The first time I saw a woman with ass shots was in the year 2002. The first time I saw someone get persuaded into doing drugs was around 2001. I turned 21 in 2000 and I swear as I am a black woman, I will always hear a chick called ‘Frenchie’ smacking her ass on the climactic part of Juvenile’s Back That Ass Up. She danced to it all the time and at a particular point of the song, she would get on all fours, take her hand and repeatedly slap her butt (so loud you could hear it downstairs) until Juve popped back in with the chorus. #Brutal. I STILL hear that whenever I hear that song. The same can be said for many other things: Bombs Over Baghdad (Outkast) holds a special place in my mind and Second Nature by Destiny’s Child makes me think of a woman named Blu.Then there was Allen Iverson, Bud & Merlin Santana. Mystikal and Roy Jones Jr. The memories are as thick as the some of the women were. This is where I learned that celebrities were regular folks, how to appreciate the music of all genres and how to scarf down back to back boilermakers.It taught me that people will serve you disrespect based on the choices you make and will say you deserve it. I used to get smacked on the ass so hard that it would leave handprints that I had to walk around with…but I was expected to take it. It was assumed that’s what I liked or at least what I deserved. Certain Victoria Secret smells (mostly discontinued) still make me feel like I’m walking down to the basement again. What basement?
The Strip Club basement.
Let’s just jump right into it shall we?
Would you respect me right now if today was 2001, my name was Butter and I was a stripper? What if I told you I slept with a former Pacer player for some racks as they say now and was sent back to the hood of Sherman Forest Apts in a limousine at the crack of dawn? What if I said I saw a man drop a $100 bill on the floor and I schemed with another chick to distract him while grabbing his $100 so we could split it?
Would you respect me like you do today? Think about it before answering with a proverbial ‘sure I would!’ Think about the way you see me…
me – as in – Januarie York. The poet, the chick that’s always putting together some women’s empowerment demonstration and the avid blogger.
Would you look at me with the same potential, the same abilities, and compassion as you do Januarie York if this was 2001, my name was Butter and you knew I danced nude for Superbowl? Would you want to get to know me or befriend me? Would you have nice things to say about me? Would you be willing to listen to me do a poem or ask me to feature for you? Would you trust me with your audience? Invite me to keynote?
Or would you banish me to hell, make frequent social media posts about how I am all things evil and swear to the God you barely believe in that I am nothing more than a dick sucking whore who takes her clothes off for dollars and gives black women a bad name?
I wonder what the real answer to these questions is. Nah. I know. The answer is no. You’d have no respect for me and would probably label me and swear to the heavens above you that I don’t respect myself.
Just a couple of years ago, God blessed me with a vision and a means to execute it. I held an Oprah-inspired ‘Legends Ball’ that ended up being more than I could have ever dreamed it to be. Every woman left the two-day experience changed for what I hope is forever. Tears flowed, testimonies were shared and trash was burned. By the end of the weekend of events, I was tired but I was proud. Recently I worked to put together a photoshoot called Black Girl Magic Crown, with basically no idea what it would end up being. All I knew is I was going to invite a handful of women to do a shoot and my imagination and writing skills would take it from there. It turned out to be quite empowering and yet another opportunity to see my fellow sisters embracing themselves, each other and laughing out loud.
Black women are my heart. I’ve said this before. I love us! I love us more than these blogs and words will ever be able to show and I get easily pissed off and offended when I see other people trying to take from us whether it’s our goods, our bodies, souls, minds or hearts. I fight as best as I know how for us. I’m not the best that ever did it, but I’m not one sitting down quiet either. In short, I am just Januarie but Januarie gives a fuck and lots of them.
So it should be no surprise that I am willing to go to bat for the women and girls that society, including other black people, are quick to cast away. The ones deemed hoes. The ones that pay bills by stripping. The ones making decisions that don’t necessarily reflect their crown. I am so here for us and do you know why? Because once upon a time, I was that chick they talked about. I was the one that society had deemed useless and considered a castaway because of the very conscious, unbiased decision I made to become a stripper at the age of 20.
