photos: Megan Auer.
Berlin is without a doubt a hedonistic city. He’s known for his wild sex clubs, indulgent late-night food culture, heavy drinking, and the legalization of sex work. Despite this sinful reputation, sex workers in Berlin still face the same stigma they encounter elsewhere. The Berlin Strippers Collective (BSC) is an organization of strippers living in Berlin, working to tell their stories through art and events, while still defending and fighting for their ultimate goal: decriminalization.
I sat down with three members of the BSC on a cloudy and gray Sunday afternoon on Zoom to discuss their goals, their events and how Berliners, who so ardently support the hedonistic culture here, can support its root. absolute: sex work. The women introduced themselves as Mia Onacid from Spain, Edie Montana from Italy and Chiquilove from the Venezuelan countryside, but more recently from London, each comfortably seated in her small Zoom windows, with plants, maps, Ikea lights. and mimosas. in the hand.
After co-founding a similar collective in London, Chiqui moved to Berlin and founded BSC with Edie and another stripper called Suki to create a space for strippers to share their stories with audiences, generate a new source. income and campaign for decriminalization. They officially formed the collective in November 2019 and have since hosted live drawing sessions, performances, comedy nights, variety shows and other events. “Basically the collective started with two needs first,” says Edie, “we were fed up with shit at work and wanted to create an independent space, where we could make our own rules. The group is proudly feminist and its audience is 70% female.
Although BSC is a collective of strippers, they see themselves as sex workers in solidarity with other so-called “full-service sex workers”. “It’s a political choice to call ourselves sex workers instead of artists,” says Mia, “because we say we’re on an equal footing with all kinds of sex workers, all kinds of people. who do any type of sex work. “
The group’s policy is immediately evident from their performance. “All of our performances have a little political side,” adds Mia. The strippers performed in Wilde Renate’s installation Overmorrow, an immersive art experience at the club. “At Overmorrow, we performed in a post-apocalyptic strip club. We pretended that all the directors of the strip club were dead and that the dancers could take over, ”says Edie. “We also had robot strippers that replaced real strippers because men didn’t like women with opinions. So of course we explore the beauty and the art of striptease, but we also try to give it a political message.
BSC strives to bring sex work into non-sex work spaces through their events. The women all agreed that Stripper Stories was their favorite event they had hosted. It typically includes five minutes of stripper narration accompanied by a dance performance and a captivated crowd listening to sex workers. Chiqui says the event gives strippers the chance to be heard like real people. “We’re not just a sex worker or a stripper anymore. They see us as a full human being trying to do our job.
Despite Berlin’s ‘hedonistic culture’ mentioned above, the girls at BSC have reported that they still face massive stigma as sex workers simply because they charge for their performances instead of doing everything for free on the dancefloor. “There are certain types of work, like sex work or emotional work, that men expect for free,” Edie says. “The guys from Berlin are very cheap because everything is so available here,” adds Chiqui. “You can go to KitKat and get fucked easily, so they think they don’t have to pay you for the same.”
Edie explains that sex work is the only industry in which marginalized groups (like women and transgender people) make the most money. “They get money from privileged men who can afford this kind of sexual service,” she says. Mia links this to their political message. “It’s a redistribution of wealth, so if we do it on our own terms, like we’re trying to do with the collective, it’s really quite revolutionary.
When dealing with these privileged men, the three women comment on how little dance their work involves. “It’s funny because in the sex industry the last thing you do is have sex. You do a lot of therapy and listening, ”says Chiqui. “It’s keeping adult men. Drunk, old men who behave like babies. Girls agree that striptease is 20% dance and 80% emotional labor.
While babysitting kids in the strip club, strippers develop various skills applicable across multiple industries. “We get so many skills from our jobs, but we can’t put them on a resume,” Chiqui says. She says that although she’s a stripper, she’s also a salesperson, marketer, event planner, and does her own taxes. “And it’s still not enough for the company to take you seriously and give you a contract for an apartment.” Despite the myriad of skills that strip trains, it’s still not considered a legitimate job.
Although the girls at BSC agree that stripping leads to several skills that are applicable outside the club, they do mention that viewing stripping as ‘just a phase’ is a dangerous misconception, as it perpetuates the idea that working sex is not a valid choice. “Some people dedicate their lives to undressing,” Mia says as Chiqui laughs. “We want to stress that it doesn’t make any difference if it’s just a phase or if you do it in parallel with another profession or studies. We want to show that sex work is valid in itself. The group expresses its frustration that many people only accept striptease and other forms of sex work if they are temporary.
When asked how people can support their collective and other sex workers in Berlin, BSC offered several options ranging from donations to simply changing the way you think and speak. They encouraged everyone to subscribe to their Patreon for exclusive content and attend their events to directly support the collective.
The highest priority of the group is of course decriminalization. “The biggest problem is that if sex work isn’t decriminalized, we can’t rely on the police if something happens,” Edie says. It can be extremely dangerous if someone attacks or steals from a sex worker, for example.
Ginger, a friend of Chiqui’s and a member of the East London Strippers Collective and the BSC, who was present during the interview intervenes at this point to explain how dangerous different forms of criminalization can be. When asked how we can help sex workers, she replied, “Campaign against the Nordic model!” The Nordic model criminalizes clients but can be even more dangerous for sex workers. “It drives the whole industry underground,” Ginger says. “Clients don’t want to provide their information for testing, they don’t want to negotiate about condom use, and this perpetuates the idea of the ‘poor sex worker’ we need to protect.” The Nordic model is known to increase violence against sex workers. “People have died where they introduced it,” Ginger says.
In addition to donating money and campaigning for decriminalization, women are asking us to amplify their voices and share relevant posts on social media. “It doesn’t cost anything and helps a lot,” says Chiqui. “Also, give us work,” she adds. “If you want to learn how to dance bitch, then pay a sex worker.” If you have an event and want sexy dancers, pay sex workers fairly and treat them with respect. They will appreciate the work.
There are also more casual ways to support sex workers that are just as important and valuable. Mia is asking that we stop all of our friends from micro-assaulting sex workers. “Stop your friends from using the word damn as an insult,” she said. And perhaps more importantly, “make the decriminalization of sex work part of your feminism”.
You can follow Berlin Strippers Collective on Instagram for updates on the group and their events. Their next event will be on April 29 to celebrate International Workers’ Day. You surely won’t want to miss it.
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