Beautiful gay men in Palm Springs have no use for our stripper boobs. Tennis matches in Palm Desert are seasonal. Canadian golfers are sporadic—they hang around until late March, then head back to their snowy homes. Hipsters camp out at The Ace Hotel pool. So it was difficult to fathom that the only strip club in the desert kept its doors open every day from noon until 2 a.m. seven days a week, and hard to believe my friends were making serious cash there.
You’d miss Jinx if you blinked; it’s a dive off exit 126 on the desolate desert highway. But you might spy the retired silver foxes rolling in their Bentleys near Perez Road, seeking the scent of coconut lotion and bare buns. When I pulled up to the club, I thought, Jesus Christ, this is the worst idea I’ve had in years. I pulled my whore bag from my trunk crammed with sparkling ratty costumes to the welcome whistles from the alley where a handful of guys with name patches on their shirts worked at the body shop. Jinx shared foot traffic with that body shop, a mom and pop Mexican restaurant (which has changed hands 3 times in one year), and a smoke shop, which has never been open as far as I can tell. I was broke, sad, and needed the job. So many of us come to stripping that way—empty handed and out of options.
Inside Jinx was a rose-red, Egyptian-themed wasteland where Marines enjoyed happy hour and real estate deals were sealed over shots of Jack Daniels. My first day on the floor, I met Bobby, a boyish girl with a beautiful face and elegant wig, who stripped to the Bee Gees and Queen. Bobby J. Robby is a tall, sturdy butch with a body for the 3-point line on a basketball court; not the sort of woman you could easily knock over. Her angular cheekbones and quiet intelligence flattered her cool disposition and natural C-cups. I crashed on Bobby’s couch a few times after work to avoid the long commute back to L.A. in the middle of the night. Stripper by day and drag king by night, Bobby’s also a well-mannered Southern gentleman who likes to help strippers out. Before she moved to Vegas to pursue her education in construction management, she talked to me about coming out on the strip club floor in L.A., dating other strippers, and getting fired for the first time ever for not being a pregnant stripper.
The Rumpus: Where did you grow up, and what were the attitudes in your household about stripping, sex workers, and queers?
Bobby J. Robby: I grew up in Houston, Texas and I spent a great amount of time in Tegucigalpa, Honduras until I was 15. In my household sex workers and queers weren’t talked about very much. We went to church often. I knew that gays and sex workers were frowned upon by my family and by the whole town. But my mother was a hairdresser, and she invited one of her coworkers to the house. My mother was okay with him being gay, but I remember feeling so unsettled with his presence—probably because of my own sexual insecurities. My family put some heavy pressure on me to be married and have children at a young age.
Rumpus: How did they pressure you? Did you feel like you were radically different, sexually, than your family and community? Why do you suspect your mother was accepting of her gay client? Do you think she intuited that maybe her daughter was gay?
Robby: My response to their pressure consisted of lots of eye rolling, and OKs to brush off the subject. Generally, the family just mentioned marrying me off in conversation frequently by stating “when you get married and have kid” a lot. My grandmother pressured me by saying that I should be worried about getting married and having children when I was 21 years of age after I told her I just got recruited to play professional women’s football.
I felt different sexually when I was in the first grade, I believe, but I didn’t understand why. I suppressed my feelings due to what I was taught men and women were supposed to be, and my religious background. I was afraid of going to hell.
I knew my mother was accepting of all kinds of people, but she really had no clue about my sexuality until I broke the news to her.
Rumpus: How did you get into stripping and why?
Robby: I was into some heavy debt. I owed somewhere around $22,000, accumulated from car debt, student loans, and credit cards. I refuse to own a credit card, still, at thirty-two years of age. I was scarred! I was borrowing money left and right, and a neighbor friend encouraged me to try stripping. I still believe his suggestion came from watching the movie Showgirls a baker’s dozen times. I was very reluctant because I thought of it as so degrading, but after a few days of thought, I jumped in.
Rumpus: You mean a few days of beans and rice and late rent? So many of us begin that way. Friends of mine began stripping to pay their parking tickets and ended up staying for a decade. One friend of mine started stripping to pay for a vacation to Hawaii and stayed for years.
What jobs did you have before you began stripping? Why did you have trepidation to begin stripping?
Robby: Before I was a house painter I had been a lifeguard, worked in retail, and did other miscellaneous jobs. I stripped for a year, and then studied theatrical production, and once I completed my studies I began my career. I still stripped part-time until I took on a full-time schedule. Then I was a light designer for five years—part of the light design team for Broadway and other large, corporate shows and rock concerts. I also co-owned a freelance business in electronic sales for a couple years. Then I moved to California and began stripping again after a seven-year detour in the corporate world.
My fear of stripping probably came from ideas I absorbed from the movies growing up: the girls seemed like druggies and whores. Guys would talk poorly to them and the vulnerability of being practically naked in front of a bunch of strangers scared me. I didn’t relate as that and I didn’t want to be around it or expose my body to dangerous people.
Rumpus: Why did you start stripping again in Cali after such a long break? What brought you back into the clubs? Were there differences between stripping in California and in Texas?
Robby: What brought me back into the stripping world again, as usual, was a lack of money. I was about to lose my car because of late payments. Beans and rice got old, and L.A. was hard living. It was just hard to find enough work. I couldn’t keep my head up.
The differences between California and Texas were that there are more rules protecting the girls here than in Texas, but there seems to be a little bit more money to be made in Texas. Texas isn’t seasonal like some clubs out here. But basically, it’s all the same biz.
Rumpus: What are some differences between your corporate job and stripping?
