Last night, a well-meaning yet slightly tipsy older lesbian tried to place a folded stack of five dollar bills in my pants as a thank you for helping with an event. I said no, but she insisted, pulling down my side-zipper and unsuccessfully shoving the money into the opening she thought she had created in my pants.
“Those are just decoration,” I said as I put down the tap of the keg I was pouring and zipped back up my side. She laughed and tried searching for another pocket. Eventually, I got her to quit fondling my pants with her bills and instead donate the money to the charity whose event we were attending.
She was harmless and the gesture came from a kind place, but this interaction got me thinking about two things.
One, why put zippers on my shorts right in front of the real pockets? Why not make the pockets zip? Or even better why not make the zippers pockets? More pockets = more fun, right?
Two, how many times do we throw money at people in harmless ways? Ways that make us feel better about ourselves but may make the other person feel worse about the situation. What if I hadn’t been ok with someone unzipping my pants and throwing money in them. What if she hadn’t been so innocent in her desire to compensate me?
Sometimes I dance for dollars. I don’t make a living this way but I like having the extra cash when I do it. I love grabbing some greasy fries at an all night joint after a performance and whipping out a wad of ones, everyone knowing where it came from, knowing that my tease (my tits) inspired the financial generosity of strangers.
Once, a gay guy even bought my fries because he had seen my performance earlier that evening and loved it (me) so much. Man, that was a good show. I was Liza Minelli and I sang “Maybe This Time” as I threw off my clothes and it was so fucking dramatic and so fucking sexy.
But that money was well-earned. It never felt degrading. I shimmied, I shook, I sang, I serenaded and I deserved every last bill shoved into my fishnets.
I tell you what is degrading, having your mother throw money at you while she calls you a “writer,” air quotes and all. Now that’s degrading.
It’s all circumstantial, it’s all in the intention. When my mother threw money at me, she intended to insult my chosen profession. When the strangers threw money at me, they intended to praise it.
Once a man gave me 100 dollar bills to “make it rain” on a stripper. She sat there, bouncing her ass, as I tossed one hundred individual bills onto her bare skin while the man watched. It took longer than you would think it would. 100 is a lot of dollars.
When situations like this arise, I wonder who is being exploited here? Who is the one gaining the most from the situation. The guy holds the power, he’s the one with money, he’s the customer paying for our bodies to do his bidding. But he just lost $100 and at any moment could be kicked out of the bar for misbehaving.
Is it me? I’m holding the money. I’m deciding how long the girl has to sit there and bump her butt. Everyone’s watching, waiting, for what I’m holding in my hand. Is the power in the hands of whomever holds the money? Can I really “hold” the money if it is not mine, only gifted from a strange man?
Or is the stripper the powerful one? She’s who we’ve all come to see, she’s who we are paying for her time. She shakes, rattles and rolls and then leaves, our cash in her hand.
Feminists have debated this question for years. I’m not posing any shockingly new topic. I’m just adding my experiences to it.
Once, at the Lusty Lady, a fabulous unionized strip theater in SF, a group of friends and I paid a woman $40 to masturbate in front of us. It was wonderfully awkward for us, yet she seemed totally comfortable with the whole situation, especially our $40.
Another time, at an up-scale fundraiser, a man handed me five dollars and his dirty plate and told me to “take care of that.” I thought I looked fancy enough to fit in. Apparently I looked like the help. If I had been working, I would have been glad for the $5 tip, but as a fellow attendee, the money felt as dirty as his plate.
Why is it more insulting to be confused for the help than it is to be the help? Aren’t people always pissed when you ask them what aisle toilet paper is on and it turns out they don’t work there? If they had actually worked there, they’d probably have been happy to help but being confused for a worker always seems to piss people off. Why are we so proud of being a worker when we’re on duty and yet ashamed of looking like one off duty?
I pose these questions with no real answers. I pose these questions for no real reason, other than the fact that a slightly drunk old lady tried to put money in my pants through a fake zipper tonight.
And if that’s not a reason to question throwing money at people, I’m not sure what is.
I don’t have answers, but I do have, for your viewing pleasure, a little NSFW video from the Lusty Lady that talks about women strippers taking control and the power and being awesome. Maybe they hold the answer.
What do you think? What makes giving someone money go from flattering to degrading?