*FROM IVY LEAGUE *
TO STRIPPER LIFE
Memoir Maven Publications
Copyright © 2016 Elona Washington
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, with or without permission from the publisher or author, except in the case of a reviewer, who may quote brief passages embodied in critical articles or in a review.
Cover Photography from Visual Photos
This book is dedicated to my friend Cherry, whose death brought this movement to life.
Elona Washington pens a gripping memoir that forces the reader to take a deep dive into their own personal traumas. Her journey is an important one for women because of her willingness to show strength in her vulnerability instead of shaming and hiding her past. In this book, Elona identifies her outstanding courage and willingness to survive dysfunctional situations including various forms of harrowing abuse. Through the book’s 10 life lessons, Elona shows the reader how to cultivate her feminine essence, even during her deepest lows.
Particularly refreshing is her ability to share these life lessons in a relatable and non-judgmental tone that naturally compels the reader to want more, not just for herself, but for every woman around her. Elona’s memoir reminds us that redemption is not earned through external validation from peers, family and men. Rather, it is a personal gift one can give to herself whenever she is ready to let go of her past. Fortunately, Elona has given us the blueprint to do just that.
Author, Speaker & Coach
Table of Contents
“To heal, you first have to know how you got hurt. Look at it without flinching, accept it, understand that it happened but it doesn’t have to define who you are, or control the rest of your life.”
We’re living in an age of transparency. On radio, television and between the pages of books, people from all walks of life ardently avow stories of drug abuse, prostitution, criminal activity, and more in an effort to reaffirm values, model resiliency and find peace. This book is no different. While I listened to such stories from people willing to be so forthright, it has taken decades for me to find the courage to do the same. Even as I write this book, I’m still reticent. It has always been my desire to share my story and help others, but I wanted to be inconspicuous in an effort to keep my current life separate from my past. But God had a different plan for me – transparency.
So today, I’m transparent in the hope that women who may find themselves in situations like mine are empowered with the wisdom to avoid the mistakes I made. I’m transparent in the hope that it motivates others to seek help. And I’m transparent in the hope that you take an introspective look into what guides your behavior. All too often, we make decisions from a place of pain, insecurity or fear and we let those negative thoughts guide our behavior, ruin opportunities and be the reason we choose poor friends and abusive partners. I won’t lie. The journey wasn’t easy nor was it fun. In 2015, when I first recalled all of the poor choices I made and published them for the world to read, it left me racked with guilt, shame and regret. But, I’m unapologetic now because I know it’s helping others. And it’s helped me tremendously. I’m a much better person making better choices because of it. If you’re moved to do some soul searching of your own, I urge you to remain steadfast and veracious throughout the process; you will come out better in the end.
I’m originally from Washington, DC, the product of teen parents. But my mother remained focused and graduated valedictorian of her high school. Her myriad of college acceptance offers included Georgetown, but she enrolled in an Ivy League school in New Jersey. She eventually met and married my stepfather who had also attended an elite school. I know. I know. Now you’re asking, “Why in the hell was this girl ever a stripper?” I asked myself that very question for years. What’s funny is, as I drove around DC as an adult, I used to turn my nose up at the strip clubs and think, “ewww! I’d never work in a place like that!” God has a funny way of humbling us, right?
Although we didn’t have a big house, luxury cars or vacationed every year, I still had an Ivy League upbringing. I’m sure you already understand that a big home, designer clothes and exotic trips don’t equate to education, class and culture. Even social psychologists argue that elite school attendees have certain traits that make them unique and those traits attribute to an elite upbringing -- and it has nothing to do with their annual salary or wealth accumulation. The qualities those students share and hopefully instill in their children are: delayed gratification, feelings of accomplishment, self-management and self-awareness. I would also like to add a thirst for knowledge and independent thinking. Being raised by two Ivy League parents, I can certainly attest to this. For instance, my mother read Shakespeare’s The Tempest and A Midsummer’s Night Dream as our bedtime stories during elementary school. Her doing so motivated me to read the classics and before I entered high school, I had already read Crime and Punishment, The Scarlet Letter, Tess of the D’urbervilles and more. My parents also held regular debates concerning religion, politics, ethics and a host of other topics. They zealously argued their point of view from the moment they walked in from work. Countless times their debates continued through dinner and my siblings and I couldn’t see their dinner plates due to the stacks of books they’d reference to defend their positions. I was proud of this and just knew I’d grow up to do the same.
Sometime during high school, I resigned myself to the fact that although I wanted to have a life similar to theirs, I wasn’t going to be that child. I had always struggled academically, so my final high school GPA was a mere 3.2. I got accepted to a lot of schools, none of them elite of course, but my parents never completed any financial aid forms. My mother actually suggested I not attend college and enter the workforce instead. I refused her advice and enrolled in a community college. Shortly after enrolling, I met my first love and a year later, became a single mother at 20. I recall my stepfather taking me to lunch to discuss this. Of course he voiced his disappointment, but he followed it up with this: “out of all of my children I have the most confidence in you so I know you’re going to be alright.” My mother’s reaction wasn’t even close to his. For months, she berated me for getting pregnant and refused to help in any way. Sick of her insults and hurtful words, I moved out and lived with a high school friend.
With no car, I carried my daughter in her car seat and walked to the bus stop in front of my parent’s housing community. I took that thirty-minute walk at six o’clock in the morning. The road was unpaved, the sky was dark and the traffic and car seat were both heavy. The walk terrified me, so I’d ask my mother for a ride since we were going to the same subway station. She wouldn’t help. She affirmed although her mother had raised her two kids so she could graduate college, she wasn’t going to do the same for me. I had to figure it out on my own. So I did. Although she was pretty hard on me, there were times when she did help, but as I continued to struggle throughout the years, she often suggested I give my daughter up for adoption. And there were often times where she was unnecessarily cruel. For example, my mother was driving me, my sister and my daughter to the store. Sitting in the back seat with my daughter, I was singing and calling her my love child. My mother interjected with, “I’m sure her father doesn’t feel the same way.” My sister urged her to stop and after a while, it was obvious she regretted the comment. But it never stopped her from taking more shots over the years.
In addition to all of the financial and emotional struggles, having a baby filled me out and I wasn’t very happy about it. While I kept my tiny waist, I grew hips and my butt blew up. I went from a measly 92 lbs. to weighing a healthy 125. While I was thankful I was no longer shaped like Twiggy, I loathed having a big butt even more. For one, it gave strangers the impression I was ghetto and I was by no means a ghetto girl. Growing up in urban DC as a kid, my friends and family always teased me for acting and sounding like a white girl. And during high school and college, I was often told similar. I was cool with that. Also, I wasn’t raised on Motown; instead, we grew up on Kenny Rogers, Dolly Parton, Hall & Oats, etc. The only rap songs I knew were on the radio and I never incorporated slang into my speech. As a matter of fact, when I finally transferred to a four-year institution, I took African-American Literature and would visit my mom so she could interpret the ebonics for me. And when my college friends learned I unaware of Parliament Funkadelic and blacksploitation films, they made it their duty to enlighten me.
What was worse than being considered ghetto was the increased attention I got from men. I couldn’t walk down the street or get out of my car without some man making a lewd comment, whistling or propositioning me. It happened so frequently, I went from feeling self-conscious and dirty to enraged and defiant. I had the right to go out and not be harassed. I watched attractive young women jog down the street in shorts and a tank and many of them did so unbothered. Some of them were hit on or even complimented for their body but I never saw the type of aggressiveness I received. One day when I tried jogging in the middle of the day in a similar outfit, a group of girls pulled over and told me to get into their car. Apparently, a couple of men had been trailing me for some time and the girls believed they were waiting for an opportunity to attack. When I got into the car, I told them women jog in outfits like this all the time. Shaking her head, one of them replied, “you can’t wear what other women wear.” And it pissed me off. Another incident occurred when my car broke down on the highway. My stepbrother and his friend drove out to help, and while we’re standing on the shoulder, a male driver was so distracted by my rear end, he rear ended the vehicle in front of him. It was senseless.
I’m not sharing this to say I’m all that; by no means do or did I ever think that. I was a short, mousy-looking brown skin girl with big eyes and full lips. I had no fashion sense and had never gotten my eyebrows arched until I started dancing. I always wore thick glasses and people used to tell me I would be cute without them. I was deathly afraid of contacts so I kept my schoolteacher “look” until my early thirties. Getting my hair done was a luxury, so it was typically worn in a short, dry ponytail. So no, I never thought I was attractive or cute because I certainly wasn’t fly. And that made the attention and harassment from the men that more loathsome and uncomfortable. And to be honest, it still does. I rarely post full body pictures on social media because I dislike the reaction from men and women. Men fawn and make lewd comments while the women ask how their butt can look like mine. My daughter’s father used to say my butt was a gift and a curse. And he was absolutely correct. I’ll never understand why women risk injury and death for this type of attention. Having an ass won’t keep a man or make him fall in love with you.
I suspect another reason I was preyed upon was because I looked like prey. Being sheltered as a child turned me into a naïve adult and I always looked lost and confused. Although I was a 27 year old college freshman, professors and students alike often mistook me for a freshman. As a matter of fact, a few people even mistook me for a high school student! One afternoon, as I was walking from school to pick up my daughter from daycare, a high school truancy officer ran up to me yelling, “young lady! You’re supposed to be in class! Where do you think you’re going?” I laughed and pointed to my college course books. He apologized then asked if I’d be interested in working as a high school narc!
During college, I worked a full time government job, held a full time course load and part time internships during several semesters. When senior year came, I had to quit my government job so I could take the last few courses required for my degree. No longer with any real income, my friend suggested I apply for welfare. Actually, she’d been suggesting it throughout our friendship but I refused. I looked down on welfare recipients and didn’t ever want to be grouped among them. But truth be told, I was worn out. So I took her advice and signed up.
A year later when I graduated, my social worker informed me that I no longer qualified for benefits. She explained even though I had no income, I was considered middle class because I held a bachelor’s degree. That was in May 1997. I spent the following months searching fervently for a job while digging myself into a financial hole. Welfare was no longer paying my rent or my food and the job I secured paid so little money I was unable to catch up on my rent. That’s when the man I was seeing at the time suggested I strip to make the money. I laughed in his face. But by mid-July, the landlord posts a sign on my door threatening eviction any time between mid-July and late August. Horrified that my possessions could be thrown out onto the street at any given time, I went to The Penthouse strip club that weekend.
