As I flipped through my CD case, I asked my nineteen-year-old self, “Self, which CD should you chose for your first job as a stripper?” I was visiting home in Chicago from school, on my bedroom floor in the nook between my bed and the windows so I could smoke. After a few more puffs of my cigarette, I narrowed down my choice to Lil’ Kim’s Hard Core and Foxy Brown’s Ill Na Na. In the late 90s and early aught’s Brooklyn’s Foxy Brown and Lil’ Kim dominated female hip-hop with horny-ass lyrics and their boss-bitch looks. Most often dressed in couture bikinis and oversized fur coats while holding giant designer bags, they rocked colorful wigs before Nicki Minaj could even babble. This self-proclaimed Thelma and Louise transcended rap by equating money, power, and sex. Kim taught me I should demand the best from men, singing, “The moral of the story is this/You ain’t lickin’ this, you ain’t stickin’ this,” and she backed it up with the reasons why: “I got my own Benz/I got my own ends/Immediate friends.” My hormones were bananas, and I drove my parents’ used Mercedes in high school so I related to these lines.
Fox and Kim started out friends but were soon vicious rivals, making my choice even more difficult. Taking one more drag of my cigarette, I looked at Kim and then at Fox. Kim was killing Foxy in the rap game, but I saw myself in Foxy’s quarter-Filipino and thus slanted eyes, her underdog status, and her jealous insecurities. She rapped, “Mostly, they’ll play you closely/Especially if you fuckin’ em/Damn, you think you trustin’ em/Damn bitch, you lovin’ em?/impressed like that?/Bomb head, every night is the sex like that?” I was just starting to date men, and I, too, was finding that head didn’t mean a thing. While both ladies rapped a lot about men buying them expensive gifts, something that sounded great to me, too, Brown’s willingness to be vulnerable resonated with me because I was still developing the ability to diagnose and define my own weaknesses. I decided Foxy and I were kindred spirits, and her music would be the soundtrack to my first job as a stripper.
STRIPPERDADDY found me on Manhunt, a gay dating site that I basically used as a Grubhub for cock. I was going to school in Champaign-Urbana, supposedly as an English Literature major but mostly as an entitled suburbanite experimenting with everything while occasionally reading a book. The first message he sent read:
Poshrice, [that was my screen name because yes, you can love hip-hop and The Spice Girls at the same time] I find Asian boys very attractive and have a proposition for you. Have you ever stripped for money before? I love to cover boys in dollar bills.
It’s funny how my current self cringes at that message, but my nineteen-year-old self was like, “Oh my God, someone think I’m pretty enough to be a stripper?” I had a strange self-confidence. Though I thought highly of my physical self, I knew the gay world thought little of me sexually because I was Asian. There were no Asian porn stars or strippers when I was coming out, and that might seem like a weird thing to complain about, but it really does take marketed images of marginalized minorities for said minority to become sexualized to the mainstream. In other words, you have to pretend to be a helicopter and spoon-feed anything that isn’t white bread to Americans to convince them it’s delicious and worth trying. On Manhunt I was often told something tantamount to, “You’re so cute but I can’t fuck you because you’re Asian.” These were mostly unsolicited messages that were meant as a compliment. I’d write back, “I can’t fuck you because you’re stupid.” Haha! But it didn’t take away the sting. There was a difference and it hurt. I would have fucked these people if it weren’t for the fact they were stupid, which they could have changed. However, there was nothing I could have changed about myself that would have persuaded them to plow me. To my credit, I’ve infected many men with yellow fever and have found that while many men will initially reject me or act like I’m invisible, all I usually had to do was personalize myself to them. I had to wait for that moment, line, look, or laugh that would make them suddenly stop seeing me as just a random Asian person and see me as Archy. That’s when I’d go from foreign to fuckable. I’m partnered now and miss doing that sort of barrier-breaking work but on that day, when STRIPPERDADDY gave me a chance to become a stripper, I was elated. Even though I was Asian, STRIPPERDADDY had chosen me for sex work! I was breaking a glass ceiling.
But who had I been chosen by? STRIPPERDADDY said he was an A&R music rep and lived in one of the high-rises that lined the Gold Coast. Those were both pluses—especially because when I looked at STRIPPERDADDY’S pictures, they weren’t atrocious but they weren’t inspiring either. He was a big six foot four and two hundred fifty pounds and that can always be fun, but he was definitely a dad, not a daddy, and definitely not a DILF. He had on business attire that involved khaki. STIPPERDADDY wasn’t someone I was attracted to, but I wasn’t looking to date STRIPPERDADDY nor was I going to fuck STRIPPERDADDY. I was just going to strip for STRIPPERDADDY. This was like a job interview, and STRIPPERDADDY had very detailed instructions about what was going to happen. All I had to do was have the following outfit ready: my street clothes, underneath that some gym clothes, and finally a jock strap. All I’d have to do was dance and gyrate over him while he lied naked on the floor and jerked himself off. It usually took half an hour, no more than an hour, he said. I’d make one hundred dollars, he promised.
