WARNING: Adult situations and sexual themes are discussed at...er...length. Once again, this blog includes details about my encounters with male strippers! Readers' discretion is advised!
For those just tuning in, I've been hooked on Toronto's all male strip club Flash due to my ongoing infatuation with a dancer I call VinTatum (after Jersey Shore's Vinny and Channing Tatum.) After numerous blogs on the subject (see One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six and Seven) I'm hoping eight is enough! Here's a look back on the year that was.
My visits to Flash had morphed from their cynical beginnings into a perfect storm of lust, longing and desire. After my last encounters with VinTatum though, it felt like a good time to break away from the bar. I thought I had exhausted everything that drew me to the club and there'd be nothing to gain from returning. (Now that VinTatum had become my Facebook bud, I could "see" him without going there.) My goal was to move on and close that chapter of my life, allowing my emotional and financial well being to get back on track. Little did I know it would be harder to stay away than I initially envisioned...
HANDS ON RESEARCH
"Back at the club. Hope to see you soon..."
VinTatum's message hit me like a ton of bricks. It was early November 2013 and I had spent the last several months trying to get him out of my system. I also thought he was done with Flash after plunging into new opportunities both careerwise and romantically. At this point, I was channeling my feelings into a full fledged play about our situation. Part of me thought that pouring my energy into something creative could steer me away from repeating past mistakes. But my stubbornness and curiosity about VinTatum's comeback led me right back to the club where I amassed a whole new set of experiences without him. (Ironically, after he announced his comeback I never saw him there.)
There was one boozy night in late November where I did unofficial research for my play at Flash. I sloppily asked what various dancers would want to see represented in a stage show about their work and introduced myself as a "recovering VinTatum addict." The gay-for-pay angle made me curious too, so I asked several guys "Do you prefer men, women, or both?" The answers were intriguing.
"I was born straight, but then I found out men can do certain things too," expressed one guy who wore a shell necklace and danced with a hetero swagger on stage. "I don't judge based on gender," said one hunk with the smooth flair of a politician. He was gorgeous, reminding me of the Andrew Christian model Pablo Hernandez. "I'm straight!" one buff peeler from Montreal exclaimed as if it was obvious. "But, you come with me, get three dances and then you have something to think about when you jerk off later." Last but not least, there was the dancer who reminded me of Joey from Friends. Most of our conversations were an enjoyable blur, but I do remember him pausing and answering "men" with a slightly guilty smile. (In that haze, I also remember telling him, "I know you're more than just a body," which he seemed to appreciate.)
Starting that night and extending through February 2014, I began exploring private encounters with dancers other than VinTatum. Part of it was to chase my VinTatum blues away, but I was also curious to see how different things might be. On one occasion I went with the dancer who reminded me of Pablo Hernandez. I already liked him because he posed for pics with me at Pride and had no qualms or fears about his reputation. He was very friendly, sexy and, to my surprise willing to kiss in a way VinTatum wasn't. Another trip brought me face to face with a cute, twinky-yet-toned Latin dancer who wasn't my usual type, but he won me over with his willingness to make out. I also indulged in dances with Joey, having seen him off and on since I started going to the club. When he asked what I liked to do, I mentioned kissing, and we went at it like passionate animals. I was also surprised he seemed to like some of my assets as much as I enjoyed his. He even stripped faster than the other dancers, confident without being cocky about it. All throughout, he was eager to please me and it was my best experience at the club.
I can't express how much Joey comes across as a genuinely nice guy. He was always upbeat, and never pressured me to go for dances with him. That was something I really admired and appreciated. Our encounter was really satisfying and it didn't fill me with the same angst that VinTatum brought out of me. Part of me wondered if I had gone with Joey instead of VinTatum that first night, I'd have seen Flash as a boys night out treat and not the ongoing addiction it had become.