When I first walked through those doors, I was stunned. I literally stopped in my tracks and stared. Never in my life had I seen so many naked women. Well, aside from family and women in the movies, I’d never seen a naked woman. But there they were – dancing in six inch heels, dropping to the floor in splits and bending over with their vaginas in men’s faces. Most of the girls were on their knees shaking their ass towards the audience while men threw money on them. Even over the deafening music I heard men cheering by one stage and through the smoke-filled air I saw a girl twerking while in a handstand. As you already know, I’d never been exposed to anything close to this and I was taken aback. I wanted to turn around and go home. But I knew I couldn’t. I needed the money.
My friend introduced me to the manager, Darrell, who asked me to follow him to the women’s restroom and show him my body. I lifted my shirt up to my bra but it wasn’t enough. He wanted me to take off my shirt and pull down my pants so he could see everything. Thank God he didn’t make me take off my underwear; I wasn’t ready for that. Upon examination, Darrell said I had a nice body and to come back Monday night. All dancers auditioned at the Monday Night Contest. I went back to my friend and continued watching the dancers. I learned a valuable lesson that evening; I’ll discuss this later in the book.
When Monday came, I arrived a little early and talked with the customers. They noticed I was new so they bought me drinks and shelled out advice. After thanking them, I left to change into my outfit and give Darrell and the deejay my music. But when Darrell asked for my dance name, I froze. Some of the other dancers were standing nearby and as I began throwing out names, they told me the names were all taken. Darrell suggested Tweety Bird and was about to make it official but everyone refused. As a last resort, I suggested Insatiable but was told, once again, there was a dancer with that name. Someone suggested a play on words, Sinsatiable, and I agreed. Within a few months, it was shortened to Syn. Over the years when I told customers my name, some felt it was disturbing. I responded that they were in fact sinning and it wasn’t more disturbing than tipping naked women on stage. And if the customer was married, I really went in on him! During the last few years, however, I started using Alana, a variation of my first name. I wholeheartedly believed I wasn’t going to do anything else, so why not?
To be honest, I don’t know how I made it through the Monday Night Contest. I do know that I drank more than I ever had before. I had my first wine cooler as a high school senior and at 21 years old, a coworker took me out for my first real drink. I drank a bit during my college days, but that night was the first night I drank more than I could handle. Try as I might, I still don’t recall the details; but I felt like I had fun. What I do recall though, was the conversation I had with Darrell. He explained although I had a beautiful body, I was simply “too green” to work at his club. In other words, I didn’t have the sophistication and maturity to be one of his dancers. Deep down, I knew he was right. But I was pissed because I needed the money. And fast. Out of options, I danced at the smaller clubs like Isle’s and Club 55 to raise what I needed but it just wasn’t enough. Fortunately, I was presented with an opportunity that resolved my financial dilemma.
One night, a producer came by looking to cast dancers for a music video. My mentor, Ebony, explained that I needed to be there. Even though it wasn’t a paying gig, it was a potential networking opportunity. And she was absolutely correct. We shot the video at a Washington Wizard player’s home and headed next door for the after party. The after party host was an Italian family. They had a stone barbecue pit area, pool, music and a variety of indoor games. After mingling together for a bit, Ebony was off socializing and I found myself alone. An older black man approached me and asked what I was doing there. I gave a flippant remark but he was unwavering. Relenting, I disclosed my financial situation and impending eviction. He offered to help so I entrusted him with my landlord’s information and my phone number. I’ll never forget that night because shortly afterwards, Tom Brokaw interrupted the program to inform us that Princess Diana had died in a horrific car accident. That was August 31, 1997. The next day, my landlord called to tell me that my rent had been paid. I never hugged, kissed or performed any favors. I believe that stranger paid it because he sensed I didn’t belong there.
Despite his belief and financial assistance, I danced for five years in DC, Miami and New Orleans. And to be honest, I loved most aspects of it: the freedom, fast money and meeting people from all walks of life. But I especially loved being available to my daughter. I only worked three nights a week so I was able to her the school lunch of her choosing, volunteer as a field trip chaperone and be home when she stepped off the school bus. The nights I worked, she stayed at a neighbor’s and went to school from there. I could have never spent that much time with her if I had landed a corporate position. And I’m thankful for that. To this day, she tells me the best part of her childhood was the fact that we spent so much time together. She’s a grown woman now working for a FORTUNE 100 company. She graduated college with a 3.8, bilingual and no kids. I couldn’t be prouder.
During the first few years, I had managed to separate that life from my home life. My siblings never disclosed the truth; I told my parents I waitressed at Applebee’s. I used to leave my dance bag in the trunk of my car and would bring it inside when my daughter was out of the house. But as the years wore on, when I befriended some of the dancers, my two lives merged and my entire family eventually knew. My daughter and parents never berated nor thought less of me. At nine years old, my daughter actually told me I was too good to be a stripper. It was an incredible feeling hearing that from my child and I’m thankful it never impacted her negatively. It still didn’t move me enough to stop.
As a matter of fact, I didn’t just stop. I got into an argument with the owner and was placed on suspension. The club owner had instilled a new rule: we were to stand up and dance for the first ten minutes of each set. I never wore contacts, so when I looked at the clock, it appeared to be ten after so I got off my feet. The owner immediately pulled me off the stage and sent me home. But, I was drunk and rolling on ecstasy so I proceeded to cuss him out. I don’t recall exactly what I said but everyone said they never heard anyone talk to him the way I did. So I was placed on suspension. I regretted my outburst but inwardly, I knew it was time to move on. I had been spiraling out of control for years and had even gotten myself into a few life and death situations. Also, I was dating a man I knew from middle school and it had become increasingly difficult to strip while falling in love. So, I retired from dancing, got married, had another child and looked forward to a long lasting, loving marriage and quiet, suburban life. But that wasn’t the case at all; we divorced after 12 years of marriage.
Once divorced, I began to reflect on my life and realized there were significant events that led me to where I was that day. Never a believer in accidents or coincidences, I wanted to not only recall these events, but detail the lessons I learned from each. Resultantly, these are the ten significant lessons learned from various stages of my life.
“Sometimes God will place a wall on your path to force you to go in another direction.”
[*- *]Suzy Kassem
Growing up with Ivy League parents is pressure, especially when your younger sister is noticeably smarter than you. I was never good at math, but my sister was adding and subtracting fractions in kindergarten. My parents had high expectations and we were expected to excel academically with very little assistance from them. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case for me at all. I struggled with math and by the second grade, my teacher suggested placing me in special education because of it. The teacher’s suggestion prompted my mother to act. Instead of special ed or even summer school, my summer vacation was spent attempting to solve math problems derived by my parents. Again…the pressure.
By high school, we all accepted I wasn’t going to anyone’s Ivy League university. While I should have been proud to have graduated with a 3.23, I was too busy comparing myself to my parents and my little sister. Nique, my sister, got a 4.0 or better every semester just like my mom did during her high school days, and it made me feel inadequate and stupid. My younger sister was also tall, slim, light skinned and beautiful. In addition to her perfect GPA, she was also an extremely popular cheerleader at her high school.
We were enrolled in different high schools and let’s just say, I was nothing like her. I was brown skin, awkward and extremely skinny. I participated in extracurricular activities such as the yearbook and the dance team, but overall, I was shy, distracted, anorexic and depressed. My high school years were emotionally tumultuous and back then, I never fully understood why. I attempted suicide on multiple occasions because I could never shake the loneliness and despair. I was angry and hurting and had no one in which I could confide. Somehow though, I managed to graduate but still had no clue of what I wanted to major in or do for a living. As a child, I wanted to be a psychologist or a writer but as graduation loomed closer, counselors and teachers were advising against it. They warned me that there would be very little growth in both industries so I abandoned the idea. Upon enrolling in community college, I selected business management as my major.
I met a guy almost immediately after graduation and we were inseparable. Deonde was average height, slim and light skin with light brown eyes. He was funny, charming, gracious and considerate. He treated me like a princess and told me often how much he loved me. We typically ended our evenings walking around a manmade lake in Upper Marlboro, MD. One night, he renamed it Lake Elona and said it would always be our spot.
Five months into dating, he drove me to Lake Elona and proposed. He even had an engagement ring and got down on one knee. It didn’t seem to be a very good idea since we were both so young, but I accepted the proposal anyway. Things were going well for almost a year until I discovered I was pregnant. The moment I shared the news with him, he began to act differently. He offered a myriad of excuses as to why we spent less time together and eventually, we broke up. Six months into my pregnancy, I discovered not only did he have another girlfriend, but she was five months pregnant with his child! The news devastated me yet I was motivated to graduate college and provide a good life for our daughter.
After completing two years of college, I transferred to Howard University in Washington, DC. On top of my full-time college schedule, I worked part-time as an administrative assistant for the federal government and interned for local organizations. Doubtful about a career in business, I changed majors several times before settling on African-American Studies. I wanted to be a college professor. My plan was to work through graduate school but the weight of the impending eviction and the inability to land a well-paying job influenced my decision to become a stripper instead.
So, during those years as a dancer, I never thought about quitting or doing something else. Everything else had failed and I truly believed that I belonged there because I wasn’t very smart and I couldn’t find a job. There was also this belief among us dancers that we wouldn’t make the same amount of money doing anything else especially since the money was fast and untaxed. (Some of us filed taxes anyway but many didn’t.) As a matter of fact, one of the club owners ingrained us with that belief by regularly touting, “It’s either here or McDonald’s.”
Once I stopped dancing and got married, I knew I needed to settle into something steady. But during the first few years of my marriage, I found myself moving from job to job. I had a worthless bachelor’s degree and had spent the last five years of my life taking my clothes off for money. With no real direction, it felt hopeless until a former dancer and one of my dearest friends to this day said to me, “If you can sell p*ussy, you can do anything.” [_ OK wait --- I know how that sounds. _] Let me explain what she meant. We weren’t prostitutes selling sex in exchange for money. But, we were in the sex industry and it was our job to use our body to entice men to give us money. We paid bills, enrolled our kids in private school, paid off student loans, etc. one dollar at a time. So, if a man is tipping us and he looks across the room and sees someone just as or even more attractive, we used our gift of gab or pulled out some dance move to keep him at our stage. And the more I thought about it, that wasn’t so easy to do. So yeah, she was right. I [_could _]do anything.
After some reflection, I recalled a position I held years ago as a marketing coordinator. It was a job I loved and for which I held a natural gift. I put all my focus into a marketing career and even went back to school for a Master’s in Marketing Management. I worked in the field for almost 20 years before moving into sales. I discovered a knack for that too; in my first year, I won best new salesperson and a free trip to Cabo, Mexico for me and my husband. But because this wasn’t the type of career my parents or siblings held, inwardly, I felt like a failure. My family is highly intelligent and reserved, holding positions such as accountant or engineer and working decades for the same organization.