I tossed the idea around in my head, but I knew I was going to do it because ever since I was seven and saw my first porn, I had secretly fantasized about being a sex worker. What job could possibly be better than fucking hot people all day? I don’t even need PTO for that. Of course, I realize “fantasized” is the key word here because even when I was younger I knew that my dream job of going into the office for orgies was very different from the real life consequences of monetizing your sexuality, which probably involved a lot tears, hot showers, and Preparation H. But this seemed like a chance to peek into that world, and I was nineteen years old. I was really good at making horrible decisions.
My mother was like, “Be a doctor.”
My father said “Be a lawyer,”
And I was all, “No, I’m going to be a ho.”
You know what makes a good ice breaker? A Grammy nomination form and a bottle of Veuve Cliquot. I walked into STRIPPERDADDY’s building so nervous I nearly wrote down “stripper” when the doorman asked me to sign in. I rode a mirrored and dimly lit elevator to the fourteenth floor and walked through a remodeled and sterile, beige hallway. Upon opening STRIPPERDADDY’s door, I cringed at his face before rearranging my expression back into something polite. His face was older, more leathery and dark orange than his pictures. His black turtle neck and small, gold hoop earrings reeked of privileged desperation. When I saw framed records on the wall, however, I suddenly felt relieved that STRIPPERDADDY really was an A&R executive. High-rise: check. A&R job: check. Everything is going to be fine, I thought to myself. I put my hand down on a red, velvety sofa before sinking in. He pulled out a Grammy nomination form from a handcarved drawer and poured me a glass of bubbles to settle my nerves.
“How was your drive up from school?” He sank into the same spot on the sofa.
“Not bad. I do it all the time.” I turned to face him before deciding the décor made for better viewing.
“You have a lot of daddies in the city?” He crept a hand onto my knee.
“I come up a lot for parties, friends…”
“I bet you’re a dirty fucking boy.”
“That, too” I took a long sip that emptied the glass. He poured me another with my encouragement. I looked over the nomination form and drunk with power, I filled in Foxy Brown for every category possible. He told me he’d never heard of her but trusted my opinion. I may be the reason Foxy ever landed that one nomination. After I chugged the last half of my second glass, we agreed it was time to get to work.
As he said he would, STRIPPERDADDY took off his clothes and lay on the floor. I put Ill Na Na in his stereo and whipped my bubbled head around. As a child of a dragon mother, I had practiced thoroughly for this job which mostly involved me watching Showgirls and pretending to be Jessie Spano. I also practiced the rave dance moves I was so fond of at the time but incorporated my dick as well. But I had not anticipated everything. At home, I had only practiced for a few minutes at a time and now I had a whole CD to get through. I was down to my jockstrap in less than ten minutes and was beginning to worry that my moves might become mundane. Then I looked at STRIPPERDADDY’s face. He was so happy! He oohed and ahhed while throwing money at me and enthusiastically jerked his four inch penis. I had found my calling and relaxed, which gave me the confidence to attempt moves I didn’t know I had the flexibility for. Ill Na Na is only thirty-eight minutes long and with a bathroom break, the time flew by. When the CD ended I hopped up from my cowgirl position and smiled.
“That was fun!” I put my arms up in V formation as if I had stuck a gymnastics landing.
“We’re not done yet.” He panted shallow and hard.
“You want me to start the CD again?”
“You need to get me off.” He nodded at his dick as if the phrase suggested anything else. I stared at it, squinting my eyes to see it, as the smile slid off my face.
Now my current self is like, “Oh Archy, you were so naïve,” but my nineteen-year-old self was scrambling through my memory, through our conversations, searching for the details.
“You didn’t say I had to do that.”
“Yes I did. Of course I did.” STRIPPERDADDY was angry now, angry the way men can be when you’re standing between them and their ejaculation. “Come on, you fucking said you’d do this.”
In my head, I could hear Foxy and Kim telling me what to do. Foxy stood with her arms crossed and reminded me, “Don’t let no dude, rule your world,” and Kim kicked it up a notch, “Hasta La Vista/Bye Bye, kiss your kids/This the gangstresses/What you think this is?” I should have pulled my foot back and kicked his balls, making sure an overgrown toenail I should have clipped came into good use. While he groaned in pain, I should have put my clothes back on and collected my cash. Striding through the living room I should have taken a framed record from the wall and smashed it on the floor. As I opened the door, I should have turned around and yelled, “Never fuck with a Brooklyn bitch!”
