron was no exception.
With Ron, I felt respected and taken care of. As a result, I was always happy to see him – and Ron was always happy to see me.
In September 2017, just over six months after my stripping career began, I left Tomcat’s to launch the first edition of Modern Whore. With limited knowledge of the financial realities of self-publishing, I quit stripping with a vow to never return. Literary fame and fortune were right at my doorstep! I threw a party to celebrate my “last night ever” at the strip club. I invited all my friends and jokingly performed with gusto to the Village People, b4-4, and the Vengaboys. All the waitresses came up onstage during my last song, with tips in their mouths. The DJ announced that I was moving on to publish a book and wished me all the luck as the crowd thundered with supportive applause. It was so sweet! I hung up my heels and let my Adult Entertainer licence expire, my writing career on the verge of blasting off.
Why didn’t anyone tell me there was no money in publishing? Sure, we’d printed 1,000 books, got a ton of press, and sold out within the year, but we hadn’t made any money. Not enough to pay ourselves, anyway, and certainly not enough to live on. Seven months later, without a dime to my name, I returned to Tomcat’s with my tail between my legs and got back to work.
The lesson here is, only amateurs announce their departure from sex work. If I hadn’t made such a show of it, returning to work wouldn’t have been so embarrassing. Likely, no one would have even noticed I was gone. Dipping in and out of the sex industry is common practice. Thankfully, none of the dancers held my folly against me.
Excerpted from Modern Whore: A Memoir, stories by Andrea Werhun and photographs by Nicole Bazuin. Copyright © 2022 by Virgin Twins. Published by Strange Light, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.