But those types of positions and longevity at a FORTUNE 500 company aren’t for me. I excel in roles that entail creativity, public speaking and persuasion. I also love meeting new people and setting my own hours. I’m a free spirit…an entrepreneur. And I’m a writer. Since accepting this, I have stopped feeling like a redheaded stepchild and ceased trying to mimic my family’s success. My self-esteem and ego had rested on graduating from a top school and retiring from an organization after decades of service. But those years of failing at the very thing for which I strived forced me to silence my ego and erase the arrogance and fear. And doing so instilled me with the courage to tell my story. Sharing these stories doesn’t make me proud and it still scares me for no one is ever eager to divulge their sins and innermost fears to the world. But it’s death – the absence of time – that propels us to do so anyway.
“Femininity is not just lipstick, stylish hairdos, and trendy clothes. It is the divine adornment of humanity. It finds expression in your qualities of your capacity to love, your spirituality, delicacy, radiance, sensitivity, creativity, charm, graciousness, gentleness, dignity, and quiet strength.”
[*- *]James E. Faust[
I first sensed the power I possessed when that stranger paid my rent. Before that night, I operated under the belief that in order to keep a man or get him to do anything for me, I had to prove my worth with sex, cooking, cleaning, being supportive, etc. But that one act of kindness disproved that theory. And the longer I danced, it became even more evident. As I watched customers gravitate to dancers, I noticed that men were most attracted to the women who were the most feminine. Don’t get me wrong. There were plenty of men who loved the crazy, loud and tomboyish dancer. And for the first few months, those were the traits I displayed – in addition to being incredibly defensive. It wasn’t until my friend Chaz explained how I was mishandling conversations with customers that I finally understood and fully embraced my feminine power.
Chaz was a tall, skinny, brown-skinned guy with a face full of blemishes. When he offered to buy me a drink, I was a little hesitant. He was cute but I was put off by his bad skin plus he didn’t appear to have any money. He had been at the club for an hour and hadn’t tipped any of us. But I stayed for a drink and when we started talking, we hit it off immediately. Chaz was down to earth, easy to talk to and we had a lot in common. We started dating and when we went out, he always paid and never complained. Chaz didn’t have a jealous bone in his body; as a matter of fact, he gave excellent advice when it came to handling customers. Curious, I finally asked how he knew so much about the life and Chaz confessed that he used to be a pimp. I didn’t believe it; he was so gentlemanly. Plus he was younger than I and incredibly smart. It just didn’t fit. But once he explained how the game worked, I was convinced. Then he suggested, “You know what? You’d make a great bottom bitch. You’re smart, kind and women would trust you.” I wasn’t quite sure what that was but when he explained that I would be the prostitute who sits atop the hierarchy of prostitutes who work for him I was horror-struck. There was no way in hell I was going to take part in coercing women to give up sex for money! Nor was I going to “hit the stroll” and charge men for sex! He instantaneously sensed my disgust and never brought it up again.
The issue dropped, I continued to hang out with Chaz not only because he was fun, but he knew the game and taught me well. During one of my many lessons, Chaz explained that I was messing up my money by trying to prove I didn’t need help. Men came to the club to feel powerful and needed but bragging about my degree didn’t make them feel either. As a matter of fact, it intimidated most and caused them to tip me less or not at all. Chaz told me to instead stroke their ego, pay them a compliment, make them feel valued, and to avoid talking about myself or my accomplishments. Simply put, he was suggesting that I channel my feminine energy with traits such as: receptiveness, creativity, magnetism and organic energy. It’s the complement to, not the opposite of, masculine energy: aggressive, analytical, logical and assertive. When a man and woman operate in true feminine and masculine energy (i.e. no games, manipulations, etc.), feminine energy attracts masculine energy with kindness, receptiveness and vulnerability. I always resisted such traits because I didn’t want to appear weak or have anyone think I needed them; I wanted men to tip me because of my ability to dance. But Chaz explained men tipped who they [liked _]and it was off putting to discuss my accomplishments[. _]He advised me to spend a few nights stroking men’s egos and avoid discussing myself and see if it made a difference. Following his advice, I immediately noticed a difference. Going from one customer to another, I complimented him in some way and listened intently to their stories. Not only did they tip more, they also asked me to sit with them and talk. Most weren’t trying to hit on me; they really just wanted someone to listen to them.
Operating in feminine energy taught me that a woman only has to listen, relax and be herself. There’s no need be aggressive or to force anything. Men vibe with whom they vibe with and other than physically, there isn’t anything a woman can do to become more appealing. In other words, nothing you do, say or wear will make a man [_want _]you. He may want to have sex with you, but we know by now physical and emotional desires are disparate and men have the uncanny ability to compartmentalize. Plus, when you’re trying to force something instead of letting it organically come to you, you’re operating in masculine energy. And it negates two additional components of feminine energy: seduction and pursuit.
As a stripper, I learned that seduction occurs before one takes the stage and definitely before clothes come off. Seduction is that alluring stare from across the room, your walk, smile, body language, aura - every form of nonverbal communication. If a stripper is pouting, looking down or arguing loudly, there’s no seduction in that; men will probably avoid the situation altogether. But when a woman walks into the room feeling confident and sexy, men are instinctively drawn to her. They observe her behavior, speech and interactions to determine if she’s the type of woman they want to get to know -- or tip. So if a dancer appears jealous, angry, desperate or depressed, it turns men off.
As the years went on, I fully embraced feminine energy and found it to be fun. There’s real power in staring at a man from across the room and watching him get up to tip you. But the power and confidence I attained had nothing to do with believing or acting as if I was better than the next woman. We were all attractive and made good money. But women are emotional creatures; so many dancers spent much of their time watching customers fawn over other dancers and speculating how much money another woman made. Of course, that only fueled their jealousy and pettiness. And it didn’t help that some of these dancers were also sleeping with the same man. While there were dancers who understood the game, kept their feelings to themselves and played along, others felt hurt and angry and would fight and argue to try to take him from her. It was wasted time and energy in my opinion because a man was going to do what he wanted to do. No amount of fighting and arguing would convince him to choose one over the other. So to me, all of that expended negative energy was a complete waste of time and just another example of giving away our power. Still, it was impossible to escape female competition.
I was pretty good at avoiding such drama until I started dating Marlon. He was a hustler but despite most opinions of hustlers, he was highly intelligent, kind, funny and we genuinely liked each other. Marlon was light skinned, tall and slim. His hair was a golden blond and he had little brown freckles on his face. He was well read, could carry a conversation and had a great sense of humor. We opened up about our past, our dreams and I even introduced him to my daughter. So not only did he and I go out on dates, but there were times when the three of us went out to dinner and a movie. I was the only dancer from the Penthouse he was dating and the girls even remarked how they never saw him in the club unless I was there.
Marlon and I broke it off after a while and Royal, one of the dancers on my set, started seeing him almost immediately. She was tall, light-skinned and wore her short hair like Halle Berry and had been dancing many years longer than I. She would rave about Marlon in my presence, wanting to make it appear as if they were closer than he and I were but I was unbothered. Marlon was still calling me and coming to the club to talk to me. He had been trying to get to my attention throughout their courtship, and one night, Royal had enough. Attempting to take out her frustration on me, she walked into the dressing room angry, yelling and telling everyone all of my business. Marlon had told her my business. But I kept quiet as Royal ranted and raved in an attempt to push my buttons. Because she had worked there longer, she was closer to the owner and had the power to get me suspended and possibly fired. And that was her end game. Also, it was pointless to argue over a man -- a hustler no less -- because not only were there plenty of other men, but getting angry and fighting would have solved nothing. He was going to do what he wanted to do.
In the past, I would have been intimidated, hurt or embarrassed by Royal’s tirade or I would have engaged in it with her. But I was operating in my feminine energy and refused to give my power away. Feminine energy is self-liberating and frees you from negative thinking, habits and people. And too, I remember Chaz telling me to avoid the drama and focus on the customer; I was there to make money, not friends. Chaz told me this repeatedly because he knew I was friendly and the type of person who assumed the best in others, was always nice and continually forgave. He had helped me undergo a significant paradigm shift in order to survive life as a stripper and I wasn’t going to risk termination over a man. But when I left the dressing room and headed to the stage, I admit, I did not operate in my feminine energy. Confronting him put me in more danger than I had ever imagined.
“It’s the same with sex and the classic chase – many men find the chase exciting and it strikes their ego to feel they’re the one who is finally going to get her attention. Add to this the fact that men are very goal focused and an elusive goal can seem all that much more interesting.”
[*- *]Dr. Pam Spurr
I ran into Marlon and went off on him[_ _]for telling her my business. It was so bad and I was cursing so loudly, everyone later told me they’d never seen or heard me behave that way. Little did they know, I’ve always had a nasty temper. I can pick up on someone’s weakness and insecurity pretty quickly but I rarely go there. To be honest, I’m scared to go there. I know if I do, it’ll only make things worse and the fighting would probably never end. But if I’m pushed and I know I’m done, all hell breaks loose. And that’s what I gave Marlon. He knew my business, yes, but I knew just as much about his personal and hustling life. He told me where he kept his money, how he ran his operation and I knew the locations of both of his homes. But I also knew enough not to divulge that information. I’m crazy, not stupid.
Because I was so loud, half of the club became our audience. Marlon attempted to calm me down and urged me to stop, but I wouldn’t. I stormed to the bar, got a drink and went on stage. I expected him to leave; instead he remained and sought my attention another way. Marlon spent the next few hours tipping every girl on my set $20 bills. I’m not talking about a $20 bill per set either. This dude tipped every single one of them (and there were six of us) $60 to $100 per set [for hours _] -- everyone except me of course. He was passive aggressively trying to get my attention and it infuriated me. Nevertheless, I maintained my composure and continued to ignore him. But I won’t lie: _watching him tip those girls all that money was KILLING me. Royal happened to be on my set and when it was over, she went over to his table to talk.
Marlon assumed that I would accept his apology and come running back because of his money. If I had done so, I would have given him my power and been chasing him and his money throughout the relationship. Similar to the carrot and stick idiom of offering a combination of rewards and punishment to induce good behavior, Marlon was dangling the carrot and I was supposed to follow behind, hoping to receive my reward. But I didn’t bite. And with his next move, I knew I needed to leave him alone for good.
Leaving the club after my altercation with Marlon, my inner voice warned me not to go home so I spent the night at a friend’s house. I worked the next night and feeling as if things had blown over, I drove home. At the time, I lived in Centreville, Virginia, an hour from DC and away from customers and everyone I knew. I had always felt safe out there alone and thinking Marlon had moved on, had no reason to feel uneasy. I got in around 3am and immediately crashed on the couch. But Marlon had been in the parking lot waiting for me. And before you suggest that it could have been someone else, no one other than him knew where I lived. My friends refused to travel that far and I made zero friends out there. I chose Centreville because of the distance and the school system. But Marlon lived in Virginia too so it wasn’t a long drive for him.
