Male stripping has been a cultural performance of growing interest for scholars and the wider US population for decades. In the1980s the male stripping industry developed as numerous clubs, groups, and agencies materialized, offering various erotic masculine strip performances. As the industry emerged, a pathway was created for the narrative of the male stripper to become a common constituent of today's popular storylines as seen in numerous types of media and entertainment. Over the past few decades, the investigation of sex work has also been a growing area of focus in academic research, particularly the body of scholarship associated with exotic dance. However, academic research on erotic dance is almost exclusively focused on the women who sell it and the men who buy it, thereby focusing mainly on the female segment of the industry and the issues female performers confront regarding the industry in general. Very little has been written about the male stripping industry in relationship to the performance of masculinity, and how the performance of masculinity is constituted beyond a heteronormative and white context.
Male strip shows are cultural performances that vary in purpose and meaning, and are best understood as a cultural display that presents the body as a socially interactive text, where performer and spectator have (or develop) an understanding of the interactions and expectations of the show. The erotic theatre of male stripping is highly stylized based on the continuous negotiation of the performers identity as he dances the line located on the continuum between work and play. The work/play engagement of the male stripper takes place in a kind of erotic type of playground, where rules and behaviors are sometimes predetermined and other times fluid and impromptu. In either case, the realities and social contexts of venues produce their own outcomes, behaviors and performative approaches based on a gendered expectation. As such, male strippers create performances that accord expectations of the context of the performance venue. As contextual playgrounds shift, the performer must be informed and prepared to meet varying expectations. The expectations, based on the norms and values of a particular context, ultimately influence how masculinity is constructed and performed. I quickly learned this for myself, and how different contexts of the business require alternative approaches to the performance, and necessitate impromptu adjustments to an erotically constructed identity. When I entered the industry, and began performing as a male stripper I never anticipated I would eventually shift my focus from the money and sex the industry offered to self-analyzing in an attempt to make sense of who I was, what I did, and how the act of erotic male stripping functioned in society.
Bodies carry value differently in various spaces, and as the context of a venue shifts, the gender, race and sexuality affect the behaviors and expectations of a male erotic performance. In this study, I offer insight into the construction and performance of masculinity in the male strip show by examining variations of masculinity and the ways masculinity is constituted and performed based on context and variables in various settings. Building on the current scholarly discourse about male stripping and gender performance, juxtaposed with close readings of popular erotic performances on film and television, plus thick descriptions from interviews and personal experience, I explore various sides of the construction of erotic masculine identity. I move toward a critical understanding about the industry as a whole by focusing specifically on how erotic masculinity is constituted within a variety of on contexts.
I do so by focusing on three emergent themes and how they vary across the two segments of the industry that are divided by presumptive heterosexual and queer sexualities. I first examine how masculinity is performed in the initiation and continuation period when entering the business and how practices of community, mentorship and grooming have an impact upon the entry experience. I then focus on how performances are constructed and ordered based on the context of the performance venue and the expectations of the audience. Finally, I evaluate how power is established and negotiated in different performance contexts and how practices of erotic masculinity are written and re-written to meet the wants and desires of various audiences situated within specific contexts.
Throughout the study, I experiment with the writing process and alternative forms of qualitative writing as a way to explore the interpretive understanding of socially performative acts and actions. I view lived experience as interpretive rather than a causal story and attempt to unravel the complex way emotion, cognition, and the lived body intertwine to arrive at an understanding of lived experience that is both rigorous and imaginative based on systematic observation and expressive insight. I write to develop a relationship with readers through the appropriation of traditionally regarded nonacademic literary devices including knowledge drawn from popular culture, direct address, poetic device and word play to initiate the production of a different, more somatic kind of knowledge. I offer evocative storytelling combined with ethnographic insights, as well as poetic framing devises to engage the reader, with which to investigate the power of reflexive passages as ancillary to critical analysis. I implement these approaches to bring the reader into the process of constructing and performing an erotic masculine identity in an industry that has numerous stages in various contexts.