Oh Portland, you are a very special kind of sexy.
This Friday, in recognition of Thanksgiving, well-known sex worker/writer/activist Elle Stanger will be presenting ThanksStripping, a one-woman charity event during her shift at Lucky Devil Lounge from 9PM-2AM. She will donate all of the proceeds presented to her onstage to the Letty Owings Center.
Having interviewed the charismatic and wicked smart Stanger for a handful of other articles regarding sex work and activism in Portland, I was immediately intrigued when I saw her Facebook announcement about this upcoming show. In case you are unfamiliar with Stanger’s work: she is a media personality who has written for publications like Thrillist, one of the organizers behind Portland’s Slutwalk and one of the big proponents of Oregon House Bill 3059.
In case you have never been to Lucky Devil Lounge: it is a classic Portland Cheers-esque strip club that is known for its appeal to Burning Man attendees and amateur poker players. It’s interior is entirely red (because Satan) and cozy in a David Lynch sort-of way. Entry fees are relatively cheap and the lottos are thankfully in a side room, unable to interrupt with their migraine-inducing noise what is sure to be a special performance from Stanger.
Below are Stanger’s responses to questions I emailed her a few weeks ago. Enjoy.
I have never heard of a stripper doing this before. What gave you the idea?
Thank you! I got the idea to do a fundraiser from tattoo artist Jasmine Wright. She recently held a raffle for her services, and the subsequent funds raised went to LGTBQ youth organizations. She’s a longtime friend, and her random generosity inspired me. Food, shelter and hygiene supplies are commodities, and yet plenty of people struggle to have these things. Tattoos and lap dances are luxury items, and so I’m thankful to be able to make my livelihood through the giving of others.
Will you be doing this by yourself, or might you try to find other strippers to join you?
I offer the hashtag “#ThanksStripping” to anyone who wants to take part or donate. I’d love to see other strippers get involved, and yet this part of the year is slow for our industry, so I’d never pressure anyone else to channel their funds elsewhere. I never tell people what to do with their money, I only offer ideas, and I welcome them from others.
Ed. Note- Stanger made a post on Tuesday that fellow stripper @ladykillerluv will also be participating in ThanksStripping at Sassy’s.
I know that activism is very much part of who you are. Has charity work also been a big part of your life?
My mom worked for the school district and was actually an environmentalist in her spare time. I remember constructing posters for water conservation that she posted near drinking fountains at my elementary school. One year she took part in a tree-planting organization. She never considered herself an activist- that was just what felt right to do. In high school I was sitting in Psych class and I overheard another student talking about her candy-striping at a nearby hospital. I was overwhelmed with guilt for not having “done anything” with my life yet. So I signed up, bought the white pants, and spent a few hours a week for about a year at a Nursing Facility. The facility was understaffed, underpaid, and I always went home crying.
The clients were amazing to me. I watched a former professional ballerina mentally prepare for a double leg-amputation. His room was decorated of photos of his travels, decades before I’d been born. He’d ask me about ballet practice, and suggest that I walk in the sand to help loosen my bones.
I would read the newspaper or watch the news with men who had fought in wars that I’d only learned about in school. At the time, “Operation Enduring Freedom” was just kicking off, and these old men would shake their heads at the news of another invasion.
I would visit a woman who was 92 and had been afflicted by a stroke at the age of 31. She had been immobile for sixty years, at the time. I was sixteen. I couldn’t imagine what that would be like. I think of these people often, I remember their names. But I’m sure they have departed by now. I once had a woman ask me, “Why doesn’t my family visit me?” I don’t even remember if I answered her. It was the holiday season. My heart hurt for her. I can’t imagine waiting to die in a place where you get visits from strangers more than your kin. And so I think there’s something to be said for the strangers who make the effort to be that support.
I have a deep respect for nurses, hospice workers and healers. But I don’t have the strength to do that job. So instead, I’ve been lucky enough to talk about sex as a writer, and to interact with people in an intimate space, as a stripper. And it’s beautiful, but still really fucking hard sometimes.
I saw comment (on Facebook) you made about the homeless having to face the oncoming winter without warm clothes. Are you thinking of donating your funds to a charity that tackles that problem? Do you have any other charities in mind?
I make a few trips every year to the Letty Owings center; their focus is women and their children. I prefer to give blankets or jackets to people in camps or on corners, but I haven’t yet a group in mind. And honestly, even though Portland considers itself quite progressive, I am aware of the fact that plenty of charities don’t want to be publicly conflated with a stripper. But I have a few options, I might split the funds between two groups, depending on what I’m able to raise!
Other than donating the money you make, is there going to be anything else special about this performance?
Honestly, every stage set I do depends upon my mood and the energy of the audience. Sometimes I’m silly, sticking straws through my nose-hole (I have a stretched septum piercing), other times I’ll be feeling incredibly sexual, in an almost animalistic way, where I take great pleasure in watching the faces of people as I tie my underwear around my throat. Sometimes I just focus on flying around on that metal pole. I think that when people visit my stage, I’ll recognize the look in their eyes if they are dropping dollars with this donation in mind.
Photos: (above) Elle Stanger (left) at Portland’s 2015 Slutwalk. (Featured) Image provided by Elle Stanger.