Asleep, I turned over for a more comfortable position when I felt something. It wasn’t a touch. It was a heavy, ominous presence over me and to this day, I haven’t forgotten that feeling. I wanted to open my eyes and look, but something told me not to. So I drifted back to a deep sleep. When I woke the next morning, I sat up confused and looked around for my throw. Then I noticed my blanket was neatly folded over the back of my couch. There was no way I could have done that in my sleep and it shook me. Marlon was in my home. It was his presence I felt standing over me. I was thankful I never opened my eyes. Apparently he was still angry so who knows what he would have done if I woke to him standing over me?
I immediately called the police and they confirmed that someone broke in through the window and left out the unlocked back door. I was a single mom. I wasn’t stupid. I always made sure my house was locked. The officer dusted for prints and suggested I ask club security to get his license plate number. Once I had it, I was supposed to give the plate number to the officer so Marlon can be brought in. So when I got to the club, I told security everything. What I didn’t expect was for security to inform Marlon. Marlon cornered me that evening and swore he didn’t break into my home. I was frightened and didn’t want to anger him so I acted as if I believed him and everything was good. I sat with him, had drinks and talked. He tipped me generously and flashed his wad of money. It was his way of enticing me to come back after my sets. I hadn’t moved into my new apartment yet and didn’t want to risk another “visit” so I acquiesced and played along. Some of the girls who were working that night urged me to leave him alone altogether and repeated the phrase from The Players Club, “make the money; don’t let the money make you.” It may seem corny, but there were plenty of women who reunited with exes and were later beaten or murdered. We had raised money for a young dancer’s funeral a few months before my break-in; her abusive ex-boyfriend shot her when she refused to reconcile. It was a harrowing thought that club security would risk my safety so I entertained Marlon while I continued to live in Centreville. Even when I moved and refused to tell Marlon where I lived, it took a while to feel safe.
Fortunately, I wasn’t seriously injured. But in other situations, I had been beaten, used, abused and discarded quite often. I tolerated it because I was aching for love and approval and desperate to see their promises to me fulfilled. But when men sense neediness and despair, it’s either a turnoff for them or an opportunity to take advantage. Between Marlon and few other experiences, I learned to shut off the neediness, let go of the weak, desperate energy and channel feminine energy instead.
Feminine energy also meant that I no longer did the pursuing. Before learning this, I used to hit on men -- like a man. Meaning, I would compliment him, tease, flirt and ask for the number. I usually got it, but the relationship never lasted long. The men with which I had long-term, serious relationships were the ones who chased me. Now I understand why. Most men prefer a woman who is flirtatious and subtly indicates interest because, even though she may flirt a little, he still has the opportunity to pursue. When women are aggressive, they’re channeling masculine energy and it’s difficult for men to take the lead. Competitive by nature, it’s their need for accomplishment that fuels their desire to pursue. If the woman is the aggressor, gets the number and suggests the date, he doesn’t feel as if he won her. If anything, he was her win. That would be similar to the fish casting his rod out to catch the fisherman. In my experience, when I ran across men who opted for women to “catch” them, it was for one of three reasons: they weren’t crazy about her, they were conceited or they were insecure.
Dating Michael was the perfect example of a man and woman operating in their respective energies. Visiting the Penthouse for his friend’s bachelor party, Michael pursued me. He was enticed, visited my stage and asked me to have a drink with him. Hitting it off, he asked for my number before leaving and I happily gave it to him. Michael was fine. He was a perfect shade of dark chocolate with deep brown eyes. Having an affinity for short men, Michael was 5’7” and had the widest, most sincere smile I had ever seen on a man. It melted my heart. And he wasn’t too bad on paper either. Family oriented, Michael worked IT for a financial services company in Richmond, VA and operated a promotion company as well. It was obvious everyone who knew him loved him and it made me fall even harder.
With Michael, I felt relaxed so it was natural to let him lead while I operated in feminine energy. He showed genuine interest, remained consistent and pursued me. After almost a year of dating, we met each other’s families and he asked if I would stop dancing and move to Richmond. Obstinate, I asked if he had a problem with me dancing to which he replied no. It was the year 2000 and I had no intention of retiring just yet which took me relocating to Richmond off the table. Not only was I skeptical about finding a job down there, Richmond was three hours away and I was afraid to uproot my daughter for a man. I think my refusal to move and quit dancing was the beginning of the end. Although relocating to DC was considered, Michael was committed to taking care of his mom. He genuinely cared, understood and accepted me as I was but it was just poor timing for us both. Regardless, I am forever grateful for the time we spent together.
When I was dancing, I met most men at the club because I rarely went out; I was clubbing for a living and spent the remainder of my time with my daughter or simply relaxing. Most of my dating experiences were positive but aside from walking up and introducing myself, I was always uncomfortable pursuing customers. The first reason is obvious: we were in a strip club. I’d seen a lot of strange and perverted men and wanted to avoid them at all costs. I recall a preacher who visited after Sunday service and a rabbi who frequented the club as well and neither one ever bothered to remove their respective vestments. Some men, normal and attractive-looking men, were even escorted out for exhibitionism. So for me, it was safer to assume there was something wrong with the men who walked through the doors until they proved otherwise. And for the most part, the majority was OK. Most were there to hang out with friends, relax from a stressful job or unwind before going to a stressful home. There were also the ballers who came to show out and groups of men like Michael who visited for special occasions like bachelor parties.
As a new dancer, dancing naked was unbearable without a drink. Unfortunately, no amount of drinking erased the feeling of vulnerability. Men literally walked into the room with the advantage of examining every aspect of our bodies and rejecting us if it didn’t meet their standards. If a dancer was too old or too skinny, he merely moved on to the next. And that was the second reason why I wouldn’t hit on customers: most men had a type. While there were customers who politely tipped all the dancers, others were more selective and preferred light skin, brown skin, large breasts, a big butt, etc. Because of this, I knew my only job was to be talented, feminine and alluring. If a customer liked me, he’d tip or ask me to sit with him. But in order to remain confident until someone did, I didn’t compare myself to the next woman and I accepted I wasn’t everyone’s type.
But, it was in some dancers’ nature to hit on customers anyway. Sometimes it worked, but other times, the customer looked irritated, disinterested and dismissive. And when the dancer finally got the hint and moved on, the reason for his disinterest usually became clear: he was there to see someone else. For example, one night, I was sitting at a large table with a group of men and two other dancers. We were laughing and having a good time when Miracle, a voluptuous, brown-skinned woman, approached our group asking for Darren. The men snickered and said they weren’t sure where he was. Once Miracle left, they started to tell us that every time Darren came into the club, she would park herself uninvited at his table and talk until it was time for her set. And she didn’t care if another woman was there. She acted territorial even after Darren told her several times he wasn’t interested. Not only did Darren not find her very attractive, Miracle was loud and arrogant and simply not his type. When he and his boys came to the club, they preferred hanging out with the girls who were fun, laid back and didn’t pressure them. Darren had heard Miracle was working that night and because she was so annoying and relentless, he decided to skip boys’ night.
Numerous dating books and relationship coaches have told us that men like the chase, and it’s true, even in strip clubs. For instance, some customers only stopped by on days when their favorite dancer was working. For weeks, sometimes even months, that customer may get absolutely nowhere. But still, he pursued her. That dancer may not have been the headliner or not have had the best body, but she operated in feminine energy and her mental game was enticing too. She was confident and although the customer could tip anyone he wanted, she understood that she could be with anyone she wanted so he had to work to get her. Her attitude conveyed, “If you want me, come get me. If you’re not checking for me, I’m not checking for you.” Most men ate that up and played right along.
“Some say that a woman that trades her body for money is a whore, but if that is the case, then a woman that trades her body for flattery and kind words is just a whore that is not paid very well.”
[*- *]Carl R. White[
Although no woman should ever be labeled a ho, let’s define the term so we stay on the same page throughout the book. According to Urban Dictionary, a ho is a promiscuous woman, someone who engages in casual sex, thereby having multiple sex partners. SuperDrug, a teledoc website, surveyed men and women from the US and UK and found multiple sex partners were defined to be 15 and 14 people respectively. Additionally, when men refer to a woman as a ho, they’re typically indicating that it took little effort for him and many other men to get her in bed. Now that we’re clear, let me put this out there: I’ve had “regular” girlfriends who exhibited more ho behavior than some of the dancers I know.
Exotic dancing is a job. Dancers learn and perfect their craft just like anyone else seeking to perform their job well. Bills are paid with that money and we filed taxes like everyone else. Because a woman chooses exotic dancing as a profession, it doesn’t make her promiscuous. What makes a woman a ho is her willingness to have sex with multiple men with little to no commitment. There are women in every profession and from all walks of life who exhibit ho behavior. There are lawyers, doctors, teachers, executives, etc. who frequent swingers’ clubs, engage in orgies, threesomes and rotate multiple sexual partners in the same day! Based upon the definition above, that’s a ho. While some dancers did behave this way, there were many who maintained relationships or were highly selective in choosing their sexual partners.
Brandy was one such dancer. She wasn’t considered classically beautiful, but she was warm, friendly and always had a smile on her face. The customers loved her and the regulars knew she wasn’t promiscuous and respected her for that. One night, a NFL player asked her to join him and they immediately hit it off. He had been with several other dancers in the past, but he quickly noticed Brandy was different. She listened sincerely, gave great advice and expected nothing in return. Not only did she stand out from the other dancers, she was unlike most women he met. He eventually “wifed” her because she genuinely cared about him, not his money and status. She could have been an administrative assistant and they still would have hit it off. It just so happened she worked as an exotic dancer and he understood the difference between a stripper and a ho.
My college friend, Shay, lived life based on her mother’s advice: you can fall in love with a rich man just as easily as a poor man. So she made it her mission to fall in love with a rich man. She was caramel brown and gorgeous with hazel eyes and long hair. Her body was ok; she didn’t have much on top or bottom but she was stunningly beautiful. When we hung out in DC or traveled to Miami for spring break, she always hooked up with a guy with money or with one who had the potential to make lots of it. As a matter of fact, her mother suggested she marry a University of Miami football player for their potential to go professional. And she sure did try. There were many occasions when she’d return to the hotel room the next day bragging about his potential, how much money he gave her or the gifts she received. At the time I didn’t understand it, but once I started dancing, I understood the reciprocity of sex for money and gifts. Shay was never a stripper but based upon the definition, she was a ho. And so were many of other college girls and professional women who played the same game.
