"Are you really gonna wife a stripper?" was the first of many messages my boyfriend received from an old acquaintance regarding our relationship, then only two months in.
First off, moving a little fast there, bud. Marriage? It took me five-and-a-half years of playing the field to finally commit to a monogamous relationship and I even tried canceling our first date because I was tired! He suggested we take a nap and it worked.
Over a year and some change together, my boyfriend has taken the brunt of the pushback against our stripper-civilian relationship. Although he tries to spare my feelings by avoiding the gritty details of the flak he's received, he has mentioned that people frequently ask him how he can feel comfortable dating a stripper.
One of his co-workers kept pressing him to confess that we have an open relationship ― when, in fact, we do not. On Facebook, he once received a direct message from an anonymous account created with the intent of dissuading him from dating a sex worker. Poor guy, he has to put up with dating a gorgeous and confident woman whom everyone pines over. How does he survive?
Seriously, though, my boyfriend doesn't mind dating a stripper. Unlike the legions of guys who fetishized my occupation during the courting period, he never brought it up.
Eric and I met through mutual friends, officially at a party but unofficially via cyber-stalking. His opening line was, "I added you on Facebook so now we're friends." He informed me, much later, that he had already seen my Instagram account, which functioned as my stripping advertisement page. It flaunted everything from my Playboy photos to twerking videos to a Vice documentary about exotic dancing that I was featured in.
My dirty laundry was proudly aired and didn't scare him, which is a lot more than I can say for guys I've met much older than he is (my dude is five years my junior). As my social media had already outed me, I was free to be myself. He seemed to see stripping the way I do ― as a job.
Prior to meeting my partner, I played the dating app game and hid my profession from guys until it was time to "come out," after which they'd friend-zone me or try to check off their bang-a-stripper bucket list. Finally, burned out on playing to male smallness, I threw the idea of dating to the wayside and owned myself, stripping and all.
There is something magnetic about being unapologetically yourself. That's when my boyfriend appeared, taking me on real dates and shelving sex until we got to know each other first.
Even before I was a stripper, I was a stripper: free-spirited and exhibitionistic. I've been allergic to people controlling me since twerking my way out of the womb.
I started dancing three years ago when I needed to save up for a car and also needed to never answer to a boss again. As a dancer, flirt and hustler, I'd found my perfect fit.
Three months in, I hit rock bottom with my addictions and got sober while continuing to work in the strip club. Since then, I've had more fun than ever. Running around in my panties, stone sober, gives me a freedom I haven't felt since middle school.
Like any job, it has good and bad days, typically contingent upon how much money I make. The best part is working only 18 hours a week, which frees up time for my stand-up comedy, writing, podcast, friends and dog.
My biggest fear going into dancing was that now no one would ever love me, never mind the fact that I had been single for nearly six years. But in the strip club, I met girls who were in long-term relationships and even married. One of my co-workers met her husband while she was Stella-Getting-Her-Groove-Back at a nude joint following an abusive relationship. Her future husband worked nearby and was friends with the girls at her club. My co-stripper tested his goodness by hustling customers right in front of him while he sipped a beer at the bar.
The key to meeting your match is being your whole and happiest self. My realest self happens to be wearing a pink fur bikini while body-rolling in front of 50 onlookers to Drake's "God's Plan."
Like any romantic relationship, communication is the cornerstone of health. I complain to my boyfriend about cheap customers just as often as I gloat about making a couple hundred simply for talking to someone. He offers support by listening or sharing a pack of break-apart cookies with me like any solid partner would. (Another cool aspect of stripping is that I have the metabolism of a 13-year-old with ADHD.)
There are other ways that I uphold and maintain trust, such as not giving lap dances to men that I know from outside the club. While my partner has never said not to, I felt it was inappropriate and established that boundary. I also don't give out my number or social media handles to customers (actually that's something I wouldn't do even if I were single). Half of them are "girlfriend shoppers" who come to the club trying to take home a lady, which is asinine. It's like playing Monopoly and thinking you'll cash out in real dollars at the end.
My boyfriend also appreciates the no-touching rule that my club maintains. As lovely as my dude is, he is human and takes solace in the fact that men aren't allowed to rub their hands all over me. Frankly, so do I.
The biggest issue in our stripper-civilian relationship is how the physical pain from dancing in heels impedes our love life. It's hard enough trying to make out with a younger man while pretending my back doesn't hurt, but those song lyrics, "My neck, my back," are a lot less sexy when finished with, "Ouch, careful on my knees and hips too." The man who gives me the most pleasure is my chiropractor.
Working nights while my boo is busy during the daytime can also be a hassle, but I would've been busy at night with comedy, anyway. Being able to spend only four nights of the week together actually keeps the fire lit between us.
One major boundary that we've maintained is that he doesn't visit me at work. While some of the other girls have beaus come in, I wouldn't feel comfortable with mine seeing me flirt up other guys. We have visited my club together as patrons and made it rain on my girlfriends.
I've never asked him if his parents know about my job because I'm positive they do and I don't want to talk about it. Sometimes it's better not to go into situations thinking people hate you for your line of work.
Ultimately, stripping is my talent and I refuse to waste my God-given attributes. I'm not embarrassed about being able to move with simultaneous strength and grace. I'm proud of overcoming the self-consciousness that kept me from eating enough food and fueled my finding new and creative ways to self-destruct.
Truthfully, if people have a problem with my relationship, it's because most don't know what love without ownership feels like.
Our love challenges society's views of the male and female roles. That is, it confronts the assumption that a man owns the copyright on his girlfriend's sexuality. In the same way, people view sexy selfies as thirst traps or a sex-themed joke as an invitation. Maybe a girl just wants to express her whole humanity.
My sexuality is as much a working part of my personality as my wit. It doesn't lie dormant in an underwear drawer, waiting for my lover to get into the mood. I express it openly and profit off it because that feels natural to me. It doesn't take away from the well of deep intimacy that my partner and I share. The sexuality I sell is surface-level, not the shared trust of two people in love, walking hand-in-hand through hardship.
We need to let go of the scarlet letter burned into sex workers that cuts us off from society and the embrace of our partners' friends and families, let alone those potential partners. It's killing us, between the stigma and the resulting violence against sex workers. And even if you're not a sex worker, you're hurt too by the patriarchal control that insists a relationship amounts to ownership of a woman. Let's overthrow it.
Have a compelling first-person story you want to share? Send your story description to email@example.com.