iOS app Android app More

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors
GET UPDATES FROM Justin Hernandez
 

When a Stripper Goes Legit

Posted: 09/17/2012 4:51 pm

In June of this year, I released a memoir entitled Inside the Vortex. In this book, I take the reader through the various stages of my life, one of which was being a stripper while I lived out in Los Angeles. I had walked away from a professional dance career by that point, and what started out as a once a week stripping gig at a gay bar in the Valley soon turned into a full time profession. I began working at different clubs throughout L.A., and I was eventually propositioned by a bar patron to render my services to him after I was done performing. The other dancers called these outside jobs "private parties," but make no mistake about it, it was escorting. Los Angeles gay nightlife became the backdrop to my world, which consisted of fast cash, alcohol, men, and sex. All the things I had developed addictions to at different moments in the past were now combined into one giant smorgasbord for my consumption.

I enjoyed the perks of my newfound career. There was a certain amount of power that came with being on a stage. I realized quickly in the game that I was the object of men's desires. I've always enjoyed attention, but once I realized I could use it to get what I wanted from these guys, it went to a whole other level. I flirted with men to get extra tips; some of them were easily coaxed into private lap dances in secluded areas of the bars. Then, of course, there were the customers who were interested in the private parties. I made a lot of money during this time period -- money that was considered tax-free income. It doesn't get any better than that. As I've stated in my book though, easy money comes with its share of consequences. I might not have paid the government, but I paid in other ways.

Nine months into the business and I was reaching a point of burn out. I added performances at one of Los Angeles's more popular bathhouses to an already full weekly roster of stripping and go-go gigs. I took advantage of the free alcohol the bartenders offered me, which led to driving home under the influence more times than I care to recall. I became more risqué with how I ended my shows. Basically, I became reckless. After one wild night in Pomona where I exposed the full monty on stage, drank too much, and hooked up with a guy whose name I don't remember, it all came crashing down.

That was when I made my first attempt at going legit. I found a job as a bank teller, which unfortunately didn't pay a lot of money. At least not the kind of money I was used to generating. I had bills, and I also wasn't willing to cut back on my spending habits. I rationalized a return to the stripping world. I fooled myself into thinking I needed the money to stay afloat, but in reality, I craved the validation and attention. I missed the power that came from this sexually charged profession; I felt lonely and weak without it. It wasn't long before I was back working the clubs on the weekends.

I continued to perform sporadically over the next couple of years. I took one more break during a short-lived relationship, but when it was over, I went right back to what was familiar to me. However, my perspective about the business was beginning to change, and one night as I prepared to go on stage, I looked around at my peers. There were a few fresh faces, but most of the dancers were old acquaintances. These guys welcomed me with open arms when I started out in the business, and they were still part of the scene. They were older, as was I, and some looked worse for the wear. That was when I realized that achieving veteran status in certain occupations is not always a good thing. These boys had stayed too long at the party, and it seemed they never had a plan B in the back of their minds. I had moved on from my bank teller position to a higher paying job at a medical center, so clearly, I could no longer hide behind financial excuses. I faced the truth that I was holding onto an empty form of validation. I no longer needed the money, nor did I need the approval of strangers who watched me as I gyrated around half-naked on a stage. I grew accustomed to the attention, and I was fearful of letting it go. It was time to stop being afraid. On that evening, I walked away from stripping for good.

Fast forward to two and a half years later, and I'm back in my hometown of New York. I've traded in the thongs and tear-away costumes for an office job in midtown Manhattan. Workdays are structured and predictable, and it's probably the most stability I've had in a long time. I'm not going to lie -- I sometimes miss the easy access I used to have to money. Long gone are the days of carefree spending and earning cold hard cash on a nightly basis. They have been replaced by occasional frustration as I wait for bi-monthly paychecks while carefully balancing my financial choices.

There are random moments when I miss the attention as well, although it's not enough to fuel a return to the business. For one thing, I've aged out, and unless I was working some sort of daddy party, I would look sorely out of place on a go-go box. More importantly, I remember why I had a need for that attention and what it meant to me. I can recall the sadness and loneliness that came along with that time period; I was lost. There was always an air of unhappiness that I could never get away from no matter how hard I tried. So while I might momentarily fantasize as the addictive impulses enter my mind, I realize that I no longer need to act on them. I know I'm content with the place where I'm at in life. I see that I've moved away from my desire to be reckless and unhappy... and there is an extreme amount of satisfaction that comes with being wiser and making better decisions. That's just something no amount of money could ever buy.

 

Follow Justin Hernandez on Twitter: www.twitter.com/justin_jboogie

FOLLOW GAY VOICES