A Glance At: Alice Gordon
Each subject in this series was interviewed in an hour or less, all quotes and edits have been run by the subject prior to publication, and they have had none of the questions in advance.
Alice is a young woman. For the purposes of safety and privacy, I’ve changed some of the details mentioned in our interview, and omitted some of her more specific responses.
Alice is a classical musician in her final year of training in a specialist institution. Having had to move far from home to attend this institution, she has spent the last few years not only honing her craft, but building a life in this city, finding friends and a support network. Making a home.
Alice also works as a stripper. She is based in a city centre club, and at her busiest works up to four nights per week, and then wakes in the morning to practise her instrument. For the purposes of this article, I’ll be placing stripping under the umbrella of sex work, although I’m aware of the debate around the subject.
I wanted to chat to Alice about all these parts of herself- what she reveals and uncovers in certain situations, how she feels as a woman and a feminist in both of these environments, and how it all rolls together to form a complex and unique young woman.
We chat as she gets ready for her date with her boyfriend. Her room is clean white minimalist, with evidence of a light caffeine addiction. A half-full but family-sized cafetiere on her dresser. A mug with a kitten on it. Two or three discarded paper coffee cups from different chains strewn across the room. Her bedside table is a small and cluttered piece- complete with a book, a large bottle of imported ibuprofen, and another used coffee cup. She offers me a glass of sparkling rosé wine- happy Friday- and perches on the edge of her low double bed.
To get the conversational ball rolling, I ask Alice what she would say to those who disagree with stripping, those who think it’s against feminist principles, those who are shocked.
I would say that the main thing about feminism is everybody having a choice. Like I get it- stripping kind of only exists because men want to objectify women-sometimes women come into strip but its pretty rare (1)- and I think that’s the bit people don’t like. It’s hard to explain… This is just me making a choice. I mean yeah, we have to play into these ideas of classic femininity a little bit, so maybe someone could say we were furthering these ideas in a guy's head. But it’s also not my job to make guys think anything. They should know this isn’t real. It’s a fantasy- you’re playing into their fantasy. Obviously it’s a misogynistic fantasy, but… I think people think we’re doing it for the men, but we’re not. We’re doing it for a job.
People say ‘Oh isn’t nice that people think you’re hot?’ No? I don’t think about it in that way. I get called beautiful now more than I’ve ever been called it in my whole life, and I don’t feel any different. I don’t care. If anything, stripping has made me care a little bit less about my physical appearance. Once you start playing into that and using it, you realise that being called pretty is empty as shit.
This is one of those things where I wanna make sure I’ve actually got it, like, correct, she says, when we stumble past the subject of being a feminist sex worker, and we fall into sex-positive vs sex-negative feminism. I assumed that she’d be sex-positive, being a sex worker. Alice, however, surprised me. Taking her makeup bag- decorated with even more kittens, she kneels by the mirror, making reflective eye contact with me as she pulls out her foundation.
I guess the main thing is that feminism isn’t actually sex worker positive? I mean obviously feminism inherently has to be, under the definition, but the actual movement -especially some of that white feminism ‘body positivity’ stuff, that kind of area, the area you associate with that sort of feminism tends to not actually be very sex worker positive, it tends to be quite negative. So I guess the thing I don’t like about sex positive feminism is the whole ‘all sex is good sex’ thing. I’m of the stance of being sex negative where I don’t think all sex is good sex, even with consent.
Not all sex is good sex, not all sex is sexy. Sex needs to be questioned and more regulated. Obviously if you are having a good time and you feel like you are having good sex then that’s good, but the thing with sex positive feminism, what it sometimes does, is sweep a lot of stuff under the rug.
I think the problem with sex negativity is that people have associated it with anti-LGBTQ+, because there are people that have been anti-LGBTQ+, which is shit because that’s really not what it’s about, I think.
