Chris Buck’s latest publication reveals the nuanced experiences of the romantic partners of strippers

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Over six years, Buck photographed and interviewed the romantic partners of 40 strippers across North America. Here, he shares some of their stories

Jealousy, betrayal, heartache are the emotions one would expect to feel at the prospect of their partner engaging in a sexual act with another person. But what if it was part of their job?

Chris Buck spent six years interviewing and photographing the romantic partners of 40 strippers. Travelling across North America, including to New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Tampa, Portland, New Orleans, and Toronto, Buck was driven by one question: “How is it tenable to date an exotic dancer?”

“This is what drove the project from the beginning until it was completed,” he explains. Buck met many of his participants by placing ads in “adult classified“ sections, but also through word-of-mouth, and inside the clubs themselves. While he found that some individuals were at peace with their partners’ professions, others found it challenging. “Ultimately, I think that most of the partners were in the middle, able to compartmentalise the dancers’ practice as work, but sometimes having doubts, or struggles with jealousy,” he says.

Buck’s portraits and accompanying interviews are now published in a book, Gentlemen’s Club. On reflection, Buck was never truly satisfied by the explanations given by his participants. “I do not see that as a failure of the project, but perhaps its greatest strength,” he says. “I was driven by my curiosity and desire to know and understand the complications of these relationships… As I did more interviews, and learned more about the realities of the culture and relationships around strip club dancers, they became more nuanced and rich.”

Here, Buck shares some of the images, and excerpts of the interviews, from his latest publication.

Pano, Toronto, ON

Pano met his wife while working as a doorman at a club in Toronto. 

Chris Buck: She came back to dancing at the club as your girlfriend, did that change things for you?

Pano: Before she returned, I’m like, “I can do this, I’ll be tough. I won’t get jealous.” Not true. Whether or not she was doing it to be sexual, or promiscuous, with these people, it didn’t matter. In your head, as the boyfriend, you’re like, “That’s mine, why are you staring at it?” Showing her naked body, her goods and what I thought was her treasure for me. It’s almost like I would start hating everybody that would come in that would look at her. That’s her job. That’s how you met. And that’s how it had to stay.

The worst is when she is onstage. You look out there and your wife or girlfriend is dancing, she’s naked dancing on somebody in front of your face, onstage in front of everybody. Your job is to make sure nothing bad happens, but you can’t look. The other doormen knew we were together so they kind of understood. “He’s not going to watch the stage; we got to watch it.”

Tyrone & Lana, Toronto, ON

Tyrone, partner of Lana, works as a snowplow driver. The couple met at a strip club in Ottowa.

CB: Do you think that dancers are different from other women?

Tyrone: Dancers are very beautiful and they put themselves together very well. The majority of them are very clean. 

CB: What do you mean by “clean?”

Tyrone: They take care of themselves more than a normal girl would really take care of themselves. They go and they do all the stuff they need to do to look beautiful.

Lana: We shave every single day. We have extra hygiene in the bikini area that regular women probably don’t give detailed attention to. We are the seedless grapes. [Laughs.] We’re just more maintained, more thorough that way. A lot of regular women I find will just be like, “Oh, it’s winter. I’m not going to shave my legs.” It doesn’t matter what time of year; our lingerie always matches. We could be wearing a tracksuit, but we usually have matching undies underneath.

Tyrone: They always present themselves in a really nice way, so you’re like, “Wow.” You just feel crazy about them, because they’re always looking amazing. It’s good; it’s attractive.

Miguel & Penelope, Barrie, ON

Miguel was the doorman at Penelope’s strip club audition. He had given her some encouragement, then asked her to breakfast the next morning. 

Penelope: A lot of men don’t realise how hard it is for them until they’re emotionally involved.

Miguel: Yeah, it’s different. I worked at a club with my first girlfriend while she was there as a dancer. I had to calm myself when seeing her with another guy in the back, naked. At first, I was like, “Cool, do your thing, no worries,” but like Penelope said, once you get emotionally attached, it’s harder. It’s almost like how some people can’t handle their spouse having a conversation with someone of the opposite sex. Friends of friends will go to the club, and be like, “Hey, man, I seen your girl,” and then the guy would say to his girlfriend,  “Yeah, I don’t like you doing that.” At first, it bothered me a bit, but I realised that she’s her own person. I can’t control what she wants to do and where she wants to be. You look past it, emotionally. 

David & Leah, Toronto, ON

David is a bouncer at a club where Leah used to work. Shortly after meeting them, David slipped back into drug use, and was unfaithful to Leah with another dancer. 

CB: If Leah was most upset about your infidelity, you sleeping with other women when you were using drugs, there’s an irony in that given her profession. I respect that she observes boundaries, but there’s an element of intimacy of her work that makes that a question that’s going to come up in people’s minds.

David: Leah’s job has never bothered me that way, because I do understand that she is with me and loves me, and her job is the compartmental part of her life. It doesn’t spill into our personal lives, and it never has.

