It’s a full moon tonight, or very close to it anyway, which always sends me a bit loony. I tend to have excess energy and my emotional reactions are stronger than usual. I get antsy and struggle to sleep and when I do its jerky and restless and full of bright, surreal dreams. I’ve been feeling it all day, actually. Just vaguely aware of a slow build-up of nerves buzzing in the back of my being, and I suppose the fact I’m about to attend my first male strip show is not helping.
I bought the tickets as a gift for my friend Anna. It seemed like a hilarious idea at the time but the reality is nauseating. We went budget, too, which I thought would be even funnier but it means we’ll be in a tiny theatre with forty women, six near-naked men and absolutely nowhere to hide.
SIXX PAXX Ladies Club is in a converted railway arch under Tiergarten S-Bahn in West Berlin. I pull Anna aside for a team huddle as we approach. “Listen,” I say. “We just need to go with it. Whatever happens in there, it’s better for us to just accept it. We might have to touch them. We might have to go onstage. The more awkward we are, the worse it will be.”
Anna is shaking her head aggressively. “I am not going on stage,” she says. “Nope nope nope.”
“Okay.” I say. It is her 28th birthday. “You are not going on stage.”
We open the single heavy door and step into a tiny room with thick sticky carpet. The walls are padded black and a flubbery middle-aged man sits behind a scuffed up desk. A pile of flyers catches my eye. ‘SIXX PAXX LADIES CLUB’ is printed in swirling, glitter-pink letters and on the front is a shirtless man. He’s tanned a deep conker and has slicked back hair, burning brown eyes and a half smile on his face which seems to say: ‘I fuck.’
A woman stands behind him, although you can only see her hands and blonde bouffant hair. One of her hands is on his bicep, although it covers only a small portion, and the other is on his stomach, or more specifically the second to last left abdominal. They are so clearly defined, the abdominals, that each one looks like a separate fist trying to stretch its way through his shimmering skin, and the muscles fade out into a big arrow that would be pointing directly to his dick except for the ripped, low-cut jeans that cover it just in time. The thing is though, although we do not see the dick, we are thinking about seeing the dick and that, ladies, is the point.
“Tickets please,” the man says, bored of watching me make goggle-eyed mental notes. I show him our tickets and he attaches gold SIXX PAXX bands to our wrists and points us through a black door to his left. Anna is nervous and, to be fair, it is dark, so she walks straight into the wall. “Left.” The man says. We both laugh way too loudly — braying guffaws that give away how very not okay we feel.
Stepping into SIXX PAXX Ladies Club is like stepping into a womb. Everything is soft and circular and female except for the underlying buzz of testosterone. Two barmen wear vests so revealing they’re basically just over-sized thongs and a neon sign on the bar says “We don’t accept boredom.” I feel relieved to see that the women in here appear quite normal. I was expecting a roomful of monsters, but I guess we all had the same idea — that this would be a laugh. A big hilarious ironic laugh.
The women are in groups of 6+ and most of them revolve around a birthday girl or bride-to-be with a flashing tiara and sashay. We drop our coats at the coat check and get flirted with by the attendant which catches me so off-guard that I immediately have to do a nervous pee. Once relieved, Anna and I walk through a pink passage where we flash our SIXX PAXX bands to a big-armed bro who leads us to our seats.
The theatre is as cosy as I feared. We all have little tables with tiny lamps in front of us like we’re watching a jazz band in New York except we’re not, are we. The stage is small and covered by a red curtain and one of the big-armed barmen keeps delivering trays of shots through a side curtain. Once, when he lifts it, I spot a pair of SIXX PAXXy-looking legs and a white thong on the floor.
I mostly feel afraid. My stomach is in tight knots and I am jumpy and alarmed by everything. The theatre is too small to feel lost. I’m not the one who’s stripping, but I’ve never felt so exposed.