However, there were other visits that reminded me of what I didn't enjoy about the club. During one late, impromptu appearance I went in and ordered a Diet Coke, having come sufficiently sloshed from a friend's birthday gathering. A dancer came to my table and was plying his wares as it neared 2am. "Last call for drinks, last call for dick!" he said, putting an arm around me. "You smell really good," I said, trying to subtly shift away from his pitch. "How do you like working here?" He then went into a mini-rant about how "too many young people" were coming to Flash and not spending money. "At Remington's you had to buy dances, keep drinking or get the fuck out!" he laughed, as if he expected me to agree readily. I looked down at my Diet Coke and thought I must be one of the "cheap" ones that night. Implying that people don't belong unless they're throwing around piles of cash seemed like a dubious business strategy. But it did make me wonder - what was I really doing there?
A MONO-LOGUE TO REMEMBER
I began March with a lackluster visit to the club, but it was a totally different experience mid-month that threw me into a tailspin. I started to get really sick with what seemed to be a nasty viral infection. Then, after eating a cheeseburger and turning yellow at work, I found myself in the emergency room of the Markham Stouffville Hospital. After two days of quite stellar treatment from an amazing staff, I was diagnosed with mono - a.k.a the "kissing disease." I can't say for certain that I picked it up from anyone at Flash. It's spread via saliva, so I could have sipped someone else's drink and gotten it. But the timing felt significant. It made me wonder if my desperation for connection might have directly led to this pretty unpleasant predicament. To be fair anyone can pass mono, so this isn't a judgement towards strippers. But I was tired of pining for VinTatum and wasn't sure if filling that void with other Flash dancers was the best move, no matter how much nicer they seemed. Alcohol and kissing were now off limits for at least one month and it felt like a good time to end my visits to the club.
In early April, I traveled with a pal to Drenched Fur, an awesome event for the bear community held annually in Erie, PA. It would be my third time attending and despite being out of the hospital for just a few weeks, it was a much needed getaway. Even though I couldn't kiss, I was still able to indulge in other activities, so to speak. What moves me about Drenched Fur is the sense of bonding that occurs. You have a group of gay men coming together, with a variety of shapes, sizes, ages and races, being proud of who they are. I've made some amazing friendships through the event, and it reminds me that men can be attracted to me for who I am. Before Flash, I wasn't so conscious of how meaningful that felt. I don't always have the healthiest sense of my "appeal" to others, but Fur always gives me a boost. But as much as it felt great having fun and being desired by like minded gents, certain sirens would call out to me in the coming months...
TEMPTATION ISLAND 2: BUDGET CONSCIOUS BOOGALOO
World Pride was coming and June 2014 was filled with a sense of excitement. I was doing well avoiding Flash and getting back into the swing of things after my battle with mono. I was downtown meeting up with a friend to go on a road trip mid-month when I came face to face with a familiar figure standing outside of Flash. There was VinTatum, shirtless and glistening in the sun, with his unmistakable tattoos and killer grin. It was my first time seeing him in person in nearly a year. My heart was pounding and I was floored that I bumped into him of all people before going on my trip.
From that moment on, it felt like I embarked on a tired rehash of the previous year's events. Even though the road trip prevented me from falling back into old habits, I was still rattled after seeing him. So, foolishly, I messaged him online asking how he was doing and admitted he still turned me into jelly. He replied saying I had "better come see him" at the club. I countered with, "that's like telling a recovering alcoholic to visit the LCBO." I kept trying to stress how dangerous it would be for me to go there, saying I could only promise to buy him a drink if I came by. Once again, I mentioned that he inspired a play and blogs as if that would give him more pause than it did a year earlier. (I even mentioned my bout with mono for that extra dash of oversharing...) Yet, somehow I got it into my head that I needed to see him one last time, despite all signs indicating it wouldn't provide the closure or understanding I still craved.
A week after his reappearance, I attended a beautiful barbecue filled with love, laughter and friendship. The anticipation of World Pride was in the air, but I wasn't so proud of my next set of actions. After the dinner, my pals and I went back to the gay village to check out some street art. One of my key Flash wingmen joined us, and shortly after I broke away with him to go to the club for a drink.