Stripping is a part of my past that is never too far behind. It’s one of those things that once you’ve done it, a part of it lives inside of you forever. Are you broke and struggling to make ends meet? “Maybe I could go dance somewhere” will undoubtedly pop up in your mind. Need to get some fast cash to do something, go somewhere or make a down payment on something? “I could do it out of town for the weekend.” Oh and the holidays, Lord the holidays: “if I go to XYZ-Club, I can easily pull $XXXX and get Christmas out of the way.”
Stripping isn’t something that just leaves your mind like an old job. I never think about the time I spent working at Target unless I’m sharing a testimony about working. But every single day that I clocked into Target and every time I had to ask a question on that big, bulky walkie-talkie communication device in my brown Goodwill khakis and my I Work Here Bullseye shirt, I thought about stripping. More than a few times, I cried because I wondered why I ever stopped if $7.25 per hour was all I was worth. A hustler’s mentality is not easily disposed of. When you go from making cash deposits every day to waiting for a week or two and getting the equivalent of a good or bad night, depending on where you live and how hard you hustle, it can be rough to stay straight.
It’s why the recidivism of people leaving and returning to their state of hustle is so high. The speed and ease of making fast money are never too far from the mind. Besides that, other people aren’t always comfortable with letting you outlive your past. It’s been well over ten years but I s till get pictures and funny looks from recognizable men who wonder if I might tell on them as if I GAF. One man I had a ‘situationship’ with is the uncle of a young man I consider my brother. And we won’t even get started on the inboxes that ocassionally show up full of expectation….or the ones that try to ‘deter’ folks away. Lol. #NiceTryButFail I don’t live IN my memories, but my memories are mine forever. I seriously would never strip again. I’m a completely different person now and I’m too damn old! I have no regrets on what I’ve done and I use this information solely as testimony and to bring about a new perspective, but I can’t lie and say during the rougher times, a fast solution didn’t (or hasn’t) come to mind. In reality, it’s not something I would do at this stage but damn how good might it feel to be rained on when I’m trying to save for my future????!!!! I’ve worked very hard to claim my rightful place as an upstanding community member worthy of respect. You know how they say being black means you have to work twice as hard to prove you are just as good as everyone else?
Well, being a stripper means you have to work thrice as hard to prove you are worthy of respect.
When I read and hear people talk about strippers, I always find myself asking the questions that this blog started off with. If today was the year 2000 and I was a 21-year-old named Butter, would you have the same choice words for me? I’m sure the answer is yes because as a stripper that means either you are too stupid to utilize how smart you are, or you’re simple thot with otherwise no future. Stripping is supposed to strip you from being able to be a proud woman of any race and especially the Black Race. How dare we let our other sisters down when the war on black women needs as many non-corrupted, high horse saddling, kind hearted troupes on the ground as it can get? How dare we shame our families and friends by indulging in a life of sin and debauchery complete with removing clothing off in exchange for dollars! What God do we serve???!!!!
People are policing and cyber check strippers as if the skeletal remains in their closet aren’t running out of casket space. I’m so over this notion that one person’s individual (perhaps secretive) dirt is sitting on a higher echelon than others. It’s not. Dirt is dirt and it all turns to mud when it’s wet. Is stripping the ideal lifestyle? Nah. I’m not going to tell that lie. I wouldn’t want my daughters to be strippers and I knew of some mother-daughter duos. But not everyone will have the same experience stripping just like not everyone started for the same reasons. I’ve tried to write this blog several times and kept feeling like I was missing the mark and the point I wanted to make. I don’t have regrets. I called myself a stripper, a dancer, an exotic dancer and I took pride in what I was doing, as I should have because I was doing it. No sense in doing something you are embarrassed about. When I was out in public people didn’t look at me and smell the smoke and alcohol on me. They didn’t see a woman who gave lap dances and practiced to become proficient on the pole. They just saw a young woman. A young black woman. Possibly someone with potential or someone who had it together. There was no ‘presentation’ of Butter the Stripper on me that I knew of. Strippers blend in with the crowd just like I do now. I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve listened to of folks belittling women who choose to be dancers while not knowing the woman they are talking to or in front of used to be one too. Strippers are holding the door open for you at the grocery store. They are breastfeeding their children in public. They are suffering PMS in the middle of the month and trying to get rid useless men and heal their broken pieces. Strippers are attending funerals of their parents, siblings, friends and loved ones. They suffer miscarriages and give birth without epidurals. They hold hands, fall in love, cook like Masterchefs and have been known to keep clean houses. They want the best for their life and the life of their children. It’s not all about dick, drugs and alcohol. Please forgive the private dancers of the world for not being one-dimensional ass shaking, dollar-grabbers and that’s it.