The main ideas about sex negativity is really just questioning sex, asking ‘Is this good sex?’ ‘Is this reasonable?’ You’re going beyond just the ‘Is this consensual?’ And you’re saying ‘Hey, what are the social connotations of this?’
Like with porn and stuff. I feel like sex positivity tends to just go ‘Yay, porn!’, and I don’t think it should. Obviously porn stars have every right to do porn, but the industry can just be so horrible to them- obviously men too- but I feel the women can really be pulled into it. It’s harder to be a guy in porn, you have to have the ‘talent’. (1) But for women… You hear so many horrible instances of women not really knowing what is happening and being pulled into it. And then they do, and it becomes consensual, and they do it for money, but that’s not good sex.
Porn is great, but a lot of mainstream porn isn’t. I think there should be porn, there should be sex work. I think… I think sex is ingrained in us and we need these outlets, and I think porn could be a healthy one. It just isn’t. I guess stripping isn’t either. (3)
By now, Alice has moved onto her eyebrows. She doesn’t use a pen like me, she has a small brush and a pot of dark brown gel. A classy lady, I think, as she dabs and brushes her brows in quick but precise flicks.
I wonder how it’s all gonna last, like after this decade. Young guys feel really guilty, like ‘oh no I feel weird’ and they say sorry? It’s like they say ‘sorry I’m objectifying you’ and I’m like… don’t? This sounds bad, but I am here to be objectified, I am agreeing to be objectified.
Things are changing though, I wonder if men will outgrow that as a thing. If they’ll stop coming to a strip club.
There seemed to be a theme of self-justification from the men that came with this guilt that Alice saw, especially from the younger ones. Is this because of a genuine uncomfortableness on their part? Or the idea somehow that they should feel uncomfortable, so they express this to the girls -whilst profiting off the fact that they’re still allowed to be here. Still allowed to be paying this girl to take her clothes off and dance for him. Maybe this is why some men try to ‘Pretty Woman’ the strippers, simply to make themselves feel better.
When I make the Pretty Women reference, Alice scoffs.
That stuff is all about pity, and I hate it. I feel like if you pity someone it’s because you think you’re above them. People pity waitresses, people who work at McDonalds, strippers. They think you should better. Some people pity musicians. And don’t get me wrong, there are some people who do strip because they can’t make that money anywhere else, but you find that in any job.
After they’ve paid me for a dance they’ll say ‘you’re so sweet, you shouldn’t do this’. I want to say ‘You’re the reason I’m doing this! You are paying me!’ [They say to me] ‘I don’t usually come here… my friend dragged me out…’ all of that. I mean, some of it’s true, but you’re still spending all this money on a dance. It’s weird they think I’d judge them. I mean yeah, we are judging them, obviously, but we don’t think ‘why are you in a strip club, you’re disgusting’, we think, ‘thank God somebody is here, please buy a dance'. You can be really into it, and be cool. We get normal guys and we get creeps.
You just can’t say you’re gonna give them something and then not do that something- that’s when it gets dangerous. There are girls who are like ‘Oh, come up to VIP and then you’ll get my number’ but then give them a fake number, which is not smart. Men get angry.”
Alice then told me about girls who break the rules to get clients. There’s a particular client who liked to touch the girls, which is against the rules- Alice told me about coworkers who would break those rules (and let the clients touch them) in order to charge premium amounts
We have to be honest and not do that.
Alice opens a nude eyeshadow palette and begins sweeping a beige across her lower lids. She tilts her head like she’s posing so she can see the light across her eyes. She spends a long time making sure they’re even. Aesthetically at least, Alice seems to be a bit of a perfectionist.
It’s strange because we are working with each other but against each other as well.
This teamwork paired with competition was something Alice also mentioned about training as a classical musician.
There aren’t a lot of written rules for the girls, but this is the way we operate in this club, and we all know.
This strikes me as something universal. When in any institution, you operate under a set of rules. Written or otherwise. Your business and social interactions overlap, making guidelines both necessary and confusing. Do we change ourselves as people when operating under a different set of rules?
