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2 min

What’s a wiggle worth?

Dykes debate tipping naked dancers at bathhouse

MORE THAN A LAP DANCE. How much to give a dancer? Credit: Jennifer Gillmor

Unlike the strippers in licensed clubs, the dancers at the lesbian bathhouse were told by organizers that they couldn’t accept tips.



Many agree that they had fun volunteering at the Jun 23 Pussy Palace, but they’re miffed that lapdancing wasn’t recognised as work.



“When I asked a bartender why they were getting tipped and not the dancers, she said it was because she was actually working,” says Mistress Savanah, a professional dominatrix and stripper who “hired” a dancer.



“A tip is not payment. Accepting donations is not putting anyone on the line,” she says.



There is certainly a long history of women doing work for free. Hundreds flock every year to work at the Michigan Women’s Music Festival in exchange for free admission.



While this can create a class distinction, it can also provide opportunity for women who can’t afford to attend.



“But is having poorer dykes clean up or do sex work a way of improving accessibility? Sure, you get a free [$15] ticket,” says Mistress S. “But if you do a two hour cleaning shift you’re basically getting paid minimum wage to clean up bloody sheets and cum.”



The Pussy Palace collective is all volunteer. No one makes any money (except the bathhouse owner). Volunteers get in free and join committees according to their interests.



Committee member Leanne Cusitar says the women’s bathhouse is all about volunteerism – it’s not intended to be a business. (And in fact, the group lost money on the first one, held nine months ago).



“There has always been a split on the committee about whether or not to have payments, tips, this sort of thing,” says Cusitar. “They’ve always come down to the decision of having no payment because they didn’t want to pay one group of volunteers and not the others…. it wouldn’t be equal.”



So what about the bartender? She was hired separately – a difficult decision, says Cusitar – because there weren’t enough volunteers to staff the bar and they didn’t have the expertise to do things like buy the right amount of booze.



After the price of a ticket, women can choose to buy drinks, rent a locker or pay for a room. Why shouldn’t women be allowed to pay dancers for their services?



“There is a lack of recognition that different types of work are classed differently,” says Pussy Palace volunteer photographer Chloe Brushwood-Rose. “Whether somebody is paid or when and where has symbolic and cultural meaning.”



Some customers had trouble visualizing dancing as work because it’s sexual and at times pleasurable – and they believe this is compensation enough for the dancers.



“Sex and work are always put in opposition to each other,” argues Shanelle, a volunteer dancer and researcher on sex and class. “I would like to visibly enjoy my work and still have it be recognized as work.”



Says Mistress S: “We want to be like fags and have bathhouses and casual sex, but if we make money then we’re seen as greedy or conformist. Class is still such a touchy issue no ones talks about.”







Zoe Whittall was a dancer at the last women’s bathhouse.