On the 19th and 24th of January the Alcohol and Tobacco Commission (ATC) staged two separate sets of raids that pulled the liquor licenses of most of the strip clubs on Bourbon Street. The news suggested that they were looking for human traffickers, but shockingly none were discovered.
Hundreds of people are out of work. It is the busiest season of the year, Mardi Gras, carnival season. It is the season a lot of folks rely on to get through slower times. It used to be that you could make a lot of money dancing during Mardi Gras. Ever year it gets a little worse, but every year we make due and find a way to cope. This is the year they closed the clubs.
Yesterday I was informed that the club I work in, which happens once a year or so, the club, my club, our club — the city had found a way to close the club. In what is a totally unrelated issue with the landlord, Temptations was evicted and ordered to close. So last night we went and got all the stripper things from the lockers. I hauled a 100 pounds of stripper gear home on my back. We were told that the club would be open one more night, so we made a plan to dance tonight, to go in for one last booty shaking night of madness. There was talk of setting the pentagram on fire. We said goodby to Peter, the strip club cat.
I’m exhausted and angry. I’m sad and confused. This battle in New Orleans it isn’t about the things the politicians and media are suggesting. It’s not some upstanding crusade to save the children, it’s a war on strip clubs, it is a war on vice, this is a war that has been brought on by the elected officials who have made their living off the backs of folks who work in the trenches of vice in this city, so aptly nicknamed, the big sleazy.
I am angry about the total and complete disregard that has been given for the lives and well being of the folks who work in the clubs. Sure the news will tell you that it has something to do with trafficking or that there are drugs and prostitution — gasp. Anyone who can read and think can do a little research and discover that the statistics for dangerous violent crime that surround the world of sex work — the crime skyrockets when the sex work goes outside. If you push whores out into the streets they are a lot more likely to become victims. The city of New Orleans is closing strip clubs, not in some morally indignant attempt to ‘rescue’ working adult women, but as a barely veiled attempt for certain elected officials to gain a national spotlight. One particular representative really likes to start civil unrest, greenwashing the drama, calling it justice or progress or a New Bourbon Street.
You can take the ho out of the club but you can’t take the ho out of New Orleans.
This city was built on 300 years of sex work. No amount of cleaning up bourbon street is ever gonna make it smell better. Every couple of decades a politician will come along and try to use the major industry of vice as a way to get ahead, they will try to sweep the city of smut. They won’t be able to do that, but they will manage to ruin the lives of a lot of folks who depend on the income that the sex industry has given them. Single mothers, women with few other job options, women in the strip clubs on bourbon street — they have actually chosen to be there. It is a highly competitive job that requires a lot of patience, being able to deal with the stigma that society puts on ‘fallen women,’ being in a questionable situation every time someone asks what they do for a living, finding creative and interesting ways to explain their hours and income in a world that tells everyone it is ok to treat sex workers as inferior. But sex workers save marriages, they comfort sad old men who can’t find anyone to comfort them, they give lessons on proper sexual practices, safe sex, and consensual behavior, dancers tolerate a lot of the worst behavior in the world and they have become very adapt and defining their boundaries. But still society slut shames and suggestes that using what you have available, that finding a job that pays well and makes the most of your resources and precious time, that this job could not possible be an acceptable sort of job because — boobs.
Generally the excuses that the moral crusaders have used stem from fear mongering and misinformation. They deteriorate rapidly and often fall to the only argument that no one can debunk without looking like a terrible person “save the children” — my question is what fucking children? There are no kids on bourbon street. You should not take your children to a red light district. You might say that the red light district should not exist, because of the children, but the reality is that you should do a better job at keeping your children in your control, not asking the whole of society to govern the way it acts because of some random unattended children. The raids on bourbon street did not manifest one underage stripper, not one pimp, not anyone who was not there of their own volition.
Jim Kelly of Covenant House screams at anyone who will listen about the morally deleterious implications of the heart of New Orleans, Bourbon Street. He continues to confuse cause and effect and uses the media as his pawn to spread his message of annihilation in the name of sanctity. He would like you to believe that strip clubs create crime. His perspective is seriously flawed as is his plan to save the children. He continuously argues that the children at covenant house are lured into the vice on bourbon and that we should therefore close the strip clubs, in an attempt to eradicate vice. His plan will backfire causing all of the problems he claims to be in opposition to. By pushing whatever vice may be in the clubs out onto the street regulation becomes nearly impossible. Without an indoor establishment of regulation ‘the children’ he claims to want to help will have no bouncers or managers or club owners to ask them for identification, there will not be a group of adults who have filed for business licenses and wish to keep legal jobs on the books — there will be street hustlers regulating the industry.
