Becoming any type of sex worker is usually not the ideal situation for women. Most women don’t aspire to be sex workers, but sometimes it’s a matter of life and death.
Meet Hennessy, a 27-year-old Jamaican who worked as a stripper in Antigua for eight years just to keep her lights on.
At what age did you decide to become a stripper and why?
I started when I was 19, after completing an advanced course in nail technology. I had rented a shop and started doing nails for a few months, but it wasn’t really working out very well. Business was slow where I was and the bills started piling up and owed about two months rent. Some days I had nothing and I was fed up.
It wasn’t until my electricity went out that I decided to do something drastic.
How did you become a stripper?
I tried to work from the house where I was living with my best friend at the time. She had a friend who normally passed by, she had now been to a few places to work as a stripper.
So after explaining to her how things were going, she then asked me if I would be interested in dancing at a club bar in Antigua, so I packed up and moved to Antigua with her help.
She didn’t give me a full rundown of how things really work nor did she tell me it was a strip club and I would be expected to be naked every night, but I took the risk because I needed it for the money.
I was only naked on rare occasions, but never let any of the men touch me and only took private clients if I felt the guy.
Where did you first work and how was it?
I first worked in a club in Antigua, it was my first time so I didn’t really know what to expect, so I had to learn how to deal with it. I convinced myself that it was worth it and better than having nothing.
The first day, I was very nervous. I tried on a lot of different costumes and practiced a bit to feel comfortable showing so much skin.
When I heard the DJ calling Hennessy, my heart skipped a beat. I had a drink at the bar and then I went on stage.
Fortunately, the club was not too full at that time since I was the second girl of the evening. Some of the girls supported me by walking around the stage and tipping me. It helped calm my nerves a bit and I got into the groove when the dancehall started playing.
I didn’t win a lot of money but it wasn’t a bad first experience.
How did you prepare for work mentally?
The mental preparation was the most difficult part because at times I felt depressed and exhausted but physically I was always ready. I was depressed because I had so many big things planned in my life and getting naked was the last thing I thought I was doing.
Also, my relationships weren’t working out and it was hard to find someone who would see me as more than a stripper.
Why did you resign?
I had given up trying to get better opportunities and was sinking deeper into depression as the days passed because I had no one to turn to for help with certain things.
Have you ever thought about going back? If yes, why?
I thought about it a lot. I like money, but I want to pursue my studies and my career. I hope to become a beautician. I am currently working as a bartender and saving money for classes.
How did friends and family feel about this line of work?
When I first told my mum she was disappointed as any mum would have been but she still agreed non-judgmentally but she still hopes next time I I will stop, I will not start again. My younger brother supports me in everything I do so he didn’t really ask himself the question, he understands.
How did you tell them?
I told them myself because I didn’t want them to hear it from someone else because it would have hurt them more.
How much did you earn each night?
How much I earn each night varies from place to place. I’ve been to about four different countries (St. Kitts, Barbados, St. Croix, and St. Vincent) to work as a dancer. Some nights are better than others, some nights you will go to work and earn nothing either.
The most I made in Antigua in one night was around $800.
What was your best and worst night as a stripper?
My best night was when the money flowed easily but my worst nights were the opposite of that; no money flowing, the club is empty.
I remember one time when I started, my outfit ripped on stage and I had to play the rest of the night naked because I really needed the money, but being completely naked didn’t do not part of my set at that time.
But the most awful night was when I was done working and was outside the club waiting for a ride. One of the men who was in the club asked to speak to me next door and I went. He pushed me into a corner and tried to touch my private parts but I kicked him and ran.
Would you recommend it to someone else?
I wouldn’t say I would “recommend” it because it takes a lot of mental time out of you, but if you’re struggling with no help, bad luck with good jobs, so go for it. You are responsible for setting your boundaries and deciding who has access to you.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned?
I learned that you are not defined by your struggles or even your job. You are much more than your trials and experiences. I am not a stripper or a former stripper. I am a woman like the others and my past does not define me.
I’ve also learned to push myself more because I’m not as weak as my mind would have me believe. That’s why I’m sure I’ll do well in school.
If you had to do it again, would you do it again?
If I had the opportunity to work elsewhere, I would certainly not do it again; but if stripping was the only thing available, I’d do it because wrestling is sadder.
Hennessy currently lives in St Kitts while her family is still in Jamaica. She hopes to become a wife and mother one day with her own skin-beautifying business, but says she is currently focused on looking the best version of herself.