For the first time in my gay, gay life, I went to a straight strip club. I had been to gay strip clubs. I had even been to a strip club in Broward County, Fla., where all the strippers were trans. But I had never been to a straight strip club. Crazy! I love nudity and I love drinking, but it hadn't even occurred to me that I hadn't been to a straight strip club until a few weeks ago, when my friend Colin won a free VIP party at Scores (which, we should mention, did kidnap our beloved BestyTM Mascot last year).
Technically, the restaurant where Colin works won a VIP package as a holiday promotion (Merry Christmas!), but since all of Colin's co-workers are married and devout Muslims, he ended up taking home the voucher for an evening consisting of complimentary shuttle pickup, VIP-area seating, and an open bar for 20. And strippers!
I have always been curious about Scores. Beneath the bar's contemporary heterosexual crust lie decades of Baltimore queer history. From 1980 to 2004, the bar was the legendary long-lost gay strip club Atlantis, infamously fictionalized as the "Fudge Palace" in John Waters' film Pecker and fondly remembered in the director's memoir, Role Models. Atlantis had a reputation for its revolving-door-policy with the neighboring prison. "Rough trade" would be released from the Department of Corrections, get a job stripping next door, and often find themselves off the pole and back behind bars within a month. For those of us queers who came of age in the sterile gay-21st century, stories about the cruisy sleaze of yesteryear evoke a cruelly paradoxical nostalgia for something we never even knew.
I met Colin and his 18 other guests (mostly women and gay men) at the Copycat Building to catch the VIP shuttle and wonder if we met Scores' oddly specific yet confusing dress code. I have no idea what a "dress T-shirt" is, but apparently it isn't allowed to be plain. But I highly recommend the VIP shuttle. It has a fiber-optic ceiling that looks like the stars and those curvy leather limousine seats that make you feel like you're going to the best prom ever.
Scores was actually so fun I can't believe I have lived 10 blocks away my entire adult life and have never been inside. Although disappointed by the lack of vegetarian choices on the menu, I was charmed by the uncommonly friendly service and delighted by the bottomlessness of our open bar. The drinks were small, but our waitress was quick with refills and smiles and even brought us lots of mystery shots. My one complaint was the $10 ATM service fee. I wish I had planned ahead and brought more dollar bills, as cash goes fast. I probably spent more on tips in two hours than I would on drinks on a typical night out.
Tipping dancers proved interesting. I always have freezing hands. Some combination of poor circulation and always holding a cold drink has left my hands consistently 10 degrees below room temperature, so I felt really bad putting my icy hands in someone's G-string while she's precariously hanging from a pole by her knees. Thankfully, a lot of the dancers can clamp money in their cleavage if you hold it out for them. The novelty of this trick never wore off. I asked everyone in our group how people tip strippers in other countries, as the U.S. is one of the few places in the Western world that uses paper dollar bills. Nobody seemed to know. I guess Canadian and European stripper heels have some clever coin slot. Maybe lucky European dancers just get tipped in €5 notes. That's like seven U.S. dollars!
Also novel: The dancers actually talked to us! One even told us her real name in addition to her stripper name. In my experience at gay bars, male strippers tend to be pretty rude. Female strippers not only do way more impressive acrobatics (despite wearing giant, amazing heels and having to accommodate giant, bra-less boobs), they also make conversation! Pretty much everything about Scores was more fun than a gay bar, although the stagnantly Top 40 soundtrack made it feel like one (doesn't it seem like electroclash was invented to strip to? Why isn't anyone taking advantage of this?). The bathroom attendant was even giving out flashing rainbow cock rings, which, oddly enough, I have never been handed in a bathroom at a gay bar.
Why do straight people do strip clubs better than gay people? The last remaining gay strip club in Baltimore, Spectrum, shuttered before I even turned 21. Why hasn't one taken its place? Tiny Pittsburgh (population 306,211) has FOUR gay strip clubs. When my boyfriend lived there, the bartender at one place would give you a free pitcher of beer if you peed in his mouth. Why does Baltimore (population AT LEAST 621,342) not even have one gay strip club where you can buy beer with cash, let alone urine? Sure, there's Club Bunns and a handful of other bars that have a "go-go night" but no full-on "strip club." What happened?
One interesting consequence of the recent "sexting" and "revenge porn" scandals has been public discussion of how men's and women's bodies are objectified differently. These phenomena seem to imply that male sexuality can be reduced to the disembodied phallus, tweeted with relative anonymity, while women are considered in totality as sexual objects. Perhaps when Baltimore legalized full-on nudity at strip clubs in 1999, the reveal of the penis was a total boner-kill. A not-quite-nude man (St. Sebastian in his loin cloth) can seduce a viewer by serving as a surface onto which one's desires and fantasies can be projected. A penis steals the show. Once it's exposed-but not assuming an active role-the penis is equal parts anticlimactic and center-of-attention. The dance, the tease, the body-all play second fiddle to the old skin flute, itself rendered impotent by the artifice of the stage. It becomes a reminder that the fantasies imagined in the construct of the striptease can't be fulfilled. When the dick came out, did gay strip clubs lose their appeal along with suspension of disbelief?
On that note, when the panties came off at Scores, I became suddenly aware that I was eye-level with a stranger's vagina 6 inches from my face. I'm not one of those gay men who thinks lady parts are gross or anything . . . it was just really distracting. Is it rude to not look at someone's crotch if they're showing it to you? Is it creepier to make eye contact? I retreated to the couch and struck up a conversation with one of Colin's friends. It turned out she was gay too AND used to dance at Scores under the name "Katia."
She described Scores as "probably the most fun job I ever had," which is understandable, because Katia now works in a research laboratory at Johns Hopkins. Hopkins definitely doesn't sound like it's as much fun as dancing naked to pop music. I asked her why she quit awesome stripping for boring-old science: "You get to a point where you're making almost too much money to consider leaving, and that gets scary." I was now downright indignant at Baltimore's lack of gay strip clubs; after five vodka-sodas, I wanted to work at one.
We talked about the unicorn of gay bars-the lesbian strip club-and the challenges of working in a straight one as a gay lady. "Until recently, I was a total tomboy . . . always wore sneakers and skated. I had to stop skating because I couldn't come in with cuts and bruises anymore. I had to learn how to walk in heels! There's a 5-inch minimum! Dancing helped me embrace being a girl and sexy a little more . . . but you can't be open with your sexuality here; customers would lose interest. It would ruin the illusion. I also didn't want the girls to be weirded out because we're naked together all the time. I felt bad for the straight girls, actually, because it makes you reconsider your relationships with men."
At this point we concurred that straight strip clubs can be fun, gay strip clubs are a dying breed, and lesbian strip clubs are virtually nonexistent. We decided we need a queer strip club. Baltimore, of all places, should have a place to watch girls and boys and everyone in between get naked and dance to something sexier than Katy Perry. Arrest records and scraped knees welcome. No dress code.