CB: When she’d come home from work, did you feel funny about being close to her because you couldn’t offer her money for it?

David: No, it made me get things twisted, especially in the drug-addled mind, that her affection was only available as an artificial commodity. What I wanted was something that she only valued as a commodity to sell, not something that was genuine, which she could offer me as my partner and my lover. I understand now that is not true, and she tried very hard to show me that she loved me, and supported me, but I hated myself so deeply that I couldn’t accept that.

Michael & Kat, Toronto, ON

Michael met Kat when he was invited to her birthday party by a mutual friend.

CB: Michael, do you ever go by the club?

Michael: Never. The second I show up, I’m branded as a mark. Her social circle is going to assume I’m a customer. Because you’re not always a boyfriend if you met them through dancing. And one of the first things I usually have to do, when it’s a new dancer I meet, is quickly establish that I’m not a customer.

CB: How do you do that?

Michael: Nothing. I don’t do anything. When I met Victoria, who’s our friend, the first thing she said was, “It’s my birthday next week, and I like jewellery, by the way.” That’s literally one of the first things she said to me. It was charming coming from her, but it is what I’m talking about.

Kat: Well, you throw it out there. [Laughs.] People ask me, “How much do I owe you for a dance?” And I say, “A million dollars.”

David & Celeste, Oakland, CA

David and Celeste are polyamorous. They dated for two months before Celeste told David she was a stripper, right after he said her loved her. 

CB: You’re saying you don’t need to pay for female attention?

David: That’s a dirty way of putting it, but sure. It’s weird, at least for me right now, to think about paying to talk to someone or be close to someone, when I think I can still find that.

Celeste: Some people think it cheapens the interaction if you’re paying for it.

David: The thing is, honestly if I’d met Celeste in a strip club,  I would probably be interested in her. The few times I’ve been to strip clubs in college, women would be dancing on you but hardly wanting to touch you, and never really looking you in the eye. That concept kind of cheapened it for me and made me feel not good. Celeste likes creating an intimate interaction and creating a connection with people. If that was what I came upon, it would have been different for me, but those were never my experiences.

CB: Talk a little bit about how you connect with people Celeste.

Celeste: When somebody comes in, they aren’t expecting to find a real girl. We have a good conversation. There are a lot of strippers that make people feel like shit, but I want them to feel they enjoyed their lap dance. When they spend time with me, they’re often pleasantly surprised, and it makes me feel good. 

David: With a lot of men going into a club, there is a lot of chauvinism and posturing, but Celeste finds a way to open up their vulnerability. She has an ability to find people that she can stop and create that interconnection with. They’re glad to be in that space for that moment and realise that that’s something they might be missing in parts of their life.

Lee Lee, Los Angeles, CA

Lee Lee has dated five strippers, and currently manages four dancers.

CB: How are dancers different than other women you could date?

Lee Lee: You can already tell the sexuality. Like, “Oh, she a freak. She could do all of that.”

CB: Do you think that what we see onstage translates into the bedroom?

Lee Lee: Hell, yeah. You know how many threesomes I’ve had with strippers compared to dating a normal chick? I never had one until I dated a stripper. It was brought to me. I never even asked for it. Imagine you’re knocked out asleep and your wife come in there and says, “Baby, look who I brought for you.” And you been telling her about Missy from the strip club for the last while. “Now, hold up!”

Haylie & Arianna, Baltimore, MD

Haylie is a veterinary technician. Her partner Arianna is a stripper, dominatrix, sex therapist, and advice columnist. 

CB: The way the general public would think of a strip club customer might be single-minded, and small-minded, but the way you’re talking about them…

Arianna: I love my customers, whether it’s my domination clients, my porn fans, or the guys who come in to see me in my club. They’re amazing.

Haylie: Most of the time they’re respectful. If they don’t understand [the use of pronouns] they’re like, “Oh, fuck, I called you ‘she.’ I’m sorry.” Most of them just buy me a drink and hang out. A lot of the customers that come in are her domination clients, so they open up to me about the stuff that they see her for. They’re like, “I hope this isn’t a problem that she beats me up sometimes. I hope that’s okay.” And I’m like, “No, it’s fine.”

CB: How do you feel about that role?

Haylie: I have one of those faces that people feel like they can just say anything to. I sit and listen and do the best that I can and then send them on their way. And I’m often there for most of the same reasons that they are. I got fired a couple weeks ago and I went to the club because I was really sad, and I just got my tax refund and I just went and spent a bunch of money. I’m here to do the same thing that everybody else is doing, self-medicating or coping mechanisms in some way; it just happens to be with ass and titties.

Gentlemen’s Club by Chris Buck is available to purchase here

Marigold Warner

Marigold Warner joined the British Journal Photography in April 2018, and currently holds the position of Online Editor. She studied English Literature and History of Art at the University of Leeds, followed by an MA in Magazine Journalism from City, University of London. Her work has been published by titles including the Telegraph Magazine, Huck, Gal-dem, Disegno, and the Architects Journal.