Recently, when it became known that a NFL quarterback’s girlfriend used to be a stripper, women flooded social media judging and criticizing her and his choice. They couldn’t understand why a good, successful man would want to “wife” a stripper when so many “good girls” were better suited for a man like him. But those same “good girls” missed a valuable point. While they believed their value was contingent upon not being a ho, men value a partner who has more to offer than just a low body count. Having few sex partners doesn’t mean you’re warm, loving, supportive, kind, sincere and a good listener. It also doesn’t mean you’re going to give emotional support and let him lead. I’ve seen some of these “good” girls aggressively chase men and stalk their social media accounts. Once they do, they talk about having sex like it’s a reward for good behavior. And while they’re busy playing these games and judging other women for being a ho or for stripping, that same woman is giving him what he really wants. And it has nothing to do with sex. Instead of playing games like the “good” girl, she’s being real, upfront and honest about her intentions. Like Brandy in the example above, some of these “hoes” and strippers are bringing real value to the table by boosting men’s egos, offering support and not competing with male aggression.
Although I had a few boyfriends while dancing, I will admit that there were times when I exhibited ho behavior. After Marlon, I quit dating hustlers altogether and met an older man named Steven. He was quiet, handsome, held a high position at the Pentagon and paid my bills. But eventually there was a catch. Steven told me if he was going to continue to pay my bills, I couldn’t see anyone but him. He even suggested getting me an apartment so he would have exclusive access to me. For weeks, I avoided acknowledgement of his offer and continued to take his money. I was seeing someone else and didn’t want to end that relationship; but I wanted Steven to continue paying my bills. One evening, I intentionally avoided his calls and spent the evening with my friend. When I pulled up to my townhome, a car sped into the parking lot and blocked me from backing out of my space. It was Steven. He jumped out of his car and was at my window in seconds. When I turned to look at him, I was shocked. His eyes were bloodshot and his clothes were wrinkled; it looked as if he had been crying or had little to no sleep. When he asked where I had been, I answered I ran to the store. He called me out on the lie and confessed he had been parked outside my home overnight! He urged me to get out of the car and into the house so we could talk. Frightened, there was no way I was going into the house with him. Instead, I told him he couldn’t leave his car in the middle of the lot and advised him to move it. The moment he did, I backed up and sped off. Steven chased me down Virginia’s Dulles Tollway. As much as I tried weaving through the traffic, I couldn’t shake him. Thankfully, I finally lost him merging into I-95 traffic. I avoided Steven and he eventually moved on. But I wasn’t through being a ho.
“Everything in the world is about sex except sex. Sex is about power.”
[*- *][Oscar Wilde
Before I was a stripper, I was a ho. I knew the origins of my promiscuity but I didn’t understand why I couldn’t stop. I honestly felt “programmed” to have sex and believed that in order to get a man to like me, I had to sleep with him. Or if a man wanted to have sex, I was supposed to do it. I didn’t sleep with everyone who wanted to sleep with me; I did have standards. But if a decent, attractive, well-educated man expressed interest and we went out, our night usually ended between the sheets.
But I have to admit, sex with me was pretty boring. I used to just lie back, stare off into space and wait for him to finish. And afterwards, I always felt sad and dirty, even with the men I loved. I wasn’t concerned with trying new positions, learning my body or even communicating my needs. For me, having sex was like a trip to the dentist: I dreaded going but understood the necessity of routine visits. It was a chore to perform in order to maintain a healthy relationship. It was never about physically satisfying me and for years, I was fine with that.
I realized I was doing it all wrong when I first stepped into the Penthouse. There were three stages, two side stages with one dancer and a huge middle stage with four. As soon as the bouncer let us through, the dancer on the nearest side stage was standing up but had folded her torso completely over. She was butt naked with her head between her legs. It looked as if she had no spine! The customer took his handful of bills and poured it over her. When he finished, she did a handstand, motivating more men to migrate to her stage, and then fell into a split. Her head was resting on her right ankle as she popped each butt cheek to the beat. The men were cheering and pouring money all over her. She looked so cool; she never cracked a smile. But my mouth was hanging wide open.
The girl on the far stage was just as talented, but my eyes were fixated on the women at the center stage. There was a beautiful dark-skinned lady, with skin as smooth and dark as a Hershey’s bar. She was squatted down facing the crowd as the men were stuffing her garter belt with cash. She had the warmest smile I’d ever seen and it looked as if she was having fun. Then she laid down on her back, placed her hands under her hips, raised her lower body in the air and started twisting her legs. There wasn’t a term for it back then, but today, they call it twerking. A couple of the girls on her stage were standing up twerking while men tossed dollars at them.
The provocative moves and sultry looks dancers gave customers convinced me to take an interest in and become better at sex. If there were women dancing like this, I’m sure they were just as fun, sexy and creative in the bedroom. I was eager to step up my game. So when my friend introduced me to Chocolate, the woman with the smooth, Hershey bar skin, I exclaimed, “Oh my God! I can’t dance like this. I don’t even f*ck like this!” She fell out laughing then replied, “Chyle, neither do we!”
Despite Chocolate’s reassuring comment, I was motivated to learn those moves so I could take a more active role during sex. As I did just that, sex became less of a chore and more like a fun sport for me. I know it sounds heartless but that was the whole point. While I always perceived sex as an obligation, a part of me still expected it to fill an emotional void. That expectation was the underlying reason for my desperate energy and neediness. Once I finally understood this, it became clear that I wasn’t obligated to have sex and that sex will never fill a void. Because of this, I became much more selective in choosing my sexual partners. And when I decided to date someone, I focused on enjoying the moment and removed any expectations. Doing so also erased the feelings of sadness and dirtiness but inadvertently created another problem.
I knew I was different when Dre, a man I dated for almost a year, told me I f*ucked like a professional. Insulted, I immediately asked him what he meant by that and Dre explained, “Don’t be mad. I didn’t mean it like a porn star or prostitute doing it in exchange for money. You have sex like you’re performing a task; I know you care for me but when you’re having sex, it’s done with a certain degree of performance and there’s no emotion in it.” My attempt to eradicate feelings of vulnerability during and after sex resulted in me failing to make an emotional connection with Dre. Although I genuinely cared for him, I built a wall around my heart to avoid being hurt and to ensure I never felt sad or dirty again. When I met my future husband, though, the wall came tumbling down.
“James” wasn’t considered a regular and he wasn’t a pervert. He visited the club during happy hour and sat quietly in the back. Happy hour is usually slow so we would spend much of our time talking to the customers or each other while on the stage. Grace was friendly with everyone and eventually got him out of his shell and talking. James would drop by to recharge because he was having trouble with his boss and unsure of his next move. We implored him to work it out unless he wanted to take his clothes off for a living. He took our advice and would visit every now and then to keep us company.
One evening, he commented that he knew me from somewhere. Of course I assumed he was giving me a line, but when he pulled out his middle school class picture, I instantly recognized him. We went to school together and shared the same friends for years. After that revelation, he would stop by just to see me and would hint towards asking me out. By then, I was fully engrossed in stripper life: I was going to raves, popping ecstasy and spending my time with athletes. I was convinced that this “good boy” couldn’t handle me so I tactfully declined. After persuading me that he wasn’t “all good,” I accepted his invitation for dinner and dancing. We slept together that same night.
We fell in love almost immediately and our relationship moved pretty quickly. After a month of dating, we moved in together and he proposed seven months later. I was ecstatic because I felt safe enough to finally combine vulnerability, emotions and creativity with sex. During our courtship, he would stop by the club to visit me and we would talk between sets. He didn’t appear bothered that I was a stripper but dancing naked for other men disturbed me so much, there were a few times I stood naked on stage crying because it felt wrong. I persevered because it was [_real _]good money and I hadn’t received any job offers.
James disapproved of me performing at private parties but dancing naked or lap dancing seemed acceptable to him. Two weeks after our nuptials, we were in a financial crisis so I reluctantly returned to dancing to make the money we needed. I cannot put the blame on him; it was how I made a living for years so I take full responsibility for it. Three years later however, after we bought our first home in Richmond, VA. James wanted to relocate to Dallas, TX. Instead of saving and planning, we opted for an immediate move. We were short on the funds needed to fly to Dallas for our respective job interviews so he suggested I drive to D.C. and strip to get the money we needed. I was deathly opposed to it and procrastinated long enough to miss sign in. He was visibly upset but said nothing. When we finally relocated to Dallas, we were still strapped so James recommended that I dance for the money and dropped me off at the Yellow Rose, a lap dance club. And it broke my heart.
For years, I questioned how my husband could be ok with me dancing. We were having a conversation years later, and it all made sense. I asked James if he had ever dated brown or dark skin girls. Upon discovering I was the second, he further explained that he dated trophies. Confused, I wanted to know why he considered me a trophy. And he stated it was because I was a stripper.
“Women need real moments of solitude and self-reflection to balance out how much of ourselves we give away.”
[*- *]Barbara de Angelis[
It’s common for couples to get stuck in a rut and lose focus on each other. Life gets in the way. You raise children. Work a job you hate. Sit in traffic for over an hour and arrive home to cook, clean, help with homework and put the kids to bed. By the end of the evening, it’s understandable that you’re exhausted and eager to rest. The last thing on your mind is pleasing your man; so you sit down, watch a little TV and eventually go to bed. You do this for weeks, sometimes months at a time without catering to your man’s needs. All the while, your man is lonely, horny and feeling ignored and unappreciated.
I used to talk to these men quite often. They told me their wives or girlfriends used to be sweet, caring, and considerate and went out of their way to make them happy. They relayed stories of what their significant others did that made them fall in love, but eventually, she stopped doing those things. Instead, she began complaining more often and over time, a sarcastic, condescending attitude emerged which made communication damn near impossible. Sex was almost nonexistent because she was always angry and bitter. The house was full of tension and there were days he’d sit in his car dreading to walk through the door. And then, there were other days he stopped by the strip club for a drink, an ego boost and conversation.
I will admit, a lot of men came through hoping for an opportunity to cheat on their wives. They relayed such stories to gain sympathy but ultimately showed their hand over time. Still, not every unhappily married man who came through was deceitful and looking to cheat. As I listened, I began to notice their differences and classified the married or committed customers into three categories. The ‘perpetual cheaters’ cheated all the time. Whether things at home were going well or not, this man didn’t have a monogamous bone in his body and needed no excuse to cheat on his wife. The ‘situational cheaters’ remained faithful as long as things were going well. But the moment he felt something was wrong, he sought someone to comfort him emotionally and sexually. Then, there were the ‘never cheaters’. Regardless of what was or wasn’t going on at home, these men would never cheat on their wives. Sometimes, though, they still felt the need to relax at the strip club.
