Hot under the collar

Stripper Melissa “Bang-Bang” Forgione (center) reads a protest statement Tuesday in front of the Daily News offices. See video at philly.com/strippers. ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Stripper Melissa “Bang-Bang” Forgione (center) reads a protest statement Tuesday in front of the Daily News offices. See video at philly.com/strippers. ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Posted: May 03, 2012

TWO GREAT streams of American political thought converged Tuesday outside the Daily News — strippers to protest a month-old story about strippers and prostitution, the other, Occupy Philly, to protest everything else.

There were maybe a dozen dancers (none in their work attire) on hand, fewer Occupiers, and — wouldn’t you know it — more reporters wanted to talk with the strippers.

Don’t tell me they don’t get no respect.

But that is what they were there to say, that a March 28 Daily News story by Dana DiFilippo and Phillip Lucas entitled “Dirty Dancing” defamed them. Since the story had a subheadline that read “Strippers bring trouble — drugs, violence, cops say,” the protesters were guilty of blaming the messenger. It was the cops and someone else demeaning the demanding job.

The crux of the story was the arrest of two strippers soliciting prostitution at Center City’s Gold Club, added to the earlier arrests of 11 strippers elsewhere, and it quoted police as saying — stop the presses — strip clubs harbor prostitutes, which is like saying seals like fish.

In the minds of the protesters, an added foul was committed when DiFilippo, in an attempt to add context (perhaps to make it look less like a cheesy sex story), interviewed Penn Ph.D. Mary Anne Layden, director of the sexual-trauma and psychotherapy program, who basically said all strippers are current or potential prostitutes. That’s when the pasties hit the fan.

The present and former strippers I spoke with Tuesday said either, “That’s not true,” or “What’s wrong with that?”

Speaking for “that’s not true” was Timaree Schmit, a “feminist academic” who earned a doctorate from Widener University in human sexuality and paid her tuition — you guessed it — as a “burlesque performer and go-go dancer.” She calls Layden “slanderously wrong” and a “shoddy source of information with an anti-porn, sex-negative, slut-shaming agenda.”

Cat fight! Ph.D. cat fight!

I couldn’t reach Layden for comment Tuesday night.

Schmit also faulted the Daily News for not seeking alternate experts. The argument that you didn’t ask enough “experts,” or the right experts, can always be made, but we are a newspaper, not a science journal.

Taking the “What’s wrong with prostitution?” view was Kali Morgan, a retired stripper who told me, “I can’t walk around in heels at 44 as I did at 18.” She now owns the Passional Boutique, an erotic dress-up shop on 5th Street near South.

She said “a large portion” of strippers actually do “work their way through college,” taking on courses while taking off their clothes, and working much less that 40 hours a week.

Can she deny that some strip clubs house prostitutes?

With a bit of exaggeration, she says in “every single bar there are people willing to have sex for money.” Whose business is that? she asks. (Actually, the state’s, because it is illegal.)

If all the strippers were prostitutes, she says, they’d be escorts, which doesn’t require getting in heels and busting your buns for three musical sets several times a night.

Burlesque dancer Lulu Lollipop from Fishtown said her form of art and stripping are basically the same because each involves shredding clothes, but her venue is often a stage rather than a strip club. Same or not, she was firm on this: Not all strippers are prostitutes and not all prostitutes are strippers.

“Dr. Layden is willing to equate anything sexy with violence. It just isn’t so.” n

Email stubyko@phillynews.com or call 215-854-5977.

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