Jul 28, 2013

The Chippendale Dancers

Speaking of gay erasure, the art of exotic dance, where performer begins fully clothed, removes article after article, and ends up nude, was once assumed to be solely the domain of women performing for men.  There are still 4,000 or so Gentlemen's Clubs in the U.S., where "gentlemen" (that is, heterosexual men) can go to see breasts and other parts.

Men were stripping for men in gay clubs, but the first mainstream producers of male exotic dance, Somen Banerjee, Paul Snider, and Bruce Nahin, were not aware of the fact.   In 1979 they opened the "first" male exotic dance club, Chippendales, and specified that the audience must be solely female.  Not because they wanted to exclude gay men -- they were apparently not aware that gay men existed -- but because they thought that boyfriends and husbands would prohibit the women from letting loose and enjoying themselves.

Gay men noticed, however.  By 1983 Bullwinkle's, the gay bar in Bloomington, Indiana, was hosting a Chippendales Night fundraiser with guys shirtless except for their massive pecs and those little bow ties (Thad the ex-homophobe  participated).

The "no boyfriends or husbands" policy remained intact as the Chippendales took off, with clubs in New York, Los Angeles, Hamburg, and London, and touring groups across the world.  Lately buffed celebrities have been taking their turn as Chippendale dancers: Cristian LetelierJoey Lawrence (below), Ian Ziering (of Beverly Hills 90210, top photo), Jeremy Jackson (of Baywatch, left), Jake Pavelka (of The Bachelor), Brett Baxter Clark (of Bachelor Party).

There were a number of lawsuits in the 1980s from men alleging discrimination because they were denied entrance, including one argued by Gloria Allred in 1987.  In 1988 Chippendales quietly dropped its policy, and later Banerjee claimed that they had "never denied men admission," they just didn't care to attend, because why would a man want to watch another man stripping?

He still hadn't heard that gay people exist.

The literature still pretends that only women are interested in seeing men strip, and still advises them to "leave the boyfriend or husband at home." Some individual clubs and Chippendales knockoffs still deny men admission, so men who want to go might have to dress in drag, like two friends of mine did in Las Vegas in the 1980s.

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