Almost as soon as we walked in, VinTatum saw me and rushed over. Things were loud and crowded, but I was able to shout, "My messages didn't scare you?" He then replied, "Forget the drink, let's go for a dance!" At least that proved he'd been reading my missives. "I didn't bring any extra money with me," I explained. "There's an ATM right there," he pointed, looking almost as desperate on the outside as I felt inside. He tried pulling my arm like he did the year before. I then asked VinTatum if he'd be around during World Pride, but he insisted he was going on a vacation. (Maybe to stoke an "act now, don't delay" sense of urgency?) I asked him to give me a moment and he said he'd come back in five minutes.
VinTatum then milled around for a bit and I was very close to actually pulling out cash from the ATM. That's when my friend started questioning me like a counselor as I contradicted myself much like an addict would. He asked what I thought would be different about this occasion than any of the other times I saw VinTatum. I was like a kid trying to say whatever they could to get what they wanted, but failing miserably. My friend's questions did help me focus and he suggested leaving before VinTatum came back, so we made our exit. I felt terrible about essentially ditching the people who care about me to go see a guy who didn't. But in the end, especially with the ATM gesture, I saw what I needed. It reminded me of the Shonda Rhimes quote, "When people show you who they are, believe them."
The following week I saw VinTatum standing outside the club on World Pride Sunday. Even though it was silly, I had the urge to try talking to him again. It took a few moments to work up the courage to move forward physically, as I regressed emotionally. Almost immediately, he said I was a "troublemaker" and that I owed him a Pride dance since I disappeared the last time. (That would have been the perfect time to ask how his 'vacation' was going.) I held firm and said I couldn't because I was still hung up on him. He replied with an "aww" that seemed like a pat on the head. "It's not healthy for me," I insisted. "Come on, just one dance," he continued. "No, but I'll give you a Pride hug because that's free," I countered. We hugged, and as much as I knew it probably didn't mean anything to him, I tried to infuse it with sincerity. I then wished him a happy Pride and he wished me the same. At the time I felt both triumphant and like I wanted to burst into tears. Triumphant in the sense that it was a big deal to say "no" to his overtures, but sad that the whole thing really did seem to be over.
As much as I craved closure, searched for a definitive end to my infatuation or hoped for some sort of acknowledgment of my feelings, it was mostly for naught. The reality is that you can't "break up" with a stripper, you just have to stop showing up. Being added to VinTatum's social media network gave a false sense that I could wiggle out of my "customer" status. But his group included other clients, promoters, co-workers and actual friends all in one bizarre, overlapping cluster. I really wasn't any different than any of the other admirers or johns who praised and complimented him online. As much as I imagined standing out from the rest, all that mattered was my money. I was never going to be the guy he wanted to see a movie or grab a burger with. Yet, I repeated the same old loops of behaviour with him hoping that the end results would change.
On the flip side, I also realize it's not him - it's me. As I said in a previous entry, he really doesn't owe me anything. I came to his place of work and let myself get wrapped up in the fantasy he brought to life. (Our social media connections were really just an extention of his brand, not an opening for friendship.) And I do appreciate how much he's inspired me and sparked my imagination. He gave me a real high at one time and I hope he finds his niche and true happiness someday. But the illusion he sold faded slowly and painfully as I understood I couldn't make any part of it real. In retrospect, I think it hurt more deeply than I realized when he asked me for money outside the club. That may have been a big part of why I had so much difficulty letting go.
But I really need to stop looking to VinTatum for answers as if he's the missing puzzle piece to this journey. He's not the solution to whatever romantic or sexual void I feel in my life and I need to be okay with that. I need look inside myself and cherish the people that love and support me as well as indulge the things that lift me up. Reading soul stirring novels, enjoying great music, or spending time with fabulous friends are all better options than chasing a guy that doesn't want or need to be chased. I also need to work on taking more chances with men who appreciate me for who I am.
Although it was a major downer to finally accept that VinTatum only sees me as a bag of money, a friend's suggestion inspired me to OWN it and turn it into something fabulous.
This past Halloween, I proudly embraced the absurdity of my situation and had fun with it. But the biggest surprise was teetering around on Church Street and having a cute guy make out with me after I complimented him. It was a timely reminder that, despite my appearance, I didn't need to be throwing around money to get lucky.