Published in The Times
It’s 1am on a Sunday and I am sitting at the back of a strip club in a town in provincial Britain. Needless to say, I’m not here by choice. I’m a feminist. I flick straight from page one to four when I read The Sun. I’d frown at a builder wolf-whistling at passing talent. Frankly, the men who come here are dribbling morons. I don’t even see the point, sexually speaking: looking at naked women you can’t sleep with just seems an exercise in frustration.
But one cannot always impose one’s liberal views on one’s friends, especially when those friends regularly accuse you of having betrayed your working-class roots and become a “total media ponce”.
I’m just hoping it will be over quickly. Though there is little sign of that: one member of the group has popped out to a cash machine to get some more money, while another is standing at the bar, making an origami sculpture for one of the strippers.
My coping mechanism of sitting in a corner, drinking beer and using my phone to catch up with a long New Yorker article on US healthcare reform has been scuppered by the barely clad strippers, who are, in this establishment, encouraged to persuade customers to spend ludicrous amounts of money on pointless private dances. A basic £30 number is called a “flirty thirty”. Something more elaborate is a “naughty forty”. I shudder to think where a nifty fifty pounds would get you.
However, I have developed what I think is an ingenious strategy of dealing with what is the erotic equivalent of being hassled by a succession of chuggers on Wolverhampton’s Broad Street. I thank the lady in question for her time, before apologising and telling her that I am gay. The idea comes from the last time I was in a strip club, for a friend’s stag night, and looked so miserable that one of the girls questioned my sexuality. And initially it works: the first stripper, a Hungarian sporting an unconvincing blonde wig, smiles sympathetically and moves on.
The second, a Polish brunette, seems positively cheered by my revelation and witters on for some time. She says she hates hassling customers this way but the management insist on it, reveals she is studying English at a nearby college, and over the next 15 minutes, we end up discussing, among other things, Nick Clegg, Cheryl Cole and US healthcare reform.
By the time of my fourth such encounter, during which I end up debating the merits of Roald Dahl over J.K. Rowling, I’m almost having a good time. For a moment I wish I were gay: women are much more relaxed when they don’t think you are trying to sleep with them. But I manage to sober up enough to appreciate the logical flaw with the idea, and then, suddenly, there’s a tap on my shoulder – it’s the Polish brunette, looking miffed and asking, “Are you really gay?”
At this point one of my “friends”, who has objected to my sanctimonious tone, sidles up, seemingly intent on joining the conversation. I think I know what is coming next: he’s going to blow my cover. But instead he does something infinitely more excruciating. He says, “Of course he is gay. Actually, he’s got very interesting taste in men.”
“Really?” she asks. “Like the look of any of the guys here?”
On one side of the room a man of about 20 stone has removed his lumberjack shirt and is pole-dancing in his boxer shorts for the amusement of a stag group. On the other, a bloke of about 50 is pushing the club’s “no touching” rule to its limits with a woman less than half his age. “Not really my type,” I reply.
She laughs. A bit. “So what kind of thing do you normally go for? What turns you on?”
My “friend” moves to the lip of his leather chair, takes a swig from a bottle of Budweiser and adds, “Yeah, Sathnam, tell her what you normally look for in a guy.”
“Oh God, well, you know…”
I begin perspiring. Suddenly, I want to go to the toilet. Actually, I’ve been wanting to go to the toilet for more than an hour, but am worried about what I might discover there. “I’m quite predictable in my tastes. I quite like… beards. And arms. I like a nice set of… arms. You can tell so much about someone from their… arms. Don’t you think?”
A few minutes later the Polish brunette and my “friend” disappear behind a curtain for what I assume is a flirty thirty. And I am left to reflect upon yet another highlight in my romantic career: a beautiful woman just offered to undress for me, albeit for money, and I talked her out of it, by pretending, in the presence of a friend, to have a sexual predilection for male biceps.