Carl was that type of man. He had been married to his wife for over thirty years and from what he told me, he never cheated. He visited the club occasionally with his friends and when they stopped by, they’d sit in the back to drink, talk and catch up. As I got to know him, he showed off his family pictures and shared how they fell in love and remained married. He admitted they had bad years and even separated for a few, but explained it took more than love to get through those years. He argued that men marry for who she is now and women marry for who he could be later. Over the years of my marriage, I realized something else: that marriage vows symbolize change. When the preacher asks if you’ll take them for better or worse, in sickness and in health, etc. he’s essentially asking if you’re willing to be there through the good and the bad…no matter what. And because people go through these changes, there’s no guarantee he or she will hold the same views, values or temperament. In order for any marriage to work, both must accept this, remain committed and work as a team through life’s changes.
Never forgetting those and many other stories, I promised myself I wouldn’t be the type of wife that my husband would dread. But once married, I quickly realized how difficult it was to stay on top of everything. There really weren’t enough hours in the day to do what was needed and maintain the relationship. On top of that, I spent most of those years angry with him so I didn’t want to invest in him, myself or the marriage. I lived in that fog for the majority of my marriage, concentrating on the needs of the kids and the household in general and purposely ignoring my husband’s needs. I’ll explain why.
For the first five years, I couldn’t forgive James for lying to me. During our courtship, he shared stories and accomplishments of things he had done but later I learned these were false. Also, he lied about his income, his job title and how many credits he needed to graduate. He didn’t need 12 credits to graduate – he only had 12 credits towards graduation; so I poured all of my time and energy into helping him reach his goals. He was a brilliant student, graduating with a 3.9 GPA so I polished his resume and helped him prep for interviews. It wasn’t difficult for James to find a well-paying job in accounting so when I was laid off my marketing position, it was a blessing in disguise. Instead of looking for another demanding corporate position that would most likely entail travel, I chose to work from home and spend more time raising the children.
But the more I focused on the household and helping him with his career, the more I realized that my husband didn’t [_love _]me. In his mind, I’m sure he believed he did; but it wasn’t a healthy or biblical love. God calls for men to love their wives as Christ loved the church, selflessly and unconditionally, but the love James offered was selfish and inconsistent. One year, for example, he lounged around all day and forgot about my birthday. When the kids reminded him, he rushed out and came back with a gold watch and a birthday cake with whipped cream frosting. After eight years of marriage, he should have known that I never wore watches or gold jewelry and everyone in the house hated whipped cream frosting – but him. Our relationship wasn’t reciprocal in the least.
A counselor suggested that James could possibly be a narcissist and after doing my own research, it seemed to fit. Narcissistic love is superficial and the recipient will feel that love as long as his needs and expectations are met. The more I studied Christian love and narcissism, the more evident it became but I still did not want a divorce. I sincerely believed if I became the example and changed, he would change too. Generations of couples shared stories of how they poured love into their spouse for decades despite their challenges until finally, things got easier. I truly believed that for us and worked to love James the way God instructed wives to love their husbands. Because, admittedly, I wasn’t very respectful or submissive; I was prideful, resentful and mistrusting and hardly ever in the mood for sex.
But the more I poured into him and gave, the more he took. James went from finishing only 12 credits to completing his bachelors and eventually earning enough money that I didn’t have to work. But all of my efforts went unappreciated and I found myself having an emotional affair. It lasted only a few months and I was thankful for the geographic distance but it seemed to open James’ eyes. Once I confessed, he appeared much more attentive and made an effort to be more loving and caring. But that lasted only a short while. We slipped into our usual routine of giver and receiver but instead of getting angry or lashing out, I kept quiet and respectful, ignoring much of his irresponsible behavior while yearning for the love described in the Bible.
After a trip to Puerto Rico, James and I got into a fight and were giving each other the silent treatment. A few days later, I learned my friend and former dancer, Cherry, was murdered outside a D.C. club. I cried for weeks, but James never bothered to ask if I was alright or comfort me in any way. His silence and cruelty only increased and it made my sorrow and mourning worse. But I refused to relent. For more than a decade, it was I who broke the silence and enabled his martyrdom, forgetting I was initially wronged. I was grieving; it was his responsibility to comfort me.
We were entering a month of the silent treatment when I made the decision to separate. And just a few days after moving into my new apartment, I was struck with a debilitating headache. It literally felt as if there wasn’t enough room in my skull for my brain and my brain was going to burst. I’d been experiencing them since Cherry’s murder, but this day, I knew something was seriously wrong. I called James who left work to drive me to the ER. I passed out upon entering the doors. Once James explained that I was not diabetic, they took me immediately to an inpatient area and a nurse began taking my vitals. A CAT scan was ordered and it appeared normal. Three different doctors visited me to discuss my symptoms. They feared a vein may have ruptured and urged me to have a spinal tap. I vehemently refused but upon explaining that a blood leakage could cause a stroke or even death, I agreed. Fortunately, the aneurysm had not burst. Upon learning of Cherry’s murder and my separation, the doctors informed me that the swelling in my brain was attributed to high blood pressure and stress. My husband held my hand and cried silently once they left the room. After the medical scare, James asked me out once but due to work obligations, I had to decline. I never saw or heard from him after that.
To be honest, I separated out of anger and hoped it would motivate James to go to counseling but he never did. Three months into our separation, our son walks in after spending the week with his dad and goes, “Daddy told me to tell you he found a girl he wants to marry.” It was those words, not the medical scare that motivated me to finally put myself first. It devastated me that James would use our ten year old as a pawn and callously walk away from the marriage. I had spent twelve years of my life helping him achieve the success he desired and I got nothing in return: no loyalty, no respect or no love. I will never say I wasted that time with James but in hindsight, I knew I should have walked away years ago. I didn’t because it was a lot easier to focus on him and the kids than it was to tackle my own demons.[_ _]
“There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.”
[*- *]Ernest Hemingway[
I knew intelligence didn’t correlate to education, but before I was a stripper, I just didn’t care. To put it simply, I was stuck up and arrogant. Although I had been somewhat humbled struggling as a single mother and accepting welfare, my education and upbringing still made me feel superior to some. And I carried that attitude into the strip club. It was my assumption that all of the dancers were ghetto, shallow, uneducated and from a poverty stricken home. Most didn’t care for me and were convinced I didn’t belong there. It took some time to make friends so until then, I kept quiet and stayed to myself.
Tall, brown and gorgeous, my mentor Ebony noticed my attitude but accepted me anyway. And to this day, I’ve never forgotten the first piece of advice she gave. I bought a pair of 5” platform stripper heels and her response was, “Class over trash. Always look and act classy. Those platform shoes will go out of style but a pair of pumps never will. You want to look and act like a lady at all times.” I later learned Ebony came from a traditional home and worked for the government until she was laid off. She met a man who she later discovered was a pimp and the rest is history. She shut down my condescending attitude for good when she told me that some dancers held undergraduate degrees, were going to college, came from “normal”, two-parent households and were even married. There were a few women who once held corporate positions but chose to strip because the money and flexible hours were better. And there were several women who simply danced for a second source of income. It was then that I realized dancing wasn’t a form of desperation for some. It was a conscious, impenitent choice. These women were no different from me and I was in no position to feel superior.
I had been working at the club a few short months after this revelation when our club was boycotted by a local church. I’m unsure whether it was the church belonging to the preacher who visited on Sundays; nevertheless, several senior women made signs and were marching in front of the entrance demanding the club be shut down. Some of us met the ladies outside and listened to their grievances. Their argument was that the club drew a criminal element and what we’re doing is a sin. They implored us to stop dancing, get an education and find real jobs. When they finished, I said, “Some of us are in school and some of us have graduated college and still can’t find a job. Plus, there is no job that pays this well with this amount of freedom so we’d take a pay cut but have to pay for weekly childcare. Some of us simply can’t afford a real job. How about you boycott the child support office and demand they make our baby daddies pay?” In that moment, I realized I made no attempt to separate myself from the other dancers. Their judgmental attitudes pissed me off so I didn’t care if they thought we were ghetto or uneducated.
I felt more solidarity with my fellow dancers than I had with my “regular” friends. And that’s when Cristal and I grew close. Cristal was a cute, light-skinned Puerto Rican girl from Maryland. She’d been dancing since she was a teenager and even worked as a Luke dancer. Not only did we hang out after work, but our kids hung out together as well. Once I became more comfortable dancing on stage, Cristal introduced me to private parties and I signed up with Entertainment With Class. Founded by a former dancer, it’s a website where men and women select the dancers they need for events such as bachelor parties. I performed at a few and thought it was pretty fun and was even booked for a divorce party where both the man and woman were celebrating their divorce. Ironically, Cristal and I usually did parties together. I didn’t understand it back then, but now I get it. We both talked a lot of trash.
One year, Cristal asked me to accompany her to Atlantic City for a porn award show. I couldn’t believe I was even going! I’ve never been a fan of such movies and after I met the female porn stars, it only exacerbated those feelings. I struck up a conversation with the porn star Monique. She was new to the industry and from what I understood, very popular. I believe she even won an award. She explained that there was no real money for female porn stars unless they got their image on the box cover. She’d been working in the industry for some time and recently managed to do just that. Although she was making more money, she lived with a roommate and wasn’t even making a $1,000 per movie. Hearing that completely turned me off. Now every time someone mentions porn, I recall that conversation. I’m not judging nor do I believe I’m better than anyone in the industry; having sex on camera just doesn’t seem worth it to me.
Over the years, I started to hang out with more dancers. We went to parties, shopping and vacationed together. In DC, the money wasn’t very good during the summer months so we’d travel to Miami to vacation and earn some money. We danced at The Rolex at night and laid on the beach during the day. In 2001, Cristal, Isis, Stallion, Cherry and I traveled to the Essence Music Festival in New Orleans. It was one of the last times I hung out with Cherry before she was murdered. When I started seeing James, he would come with us to rave parties and Cherry was the only person to warn me about him. She didn’t think it was normal that he hardly ever let me out of his sight. I dismissed her concern with a laugh and reassured her he was harmless. After the funeral, I learned she possessed uncanny insight into people and situations and would often times be correct.
