Exotic beauty, faux-rientalism, and racists, in class and out

For a while when I first started dancing the meanest thing I ever heard was “You look Jewish.”  Worse, “You look like Barbra Streisand.” The “You look Jewish” is actually negligible, but once I heard “Barbra Streisand” I knew what they were really saying was “You have a big nose.” Cause it’s true, I do.

Then a lesbian customer at the Russian club told me (in response to, “Hey, how’s it going?”) that she didn’t like me, or my music, or the way I danced, or what I was wearing, which had the triple result of A) knocking weird Barbra Streisand comparisons out of the running for meanest comments, B) prejudicing me for years against female customers, something that only working at my current club has shaken, and most immediately, C) getting her ass kicked out because this was 2005 and I was a bitchy minor with an overly indulgent Russian boss.

Then I dyed my hair black and the constant commentary was on how exotic I looked.  “Are you Persian?” men would ask me.





This culminated–after I’d grown out the black, by the way–in my penultimate strip club compliment (just under, “you’re like one of those old fashioned whores, a hooker with a heart of gold! that’s what you are!” which wins for playing to all my favourite tropes and also because it was offered in the spirit of Matthew Salinger, age one, urging a luncheon companion to accept a cool lima bean. ie, sweetly.)

“You have the dusky beauty of a Turkish harem girl.”

People. If I was any less dusky I’d be clear. I will now tell you something that I usually either charge for or throw in as a freebie with a lapdance, and that is that–long crooked Barbra Streisand/Jewish nose to the contrary, and despite what I huskily tell customers in the Russian that I remember–my ethnic origins are almost entirely second generation Irish. My family was fresh off the boat in the forties.  Until I moved west, we still had giant family reunions involving an older relation’s accordion and music that they probably play on that Thistle and Shamrock program. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about it’s because you don’t listen to enough NPR and/or your city’s NPR is better funded than mine.)

My nose is the result of genetics, exacerbated by a light that fell off the ceiling (at a strip club, while I was onstage) and broke it.  It causes me at least four sinus infections a year, including the one I’m suffering from now, and has the dubious side bonus of serving as a blank screen for customers to project weird orientalist fetishes on to. Which I then try to divert/indulge by reciting Russian poetry.

I had a really tall, cute customer the other day tell me he picked me because I was a Jew too. He said it with such certainty.  I guess technically he’s not wrong; my mom converted in the seventies from being some kind of Christian. We lit the candles on Friday and I can still mumble Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu… I love Channukah! But I don’t think that’s what he meant.

I didn’t disabuse him, either.  Instead we talked about how I skipped Passover to work and what he does for work.

I was going to write the bulk of this anyway but then this girl in my American Jews class going off the other day.

If I haven’t already made this clear, I like quiet or at the very least for ignorant assholes to shut up and not involve me in their process or lives so I can continue to pretend that I’m living the Spain scenes in Morvern Callar to the best of my ability.  I would say that at least 80% of my brain at any given moment is in a fantasyland where Nabokov is still alive and everyone has the moral compass of Henry James. I realise these are two dead white men, but you love who you love. I mean, right?

So this girl–who, I’ll be candid, I already feel mildly tormented by her because of her inability to stop treating class like it’s WS 101 and sharing her personal growth and pains with the class[1]–she’s talking and My Darling Instructor is late to class or something, and she’s continuing a conversation, about being racist. I guess they call this the Jew class, which is like, maybe whatever?  I have my shtetl Jew class, my jewish history class, my Israel/Palestine class, sometimes syllables are hard.  I get it.  But just to make sure she’s crossed the line from not-very-questionable-Ironic-Racism into Shut-the-fuck-up-asshole, she continues,

“I was watching this woman park in front of my work, and she kept turning the wheel, pulling forward, back, forward, back, and I was like–” face of eye-rolling comic disgust, “–and then she opened the door and not to be a big racist,but.”

Don’t you want to be like A) TOO LATE and B) BUT WHAT?  I mean really.

I am a coward and did not say either of those things, except in my head.

PS, I’m back.  I missed you.


1- Some of her consciousness growth is marginally on topic, but there was this one time where she was talking about a SUPER bulletin board display that made her feel personally attacked that made my eyes roll so hard it hurt.  I know, I didn’t see the display in question, but there’s a difference between anti-semitism and anti-Zionism that, uh, it just seems like some people get confused by. I mean obviously anti-semitism and anti-zionism can come hand in hand, and who am I to be questioning who is hurt by what?  I’m an asshole.


One thought on “Exotic beauty, faux-rientalism, and racists, in class and out

  1. Pingback: Russian red, gingham style: a tale of two lap dances « hardbound

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