“IT’S NOTHING LIKE GTA!”
My friend stumbled through the door to the pizza place, shaking his head and shivering. Behind him, two others followed with looks of stunned disbelief, astonishment and utter shock on their faces.
“I can’t believe that happened. Oh god, it felt like forever, we must have spent an hour in there.”
“I’m just trying to forget it happened. I saw things… weird things.”
I ushered my friends over to a table where I’d been waiting with another friend and sat them down. “Guys, hold up. You’ve only been gone for like 5 minutes. I haven’t even gotten the pizza I ordered yet. Explain.”
My friends had just returned from a very short stint at their first ever strip club — and they were shattered. Over the next hour, my friends and unpacked their experiences. But first, parking.
Parking was the reason we ended up at the strip club in the first place. Impulsively deciding to go to San Francisco one Friday night, four friends and I packed into a Zipcar. Unsure of exactly what we wanted to do, we decided to first find parking, looking for the cheapest option. Haphazardly stumbling through the outskirts of Chinatown at 8:30 p.m., we suddenly came upon a shining street with glittery sidewalks. That’s when we saw it: the strip club.
“Let’s go.” My friend jokingly started walking towards the cross walk.
“Bet!” Suddenly, another friend took off. Before I knew it, we were all assembled at the door of the establishment.
The bouncer looked bored. It wasn’t even 9 p.m. yet; the club had barely opened its doors.
“$10 cover, who’s going?”
Not seeing the reassuring Stanford party consent sign outside and being too young to legally consent myself, I decided to grab a slice at the pizza place next door instead and catch the last half of a Warriors game. Another friend and devout Warriors fan also joined me. The rest of my friends entered the strip club, a neon pink leotard-clad stripper leading them in.
Within the next five minutes, my friends were back, but their experiences seemed to suggest that much like a black hole, strip clubs themselves exist outside the normal space time continuum.
“In those five minutes, I aged 20 years.”
After walking in, my friends explained how they’d been led to the lobby area of the strip club. Quickly a stripper came over and grabbed my first friend by the hand, saying she would take him on a tour.
He followed her as she casually detailed the different parts of the strip club, such as the poles, the platforms and, most importantly, the special backrooms. She asked him if he wanted a drink.
“Um, is there some water please?” Confused, she gave him some tap water in a Bud Light paper cup. Then, she slowly pulled him to a backroom, closing the curtain.
Another stripper fetched my second friend. Seeing that my second and third friend, boy and girl, were sitting together, the stripper asked if they were dating.
“Um no, but can she come with?” My second friend asked the question awkwardly, not wanting to be taken away from the reassurance of a familiar face, and instantly regretted it as the stripper laughed. She also offered to give him a tour and pulled him to the back.
Meanwhile, the stripper brought my first friend a chair. Having him sit on it, she slowly began dancing on and around him, trying to seduce him. Offering him increasingly steep discounts “to take things further,” she kept placing his hands on her body as he kept saying no thanks. She invited another stripper in, and my friend, continuing to say no, sat sipping his water as they danced around him.
For a split second, my second friend saw the first through the curtain — two strippers on his lap — as he was led on his own tour. Brought to another backroom, he was still reeling from the shock of the spectacle when the stripper leading him started to dance. Again, she offered to “go further” for a price which gradually decreased as my friend kept saying no, backing further away. Backed into a chair as the stripper sat in his lap and placed his arms on her, he made a desperate final attempt at escape: “Uh, can you show me the bathroom? I don’t think we saw it on the tour.” After a quick set of directions, he bolted away.
When a stripper came to escort my third friend, she was prepared for the worst. She’d seen my second friend bolt away and had waited for what seemed like forever. Hearing the same line about showing her a tour, she anxiously followed. Instead of walking towards the back rooms, however, her stripper led her through the full layout of the facilities. She showed her the stripper’s prep area, the stage, the bathrooms, the bar and even the kitchen.
“Any questions? No? Alright, enjoy!” Dropping her off back by the poles, the stripper left.
When my first and second friend reemerged, they grabbed my third friend and rushed to the door. Whispering, they asked her, “What did they do to you?”
“Um, they actually gave me a tour?” They stared at each other, bewildered, and hurtled out of the strip club.
After recounting this set of stories over some surprisingly good pizza, my friends sat back, exhausted. Hearing each other’s experiences, we began reflecting. My friends described how weird the entire experience had felt.
“It just seemed so unsanitary and awkward. The places my hands were put, yikes.” The atmosphere of consent around the strip club was very different from the one we’d been exposed to in our everyday lives. Here, entry itself meant paying for and explicitly marking consent to engage in all sorts of physically intimate contact with a stranger.
“I’m honestly not sure what I expected. It literally was a strip club, but still, that was weird.” Far from being erotic havens of sexuality or a checkbox achievement like in GTA as my friend observed, in reality, the strip club just felt kind of empty and desolate.
“Well, it wasn’t even 9 o’clock, we were way too early, it was dead.” The strip club, in that way, seemed to resemble the Stanford party scene.
The strippers themselves were just salespeople, effective ones at that. Applying bargaining and seduction hand in hand, they had a complex service model that even the modern cable industry would have a hard time beating in sucking money out of your wallet — Comcast could learn a thing or two. Sexual acts so directly as a service was weird and alien to my friends. Unsure of what to do and not wanting to spend anymore money than they already had, they’d frozen, unable to deal with the spectacle before them.
“I’m just mad that they literally only gave me a tour, like hello heteronormativity.” My third friend had been shocked to hear about the others experiences, especially given her own. She talked about how the situation hadn’t seemed that bad, though certainly not normal. The strippers were doing their job as they’d coaxed and prodded my friends. There was nothing wrong with that or any of their actions. On the contrary, they’d been wasting the stripper’s valuable time.
“Trust me, you wouldn’t have liked it if it had happened to you.” My other two friends were still trying to process everything that happened. Although they’d kept saying no, the strippers had been relentless with their hands and bodies. Deciding they’d been underprepared going into the club and that if they’d known what it would have been like they definitely wouldn’t have gone in, they said the best outcome of the situation was that they’d learned never to try anything like it again.
“I’m definitely gonna have to go to church tomorrow.”
A few weeks later, we met up again and discussed the situation. By now, the astonishment had faded, and they were slightly more rational.
“Okay, maybe we weren’t in there for an hour, but it was at least 20 minutes.” Although my first and second friend were still positive they wouldn’t be going to strip clubs anytime in the near future, they’d decided that the experience, if awkward, was valuable. It’s rare that sexuality is so explicitly seen in society despite the prevalence of strip clubs and sex work across the world. Thinking about their own problems with it and the disparities between their experience, expectations and media portrayals was important in understanding their own comfort around sexuality and its role. Call it an important if unofficial moment of reflection on their Stanford journey. As we wrapped up our discussion, my third friend agreed, except for one thing: “Y’all had your fun. Now let’s go to a gay strip club instead!”
Contact Ayush Pandit at apandit ‘at’ stanford.edu.