“Ain’t I still a woman?”
In plain English: Strippers are just like you. Well, aside from the chosen employment. But since folks love to pop off, here are a few bullets detailing some of what you know about strippers vs what you don’t know:
What you know:
- She’s a stripper.
- She works at X-club (why do you know this info?)
- She takes her clothes off for tips.
- She probably doesn’t file taxes. (but do you really KNOW this?)
- She receives tax-free dollars. (or does she?)
*****Note how what you actually KNOW is all surface driven. You basically don’t know shit without asking.
What you don’t know:
- What made her start dancing
- Does she know her worth (it is assumed that a stripper has self-worth/self-esteem issues and while I absolutely DID have self-esteem problems, not everyone does.)
- What is her point/motive for being there? What is the rhyme to her reason?
- Who is she
- What her family life was/is like
- What type of friend is she
- What her relationship with her father is like
- What is her plan
- What type of woman she is (although it’s auto assumed that she’s a simple whore w/little to no depth otherwise she wouldn’t be a stripper)
- Whether or not she’s in school (this is said to be cliché, as if it’s a bad thing that strippers still desire being educated. When ‘regular’ folks go to school and graduate, it’s celebrated. When strippers go to school, they are clichés and ain’t gonna do shit w/their degree (a degree that probably has a lot less debt attached to it btw))
- If she’s there on her own free will (this is a thing guys. Women and girls are trafficked all the time. Sometimes they are sent to the strip club to get money. Ask me how I know…)
- Whether or not she’s tried to quit and the associated complications
It’s so damned easy to make assumptions about people and their lifestyles but we hardly put as much energy into finding out why they got that way.
If you recall from my Black Girl, Magic Crown blog, I spoke a bit on the idea of “letting hoes be hoes” and how silly it is. That’s some more surface shit right there. You don’t have to sit back and let someone destroy their life or their body. You can step up to the plate and be willing to take the hit in an effort to show them their internal Light. It’s the same with strippers. It takes so little energy to think you know the ins and outs of a dancer but you don’t have to make assumptions.
You can actually talk to some and pick their brains without trying to belittle them or shame them, just like these women did. You can ask questions that might help you prevent younger girls from following a life that is often glorified in rap songs. Around 2001/2002, there was a young girl who worked with us for at least a year before anyone found out she was a freaking teenager. Fake ID and lack of familial guidance landed her right on our stage. And you know what? We loved on her as sisters. Can strippers not be sisterly? I’m not sure if the camaraderie I experienced is still a viable part of strip clubs today, but we, for what it is worth, were a family of black[listed] women that protested together, fought together, fought each other but got right back on track and loved each other. We gave each other whatever it was that we had been missing in the first place. I got fired for protesting how the women were treated by the staff at the Sunset. I’ve been taking these bullets since I was old enough to learn that black women weren’t the mean bitches that society swears we are. When you’re young and don’t know any better, you think it sounds cute to say “I can’t be friends with women.” That was me prior to dancing. I was so scared that all these women would try to fight me or bully me for being the new chick. I was more fearful of the black women who quickly became my family at the time than I was of the men who had been disappointing and disrespecting me since I was born.
