I Never Liked Strip Clubs, but I Finally Understand Them
Illustration: Moya Garrison-Msingwana

I Never Liked Strip Clubs, but I Finally Understand Them

Unfortunately, too many of y’all don’t

I’m 34 years old. It’s a weird age, teetering between being in touch and stuck in my ways. And I know I’m not the only one standing at the intersection of Young Buck and Old Head. Every time something comes along, whether it’s slang or pop culture or a new tech platform, you confront the same question: Am I too old for this? That’s why I’m here — to work through these conundrums on your behalf, on a weekly basis. Together, hopefully, we can face some harsh truths about our own washed-ness.

It’s been almost 13 years since my first visit to a strip club. I was 20 years old on my just-before-midnight drive to that fine Charlotte-area establishment — and a fully legal 21 when I walked in, a handful of friends with me.

This is the part where I should regale you with sensory details about the strip club. The lights, sounds, smells. But it was my 21st birthday, and I was maybe five shots of Patrón into my night. I just remember being mesmerized by a stripper’s skin being Cottonelle soft. Like a cloud. A lavender cloud. Like she’d dissolve if I poked her arm. I just remember wanting to ask her what her skincare routine was because I was so curious about how human bodies got like that. It’s quite possible I asked her these questions. I just don’t remember.

Again, Patrón.

I assume I had a great time, but I left that night feeling like I had gotten my fix of strip clubs. Part of that is because I’m one of the cheapest people you’ll ever meet. On my 21st birthday, my friends were paying for everything, but I was counting the money. Twenty bucks for a song? That’s like four Cook Out trays! Fifteen bucks for a drink? Who did they think they kidnapped, Chelsea Clinton? I just could never imagine spending that kind of money in one night.

Whether my cheapness or my over-it-ness, strip clubs in my mind became a thing you do once just to say you did it — like Disney World. Well, like Disney World with thongs.

Second, this was during the era when strip clubs were part of the millionaire rap aesthetic — big trash bags full of cash, dead presidents flying in the air, and songs dedicated to making it rain. (This was also during the era when people listened to something called “the radio,” and these songs were all over it.) Guys in that Charlotte-area club were tossing cash around like they were auditioning to be the next Young Jeezy, trying to pull off the look and most definitely not succeeding. Overall, it seemed like dudes were there to seem cool to each other, while pretending to be there to impress women. Whether my cheapness or my over-it-ness, strip clubs in my mind became a thing you do once just to say you did it — like Disney World.

Well, like Disney World with thongs.

Considering that I felt like the only 21-year-old who didn’t feel the need to go to a strip club, I was sure that by the time I got to 34, I’d consider myself way too old for those establishments. That was before I moved to Atlanta. The Black strip club capital of the world. And now, I understand the appeal more than ever. Strip clubs are cultural touchstones in the 404. They are clubs, hangouts, coworking spaces, boardrooms, and headquarters for album listening sessions all rolled into one glittery ball of joy.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been at a party or meeting and someone makes a nonchalant suggestion to hit up Magic City (then Waffle House) right after. No matter if we’re in business settings or turn-ups. The strip club is like having one of those little chocolate mints after dinner. They just seal in the night.

In Atlanta especially, strip clubs are actual foodie destinations. Cheetah is known for its five-star, restaurant-style kitchen where executives come together to talk business. Magic City is known for its wings. Follies has a damn buffet. I’d thought that people just went to strip clubs if they were in groups, getting rowdy, or if they were just trying to scratch a carnal itch. Things are more sophisticated than that.

The evolution of my understanding of the club also means I — and everyone else — should act accordingly when there. I think back to my 21st birthday and how raucous we were, how drunk I was, how we were acting like we were in a smoke-filled amusement park of body parts and softness. We were respectful, but it was absolutely clear that for many of us it was our first time there.

But at 34, a strip club trip is different. It’s a social gathering where you act like a goddamn adult. Enjoy the food. Enjoy the company. And enjoy the objectively beautiful workers in those clubs. Relax. Have a cigar. Don’t ogle, don’t be weird, and don’t creep anyone out.

I don’t have any frequent flyer miles at strip clubs, nor am I known on a first-name basis in any establishment. I usually find myself going as part of networking or in large groups, as is the common way in Atlanta. But I’ve seen far too many people in these situations lose their damned minds. And it mostly revolves around one thing: They don’t treat the women like they are actual human beings. I’ve been with people who don’t understand that, so they want to talk about “b*tches” and want to put their hands wherever they want. They think that all the women will want to leave the club with them, too. Of course, they would, right? That’s what sex workers do? Hell, that’s what women do, right?

So, is 34 too old to go to strip clubs? Absolutely not. In fact, the clubs are so much a part of American life that they can be enjoyed at any age. But we have to act like some damn adults when we get there. I should act the same at 21 that I do at 34 and that I would at 54. A strip club is simply a social space with food, drinks, and beautiful women who are at work. Hang out like you normally do at a bar. Buy drinks. Tip bartenders. And — as much as this goes against my overly frugal proclivities — tip the dancers as much as humanly possible.

How we act at strip clubs is all about recalibrating how we view sex workers, plain and simple. If we understand that we don’t have free reign over the workers’ bodies, then a strip club trip can be an enjoyable experience for everybody involved. You don’t harm the women. You don’t embarrass yourselves in front of people who want to have fun. Everybody wins.

Strip clubs, especially Atlanta strip clubs, can be truly beautiful places. You just have to treat them with the care and tenderness they deserve. Then we can all enjoy the majesty of these little slices of heaven the way God and the U.S. Constitution intended.