Becoming a stripper and befriending women from all walks of life was one of my greatest learning experiences. Not only was I humbled by the experience; it pushed and matured me in ways I would have never imagined. Although we had different upbringings, we were members of an exclusive club with our struggles and triumphs bonding us for life. My stripper friends were college students, college graduates and many never even graduated high school. But I didn’t care. No amount of education could account for character. They were also quick-witted, supportive, real, nonjudgmental, worldly and well read. And not those silly gossip magazines and romance novels but thought-provoking literature. I remember when a few even started a book club. They had just finished reading The Coldest Winter Ever by Sister Souljah and invited me to read their next selection, PUSH by Sapphire. Our discussion of PUSH sparked revelations in all of us.
“The soul has no secret that behavior does not reveal.”
[*- *]Lao Tsu
_PUSH _ was horrific, gut wrenching and all too familiar. Numerous times I told myself I wasn’t going to read anymore, but for some unexplainable reason, I couldn’t put it down. It was exquisitely written yet ugly and conjured up emotions and memories I was convinced I drank away. When I saw the girls in the dressing room later in the week, I urged them to at least warn me if there were going to be more books like this because I had lived through something similar. And that’s when everyone began to share their horrific stories of molestation, incest, child sexual abuse and rape. As a child, one dancer was abused so badly, she could never bear children of her own. For years, another was sexually abused by her father while her mother turned a blind eye. She ran away from home to escape it and has been stripping since the age of 16. Another told the story of how she was raped during college, dropped out and started dancing instead. As I sat there listening as every stripper relayed her story, my entire life -- the downward spiral I’d been on -- began to make sense.
The earliest recollection of my sexual abuse happened when I was five years old and living with my grandmother in DC; my mother was away at college. In the middle of the night for many nights, my cousin would pick me up from the bed, carry me to the back room and have sex with me. I was too sleepy and confused to understand what was happening but as the years wore on, I knew it was wrong. My cousin, however, simply became more brazen. He would corner me or coerce me to the attic to have sex. When I would run the other way or tell him no, my attempts to escape were futile. He simply overpowered me and threatened to tell grandma “what I was doing.” That single threat, as illogical as it was, birthed the guilt, shame and helplessness I would feel for the rest of my life. So when the next door neighbor lured me into his home to rape me, I obeyed, concluding it was something that men just did to me. This was 1977. I was only six years old.
I was going to miss my grandmother, but I was ecstatic when my sister and I moved to New Jersey to live with our mom. I was confident the abuse would be over and I could be a normal little girl. We moved into a townhouse in a black middle class neighborhood. The homes on my block were situated like a cul de sac and faced the playground. Every day, the kids would come out to play on the tire swing, in the sandbox or start a game of hide and seek. My little sister, Nique, loved to play outside and it was my responsibility to accompany her. A few days after arrival, I had a best friend, Kelly, whose home was only a quick trek across the playground. Neighbors would always find us together, holding hands or building castles in the sandbox. Kelly was multi-racial with long, black hair, beautiful eyes and was the most pleasant person I had ever met in my life. Kelly stuck close to her family and was afraid to spend the night outside of her home. So my sister and I were almost always at their place. Her parents and brother Karl didn’t seem to mind.
One evening, just a few months later, Kelly exited Karl’s room and said he wanted to see Nique and then me. From my experience in DC, I quickly caught the meaning behind those words. Nique, always defiant, overheard and threatened to tell. Kelly and I both begged her to remain quiet, explaining we too would get in trouble if our parents knew. But I lacked her insolence and knew I had to go in there. But I was vehemently opposed to introducing my sister to the abuse. I had enough strength to fight for that. Kelly looked as pitiful as I when I walked towards his door, but I gave her a faint smile, hoping she knew I’d never blame her for this.
Karl was possibly the worst abuser I ever had. Not because of the sexual abuse, but due to the grooming he instilled in me. He was probably four or five years older than I but he was handsome and popular. Everyone wanted to be his friend or his girlfriend. Despite this, he would constantly tell me he preferred having sex with me over his girlfriend. He would tell me what to do, how to move and wanted to believe that I enjoyed it too. Each time, though, I wouldn’t utter a sound and would zone out – make believe I was somewhere other than in his room. But every time he raped me, I was implanted with even more repulsive programming. Possibly the worse thing he ever said to me was, “If a boy wants to do it to you, you’re supposed to let him.”
Not even a week after his ‘instructions’, his friends began knocking on my door. They would forcibly enter not just my home, but my body. And most times, I didn’t fight. I let them do whatever they wanted to me and zone out until it was over. If I was to go to the playground or around the corner to a friend’s house, they would see me and demand that I come inside their house. And these were the same young boys who, in the presence of others, would call me ugly and black and make fun of me and my clothes.
One evening when I was walking from a friend’s house, another abuse, Tony, saw me and demanded that I see him. At this point, I was angry and frustrated and yelled in defiance. But, he threatened to tell my mother, so again I complied. I suffered through this for years, and started to withdraw from the world. Boys would come over two and three at a time and rape me then I’d bury myself in a book in an attempt to erase what happened. When I got my period at 11, I told one of the older men who had knocked on my back door. I was hoping he would change his mind. But he pulled down my shorts and underwear and raped me anyway. When he finished, he told me he pulled out so I wouldn’t get pregnant. I was forced to have sex with these men several times a week and inside, I was enraged. I started to instruct my sister to tell them I was asleep or not at home; sometimes it worked but most times it didn’t. When I came home from school, I would run into the house and wouldn’t go back out until it was time to catch the bus the next day. I buried myself in books, reading a book a day before I started middle school. My mother and stepfather noticed the changed and insisted I go outside and play. Most times I ignored them, but if they insisted, I would sit on the porch and read or play in my own yard, never venturing near the playground or to a friend’s house.
I wasn’t even 10 and I already had more than 10 sex partners. While my abusers promised to keep it secret, this wasn’t the case. One of Karl’s friends approached me one day and I assumed he wanted to have sex with me too. Instead, he lectured me, saying he knew what I was doing and that I should stop. The entire neighborhood, the kids and the parents, knew what was going on yet I was the one blamed for being raped, substantiating what every abuser had been warning me all along. I can’t express how hopeless, powerless and defeated I felt. Nique had absolutely no respect for me and in addition to others, would call me a freak and a ho. That further perpetuated my guilt and shame, causing me to retreat even more. There was nothing I could do.
Life at home wasn’t easy for me either. Before I moved to New Jersey, I would visit my father’s family quite often. Once I moved though, I never saw my father’s family again and for years, I begged my mother for an opportunity to see my father again. She, on the other hand, would tell me that my father didn’t want me and to get over it. As the years wore on, she threatened that if I ever found him, I would have to live with him and never see her or my sister again. With that, I stopped the pleading and searched secretly instead. But, even when I wasn’t begging to see my father, my mother wasn’t very loving towards me. Sure, there were times she’d come into my bedroom to whisper how much she loved me. But I mostly recall her withdrawing love, giving me the silent treatment and calling me names. There may have been times that she tried to help by inquiring into my hyper sexuality, but her treatment towards me didn’t induce trust on my part.
During middle and high school, I behaved exactly as Karl instructed. If a boy wanted to have sex with me, I let him. And if he didn’t, I felt slighted, perceiving it as something being wrong with me. I didn’t care about myself and never expected them to care about me either. I would zone out and when they finished, go about my day. As I got older, I got bolder, sneaking boys in the house while my parents were off at work. But, I was repeatedly caught and not only was I punished, I was also beaten severely. I was able to mask my physical and emotional pain from my parents and just accepted whatever fate they bestowed. I didn’t care what my parents or the boys did to me. During my sophomore year of high school though, I went too far. I had the audacity to invite a boy to my room while my parents were in their bedroom, located on the other side of my wall. They overheard us talking, opened the door and kicked him out immediately. My mother was furious, and I’m sure she was absolutely frustrated by my behavior. She kicked me out of the house and for months, I lived with a friend. When I returned home, I can’t tell you how long it took before she finally spoke to me. Today, I realize inviting that boy to my room was more than an attention-seeking move. It was a cry for help as was my first suicide attempt.
During my senior year of high school. I swallowed a handful of pills and waited to fall asleep. But that never happened. My sister found me and the empty pill bottle and told our parents. There were no hugs given or counseling sessions scheduled. Neither did it soften my mother’s behavior towards me nor bring us any closer. My mother knew it was a cry for help and that I didn’t really want to die. There were many more attempts made as I got older; I never shared it with anyone. I swallowed pills or waited for my car to fill up with carbon monoxide but every attempt failed.
All those years, I believed I had the effects of the sexual abuse under control. Yet, it was controlling me. I was too afraid to talk about it but was expressed being in a myriad of ways: promiscuity, suicide attempts, depression, anxiety, fits of rage and ultimately, becoming a stripper. Deep down, I wanted someone to recognize my behavior as a cry for help…and help me. But no one ever did.
“No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.”
Watching my daughter grow up, I noticed she and most little girls didn’t conduct themselves as I did. And once I learned that every stripper in that dressing room had been abused, I knew my hyper sexuality wasn’t a character flaw; the sexual abuse caused my hyper sexual behavior. Before the realization, I believed my abusers when they pointed the finger back at me, asserting that I was at fault. I was the ho that unwittingly enticed them to have sex with me and my hyper sexual behavior couldn’t be controlled or resisted.
Although it was in 2000 that I first started to suspect the abuse wasn’t my fault, it was difficult embracing my past when I had spent decades believing and behaving as if it was. And when I got married in 2002, I was so focused on helping James and raising the children that I was thankfully able to avoid it. But when I was laid off from my job in 2007, I couldn’t avoid it any longer. I was having nightmares. Not only was I talking and crying in my sleep, there were instances when James tried to awaken me, and I woke up swinging. And then there were times when I would scream and fight James during sex because I was suffering from flashbacks. I knew I couldn’t avoid it any longer. I needed help.
Counseling was overwhelming. I was physically and emotionally drained afterwards and wanted to be left alone. But as a mom, that wasn’t possible. I quit after a few months and decided to read and complete the workbook for The Courage To Heal. That book helped me more than any counseling session ever did. The exercises forced me to remember details I spent decades trying to forget. While I spent so much time dissecting all of the negative effects of the abuse, there was an exercise which forced me to list the good which resulted. That was almost unbearable to fathom; there was no way I could ever say being sexually abused was a “good thing.” But as I thought about it, I realized good did come from it. My daughter was never a victim. From the age of two, I taught her prevention techniques and even self-defense exercises. I kept our line of communication open; she could confide in me about anything. And she also understood that I would never blame her if she was ever abused.
Ellen Bass, the author of The Courage To Heal, not only helped me heal from my childhood, she also helped clarify the strained relationships I had with my sister and mother. Although never a victim, Nique was struggling with her own emotional issues because we forced her to keep our secret. She had become callous to the abuse and could never understand why I complied with the abusers. From her perspective, I was weak. We don’t discuss it often, for obvious reasons, but I do recall her telling me that I wasn’t the type of big sister she could admire. It hurt, but I completely understood. Our relationship may have been strained over the years, but overall, we will always have each other’s back.