Anna has broken into a thin sweat. Her seat is on the edge, next to the aisle, and she is afraid that the men will touch her even though she is not wearing a flashing tiara. I offer to swap seats which, to my misery, she accepts.
To calm us down I start chatting to the German woman sitting next to us. She has short cropped blonde hair, and a chin that slopes down in thick layers to meet her neck. I ask if it’s her first time too but I can tell it isn’t. She looks very much at ease in a Shere Khan the Tiger kind of way, and as she speaks she keeps her eyes fixed hungrily on the stage. She has a thin, knowing smile and the look of a woman about to treat herself — as though she’s about to bite into a Ferrero Roche or sink into a hot bubble bath or press play on an Enya album. She is not recoiling in self-consciousness like me or drip-drip-dripping in sweat like Anna. This woman is undoubtedly in her element.
I, however, am not. This is not my world. I do not know women who attend male strip shows. I know it is wrong to objectify the opposite sex, but tonight I accept that I am complicit. I like to try new things, experience different worlds, but tonight I think I might have taken it a bit too far.
The theatre is at capacity. The lights go down and One Direction’s ‘You Don’t Know You’re Beautiful’ bangs out the speakers. They are loud, the speakers, and I’m glad because it almost drowns out the voices screaming in my head to get the fuck out. Then a booming voice begins a countdown. I clutch Anna’s arm. ZEHN. NEUN. ACHT. The women are shouting along. SIEBEN. SECHS. I try to look casual and normal like I’m enjoying this but I am not. FUNF. VIER. This will be excruciating. DREI. ZWEI. EINS. LAAAAAADIEEEEES! HERZLICH WILLKOMMEN BEIM SIXX PAXX!
Five giants bound onstage. It is tiny, the stage, and their biceps and chests and smiling faces and slicked back hair fill it up right away. They must be buzzed from the shots because their smiles are bright and their eyes wide. They start doing a dance routine to Justin Timberlake’s ‘Like I Love You’. The five of them are in perfect sync. One is an extra big giant and looks like a real fuck-villain. He has the slickest hair of them all and steel blue eyes that make unapologetic, dagger-like eye contact with whoever crosses their path. It’s violent, the eye contact, and after I get locked-in once I vow never to look in his direction again. His face is long and he has a slight overbite which makes his jaw protrude with a certain arrogance — as though his chin deserves more space in this world than other chins. I instantly know exactly what it would be like to have sex with him. It would be impersonal and there would be lots of space and he’d regularly look at his arms or abs depending on the position and it would be fast and he’d prefer it from behind.
Suddenly and without warning the men jump forward, rip their t-shirts off and throw them into the crowd. The women scream. I have folded up like origami. My head is in my armpit and my arms are clutching my face and my elbows are pointing upwards. I have never felt discomfort so all-encompassing. I am in a full-body cringe.
The men stand beaming at the front of the stage, hands on hips, delighted. I wonder what their parents think? Whether they discuss it over family dinners? “So, Jürgen. How’s stripping?” Maybe they haven’t told their families. I remember a phone call I had with my dad in 2010. “Your brother just told me he’s got a job as a Sommelier at the Dorchester,” my dad said. “Does that sound right to you? He says it pays £40 an hour.” It did not sound right to me, especially as my brother couldn’t tell Champagne from Lambrini. It didn’t take long for my dad to squeeze out the truth. My brother had been hired as a Butler in the Buff, a naked waiter who serves canapés to cocktail-fuelled hen parties with only an apron to hide his modesty.
I wonder if the five increasingly naked men who stand in front of me have also told their dads they’re Sommelliers at the Dorchester. I wonder, too, if they have girlfriends and what their girlfriends think and I wonder if they have STIs and then I wonder if they sleep with the women who come to these shows. My instinct surveys the scene and lands on a hard and definitive Yes.
