BY BARBARELLA KARPINSKI
I am writing this piece as a requiem to a city that once had a pulse.
The 1986 Depeche Mode song, Stripped, is the backdrop to this requiem. The song from the Black Celebration album samples motorbikes revving up in slow motion. As I read about the closure of Dreamgirls, an iconic strip club in Sydney’s notorious Kings Cross, I reckon this is the song for the funeral.
These bastions of underbelly sub-culture have now been closed, after alleged links to motor cycle gangs and revelations of private shows where the dancers were giving drugs to undercover cops and other allegedly nefarious strangers.
Sydney has been stripped of nightlife. All that was once seedy, subterranean, underground, has now all but disappeared. All the reminders of my misspent years have gone. The Eros Club where I danced is now a backpacker pub, the Pink Pussy Cat Club is no longer and now Dream Girls and Bada Bing are closed until further notice.
According to reports, the Kings Cross strip clubs have been closed down pending investigations. (http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/kings-cross-strip-clubs-dreamgirls-and-bada-bing-forced-to-close-20160202-gmk3wt.html).
In order to understand why the police involvement in of Kings Cross counter-culture is so wrong, also the title of a Depeche Mode song, let’s head even further back to the years of black-clad Siouxsie Sioux, Spandau Ballet and the Sex Pistols, the Cross of the seventies.
That’s prior to the Wood Royal Commission where an even more malevolent world lurks, more nefarious than nude dancers allegedly giving cocaine to contemporary undercover cops. In this seventies world, street based sex workers, now mature aged, tell tales of handing over their hard earned dollars to the 21st Division and the Vice Squad, no, that’s not like Joy Division, it’s a police unit, though the original band was named after the death squads in Nazi Germany. The payoffs to cops were so workers would not be arrested. If you didn’t pay for “protection” and you were a sex worker, you would wind up in treadmill of fines, jail, and work. Because there was so much corruption in this time of early glam and late punk, Commissioner James Wood recommended the decriminalisation of sex work in 1995. Sex worker, Sally Ann Huckstepp blew the whistle when her boyfriend, Warren Lanfranchi, was murdered in a lane in Chippendale.
Now, you’ve got to see it as a bit unjust, that those workers who paid off the cops never got their money back, despite a royal commission and various sensationalised television series.
In the real Cross of this era – gays, lesbians, sex workers, indigenous and transgendered people stood side by side in protests and riots, most notably in June 1978 and this led to the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. When police targeted them, these sub-cultures came together in solidarity and defiance.
Now, you’ve got to think its kind of spooky déjà vu, that we have undercover police hanging out in shady night clubs still, all in the name of law and order. Sex workers seem to be the underdogs of this underbelly? Surely this tax payer money may be better spent on roads, schools, hospitals?
And due to the closures, strippers are now unemployed. I won’t hold it against the clubs that my job application a few years back was turned down and that there was no place for a non-blonde middle aged lap dancer, but I will make the point that it’s a very tough and talented industry, and these dancer’s chances of finding a job, just got harder. It’s not like the government employment agencies are offering new jobs for the dancers, though recent stories indicate these job agencies are more interested in lining their own pockets. So these dancers are moving interstate and to other clubs.
The dancers will not be given redundancy packages as they are freelance workers and many dancers often work for commission only. Until a punter offers them a private show, rather than just being a seedy act of titillation, you’ve got to understand that this may be the only money these dancers make in a shift. The private shows are not just places of alleged drug exchange, but the opportunity to make money.
Reality often does not come easy when it comes to “strippers”. Most think of Sharon Stone in Casino plus Demi Moore in Striptease, an underground world where ephemeral shapes shift in the night and screen writers find muses to create gems like Leaving Las Vegas.
But the non-Hollywood version is that striptease is a skill and art and even a job, if you’re good enough. An average day at work may mean being pleasant to clients who may include a drunk suit, a voyeuristic dyke, yes women go to strip clubs too.
If you don’t believe me, grind down to a slippery stage, a few Pussy Cat Dolls pops on the way, but if you have bad knees, don’t bother. Then remove your panties and do it all in time to the music. And don’t forget to smile and remember, if you fall off your high heels, slipping on a beer can left by a drunk punter or even an investigator, the chances of you getting compensation for your injured ankle is pretty slim in this neo-liberal economy. Now if you managed that, slide down the pole and then turn upside down. Smile.
Janelle Fawkes, CEO, Scarlet Alliance, Australian Sex Workers Association, comments on the reality behind the veneer.
“At this stage it is very unclear why the club was closed and why it has been left closed. However, what is clear is the closure means strippers who worked there have lost their income. Just like the rest of us, they have housing, childcare and grocery bills that can’t be paid when your income source instantly dries up without notice. There is no safety net for sex workers when we can’t work or our workplaces are closed. Strip clubs bring tourists to Kings Cross, money to the many businesses around the clubs.”
And talking of entertainment, Gurlesque’s co-creator, Glitta Supernova continues to push the envelope with her one woman show – “Let’s get METAphysical” in the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras.
Performance art, like striptease, is often misunderstood and may often be confused with other things – porn and just being weird. Look at Marina Abramović – the Serbian performance and her sit-and-stare rituals performed in galleries like MOMA. And Annie sprinkle and her vagina gazings.
“My work is performance art not porn,” says Glitta, expressing that young queer hipsters are completely dissing her from Queer history as everything becomes sterile and contained.
That’s right. Before the Dita Von Teese inspired a burlesque revival, Australian queers were exploring sexuality, politics & gender identities through live sex performance.
Before Von Teese and Gaga came Wicked Women, Club Bent and the feminist act of working in erotic entertainment. “Australian press largely ignored queer culture which has come and gone in this country largely undocumented if not assimilated & homogenised by mainstream culture”.
I asked Glitta Supernova of her influences. “When I first started performance I was initially inspired from what was happening around me in the Sydney queer underground. Wicked women, drag culture, Club Kooky, but as I developed I was ignited by performers like Penny Arcade, Annie Sprinkle, Lydia Lunch, Diamanda Galas and the Muppets.” (Galas is operatic Goth, very Nina Hagenish)
“But mostly the work is inspired by the illusion that the media and corporate machine presents. My work is a rebellion against that. Against censorship and mediocrity and towards freedom and individuality.”
The Glitta Supernova Experience – “Let’s get METAphysical”. Fri, Feb 19 – 20 the, Giant Dwarf Theatre 199 Cleveland Street Redfern.