Several years ago while I was working at a strip club on Chicago's North side, I saw three women come into the club and sit in the back, facing the wall. They all had buns in their hair and wouldn't look at the stage. I thought maybe they were shy lesbians and attempted to get money from them. One sneered at me. I quickly learned they were a trio of born-again Christians who used to be strippers and sex workers. It was a Tuesday night; ladies got in free, so they came to bring Jesus into my life and encourage me to stop dancing:
“We know it's not really glamorous behind the scenes here, is it?”
She was correct—behind the scenes of strip clubs aren't glamorous, but I love making lots of money. I got up to tell the bouncer. He told me that management advised us to “turn the other cheek” whenever they came in. After that, I worked at another club in Chicago where “Eve’s Angels,” as they were called, were allowed to go into the dressing room. Once there, they would pass out scripture and swag, such as lip gloss and earrings. The manager of that club was a Christian himself and a former Chicago cop. He welcomed them in and was pals with Anny, the founder of Eve's Angels.
Anny Donewald's insulting website stereotypes all consensual sex workers as helpless trafficking victims wrapped up in a world of drugs and exploitation. In lieu of mentioning employee status or labor unions or anything that could actually “save” sex workers in any actionable sense, Donewald desires to get all sex workers out of the industry and into the hands of her Christian god. Her website states:
“...the fantasy of fistfuls of hundred dollar bills quickly turned to the reality of bloodstains on bathroom floors and nights with customers in presidential suites at luxurious hotels. At an emotional breaking point and pondering the termination of her unborn son, Anny reached the gates of her personal hell. There, she found God. Then, this long-legged, fiery blonde fought to free herself from the sex trade, and, by the healing grace of God, launched her non-profit, Eve’s Angels...”
I've met Anny preaching in the club—she once yelled at me when my manager wasn’t around and she wasn’t allowed in the dressing room. She strikes me as a narcissist, hell bent on destroying my income and shaming strippers with patronizing god talk. If Anny really wanted to improve the life of strippers like me, she would advocate for recognition of employee status and the formation of labor unions. Her bible thumping and intrusion into people’s personal spaces wouldn’t be accepted in any other workplace.
I hate her. Oddly, I’m the minority. Most of the strippers I worked with in Chicago were nice to the Angels, primarily because of the lip glosses and crappy jewelry they brought with them. Many strippers are from Christian backgrounds and still somewhat believe there is shame to feel about how they make money. That shame is exploited by strip club staff who don’t care about dancers, and bosses who welcome in whorephobic preachers.
When I pressed one non-religious dancer in Chicago, she said to me,
“I don't agree with them, but I believe in tolerance.”
I thought this group was just a Chicago phenomenon, but last year at Larry Flynt's Hustler Club in Las Vegas, there were evangelicals allowed in the dressing room too—in a club owned by Jerry Falwell's nemesis Larry Flynt. When one tried to give me some swag, I told her to get the hell away from me, that I am an atheist and I love being a stripper. Despite the often unpleasant environment, the freedom to express myself and the large amounts of money I earn make me happy to have chosen this line of work. I have other options; I don’t want them.
She told me that she'll pray for me, and that god loves me. I felt violated and angry. It is patronizing to have those words said to me in my workplace, not uplifting.
Even in Las Vegas, I was a minority in my desire to be outspokenly mean to them and push them away. When I brought it up to my coworkers, they would say things like,
“They're really nice! Why don't you like them?”
Christians who barge into strip club dressing rooms aren't “really nice” though. Their agenda includes an end goal that would make it illegal for women to take their clothes off or sell sexual services. Preventing women from autonomous control over their own bodies is misogynist and creepy. These are the same Christians who protest abortion clinics and gay marriages. They have a peculiar interest in what happens in people's bedrooms, with a fascistic, shaming approach to salvation.
They go into our private changing spaces, assuming we have no boundaries, and put scripture in our faces. That's not nice at all.
I have found groups like this in Minnesota and Indiana. These groups hand out baked goods, similar to the allegedly secular but equally insulting Cupcake Girls. While each group is different, they all have the same general template: to gain entry into strip club dressing rooms, pass out treats or swag, and lure strippers out of the industry. As SWOP Bloomington said recently on Twitter:
“Most people in the sex industry aren't going to listen to Christians who want to rescue them. Why? Because they infantilize sex workers and have a repulsive savior complex that usually ignores the needs that sex workers have-- especially the financial needs.”
I am a labor activist; I genuinely care about making changes in strip clubs (such as enforcing employee status and organizing nationwide labor unions in clubs) to prevent abuse from happening. There is no room for evangelicals in that equation. The only way to stop them would be for a critical mass of strippers and sex workers to say enough, and get them out by force. I don't know if that will ever happen. Fear of public humiliation prevents many sex workers from outing themselves and becoming activists, and the competition among workers is such that it prevents a critical mass of solidarity to overthrow oppressive bosses.
I am happy with the amount of leisure time and freedom that stripping provides me with—I don’t want another job. I continue my labor activism by suing strip clubs and trying to educate people about the sham of independent contractor delusions. I hope to convince strippers to acknowledge their employee status and sue for all of the labor violations and harassment they experience. Eve’s Angels and Christian groups will never do anything like that.