They rip off their trousers now, which have velcro down the sides, and the music slows down. Unfortunately the basic bitch inside me has awakened and I find myself fancying two of the strippers. They are both bearded, built like brick shit-houses, and they look the most decent in my opinion, like underneath it all they’re really good, caring guys.
The curtain draws, hiding the SIXX PAXX from view, and a brown-haired dimpled man, the Sixth Pack I suppose, comes on-stage with a microphone. “Ladies ladies ladies,” he says (he speaks in German, I’ll translate). “Welcome to SIXX PAXX!!!!!!” There are loud screams and I realised, in retrospect, that the screams might have been pre-recorded. This man has two deep dimples that are, to be fair, quite charming, and short, spiky hair. He wears a leather jacket with nothing underneath that shows a torso so defined it looks like it’s been animated. “Tonight I want you to forget about your boyfriends! Forget about your husbands! Tonight is all about YOU, ladies!!!” Screams. “Is anyone here getting married?!” Hands flap. “Well — we’ll make sure you enjoy your last night of freedom.” His dimples flash.
“Now I don’t want to see anyone here crossing their arms.” I unbraid myself. He leans forward and puts the mic next to a woman in the front row. “What’s your name sweetheart?” Genine. “Genine, honey, I want you to get up here and stand behind me and I want you ladies out there to shout ‘stop’ when it gets too steamy.”
Genine is middle-aged and has the exact same expression as the woman next to me — like a pedigree cat that’s just about to tuck into a bowl of thick, frothy cream. She gets on stage and stands behind Dimples like there’s no where else on earth she’d rather be. Dimples takes her right hand and puts it on his taught chest. He slowly runs it down his body, bump bump bump over his abs. The room is quiet. No one will shout stop, ever. Bump bump bump and she’s reached his pubic bone and now it’s under his belt and — I can’t believe it, my English soul is crying out for mercy — her hand is inside his pants, she is clutching his dick.
I have folded back up, my limbs at impossible angles. It’s good I’m in the back row because no stripper wants to look to their audience and see mine and Anna’s faces. They depict all the horror, agony and anguish of Munch’s painting The Scream. I wonder for how long we must stay here. Can we like… go? I ask Anna if she wants to leave. She shakes her head slowly. No.
Then all of the SIXX PAXX are back on stage. The lights are flashing and Dimples introduces them one by one. As he says each name they do a little party trick, like a back flip or a head spin or a particularly violent air-hump. Then they are doing another dance. A bottle of champagne topped with a spraying sparkler arrives at the table in front of us as the men dance to ‘Often’ by The Weeknd. They body-roll and slut-drop, they lift their t-shirts and flash their abs, they fondle their crotch area. Nothing about this is tame, and every thrust, wink and hump is designed to press firmly on a button in the female brain labelled ‘BASIC.’
Then my biggest fear is realised. One by one they come gyrating down the steps and into the audience. They disperse and pick a woman each to rub themselves on. They put the women’s hands on their writhing bodies and now I can no longer look. I shut down in self-defence like an armadillo.
The last time I remember going into survival mode was in the SAW maze in Thorpe Park in 2007. I shut down just to get through it, telling myself the monsters can’t really get me, they can’t actually hurt me, they’re just actors. I got through that, but this…
I scream because a naked man is near my ear. I put my hand up — half in self-defence, but the other half weirdly in a form of acceptance, like if I touch him it might be easier. But the stripper, who spends every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night reading women, strokes my head as if to say everything will be okay, and he bounds away.
After that I start to feel more comfortable, like when you go rock-climbing and you cling on for dear life but then you slip and the rope catches you and then you carry on climbing knowing the worst has happened and it will all be okay. I know now that I am safe, that if I fall… ah fuck they got me.
There’s one very young looking SIXX PACK, who yells ‘LAAAAADIES’ the most and whenever he does everybody screams. I should say that I, too, am now screaming at everything. The lights go down and a slow, sensual song comes on.
