We know how hard it is to sit down with your loved ones, whether it be friends, roommates, family members, or parents, and come out to them as a sex worker. You’re scared of being judged for your choices, your truths, and even your own happiness. This is exactly why we decided to get real raw and open the wounds, by sitting down with some of our own loved ones and asking them the questions we never thought of asking them about our jobs. Questions you probably would rather not know the answers to. However, honesty is the best policy, and you must first open the wounds to be able to heal them. We decided to do this series, “In Conversation With a Strippers…” for all of you SWer’s who maybe aren’t ready yet for these conversations, but needed to hear them regardless. In this particular interview, stripper and Co-Writer of SUGAR, Palmar Kelly interviews her mom at home in Florida on her feelings towards (both of) her daughters career choice, what SUGAR can do to break the stigma, and of course, FlashDance.
These interviews are conducted anonymously to protect the privacy of those close to us.
When you first found out I was a stripper, what were your first thoughts?
I think that it’s a worry and not something you want your daughter to do, so I wasn’t exactly happy about it. But at the same time as long as you’re being safe and satisfied with yourself, then I guess I’m not going to disown you or stop loving you.
How did you find out I was a stripper?
Your sister told me. When she told me she was doing it I wasn’t happy about it and then I think she told me you were doing in order to not feel like the bad kid.
Did you feel better or worse that we were both doing it?
Like, did I feel like a giant failure in life? I mean, I knew that you were doing it because you probably made a lot of money, and you needed money to live in New York City, and that you like to dance and that probably it was just a means to an end.
Did you feel like you had failed as a parent?
I feel like other people might think that and I feel like if you’re doing it for the wrong reasons then it would make me sad. But I’d rather have you do that than be a drug addict or be homeless or something. I feel like there’s worse things, but also it depends on the lifestyle that’s surrounding it and it just depends on why you’re doing it.
So when you realized I was happy doing it, did it change your opinion?
I feel like it didn’t change who you are as a person, and I feel like it didn’t change your lifestyle or the people you surround yourself with. I feel like it didn’t make you into somebody different so it’s just a job and you make money so—I mean obviously you’ve met people similar to you that aren’t doing it for the wrong reasons.
Do you feel like you could do any job for the wrong reasons?
Yeah, I feel like there’s a lot of people that do worse things in their lives as CEO’s and destroy people’s lives. People like to judge people that do anything with their body that’s sexual. When you watch movies where people make money taking their clothes off people judge them more than the person taking entire retirement savings from people and destroying their lives while they live in a million dollar mansion. They say “I’m not a bad person because I’m not doing anything illegal or I don’t do anything sexual.” There’s a lot of people that abuse their power because they think they’re not doing something that other people look at as abuse. I don’t look at it that way.
Do you worry about people finding out about my job?
Yeah, because I work at a job that if people found out then they would be judgmental of me. So I worry about being on Facebook and having people see my Facebook and find you or your sister and know what you guys are doing. It doesn’t mean I’m not proud of my kids, but I worry about my job as a teacher and how others will judge me.
So is that something you would rather me not do? Like posting things on Facebook.
I would prefer you not post things on Facebook, like I know you don’t care if people know your business but for me it’s hard cause I’m in education, so there’s even certain things I can’t post on Facebook. Like I couldn’t even post that I was drinking on the weekend, not that I drink, but if I did, I can’t post that because I’m an educator. So if people were to somehow find you through my Facebook, I don’t care what people think about me, but it could affect my job. If I were to tell my principal that both my daughters are strippers, that would affect how people see me as an educator, how people see me as someone to trust with their children, as someone who teaches children right from wrong.
Do you think people that have met me at your school would feel okay about it if they found out because they know who I am as a person?
No, I think they would still think differently of me.
Why do you think that is? Do they think I’m on drugs or what do you think it is? What does it have to do with handling kids?
I think anything that has a sexual nature somehow makes people uncomfortable when it comes to knowing right from wrong, crossing a line, things like that. Like you’ve crossed a line that other people wouldn’t cross in a way so there’s no telling where your moral compass lies. That’s how a lot of people think. So if you were to come help me with my kids I couldn’t say what you do for a living, which makes me feel sort of hypocritical.
But that’s true with anything. You can’t tell everyone everything.
I don’t think it’s something I need to advertise anyways.
Do you think that making a show like SUGAR will help change people’s opinions on it?
I don’t think it will change people’s opinions because people who are intelligent already know that it’s just a job, and I think people who aren’t intelligent are still gonna have the same judgements towards it. So I don’t know if it would change people’s opinions, but maybe it would make people see the more human side of the people that do the job. Unfortunately there’s a lot of people that fit the stereotype, so there’s a lot of strippers out there that are drug addicts and they’re gonna continue that narrative. So people who go to strip clubs, especially lower-end clubs are still gonna see that. But i think if it changes a few opinions that’s great! And I know there’s a lot of intelligent people that are strippers for short periods of time and try to make money so they can pay for school or things like that but for the most part, “career strippers” are gonna be the kind of people that-
So are you more disappointed that I’m not doing it for a short period of time and that I’m actually building a career off of it? That I’m making it more a part of my image than hiding it?