You need other women in your corner and I don’t care if you are a teacher or a stripper, First-Lady or last in the food stamp line. Black women need each other and there’s simply no sugary substance to coat that statement with. We are magic as individuals and there is strength in numbers. Strippers need strength too.
I walked in the club with enough innocence left to make me foolish and enough street smarts to learn quickly. By the time I rolled the baby blue, big bodied Buick through the Passion parking lot for the final time, I had been changed as a woman three times over.
“Well hello book. This is my dancer’s book where everyday from here til the end, I will write a page about the club. Who am I? Butter. My real name is Kendria. Butter, my alter ego, has become a part of me that no matter what happens, I’ll always remember. So here’s the start of what will hopefully be the end soon.
The club was my college. It taught me how hard I would champion for black women and how lovable we are. It revealed men to me in a way that school never did, momma never talked about and dating could have never shown me. Stripping empowered me. Yeah, I said it. It EMPOWERED me. It was my first shot at seeing my beautiful, inside and out. While there was years worth of work left to do (and undo), it still sowed something into me that I had never experienced before; confidence. It built me up and then it broke me down and didn’t stop breaking me until nearly three years after I quit. Try adding ‘exotic dancer’ (which I did sometimes) on your application and it won’t be long before you high tail it back to acrobatics and other weird shit on the stage.
I found friendships at the club that were unbreakable and lasted for decades until time and life journeys pulled us apart. I can’t possibly put everything in this blog that happened to me while dancing. There are stories that I shouldn’t have lived to tell about or at the very least should be embarrassed about, women who I had to learn to forgive and men who broke my beliefs. But it didn’t stop me.
My journey was still mine to take and mine to travel. I’m still here. I’m no less a woman today because I was a stripper ten years ago just as I was no less woman ten years ago because of what I did. You can color it up with a slurry of insults and name calling but at the end of it all, I was still a woman. We were all women and the best part: we were unapologetic about who we were and what we were doing.
I survived my own ratchet behavior and youthful Yolo mentality only to arrive in my 30s as a respected and published author, poet and dare I started saying ‘Keynote Speaker!!!’ And I’m still climbing !!! MANY of us are. When the manager who hired me, Jesse, passed away a few years back, it was my first time seeing most of those women in nearly a decade. Some were still dancers (it’s a hard job to quit) and others were onto other things. Several had graduated and put their degrees to use. I know of lawyers, teachers and abroad teachers, choreographers, nurses (not CNA’s…which is not a knock to CNA, but I am making a point here about societal assumptions), artists, poets, musicians……..
I know women. Women who made decisions on what to do with their lives at one point, that made us LOOK like we were lesser women. Women that indulged in a fast life for awhile but knew there was more to us than thongs and dollars. This blog is devoid of most of the negative aspects of the club because that’s not why I decided to pen it. I wrote this because it’s been on my heart to write for well over two years now. I wrote it because I am curious of how come I’m so ‘respectable’ now? The same person I am today, I was then in the sense of core of my personality and what is important to me: love. The same woman that wanted to recreate Oprah’s Ball, the same woman that wanted to do a photoshoot and writes poems for women is the same woman who packaged up and handed out at least 10 ‘easter baskets’ to my sisters. That’s the same woman who offered places to stay for several and lost a lot in the process of trying to help others. I’m not the greatest person because my heart is big and I love women: my point is when you are judging strippers from the outside, have you looked within yourself or even those you keep close at what type of people they are??? I mean, just because one is not prancing around under the black light and holding the pole does not make them any more righteous or upstanding than those that do. KNOW THIS IN-FORMATION!
Am I good, respectable black gal now since society accepts how I’m currently living my life? Because I don’t live my life FOR society….and therein lies the problem with strippers.
What society sees as disposable filthy sex workers, I see as beautiful [black] women who may need a bit of guidance OR who are absolutely in total control of their lives.
I see magic!
I see my sisters.
I love you. Fuck what society says.