Robby: They’re more similar than you might imagine. I’m a slave to money at both. My uniform just happens to be lighter in the clubs. The perverted lingo is toned down in the corporate world. Ass-kissing is the same at both. Drinking cocktails at work in the corporate world is the same, but you have to be more discrete about it.
The real differences are the minor details. As a stripper, talking to management can be a pleasure or a pain, depending on what club you go to. Some managers treat you well and are thankful you’re there, and other managers criticize your weight, or ask for sexual favors or drugs to secure your employment. There are some days where the money is earned easily at the clubs, but not most.
Most days, in either job, you will have to work hard for your money, and do a lot of ass-kissing to earn it.
Rumpus: You told me that you came out as queer on the dance floor at a strip club where you were stripping here in L.A. What happened?
Robby: Well, I knew I was a little gay from an early age. I recognized I had sexual feelings for women as early as the first grade, but working with gorgeous women definitely [spotlit] those feelings and made it hard to resist.When I first danced in Texas, at around 22-years-old, I was crushed out on my classmate in college. But the lust for women flared when half-naked beauties at the strip club surrounded me. I began messing around with one of my coworkers. She was the second girl I was ever with. The first one was that classmate I finally had the courage to be sexual with a few weeks prior.
I was out, for sure, halfway into the first round of dancing in Texas, and still until this day. So when I danced in L.A., I came back into the dancing world as a full-on lesbian, instead of confused.
Rumpus: Is it common for strippers to date each other at work? I never did that.
Robby: I don’t think it is common to date each other, but I do see dancers hook up, casually.
Rumpus: How did the realization that you were queer affect your job as a stripper? Did it pose any challenges similar or dissimilar to dating a coworker at your corporate job? Did you view your male clients as any kind of threat?
Robby: I never dared to date a coworker at a corporate job; didn’t want to mess that up.
Being a queer at a strip club was like candy land for me—I loved it. Since I worked at so many strip clubs in Texas, I was not afraid of the shenanigans it could cause me to get into. The only time it became challenging was when I hooked up with too many of my coworkers from the same club. It got awkward when I would get flirty looks from two dancers at the same time in the dressing room. I panicked so much that sweat ran down my face. I didn’t want to be rude or reveal my nervous energy. Dancers can be crazy, and I didn’t want any misinterpretations, or fights to break out. My clients weren’t a distraction or threat; I genuinely enjoyed their company as long as they were respectful, just as I would enjoy hanging out with any of my guy friends.
Rumpus: It seems as if you’re a natural born performer. Tell me about your drag king act and the persona you take on while on stage. You started a drag pageant at your club in Palm Springs, right?
Robby: My theatrical background definitely brought out the drag king in me. My drag name is Bobby J. Robby. It all started when I saw a drag competition on video. I thought to myself, Hey, I can do that—and better. So I did, and I won Mr. Texas US of AMI 2010, and my talent ranked ninth in the nation that year. I [started] a club in Palm Springs and perform there regularly.
Rumpus: What did you do for the talent portion of that competition? Was the rush different than the adrenaline rush that comes from stripping?
Robby: I did Vanilla Ice’s, “Ice Ice Baby” for my talent. The rush performing as a drag king is entirely different. The only time I feel a rush from stripping is when I make over a thousand dollars, which is rare. On stage [in drag], I have to energize the audience and juggle stage fright, anxiety, adrenaline, and my mental game. It’s a lot of coordination to consider, and it’s more fun than stripping.
Rumpus: How do you view gender? Is it something to slip on and off carefully, or do you step in and out of it easily?
Robby: Gender is something I simply bend as a drag king artist. I always will recognize [myself as] and identify as a woman, and I never want to physically change that.
Rumpus: You recently moved to Vegas to pursue a career in contracting and housing development. What are your dreams and aspirations? Will you continue to strip in Vegas? If you’ve stripped there already, what was that experience like for you?
Robby: I tried stripping one day in Vegas recently, and it was horrible. A manager named John at Spearmint Rhino hired me on a Thursday night. He was the hardest manager to get hired by, so I went to him, and he hired me.
When I came back to work my shift he made me turn around again, and asked how many months pregnant I was. I told him I wasn’t pregnant; I just had a tumor. He said, “Are you gonna get it removed?” I told him I was but I needed money first, and then he let me work. I made money. The patrons loved me, but by the end of my shift another manager ended up pulling me aside and firing me because I did not meet Rhino’s standard. He said when I shaped up I could audition again.
Rumpus: That manager should be anally fisted, then thrown off a tall building.
Robby: Speaking of buildings, my dream is to be a construction manager and to be in charge of a skyscraper project or a casino project. Stripping has helped me, financially, to get through school, so it has helped me in life so far. But yeah, it felt horrible getting fired. I have never been fired at any job I’ve ever had—in the corporate world or stripping—until I got to Vegas, and I got fired for not being pregnant, for having a tumor. So I’m trying to not strip at all right now.
Rumpus: Do you tell women you date that you are a dancer? How do the girls you date generally receive this news?
Robby: I am trying not to dance, but if money gets thin, I may have to. I do tell the women that I date I am a dancer, and I think that some girls are shocked by it, which I enjoy. I cannot change what people believe, and what they are willing or not willing to accept. I can only be me, and they can only be themselves. If they aren’t open enough to see what kind of person I am beyond this temporary job, then so be it. A relationship couldn’t possibly work with someone like that, so I just accept it, which saves time in the long haul. Only a few girls haven’t received it well, so I’ve been lucky that way.
Featured image of Bobby J. Robby © Lindsey Brandes Photography.
Additional images provided by Bobby J. Robby.