Three nights out of the week I curl my hair, put on false eyelashes, and essentially put more effort into my appearance than I ever have just to talk to men who I have probably never met and will never see again. Then I wake up the next morning, groggy and exhausted, toting my textbooks to campus. I am an “exotic dancer,” an “entertainer,” or to put it simply: a stripper.
I am also a student at OU. I’ve been in sex work for two years now. For the most part, I have it pretty good. My immediate family knows and accepts what I do (albeit begrudgingly) and my friends from before have not treated me any differently.
My good fortune in receiving acceptance from those close to me has not kept me from worrying about judgment from others. When people hear “stripper” they think dirty, assertive, sexual, slutty, and confident. Not all of those have a negative connotation but they all put me into a box that I don’t feel I belong in. It’s hard to make friends or build relationships when the descriptors people associate with you are words you would never use for yourself. I don’t come out to my classmates or professors because I do not want to be the girl who is jaded from the get-go simply because I’m doing what I feel is best for me. There’s no discussion around campus about strippers or other sex workers. I’ve heard so many jokes along the lines of “I should quit school and become a stripper” or stripping one’s way through college but when I come out as one, I’m faced with an uncomfortable silence.
I sometimes find myself wishing that there was a space in the OU community where I could comfortably voice my experiences among those who understand. The dichotomy between student and stripper definitely makes it difficult to relate to my classmates. Sex work is such a stigmatized profession, and I want to help normalize it. So much of what I do at work helps me to obtain more knowledge that I believe would be useful as a social science major. I want to know that if I write about my personal experiences or speak about what I have learned, I will not need to worry about being treated unfairly by my professors or the university.