Am I worried that your image is gonna follow you around that you’re “the stripper girl?” Uh, no. As long as you do the things you need to do with integrity I’m always proud. And if you’re not actively going out to hurt people I feel like no matter what you do it’s a good thing. But at the same time I think it’s less about me and how I feel and more about other people’s perceptions. Like it would be hard for me at my job and the way I live to go around saying “oh yeah my daughters a stripper ya!” People have come up to me and asked me “Doesn’t that make you sad?”
So people ask you if you’re sad that that is my job?
Yeah, like people are like, “Doesn’t that make you sad?” and I’m like, “Not really.” I mean, it would make me sad if you were doing it because you felt like you had to do it, or you were unhappy doing it. But people do things all the time that make them feel lesser of a person. I mean, I had to clean toilets in college. It wasn’t my favorite job obviously, but I needed money. So it would only make me sad if you were doing it and feeling really bad about yourself, or doing something that you didn’t want to do, or out of desperation. I know you’re doing it to have a platform for a better life.
So what do you tell people when they ask about me or my job?
I just say you’re writing a pilot and trying to make a show. Well, I told my friend the other day that it’s about strippers and she was like, “Interesting.” That was her reply. And I knew that for somebody like that who’s really religious most of the time are just gonna have negative feedback for it anyways. But I really just don’t care. Sometimes people just don’t care about what you’re doing as an individual and it’s more about the stigma behind the whole career. So you know if I were to tell people my daughter is a model for Playboy, or she’s a porn star, people look at that industry and know that most of the people in that industry, don’t ya know, go home and have families, or they’re not like soccer moms on the side. Because the choice you’re making to go into that industry says something about you as a person. What kind of person wants to do that?
What is that “kind of person?”
Other than people who are doing it to make a lot of money and better their life, it’s like people who are desperate and people who are looking for their next buck to buy drugs. I mean you think about people who want to better their lives, the last thing they think is like “oh I’m gonna become a stripper.” I look at people who become strippers and I think most of them probably don’t have a lot of other options in life. So they’re not the kind of people who you would think would be able to write a pilot. So you’re trying to take the few people that are like that—
So you think it’s only a few people who are capable of doing things outside of stripping.
I think it’s the minority.
I disagree because I work in it, and I SEE that it’s the opposite, at least in Manhattan. It’s the minority that are desperate.
But that’s in upper class, like have you gone to the lower end like places where people work?
I have, and I’ve worked in those clubs too. I just don’t want my friends to be looked at as the select few. Because most of the strip clubs I’ve been to in NYC have women there that love their jobs and they’re happy being there. They’re not forced to do it. They spend their money on their families or traveling, or school. Not to feed their drug addiction.
Well if that’s true then I think this [SUGAR] can definitely be something that changes people’s perception! Because most people are like me, and when you hear someone does that they’re gonna think, “Oh that’s like not an upstanding profession so they’re eventually gonna get sucked into some sort of underworld of, like, drugs and other unsafe behavior.” I mean, I know just from growing up and watching like FlashDance, which wasn’t stripping, but like that was a girl who was dancing at a club so she could get to her true passion of dancing at a ballet company. But then her friend goes off and dances at a strip club and they made it look like, this is how you’ve reached a total low. But I don’t know because I haven’t been to the clubs. So maybe there’s like a gray area there because it just looked at as like the worst fate that you could face would be working at clubs like this. Maybe there’s some clubs that are like that ,or maybe the clubs that are like that are just really truly full of girls like you that are college educated.
If SUGAR gets made and it was on Netflix or something, would you tell people that it was your daughters show?
Oh yeah, for sure.
Would you say that she wrote it based on her experience working in a strip club?
Yeah, I wouldn’t care. I’m sure people would assume that anyways.
Do you think it would be a slap in the face to people who didn’t approve of it before?
No, I think a lot of people would still be judgmental and not embrace it. I think I would just have to deal with the fact that a lot of people would still find it to be a negative achievement. It’s like if you get famous for being in Playboy, there’s still going to be people that disapprove. I would be proud of the fact that you achieved that, because that’s a huge achievement. To write a show and be creative and get a show aired, but the content of it would be a double-edge sword. It’s still something that I couldn’t tell my principal.
Does that make you upset though? That if I was just an actress who was never a stripper and I won an Oscar that you could tell everyone about it, but because I was a stripper you couldn’t tell people.
No, I could care less.
What would you tell other dancers’ mothers who didn’t approve of their job?
I think there’s a lot of people who aren’t going to approve of their children no matter what they choose. I always tell people I just want my kids to be happy. Whether that’s collecting garbage or whatever they want to do, if they’re happy, then I’m happy for them. I don’t think life is about gaining money and having things. I think it’s about the journey of who you become and what makes you the person you are. And I would want throughout that journey for my kids to help people and grow as people, and recognize when other people are in need, so I don’t think it matters what you’re doing throughout that process. If you’re a happy person you’re going to exude that out into the world and make other people happy. But I know there are parents who have very structured ideas of what their kids should do or be.
I guess my only advice to a mother would be if you really love your child and they are happy and safe and they’re not doing anything wrong, you should probably shouldn’t be so judgmental or disappointed in their choices. I mean, when you were young it was when parents were just starting to deal with loving their child regardless of their sexual preference. Whether they were gay, or straight, or whatever. And I remember thinking that I would never be a parent that would be upset if my child was gay. As a parent that I would never ostracize my child for whatever their sexual preference was so it would be pretty hypocritical of me to judge my child for choices that they made about their job.
Illustration by @wehadnoidea