I pulled Suzie out of the flattering strip-club lighting and into the harsh light of reality, by telling my mum first. It did not go well.
"Mum, please sit down. I have something to tell you … I'm a stripper."
"Oh my God, you're whoring yourself out on the streets to support your cocaine habit?"
"Umm … no, that's not what I said."
Things didn't go any better with my dad. It put an awful strain on our relationship. He became quite distant from me for a couple of years. Our conversations, which had previously been filled with daddy-daughter love, became awkward. Stilted.
I tried to talk about my job but he changed the subject. I tried to reassure him that I was safe and happy, but he reached as far away as possible from the topic — we discussed Lynda's boyfriend's part-time work, rather than how I earned money.
It was gutting. This was such a big part of my life, my identity, who I was, and they were unable to accept it at all. I stand by my decision to tell them. I would rather have an honest relationship with my parents than one built on lies.
I realise it must be very hard for parents to come to terms with their baby girl doing things that they don't understand — and probably have no knowledge of, apart from what they've seen on the news and in films. Mum felt like she was condoning my decision to dance if I remained living under her roof. One night, I was competing in a stripping competition called the 'Golden G-string' at The Oxford Tavern and, as I walked out the door, Mum called out, "Off to degrade all women, are you?"
I moved in with Chris. At first things were fine and happy, but then we began to fight. He hated what I did as a job. He hated the industry and he hated The Club.
"How can I ever respect what you do?" he asked me. I felt like he'd started seeing me as my job and not as a person. Like he didn't see me for who I was, rather as this one thing that I did. I am a human being.
Stripping was a thing I did. It did not define me as a person. It was Suzie who was up onstage naked in a strip club, not Emma. He had access to Emma, the entirety of me — which no one else was privy to. But it still wasn't enough.
Things came to a head when he gave me an ultimatum: him or dancing. I chose dancing. I booked myself in for extra shifts at The Club. I even called one of my regulars, telling him I had just broken up with my boyfriend. He bought me a TV to cheer me up.
A few days later, Chris showed up at my office job and we f**ked in the storage room. I think we were both slightly addicted to each other. God knows why else we would have hung on through all this.
Chris apologised for asking me to choose between him and dancing. He said that he realised I had given up stuff for our relationship (namely going to BDSM parties and lesbian groups of friends … and I suppose Richard) … but it seems I'm clinging to dancing even more now. It feels so right for me and is such a huge part of me that for Chris to hate it so much feels a little bit like he doesn't love me — but rather someone else. Someone I am not.
We decided to start seeing each other again. But the fact is, I really don't like being told what I can and cannot do. The quickest way to get me to do something is to say I can't.
The day he graduated from his course, I told him I'd meet him after work to celebrate. I took a day shift due to finish at 7pm, but a high roller came in and booked me and a group of girls for a show. He kept extending. And extending and extending. I stayed for the show, missing dinner entirely. It was 12am by the time I left work. The lure of the money was too much.
I arrived at his house just after 1am. Chris was sitting at his desk; the room was lit only by a small lamp on the floor.
"Have you been at work?" he asked, even though he knew full well where I had been. "Yes. I am so sorry — but I did just make almost enough to pay this semester's uni fees in one night." He glared at me.
"Can I have a hug?" I asked tentatively. I wanted to feel his arms around me, to know that we were still okay.
"Not until you've showered. I don't want the stink of that place on you."
I lowered my head and made my way down the hall to the bathroom. Desperate to do whatever he asked of me in order to make this right.
"And clean your teeth," he called out after me.
Chris told me later that I had "destroyed his self-esteem by choosing superficial relationships with other men over him". I chose who I was, and what was important to me at the time, over him. I expected him to accept me for that. I often prioritised work over relationships and friendships. I was on such a mission to earn money and succeed in the industry, I neglected important friendships — even skipping Lynda's 18th birthday because I had a shift at The Club.
Logistically, Friday and Saturday nights were my regular working week — unfortunately, they are the nights when most people socialise. My friends got sick of asking if I was free Friday or Saturday and, eventually, they just stopped asking altogether.
This wasn't helped by the fact I'm also a bit of an introvert; work was a legitimate excuse to avoid social outings because I didn't want to be doing what most 20-year-olds did on the weekend.
"Let's go out drinking and dancing" sounded exactly like what I did at work — it was the equivalent of me asking them to "hang out at the office and file invoices".
My social network began to be sourced more and more from work; people who kept the same hours as me, were keen for a movie or a quiet night at home, understood my workplace issues and, most importantly, did not make horrible comments about dancing.
Who else would understand the hilarity of sticking your middle finger up at a customer, when he'd waved a $2 dancer dollar at you and asked: "What are you going to do for this?"
When someone actually did that to me, I curled his hand back around the laminated plastic and said: "I think you need it more than me."
Strippers can't have bad days — not just at work, where it can affect your income, but you also don't have the ability to vent to your loved ones.
"I had an awful day at work today."
From my non-work friends or family, the response was always the same. "Well, why don't you quit, then?"
I learned I could only share "happy" work stories with them. Stories that demonstrated how empowered I was, how much respect I was shown and how much fun I was having. The party-girl facade of work had to be maintained at home as well. It was exhausting. Every job has good days and bad days. No one else gets told to quit just because they had a bad day or met with a rude customer.
Just like any other job, where you have to deal with the general public, there are nice guys and there are a**holes. It's just worse in the The Club, because you're naked and the a**holes are drunk. So much for the honest and open communication I wished to have with my family.
The Stripper Next Door by Emma Lea Corbett, New Holland Publishers, $29.99 is available online online.