The Way We Work Now is a series chronicling how people’s lives and careers have fundamentally changed because of the pandemic.
This anonymous woman in her twenties works at a strip club in Las Vegas. She spoke to Mai Tran about transitioning more to digital striptease, or “camming,” once the pandemic hit.
I don’t know when it’s going to be safe to partake in my profession again, and that’s really scary for people like me, who chose this line of work because of the accessibility it provides.
On an average day before Covid, I would do my online work in the morning — so my camming and fetish customers — and at night I would go into the strip club. Usually I get there around 5 p.m. and people really start coming through the doors around 10. The club is super full, there are a hundred girls out on the floor, and every room is taken. I’ll head home at 2 a.m. and repeat the cycle. I have chronic illness so I don’t have a set amount of days. Whenever I feel good I just go into work, probably about two or three times a week.
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I was pretty clueless about Covid until it started gaining traction on social media, around the end of February. Since I’m immunocompromised, going into work was a bit scary. The government hadn’t given much guidance besides: “Just clean.” The first two weeks of March, there were Clorox wipes everywhere, and everyone thought, we can sanitize things. It’ll be fine. Three days later everything shut down.
A lot of dancers and I moved our work online, doing things like OnlyFans and camming. I was fortunate enough to already have a nice online following, but others have struggled because it takes a lot of marketing to get yourself out there. Sites also take a cut of your money that clubs don’t normally take. I had an overall decrease in income because I wasn’t dancing, but the online money actually skyrocketed because everyone was home. Almost immediately, I started getting more online clients. I could tell it was due to the pandemic because once things started opening back up, those same clients faded away. Before Covid, I was averaging about $2,000 a month online, but during the three-month shutdown I was making almost double that.
A lot of girls are ineligible for unemployment unless they had a side job, like at a mall — we call it vanilla jobs.
A big reason Covid messed us up, especially in Vegas, is that there are specific money seasons in town. They usually follow conventions, from the end of February to the beginning of May. During the last two years I’ve worked in clubs, I made about $6,000 to $7,000 a month during those seasons, and in an average non-busy month I made about $3,000 to $4,000, not including what I have to take out for taxes and tipping out people.
What’s been really hard is since we get paid in cash, a lot of girls are ineligible for unemployment unless they had a side job, like at a mall — we call it vanilla jobs. I’d been working at Lush cosmetic store, but I quit before the pandemic. I’ve been applying for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance since it first opened up and I’m still trying to get through. There are a few mutual aid groups in town but I’ve never worked closely with them. I know The Cupcake Girls is helping my friend, who’s also a sex worker, get her wisdom teeth taken out, because she doesn’t have any cash or income during these times. There’s also SWOP [Sex Workers Outreach Project] Nevada, but there are girls all over the country. In Texas, all the clubs are open and I know quite a few girls who had to travel out of state to dance, to find work.
At the beginning of reopening, some places had drive-through and outdoor strip clubs, but those got shut down pretty quickly. Then the clubs did open back up for two weeks but as lounges, so they were non-nude and girls were only on stage. I got approved to go back, but the club only let in the first 25 girls who showed up, out of the 200-something that were hired. The club managers promoted a few girls’ OnlyFans on Instagram, but that definitely seemed like a favoritism thing — they didn’t promote everyone.
I have grown to love some aspects of online work, but dancing and stripping is my passion. I love it regardless of the money. It’s hard to think about changing careers, although I truly think the industry is going to be in the dumps for a while. Going to a strip club isn’t fun when you’re getting a dance in between a clear curtain and the girl is wearing a mask. It’s just not sexy, which is the whole point. It would be great if everyone could stay masked up, but the reality is that at any place that’s serving drinks, masks aren’t staying on. It’s not a safe environment for the girls, so until I see clubs taking proper sanitation calls and checking customers’ temperatures, I don’t feel comfortable going in and I don’t think it’s worth the risk. We’re all wondering when it’s going to be safe to come back.