Weathering the storm
“This is going to make me hate men more than I already do.”
My friend has a bleak outlook on our Friday night plans. And I get it. We know by now that Brett Kavanaugh will be confirmed to the Supreme Court, despite his petulant display in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee in September. She’s sick of seeing conservative bullies with warped views of women win. She doesn’t want to watch dudes drool over women, but I’m optimistic as we head to the strip club anyway.
We arrive at Gold Club Centerfolds 15 minutes before the show starts. The chairs facing the main stage are filled, and if there’s a red MAGA hat in the house, I don’t see it. The crowd is sprinkled with gorgeous women in tiny tops, fishnets and heels. The low lighting in this Rancho Cordova club begs for a cocktail, but a root beer will have to suffice. In California, you get bare vulvas or booze—not both.
It’s my first time at a strip club—a rite of passage I imagine most Americans pushing 30 have already experienced. But my late start comes at the right moment. Tonight’s show stars Stormy Daniels, and she’s bringing Thunder and Lightning.
That’s what she calls her boobs. She introduces them in her memoir, Full Disclosure, released last week. For some, the porn star/director became a sexy symbol of a Donald Trump takedown after claiming she’d been intimidated and paid hush money in 2016 for an affair she had with the then-candidate a decade earlier. Daniels recently gave $130,000 back to Trump’s lawyer to agree that their nondisclosure agreement was void.
Daniels followed the book’s October 2 release with appearances on late-night variety shows like Jimmy Kimmel Live!, where America watched her select one from a grove of small orange mushrooms that most resembled Trump’s dick (In the book, she compares Trump’s penis to Toad, the stubby, head-heavy mushroom character from Super Mario Bros.). She later apologized for body shaming.
Last weekend, Daniels headlined four Friday and Saturday night shows at Centerfolds with the promise of “Making America Horny Again,” as it was advertised.
Stormy takes the stage to the familiar guitar intro of “American Woman,” and quickly relieves herself of a white, starry cape and the bra underneath. She then offers rounds of motorboats. A grateful gray-haired dude gets one, his buddy gets one.
After two songs, we spot a couple open seats. I ask a man who clearly doesn’t want to be bothered if someone’s sitting there. He grumbles and gestures to the chair. I get comfortable, and I see that Stormy has flung off what’s left of her blue strip-away panties. The crowd hollers as she gets down on her knees, squirts a white liquid all over T & L and bounces around. This makes the money fly. There are no impressive pole stunts or groundbreaking moves in her act, but people are laser-focused and throwing cash her way despite it.
It’s a scene I would have looked down on in my early 20s, when I claimed feminism but didn’t support sex work. I hated my experience with the “male gaze” and tended to blame strippers and porn stars for men’s tendency to sexualize all women’s bodies. Strange men on the street have asked me, “Where’s your boyfriend?” “Are you a virgin?” and (my personal favorite) “Will you sit on my face?” Now, I recognize that I can only hold those men responsible for their actions, not women like the one performing.
Based on her book, we can say Stormy’s performance was much longer than Trump’s. But the four-song show was shorter than expected for the hype and the $30 to $40 cover. She leaves the stage as folks form a long line for $20 photo ops, a young man sweeping up a stage full of ones in her wake.
We watch the women who work there day-to-day on the main stage. Local sex worker advocate Dennessa Atiles didn’t meet Stormy either. Instead, she discussed work conditions with the club’s regular dancers. They talked about health insurance and the fact that they don’t make a basic wage.
“Dancing in those heels, they should get an award for that,” Atiles said.
Atiles organized a group to go to the show in support of sex work. She’s involved with The Resistance-Sacramento/Elk Grove, a branch of the anti-Trump campaign Indivisible. She came out not necessarily as a fan of Daniels, but a supporter of women’s issues.
“I already know that our politics don’t align in any way whatsoever. So I don’t necessarily see her as cool or a feminist icon at all,” Atiles said. Daniels has identified as both Republican and Democrat in the past, and had a brief run for Senate as a Republican. Atiles said no matter Daniels’ politics, it takes courage to speak truth to men in power.
“I do think that it’s brave to speak out for any woman, and especially to somebody with that much power. … For whatever reason she did it, it is in fact brave.”
I track down the gray-haired man who got the motorboat of his life at the end of the night. He won’t say his name, but he’s 72 and says it’s also his first time at a strip club.
I ask why, after all these years, Stormy is the one who brought him out.
“I’m a liberal democrat,” he says. “It’s a spoof on political involvement.”
The anonymous liberal man has words of wisdom before I leave: “You should go topless, too.”
In 99 percent of circumstances, I would have responded with justified anger at this old man’s suggestion. But as the Democrat runs off to hug a topless woman for $1, I just laugh at him for feeding into my friend’s point.