Apr/May 2017 Nonfiction

Oceans in the Strip Club

by Sarah Tran Nhu An Myers

Photographic image © 2017 Stuart Gelzer

Photographic image © 2017 Stuart Gelzer

Strip clubs are the new libraries. I bring my notebook, and they bring me discounts to welcome me back as the fully clothed woman I am. Here I feel the hushed wisdom in our mutuality. I step in with ease like it is warm to my body's touch in its grand spatial volumes and pickup waves.

I am comfortable after the cold, corporate day, where I network with businessmen in suits and ties. They like me because I am a baby-faced woman in her 20s, even though I have the theories and company proposals as though I am their peer. They are often full of smiles and boasting (like the men I find here). My shoes walk the carpet to the lavender-lit corner platform, and my secondhand jeans settle into a leather seat that could easily hold two.

Our kind of pride finds its freedom here. Even the walls are roundly unbounded for this power, mimicking the feminine perfection in copper elegance, shimmery yet curved, royal as the Taj Mahal.

Some of the public like this, some of them do not. They all keep it hushed. I love to watch it and speak of it regardless, though I boast to the world that I am hetero as fuck.

My friends are goddesses, and they should have their halos and tiaras, stepping onto the center stage with lines tracing the divine circles of their bodies. Bold where needed, thin for its own subtlety but for the asses' blunt self, like shading to the live figure model. But she is not a painting, as she is already art, and she has broken from the sticky molecules of the mainstreams to assert her employment in other organic forms. The woman moves as smooth as the tides as I watch the dance, putting legs behind their ears and hands over their own breasts and belly buttons before they let the men do the same (only after the hands meet in payment). The stage woman's body and his response to it are musical and determined by the moon patterns—either inside or the sky's. In this moment they are not ashamed to be ruled by nature. And neither am I to watch, for I find their bodies beautiful, as I do my philosophical ideas and social essays, which discuss my own use of the moon in her argumentative ways. Words and thoughts extend to the body, I keep trying to say. And my friends should get money for perfecting the arguments like they demand, as should I get recognition for my own form of moonlit communication.

Ideas are still sold to platforms even when they are untrained toddlers swimming in oceans, for everyone loves to watch the cute naivety that is the baby atop the water. Thinking is published, whether or not it is bounded by any tides or moonlit rhythm. There is an industry for every thought: Huffington Post, Breitbart, Buzzfeed, or an International Journal for Human Rights, the latter of which they have asked me to write for. "It is all the same, for it is thinking," the public says. And "We value all thoughts."

They watch different kinds of babies, using them and ogling, putting their own thoughts on their attires and articles as the babies look around for floating devices not supplied by the lifeguards (those only come when they are drowning, like the rest of the disease-response industries). And so, the public, too, watches the woman, who is the baby in their eyes. They watch and then give her their wise guidance. (Stop swimming.)

I am an outcast in the white collar world, without the popular credential to contribute to the thoughts or industries. (I did not even yet finish an undergraduate degree.) But I think as though I have a PhD, somehow persuading my mentors to edit my books and theories. I was inspired after I went with my ex-boyfriend to a national colloquium, watching him present alongside tenured faculty from around the world without a B.S. or B.A., and I thought, I could do that, too.

But my opinions are more immediate in their power, too inflaming to the audience. When I wrote in public honesty in the school paper for which I worked, faculty and students shunned me in disgrace, telling me to go back into the closet, signed by Professor of Women's Studies.

I traveled into the Internet to look for the nuanced political home that has disappeared as much as the middle class. The polarized ends have shut me out, and since then I have retreated into the night with those who also express themselves back into the thinking closets (even when the alt-rights and gays and minorities have fought to Come Out). These unclothed women also have no credentials to be respected, but they respect themselves anyway.

My mother forced me to do math problems when I was young, while their mothers probably forced them to do drugs with their abusive boyfriends. The mothers may have let these men live in the daughter's house while he fucked the only feminine example in their young eyes. In his underwear, he would be on the couch, on which the small girl might have often found them when she came out of the bedroom to ask for nightmare remedies. But they would say, "We are busy."

"Go back inside, honey," Mother would say to her. "Can you please wait while Mommy tries to figure out what love is so that she may give it to you later? If not, I can also let him try."

"Okay, Mommy, I understand."

And does she?

She does; the woman when she is grown without love is wise. Woman is wise, and the dancing woman, wiser.

Dancing women know their bodies, where true arguments are stored. Where true arguments and brain remedies are held in the body in the muscular tightness of hip corners and pelvic bones. That is what doctors say, at least. According to some recent studies, dancers are the least likely to get Alzheimer's. So I believe they should be benefiting as well. They are the ones that can master and overcome the rigidity that is often found in eight-hour-sitting industries, my friends with more discipline to control their substance dependencies than the business casual and his after-hour alcohol consumption, whom I typically find at the bar.

To "sell oneself" means to sell oneself without work or integrity, and the act of dancing without clothes does not necessarily mean it is without those traits.

Naivety is taking off my clothes to dance naked in the water, leaving the plastic-covered air off my arms even as the toddler I would be. I would ask for money even though I would not know what to call the body part he would stick it in. Or not know to watch for the flagpole of success in order to extend past the tides onto the sand. The water would drown me in the ocean violence.

