The recently released movie Magic Mike has shed new light onto stripping, mostly showing off Channing Tatum's (and friend's) main assets and what life outside of the industry looks like.
Missing from the movie, though, is the gay-dancing scene: a massive market where gay and straight (and in-between) work side by side, often blurring identity lines and assumptions in the process. Add the fact that gay dancers can date, and there's a new level of complexity Magic Mike couldn't have dreamt of.
"Among 'tip dancers,' I'd say the majority are straight, or mostly straight," said Jared, a gay dancer who resides in Chicago. [Note: He requested his last name not be used.] "Among the dancers at large parties and circuit events, I'd say the majority are gay."
While you'll find different answers from different dancers throughout Chicago's nightlife and circuit parties across the country, one trend seems consistent: the lines between gay and straight become a bit murky in the dancing industry.
"I've known gay guys who said they were straight, and straight guys who said they were gay while working too," Jared said. "For the straight dancers, many of them are at least very comfortable with the idea of being gay even though they aren't, themselves. I'd say that many of them have experienced homosexual sex for themselves and decided they didn't prefer it [although they probably won't readily admit to it]."
Based on several interviews, the non-scientific proportion given for dancers hovers anywhere between 50 to 70 percent straight. At the end of the day you'll have to trust the dancer's word: Claiming to be straight or gay can get you further depending on the club you're working.
"Certain clubs, like the Lucky Horseshoe and a few others, are more acceptable for gay guys to work at," said JD, a former dancer of 12 years who is straight (and also requested his last name not be used). "But clubs like Cocktail are more of a straight-guy place [for dancing]."
Many straight dancers migrate to or start in the gay arena for a few reasons, including consistent work and higher pay.
"During the week I'd work mostly at gay clubs because they're easier to book. … Straight guys get more in tips. " JD said. "Weekends, I did bachelorette parties."
Where the dancing takes place makes a difference, though. According to Seth Fornea, who only works gay bars, gay dancers can make out better.
"Straight dancers do not do nearly as well as their gay counterparts," said Fornea, who's gay and resides in North Carolina. "Straight dancers are less willing to do risqué acts with the gay clientele and tend to become distracted by straight women entering the bar."
This can have the opposite effect at a bar that has straight female clientele who tag along with their gay friends:
"The only animosity I ever saw was that [gay dancers] didn't feel as comfortable dancing on girls," JD said.
"Straight women are great for a high-five hand slap, a couple of $1's and maybe some lip-synching together to a Britney song," Fornea said. "Beyond that, straight women are not good tippers to go-go boys."
Among other complexities the gay dancing industry has that the straight dancing sector doesn't involves dating co-workers.
For Jared and Fornea, who are in a relationship, what could be a huge difficulty has been a non-issue.
"For us, dancing is not awkward at all. It's something we do both together and apart and are fully supportive of each other," Fornea said.
Jared added, "I don't think it's difficult as long as the other person isn't the jealous type."
When it comes to entering the industry, advice varies but centers on balance.
"It's not about the money; it's about engaging clientele," Jared said. "Most people entering the bar want to talk with you. If you are fun, interesting and listen to them, you'll do a lot better and have more fun yourself. Stay away from really drunk or shady people and never do anything you don't want to do."
"You're either you're in it or you're not," JD said. "It's hard to work a full-time job then work nights like that. You've got to be a full-time dancer or you'll buy into the propositions and end up being an escort boy."