Healing also helped me realize that I internalized the unfair and harsh treatment by my mother. I grew up thinking it was somehow my fault and it could be resolved if I behaved as she desired or did something nice for her and the family. But that was never the case. My mother’s behavior towards me was not my fault; it was the limitations of her parenting. My mother was unable to love unconditionally or express empathy. It’s like owning a bike but not having legs to ride it. I, like all children, depend on the parent for physical and emotional survival, so denial of the parental disorder is a needed defense mechanism for us. In order to heal, however, it was necessary for me to accept this about my mother so I could forgive and fully embrace my past.
The book also suggested that many sexual abuse victims suffer from wounded attachment. Wounded attachment is the unconscious way of being attracted or attached to someone or something that reminds the survivor of or reinforces the sexual assault. Simply put, it’s the way in which survivors subconsciously seek out relationships that reinforce the wounded aspect of themselves. Not only did the book help me realize that every major life decision I made came from my pain, I realized that I chose a spouse who reinforced the pain I’d been feeling from my mother and my abusers.
Love had been a paradox my entire life. There were times when I felt loved and could depend wholeheartedly on my mom. Then there were other times when I felt devalued and rejected. On top of getting in trouble for the promiscuity, I never knew if I was going to anger her with a question or comment so I avoided many topics, like finding my father, and worked to please her instead. And when she was angry with me, she incorporated the silent treatment, withheld affection and was verbally and emotionally abusive. And life was exactly the same with James. Throughout my marriage, I walked on egg shells because I didn’t want me or the kids to set him off. And when we did fight, I noticed James’ mind games, gaslighting, deflection and blame, were also similar to those of my abusers. I reminded him numerous times that he reminded me of them, but James refused to stop, apologize or attempt to change his behavior. To get back control, he would inflict the silent treatment and become the wounded victim. Then I’d worked diligently to compromise and would even go so far as to apologize and make up for him feeling hurt.
This was the first time my past was explained with reason and logic and it helped me to accept that the abuse wasn’t my fault. I was an easy target, an unloved latch key kid. Pedophiles target children like me, those with low self-esteem who feel and appear unloved because we are less likely to tell. I was the eldest and the scapegoat of the family. I got in trouble often because of boys, but other than that, I was a quiet child and did anything I could to win my mother’s affection. I often cooked and cleaned and took care of the kids but my mother didn’t love me unconditionally. And even when I was married with my own children, the avoidance and antipathy continued. I don’t recall what led to this, but in my mid-thirties, my mother responded to my email with these words: “For the life of me, I’ll never understand it. I love you; I have to love you because you are my daughter but I don’t like you. And I don’t understand how my two favorite people in the world (her mother and husband) speak so highly of you.” Those words served as validation for all those years of feeling unloved and rejected.
“Light enters through the wound.”
As a kid, I always envisioned a quiet, suburban life with a husband and four kids. He and I were going to raise beautiful, strong, independent thinkers and they’d grow up and do the same. We would grow old together and sit on the porch swing reminiscing about our fabulous life and successful children and grandchildren. We would never know the aching pain and sorrow of divorce. It was never in my plan to become a single mother at 20, be a stripper and go through divorce. And I never wanted to reveal my innermost secrets and demons to the world. To this day I still don’t, but I understand now God had other plans for me.
While I endured the abuse and lived in the pain, I never believed that. Instead, I felt abandoned and angry and directed it inwardly and towards others, but I was also angry with God. As a kid, when I sang songs in the children’s choir and memorized verses in bible study, I was told there was a God who loved and protected us. He was a jealous God and could be angered, yes, but He always showed grace and mercy towards His people. I must not have been one of His people. He never protected me. As a matter of fact, I remember crying and pleading to God to make it stop when I was in DC being raped at five years old. I thought he heard my prayers when I moved to New Jersey. But when the abuse became worse and more frequent, it was easy to conclude God’s protection didn’t apply to me.
Despite those feelings, I took my daughter to church. There were sermons and hymnals that spoke to my heart and brought me to tears, yet, I still couldn’t forgive Him for abandoning me. I was certain that He was protecting my daughter though, and that brought me peace. I never went to church when I was a dancer, mostly because I was simply too tired. There were several girls who attended service and hours later, were working in the club. I couldn’t do it. It seemed more hypocritical than going to a club the night before church and I knew I couldn’t stand the guilt. Another reason, a huge reason was that I felt most comfortable at the strip club and believed I belonged there and not in the house of God.
Once I stopped dancing and lived with James, he insisted we attend church. I had no desire to step foot in another church and I resisted, but to no avail. And when we started to make marriage plans, I suggested the justice of the peace. Not only would it be inexpensive and simple, I didn’t believe we needed anyone to pray over our marriage. And I certainly didn’t believe God would look out for us; He never looked out for me. As a matter of fact, I had bought a used car and noticed the previous owner had left a CD inside. Curious, I hit play, and Donnie McClurkin’s ‘We Fall Down’ emanated from the speakers. Flying down the highway, I didn’t miss a beat; I listened for a few seconds, rolled down the window and threw the CD out onto the road. That’s how done I was with God.
But James insisted we find a church, join and be married there. He wouldn’t budge, so I finally relented. When we told the pastor of our plans to marry, he insisted on marriage counseling, and somehow, my faith in God slowly returned. Five days after we married, I was reunited with my father, a minister. As a matter of fact, almost every family member on my father’s side was a minister, preacher, evangelist, deacon, etc. Reunited with my family, I began to conclude that maybe God hadn’t abandoned me after all. From my hour glass figure to my headstrong personality and inner strength, He not only knew what would happened, He designed me to go through it and protected me the entire time. Now that I realize this, I’m much less bitter and angry at those who mistreated or failed to love and protect me.
So if you’re reading this and wondering why your life has spun out of control, it could very well be that what you’re going through has been assigned to you. And although it may feel like it, God hasn’t abandoned you either. He’s assigned every trial, trouble, tribulation and affliction and equipped you with the wisdom, insight and strength necessary to break free so you can guide others down the path to healing. Just read the below facts:
According to a Department of Justice 2012 maltreatment report, 26% of 12–14 year olds and 34% of children 9 years and younger were sexually abused in the USA. And as of 2016, there are more than 42 million survivors of child sexual abuse with the majority of victims never reporting the crime. Of that number, 3.3 million African-American women and 1.9 million African American men have been sexually abused. Family members account for 93% of the abuse and 66% of teen mothers were victims of child sexual abuse. A 2012 Innovations in Clinical Neuroscience report stated that approximately 66% of exotic dancers were once sexually abused victims. Sex abuse victims, especially those who never tell, live with the shame and incorporate the guilt so intensely, stripping becomes the logical choice and the only profession of which they feel worthy.
Sexual assault is the least reported crime in America but as you can see from the above statistics, it is dangerously prevalent in America with devastating consequences for the victim and society as a whole. Because most never tell, and it takes decades for those that eventually come forward, adults suffer from a lifetime of emotional, physical and psychological issues. Victims spent their child, teen and adult years enduring post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, suicide attempts, eating disorders, substance abuse, criminal activity, self-mutilation, guilt, shame, low self-esteem, promiscuity, etc. But beyond the victim and family suffering, the health and social impacts of child sexual abuse on a survivor affect the economy as well . According to the Minnesota Department of Health, sexual abuse of children between 0-14 years old costs Americans $71 billion every year, or 61% of the cost of all violent crime associated with this age group. Sexual violence against adolescents between the ages of 15-24 costs $45 billion per year, or 29% of the cost of all violent crime associated with this age group. The average lifetime cost per victim of child sexual abuse is $210,012.
While not every promiscuous female was sexually abused, psychologists list a myriad of reasons that attribute to such behavior. They include:
Once I learned this, it motivated me to not only defend young girls and women who are being slut-shamed, but reach out to other victims of sexual assault as well. In 2011, I registered for ’s speaker bureau (Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network) to educate parents on sexual abuse prevention and encourage victims to live as survivors. The more often I shared, the more empowered and free I felt. I was always comfortable sharing my story to survivors and discussing prevention with concerned parents. It wasn’t until Cherry was murdered that I found the strength and courage to share it with those outside of RAINN’s network.
I share my story confidently with everyone because the actions or inactions of my loved ones and abusers weren’t mistakes and the abuse wasn’t either. Everything and everyone in my past served as a catalyst to bring me to where I am today. It has served as the basis of my beliefs and the foundation for my dreams. It shaped me into an attentive parent, loyal friend and empathetic neighbor and set the trajectory for where I am going. It’s equipped me with the fortitude and bravery to stand up and speak out for others. And most importantly, I now accept that very good things or extremely bad things have ushered into my life the necessary people in the necessary places to gain the necessary lessons.
If you or someone you know has been sexually abused or assaulted, call at 800-656-4673 or with a volunteer. It doesn’t matter how long ago the abuse occurred.
If you know or suspect a child has been sexually abused or assaulted, call the at 800-422-4453 to be connected with a trained volunteer.
Emotional or mental abuse is more obvious when your partner yells or swears using emotional bullying. But it’s always when one person controls the relationship by using fear, force or intimidation that eventually weakens your self-worth and confidence. Not so obvious emotional abuse can include your partner giving you the “silent treatment” to control you or denying things they’ve said to you or things they have done to you. If you hear, “I don’t know what you are talking about,” and “I never said that,” these are warning signs that your partner might be emotionally abusing you. Call the Minnesota Day One Crisis Hotline at 866-223-1111 to talk about your relationship if you have concerns.
If you are a survivor of sexual abuse and looking to heal from your past, I invite you to join my workshop, Survivor’s Breakthrough. Email me at for more information.
To get your free deep guided meditation audio customized for sexual abuse survivors, use the email address above.
I am thankful that you took the time to read this book and I pray my story helped you or motivated you to help others. If you’ve been moved to do so, please be so kind and leave a review.
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Did you envision a better life for yourself but you're unsure where things went wrong? In From Ivy League to Stripper Life, Elona talks candidly about why her life spiraled out of control and the lessons she learned along the way. Through childhood memories and true stories from the strip club, Elona offers tips and life lessons every wife, mother and single woman will find useful. In these pages you'll discover: * Why men frequent strips clubs. * Why no woman should ever be called a ho. * That it's possible what you're going through has been assigned to you. The key to finding your purpose and improving your life, love, and relationships starts with you. If you want to get your life back on track or impact the lives of others, this book is for you.