Jay Michaelson
The Queer Guy at the Strip Club, p. 4

For my part, I separated from my friends (who were going for more drinks) and walked over to Splash, a gay dance club a few blocks away where the rules were different: the homoeroticism was open, not concealed, and there was no need for layers of illusion. Most importantly, my body was desired. I've never felt so down on myself as at the strip club. This wasn't because of any moral transgression - I don't have a moral objection to seeing naked women, and my feminist/humanist moral objection could be set aside for one night. It was because I was so undesired. I lead a sexually active lifestyle, and I do a lot of things that most people might consider sleazy or objectionable. But I don't trade power (or money) for sex; when I hook up with someone, it is because he or she finds me as attractive as I find him or her. Even when it isn't fully a reciprocal relationship, it is always a mutual one. There is always something sexual that I've got that the other person wants.

I think this lack of mutuality at the strip club points to the extent to which Puritanism still dominates straight, normative sex in America. The guys at the strip club weren't playboy types or hepsters or rock stars who can have sex easily, and they weren't sleazeballs either. With a few exceptions, they were mostly upstanding frat-boy types, and it was easy to imagine engaged in boring jobs and boring consumerism and boring morality. They were precisely the type of guys who can't get laid without feeling sleazy. If I want casual sex, it's very easy to find in the gay world, and in certain parts of the straight world too. But for these guys, they have to resort to this horrible, ego-killing activity in order to get stimulated - and then they aren't even allowed to get off. I can't believe that there are men who do this every week, or every month. Even apart from all of the horrible habits it teaches regarding women, it's just depressing. Paying for sex, and then not even getting off - I just don't get it. Thank God.

In my Jewish tradition, sexual pleasure is a Divine gift. It's not meant to be bartered or sold; it's meant to be given freely - even if I disagree with more traditional Jews about to whom and under what circumstances it may be given. When I am with someone sexually, I am celebrating our bodies, the pleasure they give, and the pleasure that my body and soul give to my partner. At the strip club, there was plenty of casual "sex," but in contrast to the mutuality of giving and taking sexual pleasure, there was only taking - a solid, straight ethos, maybe, but one which assumed the undesirability of the men paying for titillation. We were all so ugly. Unmanned, undesired, unsatisfied. We had the power to pay for women, but all we could have was what we could buy. And all we spent was money.

The strip club is a depraved place. Not, in my opinion, for the sinful reasons that religious fundamentalists provide. And not really for the objectifying, oppressive reasons the feminists give. Primarily, the strip club is depraved because it degrades the soul of the man who goes to it: the God-given libido is reduced to a Id-monster fed at the expense of the ego. I'm by no means preaching abstinence or restraint. I'm all for indulging the id. But the kind of indulgence that I want doesn't involve weird repressive games, layers of deceit, and a total lack of consummation. At the strip club, beneath the illusion, all pleasure was forbidden. No one touched each other, no one sincerely looked at each other, and no one had an orgasm. Is this sex? To me, it's the opposite.

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Images: Juliana Beasley

At the end of August, Jay Michaelson will be teaching Kabbalah at Burning Man as part of Congregation B'nai Hamidbar, the Burning Man synagogue.

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August 2003

The Queer Guy at the Strip Club
Jay Michaelson

The Gifts of the German Jews: Toward a Postmodern Judaism
Michael Shurkin

My first shabbos
Jennifer Waters

Stones of Jerusalem
David Goldstein

Holocaust Video Testimonies: The Other Reality TV
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David Stromberg

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