Rules are rules. There are rules, but one of them is that you can pay money and a girl will take off her clothes for you. So it’s strange.
You’re all in the same boat, she says about her classical training. You support each other, you listen and work together. I think there’s actually more of a camaraderie in that than there is in stripping, although in both there’s a learning from other people. Like the way you learn how to dance is by having another girl show you. It’s just a thing. But there’s also competition in both. More in school because you’re competing for a job at the end, or the same spot in a show or orchestra, and there can be a lot of animosity if somebody gets something which seems unfair. You don’t get that in stripping because they’re not really your friends, they’re your work friends. I only have like two of the girls on facebook, I don’t know the rest’s real names. But at school that’s your real life, so it’s a lot more… I try and fill in the blanks for her. Personal? Stressful? Upsetting? She shrugs and replies. Real.
I asked Alice how separate her ‘real life’ really was than her life when she is in sex work.
Well, I haven’t seen any people from my real life at the club. They don't come in. That weird level of separation. Most of my friends know, but I keep it really separate. I don’t really have anybody in the real world I can actually talk to about it. Like not my boyfriend or anything.
This interested me. My own boyfriend, when chatting about the concept, expressed how uncomfortable he’d feel if I worked at a strip club. We ended up spending an awfully long time talking that night- discussing body autonomy, the male gaze, ownership within romantic relationships. Typical night with bæ.
I asked Alice about whether or not her boyfriend had an opinion about her side job, and if that opinion effected her at all.
I don’t think he cares. I mean, he probably cares a little? But for all I know, he doesn’t. But it’s not that prominent of a thing- he’s never there. I think if he was there he would feel a little weird, but he doesn’t like strip clubs. Even before I worked there, he felt really weird. Maybe he doesn’t like that I work there, but I think he knows it’s, like, not his decision.
This vaguely surprises me. I don’t know why.
Any job can change you, where you work can shift the way you think, and inform the way you approach other aspects of your life- just ask a teacher, a doctor, a policeman. I asked Alice if she thought that her work in the club has changed or informed her in her career as a classical musician.
I wish! (We have a wee giggle.) When I’m there I care so little about what people think of me. I care if they want to have dances with me. But I don’t if they think I’m a nice person or a good person.
And in your ‘real’ life?
I would say now, kind of thanks to stripping, I do care a bit less about what people think of me? But it’s different when I’m working. It’s salesmanship.
I’m a lot more aggressive in my day to day life, I’m a lot less girly, I swear a lot. I’m also a know-it-all. Sometimes justifiably and sometimes not-so-justifiably so. And guys don’t like that. So I have to become- just a little bit- that kind of dumb, but not too dumb, sweet thing. I do tell them what I do, that I’m a classical musician, and they like that. Usually then they tell me about the band they’re in. They love music, they played piano, their kid plays piano, their wife plays piano. Everyone fucking plays piano.
You have about fifteen minutes to chat to them. If after that fifteen they don’t wanna dance then you leave them, let another girl have a try. You’re probably not their type.
I ask Alice about her family. I’m aware that they’re not in the know about her stripping, but how close is she to them in regards to other things? Do you feel you play the role of ‘daughter’ when you’re with them?
I’ve never really talked to my parents about my life. If I’ve had a boyfriend they haven’t known until months after. We talk, but our talking is not deep or meaningful. I would never tell them. I don’t tell them the realities of school. If I’m having a hard time. Especially since I’m not seeing them face to face. I never cry in front of them- and I cry all the time. If it’s my business it’s mine. I didn’t tell my mum when I had sex for the first time.
And does like like the fact you’re a classical musician?
I think my mum would be happier if I was a lawyer, but I also think she just likes having something to brag about.
The chat with Alice about the more demure, “giggly”, personality she adopts when she’s stripping interests me. I wonder if there’s a parallel version that she adopts when she is in college, if she feels any negativity from being a female in her class.
