Strippers Find Community on TikTok

Teauryajya DuBenion, 29, started her strip career in Los Angeles with the encouragement of a few friends. “In Los Angeles everyone is a stripper. Your local nurse is a stripper, the teacher is a stripper, the babysitter is a stripper, your dog walker is a stripper, ”she said. “I was sick of skipping meals.”

Now, over two years later and 400,000 followers later, Ms. DuBenion, whose name is from @PicassoBae, considers herself TikTok’s stripper friend. “You can just run to me in the locker room if you have a rough night and just take a breath,” she said. “I’m like your colleague or work woman.”

Ms. DuBenion is part of a growing community of strippers on TikTok who post under the hashtag #Striptok. Instead of gathering around a water cooler, they’ve built an online network to share professional advice, safety tips, and good old-fashioned strip club gossip.

Ms. DuBenion recently created a viral TikTok advising dancers on stripping during menstruation. It offers expressive yet practical insights, such as “double panties”.

The video had nearly half a million views and the comment section was a choir of women handing out feminine hygiene tips. “The comment area was awash with women offering additional advice on what worked for them, whether or not they were undressing,” Ms. DuBenion said. “It was fantastic.”

She believes that many of her female followers who watch her TikTok don’t want to be strippers, but are simply women who are inspired by their charisma and charisma. “I’ve gotten messages from people telling me they have this newfound confidence, whether they’re getting naked, or in their current job, or in the life goals they set for themselves,” she said. “All because of the way I talk about my own stripping life experiences.”

Another popular StripTok user is Sky Hopscotch, 27, as she is known on social media, who lightly tossed supplies on a shiny black bag and read a checklist on a chilly night at her Des Moines house not long ago: Lingerie, makeup, baby wipes, perfume and Tylenol. With a bored, dry voice she delivered every line from the off: “Who are we kidding? The men you dance on will also make you sweat. “

She uploaded this tutorial with a caption: “Is your life falling apart? Can’t pay your rent? What to bring on your first night as an exotic dancer. ”The next morning, the video hit two million views and her account grew to 30,000 followers. “That’s when I started posting only StripTok content,” she said.

On the podium, she discovered an audience eager to inherit her wisdom as a stripper: the good, the bad, the banality of men’s attention. “I discovered that there was a whole community of strippers on TikTok,” she said. “Many women shared their experiences as strippers: some educated, others glorified the industry. I thought to myself, why don’t I share my experiences? “

In this enclave of the app, women gather to document dispatches from their lives as strippers. They show bruises from twerking, recite locker room melodramas, brag about counting bills, and complain of sexual harassment. StripTok has made it possible for strippers to get their jobs back in many ways, in part because they give each other advice and encouragement in an industry full of disappointment.

When she started her career 10 years ago, Sky Hopscotch was what is commonly referred to as the “baby stripper” in the stripper community. Inexperienced strippers are even more susceptible to harassment and exploitation at the whim of bosses and customers.

“The strip club clients picked me and asked me to lap dance because they knew I was inexperienced,” she said. “They could be more adept at scamming me out of money or trying to get me out of the club with them.”

Many strippers on TikTok use their platforms with the aim of helping younger dancers avoid unsettling experiences. They hope that their advice will be a step in making strip clubs safer and friendlier workplaces for women. “It’s important that seasoned dancers share their secrets, like hiring a bouncer to take you to bachelorette parties so that new girls in the industry don’t have to get hurt,” said Sky Hopscotch.

Under the pressure to satisfy male fantasies and competitiveness, strip clubs often become an oppressive environment for strippers. The mental health toll can be considerable. “I’ve struggled deeply with depression, drug and alcohol addiction, eating disorders – all kinds of things,” said Sky Hopscotch. “If I wasn’t pretty, if I wasn’t thin, I couldn’t pay my bills.”

When the strip club is dominated by the male gaze, StripTok offers viewers something else: a place where strippers can present themselves freely. Many videos on StripTok show strippers in casual states – without make-up, stretching in changing rooms, idly at home in sweatpants. Others are in oversized t-shirts and advise strippers on how to get hair extensions tax deductible.

Katt, 24, a Los Angeles stripper who wanted to be identified by only her first name, found refuge in StripTok after feeling disaffected with her job. She fears that the strip club will “tease out the most poisonous parts of me that the man wants to please”.

