Review of The Lusty Lady

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I took Erika Langley's evocative portrait of our favorite local strip joint with me on my vacation last week, and found it to be beautifully written, uncompromising, amusing, heart breaking, uplifting, erotic, and frustrating. The pictures were wonderful, of course, but I found myself wishing for the larger, higher quality prints I saw in the King County Arts Commission show a few years ago, and then maybe for a new wing on my house to hang them in.

My best guess is that Ms. Langley is telling it like it is, without either a lot of sanitizing or dramatizing. The much vaunted women managers come off pretty human, with their policies ranging from good to bad to silly. There are a lot of very funny comments by the author, other dancers, and the patrons. Some of the dancer's biographies include grim tales of abuse which some transcend and others don't. Without dwelling on the irony, Candy Girl notes that she left prostitution to dance at the Double L when she got old enough to work there.

Langley writes about one customer with an abnormally thick penis. She asks him if he has ever found a woman who could take it. The simple "no" of his answer is funny at first, until the implicit loneliness of his situation sinks in.

It was good to hear that many of the women feel OK about the work and use the Lusty Lady to as a source of income to move the rest of their lives forward. The impression Langley leaves us with is that there is wide variation in the education, class, and goals of the Lusty Lady workers. It is also good to hear that the women have friends, lovers, and occasionally parents who are comfortable with their being sex workers.

Woven into the interviews and pictures are Langley's comments on her own attitudes toward her fellow dancers and customers and how they changed with time over the four years she spent dancing. She relates how working the Private Pleasure show, which allows more verbal interaction with the customers, was both repulsive and a source of personal growth. Simply and poignantly, she chronicles the discovery of her own capacity to be bisexual and polyamorous.

It is a little less pleasant to hear that the women at the Lusty Lady find the demands and masturbation practices of the customers to be unsettling, rude, or disgusting. It is clear that the Lusty Lady clientele is willing to spend money and risk social disapproval to view nude women and masturbate. What does it mean to say that the women who provide the service are OK, but the men that accept the service are not OK?

There is a lot of speculation among the dancers and the Lusty Lady management about what the male customers want from the show. To some extent the customers vote with their quarters. However, it is not clear to me that the dancers interpret what men want successfully. The Lusty Lady does ask for customer feedback, and some of that is presented in the book. However, the dancers make assumptions about the motivations and intentions of the male clients which might not always be warranted.

I am not aware of any studies on the clients of adult theaters that includes the sort of in depth interviews that Langley has done with her dancer colleagues. While such interviews are clearly beyond the scope of her current work, they would make a good project for someone.

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