I don't know when I first heard the expression, "Never take your work home with you." I do know that it stuck to me like a mantra as I grew up, though I didn't guess it would come to mean so much. As a stripper trying to have a healthy love relationship with my man—did it mean I shouldn't bring home my sexy self? This was a question I could not answer easily for many years.
I became a stripper when I was eighteen, the age when most young women head off to college. My dream was to be an actress in New York City, and stripping was a good way to save money and gain some acting experience.
I was pretty naïve when I started taking my clothes off for a living. I thought I could split myself into two different people—Sheila, the everyday woman, and Kyrea, the stripper. But giving myself different names didn't make handling this new career any simpler.
At that time I was dating a twenty-three year old who was very explicit about not wanting to influence my life decisions. Rob said that stripping didn't bother him morally, but that he was concerned for me personally. It was wonderful to have such an understanding boyfriend, though ironically a big part of me wished he'd tell me not to strip. I was scared of my new life, but the money was great.
Dancing seductively for strangers seven hours a day takes a toll on you. My sexual being became a show thing, not an enjoyable part of me to be discovered naturally. By the time I'd come home to my boyfriend, the last thing I wanted to do was think about, let alone have, sex. I slipped into sweat pants as soon as I entered the apartment, counted my cash, ate dinner, and passed out. Not exactly the routine of a romantic girlfriend.
It wasn't long before my alter ego Kyrea began having sexual flings. Sheila, the "good" girl, who wanted to have a monogamous and intimate relationship, got plowed down while Kyrea jumped from one man to another.
At first, the men I dated loved that I was a stripper. They felt like studs, bragging about their sexy girlfriend. But once the relationship got more serious they couldn't handle having the girlfriend and fantasy-woman collide. Even I wasn't sure if I could be both "good" girl and "bad" at the same time.
Perhaps growing up surrounded by conflicting female images—the "good" woman who was represented by my mother, and the "bad" girl that I saw on television and in magazines—is what made it hard. The good woman was a bore in bed; the bad girl was a hot babe, but she wasn't to be married. Choosing either role meant losing out. Maybe I wanted to grow up and be both images rolled up into one because either one by itself left so much to be desired.
The longer I stripped the more I felt worthless at home and at work. I wanted to be a normal woman, but how could I be? If my boyfriend and I made love when I wasn't in the mood, wasn't he just like a strip club customer and I, a stripper, going through the motions without real enjoyment? It got harder and harder to differentiate between my real sexuality and what was part of the show. I didn't want to have to act in real life. I wanted to just be me again, the "me" that wasn't trying to be all things at once.
I quit stripping when I was twenty-three, but I didn't simply snap back into being a whole and healthy woman involved in satisfying relationships. Now men had problems with the fact that I had been a stripper—we're talking serious hang-ups here. When a man discovered my past, all of a sudden I was expected to become a sexual, kinky Superwoman.
I never considered hiding my past because if a guy couldn't love me regardless of what I once did for a living, I didn't want him. I didn't have to be ashamed of having been a stripper. I knew it did not make me a bad person, even if I often felt like it. But I was still very unsure of myself, as I realized during my love/hate relationship with the first man I loved after my stripper days ended. Chip couldn't handle my past, and he sometimes treated me like I was damaged goods. I had such low self-esteem that I couldn't see what was happening. Chip and the other men I dated were just reflecting back to me how little I thought of myself.
After leaving Chip, I decided I needed someone in my life to help me see the best in me, not the worst. I figured that if I could not stand up on my own and love myself completely, no one else would be able to either. I focused on myself for awhile—exploring what I wanted out of life and how I was going to get it. I enrolled in college part-time and took classes that interested me, from Psychology to English. I realized I had other choices in life besides taking my clothes off for money.
My romantic relationships steadily improved as I learned to forgive myself. I had made some less-than-perfect choices, but who hasn't? It wasn't that stripping was a bad thing, only that it wasn't emotionally healthy for me.
Now that I'm twenty-nine, I've learned that I have many different sides that can't be divided into neat little categories of "good" and "bad." Recently, I married a man that loves me for who I am and understands that I turned out the way I did because—and not in spite of—having been a stripper.
And now he's the only audience I want—or need.
Originally published Feb, 2001 at Conversely.com.
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