Stripping in Oregon is a political act. To broadstroke, public nudity has led to the state having some of the freest forms of constitutionally protected expression in the United States. Stormy Daniels, a political symbol and sex worker, used her award-winning stage presence to join the legacy of Tempest Storm and John E. Brennan in using nudity to validate and strengthen the First Amendment’s protected free speech and expression, and to fulfill the assembled audience’s complex fantasies. What made Daniels’ May 19 appearance at Stars Cabaret Bridgeport an act of political performance art wasn’t the performance itself, but rather the space created by her presence, and the reflective moments thereafter.
Stripping in Oregon is a political act.
The unfamiliar should know that within the erotic world, Daniels has been recognized for record-breaking achievements. She was recently named Penthouse ‘Pet of the Century,’ indicted into three separate hall of fames in 2014 and earned 24 adult entertainment awards between 2010–2014. In addition, Daniels’ received the Positive Image Award from the Free Speech Coalition in 2009, which was the same year she almost ran for Senate in her home state of Louisiana. You might also recognize Daniels’ from Hollywood (The 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up), or even Cedric the Entertainer’s TV show The Soul Man in 2016.
With all of this in mind, Daniels definitely had fans in the room. Especially Mrs. Linda Johnston, a retired elementary school teacher. Mrs. Johnston’s feet kicked and dangled excitedly off her bar stool, like one of her former students, as she waited with her husband for Daniels to arrive.
There were construction workers, college students, retirees and men who remind you of your smarmiest gym teacher. The ultraliberal Johnstons shared a room with a young conservative and a heteronormative couple; the male counterpart reminded me of a bisexual waiter from Vancouver, Wash. while the wife looked inspired by a Republican drag queen lookbook. Stars Cabaret became a financially-enforced safe space where political statements were checked at the door. At least one older white man was asked by a bouncer to leave his protest sign outside before entering the building.
Stars Cabaret became a financially-enforced safe space where political statements were checked at the door.
I stood inside the suspiciously intimate room with wall-to-wall TVs playing awful music videos, and watched club regulars; I felt a spiritual understanding of how VH1 casted over a dozen seasons of Flavor of Love and Rock of Love over the past four-ish years, and I asked myself, “What does it mean when a woman pole dances to nine-foot-high sports news footage?”
Oh, and did I mention the cast of two or three dozen women working their regular Saturday dance shift? The cast was impatient with newcomers who didn’t know proper strip club etiquette, and you would be too if your workplace was overcrowded by under-tipping patrons. Some women didn’t know who Stormy Daniels was prior to their shift. One dancer said she wanted Daniels to sign her tits. Another dancer walked the club wearing a white fitted Donald Trump one-piece.
When Daniels’ performance began, it was clear why she won so many awards. This wasn’t the Netflix-friendly world of Portland burlesque, but a national-tier stripshow on a rush budget. Daniels gave us hairography. She gave us body. She gave us looks and stage presence. The closest I got to Daniels from my side-stage view was when she and her staff made a beeline to, and from, the kitchen exit. They were in and out on a mission, and by all measurable means very successful. By the time her four-song set was complete, Daniels’ staff was picking up tip money in multiple buckets. Which pole dance champion is going to be Daniels’ stunt-double when we finally make a movie about this waking national nightmare?
Whatever fantasy you have of Daniels—the sex symbol on par with Pamela Anderson and Marilyn Monroe or the bipartisan revolutionary challenging corruption in high power—if witnessing the woman portraying the MILF Saving America, your fantasy was fulfilled. The event wasn’t for those who wanted something more explicitly organized and academic than watching a personally-stained T-shirt be sold for triple digits (which is Art as fuck, don’t @ me).
The most moving aspect of the show actually occurred after while I walked back to my car. I’d realized that for several hours I was outside my Portland bubble, and it wasn’t the most awful experience I’d ever had. Although no matter how gay I am, being a white man closer to seven-feet tall than six, isn’t a privilege I can flat out ignore. I got within walking distance of the sidewalk demonstration outside the club where a group of a few dozen men were yelling, and holding up signs to remind Daniels, club patrons and people like me, that we’re going to hell. If you buy into this fear, it can be scary; but if you don’t, it’s laughable.
Daniels will continue to face worse intimidation than encountered at Stars, and I hope she laughs her way to the bank after her legal battle against Trump. If anything, the night was a reminder of how the current culture of fear and anxiety might someday be turned into a porn parody. And hopefully by then, Daniels and her lawyer, Michael Avenetti, get their casting justice.