P.S. They Called Me Carmen

The one story I've been told not to tell.




Growing up, I was the naked kid. The kids in the neighborhood would run home and tell on me quite often, “Tameka took her clothes off.”


Having an unusual amount of energy, my parents signed me up for dance, like most little girls. Tap, jazz, and ballet were supposed to burn me out, but instead of going home tired, I went home inspired. The movement was my jam. Dance was everything. Watching my body move in all of the mirrors; it was artistic, and I fell in love.


Luckily for my parents, my early high school days brought Aaliyah and TLC along with them. The baggier the clothes, the better, that was the look. Perfect for me since I didn’t want any attention to my underdeveloped body.


High school was a confusing time. I was a tomboy at school but at home dreaming of being anything but. There was all this knowledge of how to move and an awareness of my body and my lines. The dance classes I was in were no longer interesting. Hip-hop class was the only form of dance I enjoyed. Looking back, it was the adult and sometimes explicit moves that held my attention; eventually, my attendance and interest faded to black from that as well.



My junior and senior years in high school were rough without getting into too much detail. My poor parents went through the wringer. Shoplifting, fist fights, skipping school, and sneaking out of the house landed me on the streets. The parents were done, tough love was in full effect and I refused to give in.


After expiring my couch surfing options, I ended up sleeping at St. James park with some other homeless teens. Soon, I found myself applying for beds in group homes and youth shelters.


Throughout the entire experience, I kept hearing the voices of those around me. The seeds of their low expectations of who I was to become had been planted and were now growing in my mind like weeds. I graduated from high school while living in a shelter, and nobody at school knew. October is my birth month; graduating at 17 meant I had time before aging out of the shelter system. Aging out meant I was now on my own, needed to get a j.o.b. and find a place to live.


The shelter had been saving a portion of my paycheck for me. It was a mandatory part of the program. You had to work a certain amount of hours a week and turn in a paycheck. So I was prepared but had no real-life experience living on my own in a rented apartment.



A DIFFERENT KIND OF JUICE BAR


Of course, a few months later, everything changed and my boyfriend at the time dared me to audition at a local club, The Pink Poodle. You may be wondering what kind of boyfriend would encourage their girl to be a stripper? The kind with a coke addiction, which my young eyes didn’t see at the time.


If I remember correctly, auditions weren’t on a special day or anything. Calling ahead to make sure they were hiring was enough to get you a time and an audience. I had never done this before, so my access to audition clothes was limited. My clear plastic high heels from my junior year winter prom, a pair of sexy shoplifted panties, and some hoochie top I used to wear to the 21 and under clubs in San Francisco, that’s what I wore, and it worked.


The DJ walked me back into the dressing room, where I changed. Most of the girls were friendly, and when I was on stage, they all came out to watch, or maybe it was to judge. You pick two songs, the first to warm up to, the second to undress for. The Poodle is a "juice bar," full nudity with no alcohol. The song selections - well, I only remember the last one, Darling Nicky by Prince. I don’t remember being nervous. In fact, it came quite naturally. Seven minutes later, I had $500 in my hand, SOLD! They hired me, and I went straight to work that evening. Rent was no longer a problem.





The girls I could talk about for days. They were all amazing, extremely different, and mostly connected by one thing, trauma. It may sound bad to you, but to a young girl fresh outta the system, it was home and familiar. According to the adults around me at the time, it was also exactly where they thought I'd end up.


Catherine, Nikki, Andrea, Molly, Danni, Madison, Tigger, and Eden. That was pretty much the crew. Everything about stripping came easy to me, including the money. What wasn’t easy was the reaction from the junior college I was attending at the time. Not to mention handling the high school teachers that showed up, cousins, classmates, and, let’s not forget, the ex-boyfriends who just had to see for themselves.


Four years later, I was titties deep in the Bay Area strip club scene. The Pink Poodle fired me for hotboxing the dressing room, and I became a club hopper, working multiple locations. Eventually, it all got old. Like many other dancers, I ended up needing to take a break. Reluctantly returning but now understood that 1) the Bay Area wasn’t the place to be to do what I wanted to do, and 2) I needed a bigger stage. Los Angeles, here I come.


My parents were in denial the whole time. My mom once politely folded my neon outfits and left them on top of the dryer for me to pick up. Hiding my car eventually got old. There’s no way my parents never drove by out of curiosity. Mom wasn’t a big supporter of much that I did. On the other hand, Dad has supported any kind of career involving a stage for me, well maybe not stripping but you know what I mean. Moving to LA was never a question for Dad, “Holly-weird? You're going to fit right in!”


No matter how much money I saved, it never felt like enough to venture out on my own to southern California. The Hiphugger was the last club I worked at in the Bay Area. The girls there were different than the girls at the Poodle, I don’t know how to word it, but it was tighter. It was a smaller club and a bikini bar, so there was no nudity. The staff at the Hugger were my biggest supporters, collecting a pot of money to get me out of the club and on my way to Hollywood.


To this day, I keep a list of girls to whom I’d like to return the favor for. If any of you are reading this now, you have not been forgotten. Moving to Los Angeles changed a lot for me; you girls were part of that.




LA LA LAND


The car was packed, and I left the Bay Area bumping Goapele’s ‘Closer to My Dreams. An old college roommate of my brothers now lived in North Hollywood and agreed to let me stay in his living room while I found a place. I arrived late in the night, and my brother's old friend wasn’t answering the door. Sleeping in my car behind a church seemed to be the safest option. The transition was off to a rough start.







Although I swore I’d never dance again, I found myself working at a club in Santa Monica, Fantasy Island. It’s been knocked down now for some years. Dancing there was ok once you found your shift and your girls to hang out with. Eventually, I ended up DJ’ing there - determined to make it in entertainment. Later I learned I was the first female DJ in Santa Monica strip club in ten years (not like there was a ton, but I'll take it).


