Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Language of the Lusty Lady

Ok, I have decided to post a paper I wrote recently for an English class. Maybe I can earn some forgiveness from my previous withdrawal?

The Language of the Lusty Lady

The term dialect is used to describe any variety of a language spoken by a community of people. Factors that contribute to this phenomenon, which can be witnessed in cultures all over the world within all languages, include class, age, location, occasion, gender, and profession among any other imaginable – and probably unimaginable – social and environmental differences. Although certain dialects may only be spoken by a small number of people, as in the case of the Cromerty’s fisherfolk dialect of Scotland where the last two speakers have recently died, multiple dialects can be spoken by a single individual. An individual may use a multitude of dialects if they identify with multiple cultural groups or when one is interacting with someone from another cultural group, as a 16 year old will speak differently with their friend’s parents than if they were with their friends. Lusty Lady lingo, the dialect spoken by myself and about 60 others who work at the San Francisco Lusty Lady peepshow, is a compilation of several other dialects and has its roots entrenched in the turbulent history of the Lusty Lady.

Understanding the tumultuous history of the Lusty Lady, which is the only unionized, worker-owned peepshow in the world, is imperative to understand the dialect. Live nude entertainment was brought to the Lusty Lady in 1983 by two Seattle businessmen, who managed the female workers using stereotypical exploitive tactics: random firings and pay cuts, racist shift policies, and other unsavory business practices common in the largely male-dominated adult entertainment industry. Rallying together, the workers combated the owner’s lawyers, picket lines, and lockout and voted to join the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) in 1997. With a decline in profits in response to the rise of internet pornography and an economic recession, the owners announced plans to close the Lusty Lady in 2003, inspiring the dancers to delve into the world of business and to purchase the Lusty with the assistance of other Bay Area co-ops and the previous owners. Now the Lusty operates successfully with the number of employees ranging around 60 female dancers, who elect management (Madams) from within our own, and 10 staff, both male and female who have the option of joining the co-op. These dancers (Lusties) and staff members come from a variety of different backgrounds and with a multitude of motivation ranging from political activism, business entrepreneurship, and for the job itself, stripping.

Women, young and old, who work or have worked in strip clubs, have their own set of approved words and phrases with which they describe the strip world around them, which from the outside may seem vulgar and unbecoming of women. Working in a highly sexualized environment, strippers use words such as pussy, cock, cum, tits, jugs, ass, and other graphic “unlady-like” words to describe themselves and custies (i.e. customers). Strippers generally speak to each other bluntly and uninhibited, often using explicit language with customers and with each other. When I first started working at the Lusty, a mere three months ago, it was quite a shock for me to hear industry insight like “Try to be coy if a custie tells you to touch your ass, mouth, or pussy on stage, BUT DON’T DO IT” or to hear extensive, lewd commentary about odd customer behavior, but I have learned that it would be unnatural for dancers to use proper medical terms for body parts and bodily functions and have come accustomed to hearing them spoken as such.

As the Lusty Lady is first and foremost a business with the need to be taken seriously and competitive in the business world, the dancers, especially those who are part of the cooperative, must have sufficient knowledge of standard business terminology and theories. Within the co-op we have an official Board of Directors in charge of finance and business plans, bylaws, and insurance and licensing, a Public Representation leader and committee in control of media and press, individual co-op members who take it upon themselves to pass proposals, and various smaller committees who are obligated to project information about our business with other businesses, some sexually oriented while others are not, the City of San Francisco, insurance brokers, lawyers, the State of California, and handfuls of business associations. In addition, the Madams, the elected administrative management for the dancers, use formal business language to communicate scheduling, resolve conflict, and deal with the day to day responsibilities of the office using phrases like “time management” and “product averages.”

Although business terms and phrases are important when formally representing the Lusty as a business and stripper lingo is appropriate when speaking to other strippers, often Lusties vocalize themselves as activists. By working in a unionized cooperative many Lusties believe they are participating in a larger fight against capitalism or “the man” and use words like “us,” to describe co-op workers, versus “them,” corporations or non-unionized businesses, and to emphasis our equity and solidarity. Discussion topics for activists may include (but are not limited to): worker exploitation, going green, suffrage, union enrollment, political affiliation or lack thereof, etc. In most cases they often express a sense of urgency and positivism, their language peppered with a desire to change things both within the cooperative and without. At a Gay Pride parade in SF some of these Lusties made signs which read “Hoes Up, Pimps Down” and “Union Forever,” which both express activist idealism to the rest of the world.

While stripper, business, and activist language may seem to be incompatible with one another, combinations of the three are used by individuals at the Lusty Lady at any given time. Often during Board of Director meetings workers use stripper lingo to describe a specific incident they see at the venue, use activist language to propose what the want to see done about the incident, and write a formal minute about the discussion using business structure and words. In the dressing room, one may hear a Lusty dancer making plans to create new signs for a union meeting using explicit words, describing the next PR photo shoot both in terms of audience outreach with graphs and statistics for the support of ideas and possible graphic female body content, or hear a new coop member propose changing the logo to read “Live Tits and Ass” in the same sentence as “requirements matrix,” “technical volume,” and “cost volume.” If an outsider were to eavesdrop on a meeting or even on a conversation on stage, they would be surprised by the amount of formal business language used by naked (probably) strippers in the context of political activism.

Although I have only worked at the Lusty a few months the language has become natural and safe for me. In the outside world, beyond the red walls of the Lusty Lady building, it does take a mental adjustment to switch from explicit (taboo) stripper lingo to the medical, unsexual vernacular of most people. While many people code switch between dialects that are very similar to each other and between dialects that they have been formally taught, I do not have such a privilege; As the Lusty Lady grows with the addition and subtraction of different dancers and their ideas and changes with the influence of elements outside our control, so too does the language with which we use to describe the business, ourselves, and the world we live in.


  1. I've been a regular at the lusty since my seattle days, and was really excited when I heard everything went union. Thank you for sharing a part a part of the world I wouldn't have had access to otherwise!



  2. Some history problems about the history of the LL in SF. I remember seeing live ladies there in 1979. The history says they didn't do this until the 80s.

    Love your blog

  3. Having left a peep show job all I can say is that I really miss the raw honesty in that enviroment- it is not so easy to return to the enviroment of repsectable fake ness and repressed sexuality and once again instead of being paid for sharing sexual energy I now have energy theives and peeping men gettin on my nerves becouse unlike in the peep show there is no fair, negotiated exchange. Im ready to go back and take it all it off!