The young Pack steps out, alone, wearing a black suit. He walks slowly with purpose into the crowd, straight up to a woman with a glowing tiara and hooks a harness around her neck. We are all screaming. He leads her onto the stage and attaches both her hands to clips above her head. He stands behind her and rolls his hands down her body, over her breasts and ON her vagina which I don’t believe is legal, then he starts body rolling all over her like a suited eel. He opens his shirt and makes her feel his abs and, to be absolutely fair, if someone held a gun to my head and demanded my opinion, I would say that yes, okay, it is kinda hot.
My instinct tells me that this man is 22 years old. He is fair-haired, cold-eyed and his bottom lip sticks out a little. He has the air of a man who is unutterably pleased with himself. I wonder if the size of their egos is directly related to the range and volume of our screams. Will it ever be enough? Or is to be a SIXX PACK to spend a lifetime trying to fill the only hole they can’t reach with their big dicks? The hole inside themselves.
To be a SIXX PACK is to be a walking fantasy. You are not real, just a construct of what women want. I wonder if these men are okay with that; with being reduced to a jizz-phantom, a sperm-spectre, a fuck-ghost.
These men are providing a service to women who want to escape their reality and forget they feel taken for granted, overlooked or alone. These strippers are erasing that, for 90 minutes, by whispering in their ears, looking deep in their eyes and telling them they’re beautiful.
The woman is handcuffed to a bed now and the young Pack, almost entirely naked, humps her violently from behind.
The SIXX PAXX show is a fantasy check-list. They are builders in a Diet Coke ad. They drill and hammer wearing hard hats, tight pants and open fluorescent vests and then squirt bottles of water in their own faces.
There is a shower scene. A SIXX PACK stands on stage in his underwear and proceeds to wash himself under a real shower. He lifts his arms a lot and runs his hands down his body and shampoos his head ferociously. The room is in pieces, the screams are piercing.
There is a lap dance-off. The young Pack sits on a chair while three women writhe and roll all over him. The first girl just mounts him and takes her top off. She wins.
One woman is hauled on stage and air-fucked by two SIXX PAXX for a good ten minutes. She is pulled and pushed, humped and heaved, upside-down, down-side up and then done up the arse and in the mouth simultaneously in a mammoth spit-roasting. Her mates shriek so loudly it’s a miracle the tunnel doesn’t cave in.
There is a Pirates of the Caribbean scene. They come on stage in pirate costumes and Jack Sparrow wigs with stuffed parrots on their shoulders and do a little pirate jig which ends up, inevitably, with all of them in their pants.
The fire alarm goes off. Dimples comes on stage and explains that “This is not a drill. Everybody needs to evacuate the building. Now.” The German’s, ever-obedient, get up to leave until that song by Hot Chocolate comes on and the SIXX PAXX run on stage and spray us all with their giant hose.
The grand finale is a little party. They all jump around on stage, un-choreographed, shirtless and jubilant. There’s no dance routine now, just all of the almost-naked men we’ve got to know and love in the last 90 minutes dancing to release the impact of all those ego boosts and screams. Dimples grabs the microphone to tell us we’re beautiful and to stick around for the after-party.
Some of the SIXX PAXX go backstage and two of them bounce to the bar area — they run up to the two barmen and do a kind of battle cry, hulking their muscles and bellowing like sumo wrestlers — and then bounce on to a mini stage where they dance suggestively and beckon drunk and sexually frustrated women over.
Anna and I get our coats and leave before we get air-humped. As we step back onto the full-moonlit street, I realise I’ve spent the last two hours in another dimension — one I didn’t think could exist in my dark and serious version of Berlin. This dimension is surreal as sleep, sparkly and pink, full of heteronormativity, a place where women are reverted to the most basic version of themselves and where men shower like total weirdos. It’s strange, because we only went for a joke, but on the S-Bahn home I think hard about how I think my life should look, what I expect from myself and other people, and whether anything can ever live up to the fantasy.
Originally published on No Filter Zine.