Most of us are sexual hypocrites. We consume porn and visit strip clubs while loudly condemning the nature and morality of the people working in these industries.
Female strippers, for example, are largely still viewed as examples of failed parenting. By contrast, male strippers—albeit a group existing in much smaller numbers—have largely been exempt from our societal admonishment.
When Magic Mike debuted to squealing audiences in 2012, the film brought male exotic dancing to the forefront and positioned the industry as something other than a comedic punchline. And although Magic Mike (and its 2015 sequel) introduced male strippers to the mainstream, men have been taking their clothes off for cash long before Channing Tatum and his band of sweaty bros made a softcore film for America's intrepid soccer moms.
Male stripping, both gay and straight, first began appearing in the United States and Canada in the 1970s. By the early 1980s, the growing number of male strip joints and traveling troupes indicated the male stripper was a new and growing part of North America's sexual landscape.
And yet, our cultural fascination with male dancers has so far been superficial. We know that they take their clothes off for men, women, or any person. We know they dance to choreographed routines and have astoundingly unrealistic fat-to-muscle ratios. But we don't know much about what goes on behind the stage curtains or in the daily lives of most of these men.
Montreal, Canada's hedonism capital, is home to around five male strip clubs. VICE sat down with four men from the industry to learn more about one of the most mythical and misunderstood professions.
Name: Jackson*, 32
Strip club MC
VICE: What's the one thing that's surprised you the most about working in a male strip joint?
Jason: On ladies' nights, it's how quickly the women forget that they're spending money. They forget that they're paying for it. But, it's not out of desire that the guy's there. A lot of the girls come trying to find a boyfriend.
Would you classify most of the dancers you work with as balanced and healthy?
No. They'll come clean about their issues because they're usually self-aware. But the majority of people aren't balanced. It's crazy how many sex addicts exist in this industry. From the dancers all the way down to the staff—very much in part related to their fragile egos.
Paint me a picture of the average guy stripping in Canada.
He's a gym rat, has tacky tattoos, probably has a motorcycle, not the highest level of education. But he's funny and smart.
Are many of the guys using drugs?
[I'd say] 60 percent. A lot of GHB because of its chill effects. I've seen guys wipe out onstage.
How has social media influenced the relationship between dancers and clients?
Honestly, it takes away from some of the magic of it. Girls are fucking creeps. They will stalk the guys. Find out where they live, who their girlfriends are. It makes the dancers way too accessible.
What's your relationship like with the clients? Do you ever have sex with them for cash?
If a girl says she'll give me $500 to have sex with her at the end of the night, I'll consider it.
As a host and not a dancer, what's the toughest part of your job?
In a place where the product is homogenous and similar, we need to find the most elevated aspects of each man. You need to cultivate the excitement, if the crowd isn't screaming, it's not a good night.
There's a difference between seduction and creating a desire to fuck. It's the manipulation of that energy that makes my job interesting.
How do you stay grounded in this industry?
The self-awareness starts with accepting that if you work in stripping, you're a creep, a freak, and a voyeur.
Name: Easy, 27
Former dancer (4 years), Club 281
VICE: What was your relationship like with sex growing up?
Easy: I started having sex when I was 11. I was attracted to women from the time I was 8.
Was stripping your first job in the sex industry?
No. I used to be paid for sex, through the internet. I was helping a friend set up her escort page, and I saw the "male escort" section and signed up. But it was mostly ladies with emotional problems. It was fucked.
How did you begin stripping at 281?
Other people told me that "you shouldn't have a girlfriend, you should try stripping." I thought, Shit, you get money just like that? The first time I walked in, I had a hoodie on. I hid myself because I was scared.
What's it like stripping as a black dancer in Montreal?
Not awesome. Sometimes they'd tell me "t'es beau pour un noir" ("you're hot for a black guy"). Once, a woman came up to me on the floor and made gorilla sounds in my face. When I told the management, some people said she can't be racist because she's First Nations. They tried to kick her out, but eventually she started crying and apologizing so they let her stay.
How would you classify most of the clients?
Straight-up boring. They didn't give me a chance. Young girls between 18 and 22. Usually from outside of Montreal, so they're small-minded. Often, girls come to 281 to make their boyfriends jealous.
Overall, what would you say you've learned about women through performing for them?
Some women can be very, very mean. I didn't know girls were so jealous. I've seen women get to the same level as men. Like aggressively jealous if you give another girl a dance. They think they're at the club to find a boyfriend.
Are most guys in the industry taking drugs?
Not all the guys are doing drugs. 281 is a lot less sketchy than some of the other clubs. But, of course, some take it really far, doing lots of ecstasy, MDMA, GHB, etc.
Did you ever take Viagra?