I wish I had done that, something even remotely close to that, but sometimes I just do whatever it takes to calm people down. I fear people’s anger, and worse, I’m a people-pleaser. My brain immediately tries to deescalate situations and I believe in doing that, but that doesn’t mean it always creates the best outcome for me. In that moment, I fell back on this tendency instead of my instincts. Fearful of his six-foot plus reaction and inclined to please someone who just gave me a hundred dollars, I grabbed his dick and jerked it. Then I felt his palm on the back of my head. I remember the head of his penis ramming into my lips and just submitting. Because it was easier… because I was scared. My thoughts hovered above the scene pondering the reasons why and time felt like the waves of a puddle lapping against cracked asphalt. It couldn’t have been more than a few minutes. STRIPPERDADDY came, grunting and squeezing my shoulder. I wiped my hand. I got dressed and picked up the money scattered on the floor. This money had been shoved in my mouth and into my waistband. These bills had been jammed against my asshole and smeared across my cock. I pushed them into my pockets.
“Did you enjoy that?” He was still lying on the floor bathed in that glow that men get when something besides their right hand has made them cum.
“Yeah.” I still didn’t want to disrupt the air. There was calm and I wanted to retain it, scared of any other feeling. I took Foxy from the disc player, and he walked me to his door. I rode a slow elevator down and longed for the marijuana in my car’s arm rest. I took the bills from my pockets and counted them: $84 dollars. I hadn’t even been fully paid. My first job as a stripper, and I had become an unintended and underpaid whore. I was the worst sex worker in the world.
“Wanted it all, now it’s all mine/loneliness, sorrow, confusion and pain/But this is my nine-to-five y’all/Sometimes I wanna slit my wrist and end my life y’all.”
The elevator doors opened and I exited less than what I had been before. I don’t know why it is that when we feel emotional pain, it causes a dull ache near our hearts. Why does it feel like someone can punch you there when it’s safely protected by bones? I limped out with a heavy head. I walked out with a pain that would cause more. Having recently come out, my sexcapades meeting men offline had all felt like marriage equality being announced on the steps of the Supreme Court, but the sensation of shame I felt from STRIPPERDADDY made me feel like the fanatics were right. I deserved to be hurled off the top of a building or beaten and pinned to a fence in the Colorado sun.
What just happened? What did I do to myself? How do I stop thinking and feeling? As I walked to my car, the familiar gusts off Lake Michigan almost broke me because they felt more familiar than my own self. I got in and packed that bowl. There was a voicemail from my dad telling me we were going to Red Lobster. That evening, I drank my mother’s piña colada and dunked cheddar bay biscuits in clam chowder. At home, I raided my mom’s pills and went to sleep.
I never told anyone. I never put it down in my journal and never let myself think about it. The damage ignoring it did, my nineteen year-old self couldn’t have imagined. It makes my current self wish I could reclaim my past. Instead of reaching out to anyone (I had a fucking therapist at the time), I took this stone and wrapped it in pot, wrapped it in vodka, wrapped it in lots of men and lots of harder substances. I remember thinking that since all these things kill brain cells, I’d just keep abusing them until my memory of STRIPPERDADDY died. Unfortunately, you can’t kill the past. You have to reckon with it. Instead of getting it out of my system, I buried that stone inside it. Writing this has been my shovel and my stone-smashing hammer.
People say, “Absolutely no regrets.” Or at least Madonna does at the end of the music video for “Human Nature.” If you’re like me, sometimes you think about the shit and gold that have brought you where you are. Maybe it isn’t the stank shit of STRIPPERDADDY that I regret the most. Maybe it’s the way I reacted and the years it took from me, that I think I could have done better for myself. If I could go back and tell told my nineteen-year-old self anything, it’d be this: “It’s okay that you were the worst sex worker in the world. Not everyone is meant to be a sex worker. You are not tough enough plus you’re too trusting. That’s okay, though; you are young and will figure out how to negotiate who you are with what life brings. For now though, go to your mother’s love; go to your father’s wisdom. Even your sister is embedded with the need to protect you. Because once you reckon with this, you’ll be able to laugh at ninety-five percent of it because you are tough that way and will have learned that some people, no matter the reasons, just suck. Even non-sucky people can really suck. And the other five percent? The part that causes your core to ache? Archy, that wasn’t your fault.”