Hard for the money
by Jim Piechota
All I Could Bare: My Life in the Strip Clubs of Gay Washington, DC by Craig Seymour; Atria Books, $23
Author Craig Seymour (Luther: The Life and Longing of Luther Vandross), a professor of English at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, begins his slick, satisfying memoir by describing a first date where he is trying desperately to plead his case as to why he was a stripper, what it was like, and that it truly was just "something IŐd always wanted to try." Back in the early 1990s, the author, then only 21 and a virginal grad student, was drawn to one of DCŐs oldest XXX strip clubs, La Cage Aux Follies, after hearing that favorite performer Joey Stefano was to appear there. A strange obsession with strip clubs slowly developed, though he did his best to disguise his attraction by making the venues the subject of his Master's thesis. All in the name of collegiate research, Seymour visited the clubs weekly and got himself a carnal schooling. He eventually took such a shine to the stripper mentality and the "efficient" club environment there that he realized it could be extremely profitable as well as educational.
Seymour takes a short detour from his bare-assed, neon-lit tour de force and unfurls pages and pages of gay strip-club history. Yawn: we just want the dirt, right? So skip Chapter 6. Moving onward and upward, the well-endowed author reveals his ever-increasing fanaticism with "butt love," and by the time his thesis is completed several years later, he decides to get up on stage, shake that ass, and attempt stripping himself. The ensuing chapters address SeymourŐs reason for stripping in conservative terminology as "a platform to express my sexuality in a freeing, over-the-top way," but when he admits to suffering the pangs of conscience when he had to "work" on MotherŐs Day, he shows that heŐs human after all.
There are humiliating rites of passage that every stripper needs to surmount just to get those coveted dollar bills into his G-string. The author has seen them all, since the industry turns out to be "far more complex than I even imagined." A determined soldier on the battlefront of sexual freedom, he not only makes it work but makes the work seem quite fascinating to boot. Yes to jockstraps, double-looped cock rings and cumming onstage; no to gum-chewing. Yes to shaving shaft and balls, no to crapping at work (Seymour dubs this hilarious scene "Operation Shit.") Yet his crowning achievement has nothing to do with masturbating onstage: his interviews with celebs like Janet Jackson and Mariah Carey for magazine-writing gigs seem to make him the happiest. Go figure.
A slyly provocative look at the ebb-and-flow lifestyle of a stripper (and eventually a prostitute), SeymourŐs book is an indulgent mixture of friendly, chatty narrative and nervous confessional. ItŐs told in the same smirking-faced way that one might "accidentally" divulge to a roomful of strangers that not only are you a porn star, but a damn good one. But as the author tries to backpedal away from describing his past life to a first date, he discovers the ultimate truth: that that particular way of making a living has a way of coming back to bite you in the ass.