Well, yeah. It's not a turn-on to dance. One time, I took too much, and the two veins in my dick swelled, and it was super uncomfortable. There was one guy who injected his dick. He also took heroin right before work.
How do you feel about continuing on, elsewhere, within the industry?
Stripping opens your mind up. You can ask me anything, and I'll answer. You can deal with certain situations easily. When I see a couple, I can tell the issues with the couple. It's easy. You're not insecure anymore. You hate jealousy. Stripping could be a good thing if you do it in a good way, if you start coming in and smoking what they're smoking, sniffing what they're sniffing, you're fucked. I'm looking forward to working more in Toronto, where it's a lot less racist.
Do you ever worry about what other people think about your dancing?
Nah. Some people don't even look at their bodies when they go in the shower. They don't have the right to judge me.
Name: Christian*, 33
VICE: How did you get involved in stripping?
Christian: I had other friends working in the industry; it was their influence. At the time, I was not earning enough money, even though I had a scholarship for university. I did it for fun, and the hours were extremely flexible.
What was it like your first time stripping for an audience?
I'm an extremely shy person. The best way to do it is to detach and not think about it while you do it.
You're bisexual, but you only stripped for men. Why?
In a gay club, there's a much smaller chance of seeing someone you know. Even if you do, people who go there don't brag. I once ran into a co-worker during my shift, but neither of us said anything.
How was the relationship between the dancers?
Pretty friendly. The straight guys tended to be nicer, though. We all abided by the ancient male code: Don't steal, don't squeal. If a dancer has a regular customer, don't try to steal him.
What was the clientele like?
All types of people would come—business people, doctors, really smart people, and really dumb people. But they all have something in common when they're in front of someone they're aroused by: You can fool them really easily.
What do you mean by that?
Into continuing to pay for dances. Or if the client is dumb enough to forget how many dances they've already bought, you increase the number by 20 percent. The ultimate goal for most dancers was to find a sugar daddy.
What was the environment like working at a gay club?
I saw a lot of guys with cocaine problems. It's not a healthy environment. It's easy to start partying a lot and taking lots of drugs. The main reason you go to work becomes financing your drugs and alcohol. It's also depressing—when you see clients that are there every night, and you think that's their whole life… that's really depressing.
Why did you quit stripping?
I finished school and moved into a professional field. I stopped being able to be nice to the clients, too. I just couldn't really do it anymore.
Name: Damien*, 22
VICE: What was it that drew you to stripping?
Damien: Super small workload, super small work schedule, and maximum income. What other job can you work three nights and make more than $1,000? In Montreal, the stripper culture is the biggest subculture.
What's it like stripping in Montreal?
I thought being mixed-race would be in my favor. Quebec is a very ignorant, racist culture where they like their "own" kind. I make quite a bit less than the white dudes. They're pissed because they can't remodel their motorcycles. Meanwhile, I have to hop on the metro to get to work.
What's your technique like when you're working?
The first thing you need to do is pick your own name and build your persona.
If you're playing the role, you'll get the money. I make a lot of eye contact, I mentally undress her, make a girl feel very vulnerable, opening them up. You get the positive vibes from them. Girls can sense when you're being fake or when you're being shy. As long as you're genuine, you'll do well.
Do you ever use Viagra?
I stopped taking it because I have a huge dick, and it was getting annoying with women because they would be gawking so much.
You've stripped for both men and women. Do you consider yourself straight?
Yeah. There are two types of people in this world: straight guys who refuse to do stuff with gay men, and straight men who understand it doesn't make you gay unless you are gay.
What's your life like outside of your job as a stripper?
I'm growing my business. I wanna be the best me I can be. I want to be successful more than I want to sleep, more than I want to party—on my own terms and in my own way. I wake up at 5 AM every day to work on my shit. Also, I'm the kind of guy who needs a girlfriend. Because when I don't have a girlfriend, I do dumb shit. Like catch chlamydia.
What's the main difference a male and female client?
Guys are looking for sex. Girls are looking for boyfriends. The regulars who come in…. they're 18-year-old girls with minimum wage jobs. They're waiting for their pay to pass at midnight before they can buy more dances.
I feel sorry for them. But how you spend your money is how you spend your money.
Do you think strip shows for women could be considered a feminist victory?
In some ways, male clubs empower women. If you find a dancer hot, don't wait for him to come over to you, ask him for a dance. It teaches women not to be passive.
What would you tell women going to strip clubs?
Have fun, but we are not your friends. We see dollar signs. The second you stop paying us, we'll disappear faster than a magician.
Never forget, we don't like you for free.
*Names have been changed to protect the privacy of the individuals.
Follow Neha Chandrachud on Twitter.