The people Jim Kelly is pushing out of New Orleans are not the pimps and drug dealers, the folks who will leave to work elsewhere are the folks who would have been a little more likely to keep the vice industry regulated. Folks who have no other options will be forced to work in the streets. Statistically street based vice work is exponentially more dangerous. These raids on strip clubs have not procured a single human trafficker, not a single victim. If you push the vice industry into a more venerable position you give more opportunity for predators to actually do the terrible things you claim to want to eradicate. Forcing clubs to close does not magically disappear the people who work in them. You can close the strip club and make a dancer go outside to work the streets but this action is entrapment and will likely bring harm to her. If you force the dancers to relocate, or push them into the street where things are more dangerous — this the very definition of trafficking.
The folks who work in the clubs have been talking about having a protest tomorrow. Then somehow today in what seems totally unrelated, the Tourism Board had a press conference. By the looks of things the folks speaking did not anticipate the dancers chants and protest. Now that the massive construction that destroyed Bourbon Street for months (yet failed to run clubs out of business) has finally ceased, the Tourism Board thought it was a great time to welcome people to The New Bourbon Street. Protesting dancers and allies disagreed.
Of the clubs that worked out deals only the two Ricks clubs are going to be serving before Mardi Gras day. In fact they will be serving this week. It looks like Stilettos and Scores will be byob this Mardi Gras. Temptations is closed forever and the Hustler owned clubs, Barely Legal and Hunk Oasis go to court next week having been unwilling to entertain any such deal the ATC attempted to make.
So where does this leave us?
Mardi Gras gets worse and worse for dancers every year. This year the city has managed to prevent any of Guy Olano’s strip clubs from serving alcohol. Lipsticks closed before the raids. Temps got evicted. — This leaves Hustler, Ricks Saloon, and Ricks Cabaret being able to serve on Bourbon Street. Penthouse around the corner. So, the big chain, franchised, corporate clubs who can afford to pay up will be allowed to serve alcohol during the boozy season of carnival. Two years ago there were 14 clubs on Bourbon Street. This year it seems as if only four will be allowed to serve drinks.
What is it that we want for this city? Are any of the folks living here confused about the history of the city? Do we want to sell off all our resources to huge businesses and facist vultures who swoop in on their private jets? It seems more and more like some of our elected officials have been working really hard to climb into the national spotlight on a ladder made of the backs of the folks who work hard to keep New Orleans on the map of major tourist destinations.
I want to be out at a protest right now, but since the dancers union (they say its not a union but it is) didn’t manage to get a permit all the folks who show up for a parade / march / protest / Mardi Gras event without a permit — they might all end up in state prison tonight. I hope they don’t, but I feel kinda sick to my stomach. I’m watching my educated friends opt out of voting, my stripper friends becoming unemployed during Mardi Gras, and my yoga friends spitting in the direction of the strippers saying things about how dirty Bourbon is the root of all the crime and violence. I’m sad for humanity. I’m sad for the folks who didn’t pay their rent today, I’m sad for the future of the French Quarter.
The last chapter of my life has been written in the trenches of the sexy smelly dimly light clubs on Bourbon. I have seen a lot of terrible things and a lot of beautiful things happen. I have been an adjacent part of a subculture that has no place left to go. People come to New Orleans as a last refuge from the uptight square world that they can not seem to fit into very well. The French Quarter reeks of 300 years of vice. Many political leaders have tried to use the crackdown on New Orleans vice industries to get ahead in the world. It might look to the rest of the world like they are trying to save the children, but I’m not so sure anyone really thinks that. I have little faith in the ability of Americans to read up on the history of the worlds oldest profession and the political leaders who have tried in vain to cease folks from having what is always termed ‘the wrong kind’ of good time. Adults indulging in sexual or intoxicating behavior is not a crime against the folks who would like to abstain. Laws are rarely written to make it a crime to take away the freedom to have a good time. Persecution of pleasure based on arbitrary moral grounds should be a crime. Many have tried to stop the party. They have all failed. History tends to repeat itself.