As coronavirus swept over the UK & the rest of the world, many businesses including bars, pubs, theatres and clubs – including strip clubs – were forced to close. A few months’ later and pubs and bars have been allowed to re-open, but strip clubs remain shut with no clear indication of when strippers will be allowed to open our legs again!
Some of us got very excited when we found out live performances could happen on the 1st of August. I had a Burlesque performance booked for the following week which I was looking forward to, only for the government to do a U-turn the night before. Because they love giving us all lots of notice about big decisions.
I understand the hesitation around live performance that involves singing and talking, as this is higher risk for virus transmission, but why include dance performance in that bracket? Strip clubs could in theory re-open with stage shows only – you can dance onstage further away from someone than you can place drinks down at their table as a waiting person. It makes no sense that we can drink in a pub in close proximity to each other, but if I get up on a stage in the corner of the room, that’s suddenly illegal.
Of course this would mean re-modelling their business model slightly. Most strip clubs have a system where the dancer pays a house fee to work at the club, and / or a percentage of their earnings. Strippers earn their money by persuading customers to have private dances with them. Sometimes we get tips onstage, but this is not the free-flowing money getting thrown at you the way it’s portrayed in Hustlers. We don’t get paid to be there. I repeat we don’t get paid to be there.
This means that some days you can walk away with a shit ton of money, as the potential to earn can be high, but it also means that some days you can walk out with less money than you started with. These rules are a whole different issue but suffice to say if strip clubs could re-open at least with stage shows, then the clubs would have to pay dancers a wage to work and / or encourage much more tipping onstage.
That’s stage shows covered, but what of lap dances? Human contact is an essential part of our mental health and many people have not been able touch, hug, or engage in sex with anyone during the last few months. Given that it is impossible to socially distance in a pub or a bar, why can’t we give lap dances to a limited number of customers?
Pubs are supposed to be taking your details and sitting you at least one metre apart but in my experience this is not happening consistently. People serving you are frequently not wearing masks, and social distancing is impossible. Our government has basically decided that some activities are worth the risk and some aren’t, and as usual sex work has been left behind.
Lockdown forced many creative work online, and online shows have been successful. A group of us set up Cybertease – a cooperative strip club where we share all profits equally, as a way to earn money and showcase our feminist socialist stripping politics to the wider community. We’ve gained a large following and had some very positive press. But the amount of promo and work that goes into planning an event means we can only do them around every two weeks and the earning capacity is limited. We can only offer a few guest performer slots every show. Some strippers have set up Only Fans or similar accounts, which can earn you some money but with an oversaturated market, again it is not guaranteed and comes with other pitfalls.
It often involves promoting yourself on other social media platforms to gain followers, which some sex workers cannot do as they are not out to friends and families and are scared that future employers may discriminate against them because of it.
Many strippers do not wish to perform online due to fears over people recording and distributing your content without consent. Of course you can wear masks and use other ways of disguising your identity as some sex workers do, but this is still a risk. Online work can be very fun and rewarding, but it is not without its problems.
In terms of benefits and assistance from the goverment, some sex workers cannot claim universal credit if their savings are too high – even if these savings are to pay Uni tuition fees, and any strippers who earned even 1% more from PAYE work from 2016 – 2019 are exempt from self-employment grants. Lots of people are falling through the cracks.
So when will strip clubs be back?
Talk on the grapevine seems to be October or November, but it’s impossible to know what our government is going to decide next, and whether there will be another lockdown. For now strippers have to do other types of sex work if they can and / or apply for other forms of work in this limited job market. Hopefully one day soon we’ll be able to shake our tits in someone’s face from less than one metre away.
Send an email to the government to ask about strip clubs re-opening here