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We all have secrets; we all have walls.
So it’s no joke when I say I have put off letting people in, barred access to hidden parts of me.
For parts of my life, I have felt I needed to remain clandestine in order to be “socially acceptable.” But I have a whole book worth of tales and misadventures. (I have just eaten an extra slice of pumpkin pie because it was on special, the slices were small, and I was majorly procrastinating typing this article.)
Anyway, throughout my life, I’ve known that my mum and friends see me—love me. It’s always been more a question of can I love me?
The answer is yes. But it has taken a few years—quite a few years—to figure that out.
I don’t wish to offend anyone with my life choices. They are mine; I own them and can live happily with them. They have been good, bad, occasionally a little questionable with a dash of chaos and more than usually a rebellious streak.
Sorry (not sorry). Zero fucks are being given because my story is comin’:
It started when I found myself on a hospitality career hiatus. It was after being burned a few (actually, three) times by senior executives who felt okay working younger managers (that’s me) to the bone in the name of training and underpaying female management.
In short, I quit after some heated conversation.
Unemployed, I sat around eating spicy Mexican beans and potatoes. A far cry from my management perk of “eat whatever you want from the menu.” Then, dun-dun-dun, two weeks later, I landed a new job. It miraculously included a company car (#madeit).
Until this point, most of the sales reps I had ever met were in their 40s and always turned up to the restaurant at the most inopportune times. So I was pretty confident that I could better their average. And I did. I quickly became the top salesperson in our branch. (I am quite good at making friends and having a chat.)
One day, I was making a sales call to a massage parlor. They used our services. To be honest, there were not many businesses that didn’t need us. I was selling sanitary bins, and women are everywhere. (Periods happen all the time.) Periods have long been a normalized topic of discussion with me after ballet and locker rooms.
When attending appointments with potential new clients, the man owners would eventually beg me not to say the “p-word,” then ask me where they should sign. One day in a factory, my presence nearly caused a riot, as women marched me to the office and demanded that the factory manager put sanitary bins in their toilets to replace the built-in incinerators. (They often set off the fire alarm and caused much embarrassment when the fire brigade turned up.)
Nothing like a fire engine—red lights flashing and sirens blaring arriving at your workplace—announcing that you are menstruating to the rest of your colleagues.
Okay, back to this massage parlor.
The bloke? Pimp? The guy in charge of girls? I am actually not sure what to call him, but he told me I was hot and that I would make a lot of coin doing massage—that I should give it ago. I was already making a fair whack of coin, so my ego let out an auto-laugh. Thanks, but no thanks.
A week later, I was nervously knocking on the dirty, back “staff only” door.
I was curious! What the fuck was I, a private school girl who speaks multiple languages, has been to college, lived overseas, and by all accounts, reasonably articulate and successful doing here? Well, I was single, curious, and loved the idea of extra cash. It would totally fit in with my cash savings and travel plans.
Clad in sexy, black, lace lingerie, I found myself doing a “trial massage,” thinking what the eff even was that?!
A not-so-naive kitty would have hit him up for some cash, especially because he didn’t tell me the bit about the surprise at the end of the massage.
Ah, that’s what the sanitary bins were for. Dual-purpose! Such responsible waste disposal in the sex industry.
Boom. Instead of working part-time pulling beers for drunks who don’t tip, I was working at the massage parlor. And I was definitely pulling tips. (Ha, I bet you thought I was going to say cocks!)
Alas, ladies and gents, I remain classy.
The other girls were nice. Some were younger than me; some were older—slightly more jaded. They had regular clients on regular days. It was their full-time job. I had determined it was never gonna be my full-time job. We got to wear sexy lingerie and talk a lot of girly stuff, which was quite fun after working in the super male-dominated hospitality industry.
The conversations were sometimes educational, but mostly, they were belly-laugh-and-roll-on-the-floor hilarious. One girl was using the in-between-client time for studying. We snacked a lot through the boredom of waiting for clients, drank a bit of wine.
No one was ever drunk; merry, maybe, but not drunk. Also, there were never drugs present (that I witnessed). Seeing three clients a night was three hours of work, which gifted you at least $300 tips.
Quickly, this became a familiar routine: work, go to the gym, go massage for a few shifts a week. I had some pretty good disposable cash money.
Enter: pole dancing.
Pole was just getting a leg-up from where I was, and the first pole studio had just opened by me. I thought it would be a fun diversion from my other fitness activities (while teaching me some sexy moves that might enhance my tip earning potential in the massage parlor).
I would learn that it was also about confidence, showmanship, self-love, and self-empowerment. Life lessons that I had already learned but had been compartmentalized—only available some of the time.
I was already the proud owner of “hooker shoes,” a mandatory masseuse wardrobe item. They were hot pink with clear straps, and I secretly loved them. They made you strut. You couldn’t help but find your inner goddess. I also had a reasonable collection of aerobics gear that I could mix and match with my sexy lingerie, so there were no issues in the wardrobe department. Both these things—the shoes and the outfits—were a prerequisite for pole dancing. They put you into sexy-mode.
Perhaps I was universally directed to the pole?
Well, pole dancing is not an easy game; it’s fucking hard work. Being an aerobics instructor and dancer, I loved the pole. It added all these other dimensions, and relearning to hang upside down was child-like—like swinging on adult monkey bars.
Other lessons surfaced too:
>> What it meant to be feminine yet strong. It was empowering with a spirited sense of fuck you independence.
>> The rebellious aspect. You could feel the naughtiness in the air.