It’s weird, there are people who are still sexist, but it’s pretty rare. Even more rare to have somethone say it to your face. But there’s still this old-school culture. Even if it doesn’t fully exist, it’s idealised. There’s a lot of drinking. I felt like I had to go, because if you want t see this people and chat to those people, but now I don’t feel like I have to anymore. I made that decisions. It used to be worse. A lot of musical culture focuses around the pub, which is maybe a UK thing.
A lot of them (female colleagues) just do it. That thing. They fit in to that pub world. I don’t, really. I don’t like shop talk. All they do is talk about music, who got this job, who got that solo, and that’s schmoozing, and ass-kissing, and I don’t like it. I feel like a lot of it is you trying to hang out who the ‘good players’ are, as if that makes you a good player too. That’s a negative culture.
Alice tucks away the mascara she just used and unfolds neatly up from the floor, lifting her makeup bag as she does. She places the bag on top of her drawers and begins to uncoil a pair of hair straighteners.
This might all be a college thing. But there’s a negative competition culture. And people only wanting to be friends with the people they think are good, or the people getting work. It’s elitism.
We top up the sparkling rosé.
You find yourself playing into it, validating yourself based on what you got, rather than what you are. And that’s pretty equal between men and women. I sometimes get it easier. I cry a lot, usually in frustration. I practice rooms or in class- and people accept it because ‘she’s a girl and she cries’ but boys couldn’t get away with that, and I know that. It’s such a high-pressure environment. I cry. Some people kick a music stand. Some people drink
Are there any self-proclaimed feminists in your course?
I hear a lot of ‘I hate that feminist’ bullshit. And- this is bad- but now I’m bored. I don’t want to teach them. I’ve gotten to point where I’ve stopped talking to people. Recently people have been using quite transphobic slurs, fat-shaming, making jokes about ‘the angry feminist’, things like that. I just don’t talk to those people anymore.
She’s putting curls into her hair with the tongs, craning her neck as far away from her small hands as possible, cradling the hot spirals for a second before letting them drop by her face.
I think that comes from work (stripping). The first few weeks I was way too nice, and I had to learn. I learned I don’t have to talk to people if they’re being a dick. You don’t have to invest your time and personal energy if someone isn’t going to do the same. I’m not mean- I’m still polite- but if you’re not willing to not use slurs, and you’re going to not use the right gender pronouns, and you’re going to be a dick, then I don’t have to talk to you.
I find that language in both worlds. There are girls at work who say horrible things and also girls at college. People are people. That’s part of their norm. Mostly it isn’t a guys vs girls thing. It’s ignorance.
To finish our hour, I asked Alice to talk me through a typical day. As a classical musician, and as a sex worker.
“Stripping-wise, my ‘day’ wouldn’t start until about 7 o clock. The night before I’ll shave everything- be completely hairless. If it’s a week where I’m working a lot then I just shave every time I’m in the shower.
Sit in front of the mirror, do my makeup, hair. I like to give myself two hours to get ready, even though I don’t actually do a lot? I’m really lazy. Full face, lots of perfume, out the door. I always arrive early, I’m the first one to get there. I arrive not dressed, but ready. Then I get into underwear, stockings, heels. Then I just… wait around until somebody shows up. Generally you might have a few people in, but things pick up around midnight. On weekdays I wouldn’t expect to make my commission before 11 o clock. Some nights I do! But generally around 11 or 12, when people are leaving the pub and come to us, that’s when we start making money. When we’re busiest- between 12 and 3am.
There’s a lot of sitting around. And a lot of freshening up. I use so many baby wipes! Just to make sure I’m clean and… I mean, you’re very exposed. Make sure you’re not sweaty, you want to feel clean and nice. And you don’t want gross breath. I chat to the bartenders a lot, especially since I used to be one. I usually get something that looks like a drink. Guys like to think you’re drinking, like they are. If a guy wants to buy you something, then you can order a non-alcoholic drink without them knowing. If you wink at the bar staff, then they know. You take fake shots and stuff. Keep up appearances and don’t get trashed.
