I've never attended a male strip show because before last year, male strippers always seemed silly to me. I remember watching the Chippendales perform on The Donahue Show in the '80s and thinking they looked ridiculous. A few years later, Patrick Swayze and Chris Farley mocked a Chippendales audition on Saturday Night Live. To me, male strippers existed solely for the amusement of drunken bachelorettes. However, my opinion of male strippers changed last summer when I saw Magic Mike. Would I pay to see Channing Tatum dance and take off his clothes? Absolutely.
Justin Whitfield and Taylor Cole, seasoned strippers from Houston and co-authors of Take It Off: The Naked Truth About Male Strippers, told me the movie was fairly accurate. In fact, the movie could have been based on their lives and not Tatum's. Whitfield got into dancing for the girls. It was tough to make money at first, but soon he was successful enough to encourage his gym buddy Cole to join him onstage. They became sought-after performers and calendar and romance-book cover models (think Fabio without the long hair). And yes, they enjoyed an ample supply of eager women.
The book is a collection of their insights into the kinds of men who strip, the kinds of women who pay to see men strip, and a bunch of really crazy stories about the antics that happen on and off the stage. I assumed before reading the book that there would be a lot of competition and jealousy - after all, they are working for tips - but Whitfield says that the guys who cause friction are weeded out early on. "We're all big guys and we know how to fight. It's stupid to piss people off."
Another assumption the guys lay to rest is that male strippers are gay. There are gay strippers, to be sure, but most work at gay bars, where they will earn a lot more money. Most men who strip for women genuinely love the ladies. They sit backstage and revel in the roar of the crowd, looking forward to women screaming their name and begging them to rip their clothes off.
Speaking of fantasies, the guys have a theory on why men go to see strippers as opposed to why women go. Men go to see naked women - it's that simple. Women, they say, go for the emotional fantasy. Just like in the romance novels that their images help to sell, women pay Whitfield and Cole to portray a cowboy or fireman because they want to get swept away by a fairy tale, albeit a sexy one.
But that doesn't mean the women are innocents. Women in a typical bar may have their guard up, but that's not the case when they go to a strip show. Whitfield enjoys the role reversal. "Men don't always have to be the hunter. In the club, women have their guard down and get aggressive." Women can get away with a lot more than men when it comes to touching dancers. He has had his thong pulled down on more than one occasion.
Like Tatum's Magic Mike, Whitfield had goals beyond stripping. His years on stage financed a successful sports bar in Houston, which he now spends most of his time managing. But a few times a year he sets out on the road with Cole and a few others. He says it helps him keep in shape and is a great way to get paid to party with his friends. His wife of 12 years has never minded. "She's not the jealous type," he says. "She understands that I need to be me."
Like men in any other profession, strippers are not a homogenous group. Some are drug users and some are health nuts. Some are sex addicts and others are monogamous. For some, stripping is their whole life, and for others it is a means to an end.
The guys cover all of those scenarios and more. Their second book, Take It Off Again, comes out at the end of May. With a second installment of Magic Mike reportedly in the works, it seems male strippers are back in the spotlight - which is exactly where they like to be.