Taking It All Off

Lesbian strip shows get a dressing down.

Female strippers are as popular at queer women's events these days as they are at bachelor parties. Last year around this time, the closing night variety show at a local transgender conference in SeaTac featured five feminine performers, three of them young, thin, conventionally attractive strippers.

This weekend, Girl for Girl Productions' Studio 54 Pride Celebration promises "Hot! Caged! Go-Go Dancers," as they do every month at the Catwalk Club's Dyke Night. The Wildrose, Seattle's one and only lesbian bar, will hold a wet T-shirt contest as a part of Sunday's festivities.

When was the last time you went to a queer women's event and didn't see strippers or (hot! caged!) go-go dancers?

Strange as it may seem, sex-positive and sex work-positive performance is at the top of the dyke entertainment hierarchy. Yes, it's true: we've traded our incense-infused poetry readings for down-and-dirty strip shows, complete with the requisite tipping, attire, and, of course, hooting and hollering. As direct beneficiaries of the lesbian sex wars of the '80s, this generation of dykes isn't satisfied with the sex-negative, anti-porn, anti-sex work attitudes of '70s lesbian feminism, and we have well-attended, regularly scheduled performances to prove it.

Unfortunately, while these performances hold an important place in our community (and should), we're back to young, thin, conventionally attractive naked women as the ideal of femininity. At that variety show in SeaTac, no one who stripped weighed more than 150 pounds or looked older than 35, or remotely masculine, or possessed any visible cellulite or body hair. Where's the variety part?

This wholesale rejection of lesbian feminism in the name of positive sexuality is troubling. We may think we're beyond having to think about sexism (or racism, or any other "ism"), but the regularity with which those and other issues rear their ugly heads at public events is startling. When the majority of feminine people on stage strip—and when none of the (female) masculine people do—it doesn't seem so subversive somehow. While lesbian feminism certainly had its shortcomings, the baby feminist critiques of sexism shouldn't be thrown out with the anti-porn, sex-negative bathwater.

Performance that doesn't repudiate our feminist history is possible and, despite current thinking, it's even possible for it to be inclusively sexy and include strippers. Exhibit A is the Fallen Women Follies, which had a recent run at Re-Bar. Women over 50, women of color, women of size, butch women, and tranny boys performed overtly sexual skits side by side with two of the three strippers who appeared in the now infamous SeaTac variety show. Fallen Women Follies gives us the ideal at which we should be aiming, not Bachelor Party.

The recent queer mindset is really about getting away from what isn't "cool" anymore. For some of us, that means throwing away our Queer Nation T-shirts or peeling the rainbow stickers off our cars. For a lot of queer women, however, it also means moving away from lesbian feminism, despite its historically important place in our communities. This shift takes many forms, from trading in our Birkenstocks for Kenneth Cole to having a "Pimp and Ho Ball" as a part of our social scene.

No one wants to go back to our dolphin dildo, wave-crashing, goddess-loving days. Let's be careful, though, about how we get to where we want to go and not forget about what got us here. We haven't come as far as we think.


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