I definitely do not spend two hours getting ready for college! I wake up maybe a half hour before I leave the house. If I want to be in at 8am I will wake up at 7. Because fuck that, you know?
Generally I don’t care what I look like, I carry a massive cup of coffee. I eat all the time. I don’t eat when I’m stripping. I don’t like to eat because I feel gross.
It’s different because I don’t get to decide who I talk to and what I do. There are people I have to be around. At the club I choose everything, and I don’t get to choose much at college. I actually feel like you get to stick up for yourself more at the club. If someone’s a dick then you are not obligated to dance with them- or to do anything. You can get them kicked out. You can do more in that environment than in college. You can’t call a teacher a dick and a walk out. I think I have more authority in the club- they want me. And at college… I guess I’m the punter. That’s how the dynamic feels, anyway. I’m just there.
And that’s it. Our hour is up, it’s time for Alice’s date night with her boyfriend. She runs her hands through the curls in her hair and spritzes some hairspray from a golden bottle. As we chat through a bit of life as we wait for my taxi- boyfriends, money, pretty apartments with high ceilings- she mentioned how she’s saving up for getting her eyebrows micro-bladed. That terrifies me.
We then land on Musical Theatre, and she asks me questions about shows. I talk about how- in a vain way- I just want to be in a show with a pretty costume for once. Heels, preferably. We talk about how nice lingerie is basically a costume, and I see a twinkle in her eye as she asks if I want to see one of her sets that she wears for work. Of course, I say yes.
I feel her excitement as she shows me her sac a magic (4)- a drawstring tote hanging on her wardrobe door, filled to the brim with lace, straps, clips, hooks. Her work clothes.
“I never get these out, really,” she says, listing the top garment. A bra.
Wait a second, I say. Is that from Beax Avenue?
“Yeah, so nice! I love their stuff.”
The same lingerie set I ordered for myself had arrived in the mail today. The colour was raspberry. Very pretty. I had been both looking forward to trying it on and freaking out about it.
“I made like six hundred quid in a night with this set,” she casually quips. She stuffs is back into the bag and pulls the drawstring tight. There’s a fun, strange sense of pride knowing that I now own the exact same set of lingerie as a stripper. A kind of cementation that this is sexy stuff. Proper stuff. Classy stripper stuff. Raspberry and matching. I wonder if this strange pride comes from a place of simpering privilege on my part- the closest I’ll ever get to the strip club is owning the same lingerie as its workers. Come on Beth, get your kicks somewhere better.
I hug Alice goodbye and taxi home, thinking about how much Alice seems to know, and the countless but blending worlds she occupies. A foot in a classical world, another in a strip club. Tonight she will go on a dinner date and be neither musician nor sex worker- just a loving girlfriend. She will visit her family and step into the role of daughter, big sister, dog walker. She will meet me for a coffee next month and play editor whilst she reads over this. I think- how can one young woman play so many parts? Isn’t she tired? I know I am.
Aren’t we all?
“And women do behave differently, but not necessarily better. Especially straight women, they can get so grabby. They’re like ‘oh I’m a girl and you’re a girl so I’m allowed to touch you’ which is just not okay.”
By this I believe Alice means ejaculating/keeping an erection under pressure, which yes, I would definitely consider a talent.
There’s history of people thinking sex-positive feminism vs sex-negative feminism is just radical feminists vs liberal feminists under a different name. It’s this whole thing, and if I went into all of it for this article it probably wouldn’t fit on my site. For some interesting published perspectives on the debate have a look at Betty Dawson, Catherine McKinnon, Robin Morgan. The debate transcends stripping and delves into full-service sex work, pornography, women’s sexual liberation. It’s a feminist rabbit hole, great for a long train journey.
Nice little Tots TV reference for all of you.