When she became active in the StripTok community, she began to playfully experiment with her own gender representation. “You see me with short hair, long hair, different wigs. Different looks of makeup. No makeup, ”said Katt. “I have the feeling that people are always there to talk me up and respond to my experiences without making what I look like. That really confirms me. ”

Katt is an American of Asian descent and said she was overly familiar with objectification, both on and off the clock. “I’ve seen it in every type of man all my life,” she said. “You see yourself in the media as a hot Asian or a nerdy Asian.”

On her online platform, she shares her experiences of being bisexual and Asian in the stripping community, which often resulted in hundreds of positive comments and a network of support for other strippers from different backgrounds.

Katt, who sometimes rap to music in their TikToks, hopes that by depicting the everyday life of the strippers, she will help to humanize the profession. “You come to work at 7pm. These girls just eat a Caesar salad, play on their phones and talk to each other about their man’s problems, ”she joked.

The interest in the inner workings of strippers on TikTok is not without precedent. “It’s because of me,” said A’Ziah King, known as Zola, in a message on Instagram. “I started an era and created a trail for sex workers to share their experiences and I’m glad the door is now open.”

In 2015, Ms. King posted a long thread – 148 tweets – about a dissolute weekend she spent stripping. Her posts were filled with intriguing details about betrayal, attempted murder, sex trafficking, and lost friendships. The story was trending worldwide within hours and was recently made into a film by Janicza Bravo, “Zola”.

“I think it’s important that the community share all aspects and experiences of sex work, and only a sex worker can do that,” said Ms. King. “It is important that we share these experiences because it creates a safe space and a sense of community.”

Although TikTok is a break from the red tape in strip clubs, like other social media sites, TikTok often censors strippers and sex workers. TikTok’s guidelines state that it “does not allow nudity, pornography, or sexually explicit content”. However, strippers say that informative TikToks about sexual health, safety tips, and general tutorials are also targeted. Ms. DuBenion has completely blocked her account and recently created a second account. StripTok posts often go missing, accounts get banned, and content is removed without explanation.

This can affect livelihoods as some strippers depend on TikTok’s Creator Fund as a second source of income during times of financial drought at the club. Sky Hopscotch said her account is often deleted after educational posts about helping sex workers. During this time, their additional income decreases.

“I made between $ 40 and $ 60 a day from the Creator Fund, and then I’ve made maybe 96 cents a day for the past three weeks,” she said. “We have to be very careful with what we say and do on TikTok for fear of losing the platform.”

Many strippers use their platforms to raise awareness of FOSTA-SESTA, two bills passed in 2018 that are essentially aimed at curbing online sex trafficking. Many sex workers feel left out by the bills. “This has hurt many of us in the community, even though the intended goal was to stop the sex trafficking – statistics say it wasn’t done at all,” Sky Hopscotch said. “It continued to deplate people like me.”

By lobbying, StripTok hopes to gain momentum to raise awareness of the harmfulness of anti-sex labor legislation.

“One of the legacies of FOSTA-SESTA has made it much more dangerous for people who do sex work to do so in safer and healthier ways,” said Emma Llansó, director of the Free Expression Project at the Center for Democracy and Technology, a nonprofit Organization in Washington, DC that advocates for individual rights in technology policy. “There have been a lot of raids on websites where people can share information about health and wellness: all kinds of information sex workers really used to protect themselves, get informed, and help each other.”

This censorship has spawned a mutated, hidden language on TikTok for discussing sex work. To conform to TikTok’s guidelines, strippers refer to their job as “bookkeeping” or “scripping” to disguise themselves. “Every time I talk about a stripper, I say ‘skrippa’,” said Ms. DuBenion. “Sometimes when I write it down I use dollar signs and an exclamation point for the I. There are things you have to do to make it work.”

Despite the long nights and tight heels, she still loves being a stripper. She saves the money she makes stripping to fund a dorm for people with Down syndrome that her sister has.

“I recently received donations from family, friends and even supporters through my social media platform,” said Ms. DuBenion. “I even saved all of the money I made from the TikTok Creator Fund for a down payment on the house. I never thought that stripping two and a half years ago would have such a positive impact on my life and the life around me. “

Ms. DuBenion shared how men walked into her strip club and handed her $ 100 bills because they were moved by their online charities. She hopes this experience will encourage other strippers to share their stories: express their own vulnerabilities and dissatisfactions.

“I just want everyone to see that I am a real person and that I have a purpose in this world,” she said. “I’m doing it for a good cause and I’m relatable. I don’t know – I’m not an object. “

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