Written By Molly Martin
Art By Exotic Cancer
In 2011, I had just finished studying film at university. I was living in Philadelphia, I had many artistic pursuits outside of film — music, choreography, performing — and I was just beginning to explore my interests beyond the strict restraints of attaining a bachelor’s degree.
I had a few jobs; one at a restaurant, one go-go dancing and hosting parties as an “it” girl, one working as a personal assistant to an in-demand makeup artist — all very low paying. My parents had been laid off during the recession, so I learned to hustle any skill I had to get by. I was young and broke, but happy. I lived with two of my best friends at the time, all of us in our 20s, so we made it work collectively.
When our lease was up for renewal, one of my roommates, let’s call her “Veronica,” decided to move out to be closer to her family and focus on her studies. We were sad to see her go, but understood her reasoning.
My other roommate, “Allison,” made a Craigslist ad to find someone to fill the spot. We had a few people come by, but no luck. We were also broke, and couldn’t afford to pay the room on top of our rent. We needed to find someone ASAP.
Somehow, we came upon the man who would eventually end up moving in with us. Let’s call him “Tim.” I met Tim while hosting a party, and he seemed like a really nice guy. He was looking for a place to live, so it seemed as if the universe had brought us together in a perfect moment to complement each other’s needs. Within a couple weeks, Tim moved in.
One day while I was cooking breakfast, I got a call from our landlord, who had just arrived back from a trip in India. “I haven’t received checks from Tim for six months,” he said. My heart dropped. I had no idea this had been going on.
After a few very difficult and emotional conversations with Tim, Allison and I told him he needed to move out. We felt betrayed; we HAD been betrayed. He had been taking advantage of us financially when we could barely afford to support ourselves. I hadn’t encountered a situation like this in my adult life, and didn’t know how to resolve it.
We spoke with my landlord, who was sympathetic and agreed to not evict us. We did, however, owe him and our bill companies just shy of $10,000. Allison and I had no idea how we would even begin to pay this back. We also had to find another roommate to take the room before next month’s rent was due, which we certainly couldn’t afford in full in addition to our debt.
Luckily, at the time, Veronica was finishing her lease and looking to move again. Veronica was a seasoned stripper; when we lived together previously, that was how she supported herself. I was always intrigued by her work and loved her outfits. I would see her come home with piles of cash and was in awe of her ability to make and save money.
“Girl, come to work with me. You won’t regret it.” Veronica knew my finances were tight and that I was struggling. I had contemplated dancing before; I had some interest in dancing, as I had experience go-going and in night life.
Shortly after she moved back in, I “dipped my feet” (so to speak) into sex work with a food fetish party, where Veronica accompanied me. I think I made $400; not bad for my first time. But those parties were few and far between, and they weren’t always lucrative. “Come to the club with me. I think you’re ready,” Veronica told me one night when she saw me break out into tears over counting change for groceries. I could barely afford to feed myself with bills piling up. I had dropped down to 110 lbs, which was less than I weighed in high school. It was time to make a change.
My first night at the strip club, I made $750. I went back the following day and made another $800. That week, I bought fresh vegetables, healthy protein, and even went to go see a doctor that I had been putting off for months because I couldn’t afford the appointment without proper health insurance. I could BREATHE. I didn’t wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat wondering how I would explain to my parents that I got evicted and had nowhere to go. I didn’t stop in the middle of grocery shopping in an anxiety chokehold wondering, “how am I going to pay for this?” All of that went away. For once, I felt in control.
After Allison and I paid back my landlord in full, it was really nice to have some extra cash. I saved a decent bit before deciding to invest in my career. At the time, I began taking music more seriously and didn’t have ways to properly carry out my goals. Equipment, studio time, promotion, music videos — these are all very expensive things. So, I began investing. I also started saving up to move to a bigger city to pursue my dreams.
After some time, I got my first break in the music industry and signed a small contract. I knew it was time to move on from the small city where I had developed my skills. One night while hosting a party, a friend of mine approached me. “Come to New York. I’m moving. Let’s go.” Within two months we were moving into our first apartment in Brooklyn.
I often think about that first night at the club, when I realized I didn’t have to live in poverty and stay in crippling debt. Dancing helped me at a time when I had no other realistic options, and helped me launch the beginning of my career. Lap dances helped me afford a microphone and interface that allowed me to record songs that over the years have made me tens of thousands of dollars of passive income.
My advice to anyone who decides to do this: SAVE YOUR MONEY, or put it to good use. You’ll thank yourself when you have more to show for your years of hustling other than just designer shoes and bags.
I quit dancing about a year ago after a seven-year run. I wanted to focus more on the new career I was building; and to be honest, chasing money until 4 a.m. feels a lot different when you’re 23 vs. when you’re 30.
I saw peaks and valleys in the economy, and the industry changed a lot (and continues to change) while I was in it. It wasn’t always easy as my first two shifts, but it provided stability at a time when I had none. My advice to anyone who decides to do this: SAVE YOUR MONEY, or put it to good use. You’ll thank yourself when you have more to show for your years of hustling other than just designer shoes and bags. Also, treat your body like a temple. It is, after all, your money maker.
As with most stories, this is to be continued. But perhaps for the guys who ask, “how did you end up here?” to girls at the club, this can give some insight into my personal motivation.