Instead, I would take my clothes off after perfecting the pole type of leg pinch, and I would do so to show the mastery of the violence that has been done to my pelvic crevices. I would let the world know how much I have practiced, clenching and unclenching whatever straight form may find its way in between my legs—now metal, then organic. "Watch me," I would say, as I hold my body weight while I twirl around it center stage, making waves from this metal, something that would not ask me not to crush. "Give me the dollars, give me the awes in your eyes. I will even bite it for you. It is what I am made to do. Swim to me, and I choose."

After years of study I may become a ballet dancer and acrobat in the air, but as smooth and calm like a deep sea diver to win those ocean treasures.

Like water, sex is fluid. I break from my daydream to watch my friends untrace the lines off their bodies one by one during the shadow dance of the purple lights, revealing more of this natural sphere. Spheres that roam the air or water in the rhythms from the speakers by my ears and over their heads. I am in awe because I wish to share this moment in their sea even when it is not even the tide direction I want to swim in. I wish to share it even when they tell me about the sharks that spit their teeth into the woman's mind, making sure the woman knows autonomy means stupidity.

They are beautiful, and they get me, as I hope they can understand I get them.

I watch them and wonder how it would be to let my body loose. To own it on the stage. To choose to create the male response, when I could not do that when I was young and unaware of what the penis was even for, when it found its way to my sphere. To jump back into the water after the toddler dependency is over and done, is assertion to choose me for what I choose for myself.

Not all of these women are homeless rejects, just as I am not a reject in school (I chose to withdraw). Some choose it for pleasure and adventure and are proud. I watch my golden friend smile to the men after the stage, where her control is displayed in the time she knows to ration to each man. She posts about it all on her media because she is free to let the world know who she is. She knows how to do the same pose I do in the studio when I dance but she on her pole, even rotating five feet above so we can see the whole view.

"I love you," I say to my friend after she's done. "You make me want to have a penis and stick it inside you."

She understands that this is a compliment, for the body is the shimmered fish in the sea, elegant and tricky but communicative as the dolphin. When you do not put work into it and people admire it in catcalls and winks, you think it is degrading, but when you put work into it, like the way I choose my food and my friends choose their moves and attire, it is not degrading, but welcome. We choose to have the men look at us in that special way. When they cannot control how much they want to fertilize, it is a compliment. It is the honest feedback craved by the artists and creators. It is the measurement of your hard work.

The same friend that likes to ration her time rations her dollars into her stage fabric of choice. She wears hemp on stage for the environment and her hobby, and it suits her. She is as organic as her body on the stage. All of the audience can tell, and even the women give her their dollars. At least five men introduce themselves to her after each turn, and she smiles at them in the way she tells her five boyfriends she loves them but also loves everyone else (as I just texted to someone, last night). Later she shows me her rap songs that she is working on, because she loves to develop her rhythmic poetic skills and self-fulfillment as much as I do.

I see the hours the women have put into their bodies, on the stage, on the pole. Practicing, practicing, and they are rewarded instantly by the material that is human genetics and laws of the hormonal ways. The strip club is democracy at its finest. Its voting privileges are granted by anyone who elects themselves by the dollar standards at the front door (or the free passes when you come as the royal shark). My hours I have donated come in my black beans and avocados, and they have paid me in the eyes as these contributors have painted distinction between my waist and hips. The strip club, like the street, is the free market for the self-chosen. She dances and I put on my high waisted jeans by choice while he uses his consumerist autonomy in money and in views.

Unlike the brain industries made of bureaucratic institutions, money is given through direct service. You vote directly with your dollars; it is democracy in its purest form. I may be waiting for five months to receive funding for a neuroimaging study, because while our bodies have evolved to recognize true quality, our brains have yet to know what the intellectual kind is. In the meantime, we hope to increase our h-indexes (because being self-fulfilling does not really count).

The women have worked hardest of them all, living the stories of their mothers and maybe absent or abusive fathers. In their bodies and passion, they share it with the men who want to touch their breasts and strip their own cash out their pockets so that the women may strip their clothes and receive the paper on their skin. Sometimes it will be tucked into the synthetic, silvery good that resides on the area where true love may be deposited during his pleasure.

We want to spread love and joy into the world, I for my ideology, they for their sexual freedom. People love us for it, and then some hate us.

I say it is all okay, and my recent entrance onto the public stage has shined new colors on my image. I did the dance of introduction, as the young college-aged woman I am, where I first step into these new lights to be exposed in such a way that is confusing and Bad. But I choose to do so in broad daylight, at all hours of the day, because I refuse to be housed in one circadian frame (social media are for those of that kind). It is a shock because change is shocking to everyone even when it happens in the seasons all the time.

"Why have you changed," they say, like I am not myself, as if they knew me under that one light and knew who I was even though they do not know the science of color—I may be exposed under the blacklight.

I was listening to the bottom of my own ocean even while I was asleep (during these hours where now I am not ever), while you all danced on the wavetops, surfing it with your surfboards, surfboards (and more of the Top 40 songs you sing that were inspired by my own present view). I saw and heard you yelling and pointing and screaming "Ew!" when you saw some living form swimming five feet under the waves.

Run away, run away from it all, you scream. Hide the creatures under the water. You want to stay up in the sunshine all day, and by doing so, you have squeezed those like us into the night, where we work and dance and drink and write our articles beneath the stars in a brick and mortar box, housing the artificial light to shadow our bodies.

We do not even have real light granted to us by society. We live in the artificial.

Yet we are the most natural of them all.


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