>> The superwoman body strength required. It was phenomenal. But the bruises on your hips, not to mention inner thigh markings, are unpleasant and akin to Chinese burns on your forearm, like when you were a kid.
Basically, being pretty fit and flexible, I took to that pole like a dick to pussy. (Ah, bugger, I meant a duck to water.)
The sexy stuff was harder for me to do, though.
You see, I am not really an exhibitionist. I know that sounds contradictory based on the fact that I bounced around in barely-there, skin-tight lycra three nights a week, giving massages for travel my travel fund. But there was something about trying to connect deeply to that inner-feminine-sexy-power that ground me to a halt. Like a deer in the headlights, I froze. (When I felt this way, I would mask it by cracking a joke.)
You see, it’s pretty hard to love yourself when your experience of growing up includes being berated by your peers. Especially at the faintest sign of self-love or self-care. Perhaps you were caught looking at yourself in the mirror for a second too long. That always got a group to laugh or yell, “You are never going to be beautiful.“ Or, “For a ballet dancer, your body shape is just all wrong.”
I copped it from all directions. So, confidence? Yes. Body confidence? Maybe. Sexy, look-you-in-the-eye brilliance? Definitely a no.
I didn’t unlock or release that aspect of myself until much later in my adult life. I think it’s why self-love is such a big component of my coaching today. (Fear not! I won’t force you up a pole or into a massage parlor!)
Months into this routine. I was asked if I had considered dancing in a club. I thought, is massage parlor like a gateway drug to further explorations of questionable habit holes?
My first reaction, my intuition, was: I am not a stripper. (I was definitely not a stripper. They are literal showgirls.) I was a little nervous about being seen in a gentleman’s club, so I checked my thoughts and laughed at myself as I considered being up a pole and naked for four nights of my week.
Fascinated, I went.
The club was a daunting, smoky underground that looked glam at night but haggard in the light of day, which it never saw. You could feel the pulse of the city after dark. Everyone in there had crossed some other line and detoured down this rabbit hole, sequestered on their own clandestine adventure.
The performances were exceptional. These girls were in a league of their own; they were competitive, pole dancing champions. Pole was still pretty shady and certainly did not have the mainstream-sports-like acceptability that it has today.
Nonetheless, you could see that these girls were athletes—scantily clad, super-strong, confident, sexy athletes. They were stone-cold sober, competing for titles and tips in their chosen sport. The competition just happened to be held in a strip club. Of course, this was not the average pole girl place; these girls were the elite.
Even though I am not an exhibitionist, I am a performer. There is a difference between being part of a group performance. Exhibitionists want your sole attention. As part of a dance troupe, you have a role to play, a responsibility to the collective. You are storytelling together.
I thought, “Maybe I could give this a go.” If these showgirls could treat it like a sport, then perhaps so could I.
But they were different. They had embraced their feminine strength and gave zero fucks. I was still building and occasionally attempting to dismantle the great wall within me. There was no way I would command the audience as they did. Did they start out small in shitty clubs to hone their skills? Yes. Yes, they did. So I went to those shitty clubs and asked if there was any work. (So naive, ha!) Hint: there is always work for new girls—fresh meat.
The first time I ever went out on the pole in public, it was at was the place—the heart of club-land and late nights. It was before lockdowns and curfews.
It was every bit as seedy as you would imagine (probably worse).
I lived in the suburb right next door. This den of iniquity workplace even fit in with my “don’t live further than five minutes for work” rule. My allocated shift time was 11 p.m. to 6 a.m.
I was literally peeing my pants with nervous anticipation.
Down the stairs into the den, the house was half full. I was nervous AF. Bless the bartender who offered a shot of tequila. (I went for seconds.) I thought to myself, “I should have got a wig. Maybe even adopted an entirely different persona, not just a new faux stripper name.” I don’t remember the other girls. I was too bloody nervous.
Backstage, shitting bricks, I got half-naked, ready to swing some sexy around the pole for cash. The financial sitch is this: you don’t get an hourly rate or an appearance fee. You get “stripper dollars,” which you have to exchange at the end of your shift for real dollars. Which, incidentally, could actually be just dollars, not 100-dollar bills as some rappers would have you believe.
If you do well on the stage and you get some soggy stripper dollars, maybe you change them for some waterproof pineapples (Australian slang for $50).
Perhaps you catch the eye of a would-be suitor, and you get booked for a private dance (which is where the money is). There was a rule, though: you cant flash your lady garden in full. Good news, right?!
So, it was well before midnight. For the first time in public, I am attempting (unsuccessfully) to play a sexy stripper role. I busted some moves, but there was nothing comfortable about it. It felt like that scene in “Flash Dance” where Jeanie fails as an ice skater and becomes a stripper.
I was Jeanie.
I was so relieved when I was allowed off that pole. I got tipped and booked for a lap dance, so it wasn’t an entire waste of time.
I went back to the girls’ locker room to look myself in my sexy, stripper eyes—check my disguise.
I didn’t get long to do my repaint before it was my turn to get sexy up the pole again. This cycle repeated itself five times into the wee hours of the morning.
Finally, it was 6 a.m.
The sun was rising, and I was finally released from that alternate stripper universe. I was exhausted; I stunk of sweat and cigarette smoke.
It was the moment that I realized I was a way better working girl than a stripper. I couldn’t get to my hot, hot shower and squishy bed fast enough.
That was my first shift. There were a few more because I wanted to see if it was first-time nerves or if I would develop the skill set.
I did not.
The feeling of being so naked and so public was oh-so uncomfortable. Some girls relished it and were amazing. Me? Not so much.
But, hey, I tried!