The day I finally quit is seriously stained into my memory. This is how it went down:


The day shift was coming to a close; I was standing in the DJ booth watching the night girls make their way to the main floor. It’s a whole vibe change. Sometimes, I would play music for the club but then throw on the headphones and listen to my own stuff. I put my headphones on and played some Moby. I felt like I was in a Quinten Tarantino film. All of a sudden everything felt wrong, and I knew it was time to go.


Things were moving in slow motion, and the only thing that stood out was the grime of the place. The dancers grinding up on the clients and the many fake friendly faces they would throw. I remember thinking, “this can't be it.”


I took my headphones off, packed my bag, and walked out mid-shift.





DEAL


Stripping was always fun for me, it came naturally, I’ve always been comfortable in my skin. Oh, and I was right - that wasn’t it. The auditions came pouring in, eventually, I booked something big. All was well; I had accomplished what I set out to do but trust me - I thought about dancing all the time. Sure the money was good, but I actually liked it. There are many moments in the car, listening to today's music and thinking, "Man if this came out while I was dancing!" Enter *cha-ching* here.


Going to strip clubs became something I did often but as a patron, no longer as entertainment. Before going in, I’d always give my friends the same talk. Don’t Let Me Get On The Stage! After being on TV, you just have to move differently. Before Deal or No Deal, if a dancer tried to pull me up, I’d go with a grin. Now the fear of what people think has multiplied by the thousands. One picture and everything I sacrificed and worked so hard for could be undone. We've all seen it.



FAST FORWARD


After losing a ton of work, losing a relationship, and selling my tiny house, I landed in Seattle in the middle of the COVID pandemic. Moving to a city where you know no one is hard but tossing in quarantine had me deep in isolation. It was great, I asked myself a lot of questions and got to know myself in both good and indifferent ways.


Determined to never be at a loss for income again, I started every online passive income trend possible. Amazon affiliate selling, publishing children's books, and of course, Only Fans which I’ve written about in the past.


Very slowly, businesses were starting to open back up. By this time, I’d made a handful of friends and really got to know my surroundings. It dawned on me, it was going to be a whole new city filled with people who don’t know me - at all. I’m 42, L5 S1 (if you know, you know), and have to sit down to put socks on. Could I dance? Fuck it.


Seattle's dancing laws are strict, and I’m not trying to fill out any government forms to become a certified stripper. Three hours south in Portland, Oregon, it’s a whole different ball game. You can just pull up, audition, and work in the city with the most strip clubs per square footage in the nation.


Before you knew it, I found a shop and bought myself some new skripper heels and an outfit or two. Knowing me, I probably did some practice moves at home in the mirror, packed a bag, and took off. Weeks before, I made some friends at a bar who invited me to crash whenever so that made things easy. It was later than expected when I got there, and I missed the audition time at the first club. A manager walked by as I was turned down and said, “Let her in.”


Like the first time, I auditioned and worked the same night. Being the new girl sucked. A few girls said hi, but for the most part, everyone stayed to themselves. Being a talker, I got my paid time in chatting; no dances for me, thanks. I was for sure the oldest dancer in there. One customer I had been talking to stopped and looked at me, then said, “ Wait, how old are you?”. Proudly, I replied with the truth - forty-three.


The conversation took a comical turn as he responded with this. “I can’t get a dance or talk to you! You have like, opinions and shit. Nah, I like my girls dumb”. Not only did I feel bad for him, but also for the girls because of how sad is that. Seeing the dancers in their natural state backstage, no dummies here. Being required to act dumb, now that’s stupid!


Things had changed for sure as well. I hated the spinning poles instead of the stationary ones but I do love this "make it rain" culture. There's something special about needing a wide janitors broom to collect cash into buckets.


(photo above: Day one earnings not including the change, lol & last day bruises)


After three days of working, I was insanely sore from head to toe and covered in bruises. The four thousand dollars I made did do wonders for the swelling. It’s a three-hour drive to get back to Seattle from Portland. My mind was busy processing the entirety of it, playing it back step-by-step.


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I was happy with the money that I had made. After all, I pretty much kicked it and talked to strangers, did an occasional set on stage, and had a cocktail or two. Easy peasy. But then I started to get upset. How did I let other people stop me from dancing? The adults that expected me to be there, so what if I should've been there all along?


Working weekends alone, I could have been bringing in an additional $150K a year; that’s insane!


Look, I'm glad I got the opportunity to claim that part of me back, but if there’s one lesson that keeps resurfacing, it’s fuck what everyone else thinks! We have to start feeding our souls and doing more of what feels good.


In 2019 I lost a corporate job for having done lingerie work which is crazy because that was my job; I was a model. Organizations have passed on having me speak to raise money for adoption/foster causes because of nude modeling that's online, even though my last appearance raised over $500k and the photos by some of the 20th centuries greatest nude photographers.


A big difference I must mention is when I first danced, it was out of necessity; doing it when you don’t have to makes an enormous difference. Both are very liberating, but one hits differently than the other.


Some comedian joked about the one thing that came out of covid: learning how many of his friends were porn stars, and it's true. And good for them! Good for all of the women (and men) letting go of societal norms while gaining financial security and freedom.


Would I do it again? Yes, but I need to work out, stretch, go to the chiropractor and start taking some magnesium for the bruising. After all, that's somebody's auntie up there!


So, let's let the learning continue.


To commemorate my freeing of the nipples, I've created some sexy t-shirts that you can check out here! If you get one, please send me a photo of you in it! That'd make my day!