Jay Michaelson
The Queer Guy at the Strip Club, p. 2

This transgression of ordinary straight-male consent leads to the third major facet of the strip clubs' homoeroticism: the power of the male gaze. Much has been written about homophobia and how it relates to straight men's fear of being seen as a sexual object. "I don' t want some fag looking at me in the shower," soldiers and athletes frequently say - as if the gaze itself, not as invitation to sexual contact, but in and of itself, is a form of assault. Personally, I don't mind being looked at - I'm one of those New Yorkers who rarely bothers to close the blinds, and I've been naked in plenty of sexual and non-sexual public situations - so it's often no big deal. But it's a big deal at the strip club. As I was fascinated by the spectacle all around me, by the men, the women, the decor, everything, I naturally caused my eyes to wander. When by accident they caught the eyes of another man, the tension was palpable. It was often unavoidable - there are nearly naked women gyrating only a few feet away, of course any straight, bisexual, or even moderately curious gay man is going to look, and of course you will sometimes catch the eye of someone else. But the gaze had power. I felt it, and the even-faster-than-usual rapidity with which the men looked away seemed to acknowledge it as well. We were not supposed to see each other.

To be clear, I was not looking at these men in a (consciously) sexual way. I can't think of a time when I'd been less attracted to the men around me; their appearance, behavior, and strangeness made them totally unappealing as sex objects. I was curious about some of them, noticing the vague embarrassment on some of their faces, and often the gaze would be entirely accidental. Yet even without cruising them, I was cruising them. I was observing engaged in a kind of sex act, and that was enough. Eventually, I learned to avert my gaze completely, with a margin for error as well. I noticed everyone else was doing this too. When one of my friend's friends bought a lap dance from one of the most beautiful girls in the place (this was unanimously agreed), we all looked around the room as if nothing was going on, as if there wasn't a beautiful, naked woman right here beside us, professionally simulating sex. It was absurd, of course: here we all were, trying not to look at something which we all wanted to look at, which we'd paid to look at, but which we couldn't look at because we would intrude on the commercial intimacy of our friend. It struck me that in this most macho of environments, we were being rendered passive, uncomfortable consumers of sexuality, all too aware of the proximity of our aroused male companions.

No wonder the need for illusion. The willful illusion - that, other than the homoeroticism, made the strongest impression on me. Everything about the strip club seemed contradictory. We're here to be sexual beings, and yet we have to pay for it, as if we're desperate. It's not prostitution, but it is. We're here to get turned on by women, yet we're overwhelmingly surrounded by men. All of this tension and contradiction, and most of all, all of these turn-offs: the men, the money, the fear of "what am I doing here." So the entire edifice depends on an array of strategic misdirections: the bouncers wearing tuxedos (to prove that this is a classy joint, it's not sleazy, no it's not, really), the enthusiastic announcer (same), the stage with dancers to draw our attention away from the far-more-erotic lap dances. The reality is so queer, and so unerotic, that the strip club must create fantasy.

Of course, the main fantasy is the girls themselves, who sidle up to even the most ugly, ordinary, or shy men and joke with them, pretending that the john is cute, funny, charming. Some girls chose the sultry route, playing with shirt collars and teasing. Others were like cheerleaders, giggling and making conversation, acting like disappointed seven- year-olds when the customer wouldn't pay them to strip. The fake-ness of the girls was overwhelming: altered hair color, enlarged breasts, laser-toned body-hairlessness, absurdly high- heeled shoes, plus the makeup, the attitude, and, finally, the simulation of sex itself.

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August 2003

The Queer Guy at the Strip Club
Jay Michaelson

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Zeek in Print
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David Stromberg

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