'Hustlers': Confessions Of A Former Stripper Who Hustled Investment Bankers Day & Night

What Hustlers gets right and what it gets really, really wrong.

Her Voice

"This whole country is a strip club. Someone's dancing, someone's throwing the money." - 'Hustlers', 2019

I worked for investment bankers during the day then hustled them at night. If you've recently seen the movie Hustlers, just know that I worked in that exact kind of club environment. I now spend a great deal of time in the capital of New Jersey. It's a tiny township that was devastated by the 2008 financial crisis. It doesn't look like it ever recovered in 2019. Did the big corporations ever get brought to justice for ravaging an entire country? They did not.

It was the early aughts. I was fresh out of my fancy university with two degrees. Being a young performer in NY meant having many flexible jobs. A "culturally ambiguous" name to put on a resume and training in Linklater standard American speech didn't hurt. The look on their faces at the big banks when I walked in was always priceless. As a temp, I was Executive Assistant to C-Suite Executives in several of the big banks in NY. In old New York, the degrees allowed me to learn well as a young, single person.

As a young woman in corporate America, I was often ignored or spoken to with insolence.

People would have entire conversations as if I was transparent, filled with details that I should not have been privy to. Apparently, I was invisible unless I was being patronized by men in the higher positions. In response to one particular boss, initially, I'd just do things like forget to make his travel plans until the last minute. Eventually, I reported him to HR. Finally, I emphatically informed him that I was more educated than he was and even if I was not, I deserved to be treated with respect like a person. Then, I quit.

At night, letting almost everything they said slide off was the gig. It can be hard to constantly have the proverbial smile and nod while simultaneously avoiding being touched beyond your boundaries. Shape shift, life of the party, flirt, sift cash from pockets, shimmy, wash (or baby wipe) and repeat. If the way these men spent on corporate accounts was any indication of how they conducted business in general, I see why we went into recession.


Even paying for a stripper's time, the high of having a life that meant you could have anything that money could buy, seemed like their real addiction. Masters of the Universe who hounded their assistants to get reimbursed for lavish "business dinners at steakhouses". They spent money like it wasn't real every night and I got to be rushed to finish expense account reimbursements. Unlike my assertive real-life self, my stripper persona was whatever it needed to be to make the most money. It's not as easy as showing up, getting naked, and going home with bags full of cash. Although, as if invisible, I'd hear conversations about business deals I'm sure I shouldn't hear. I wasn't there to be acknowledged. I didn't care. I was there to work.

At the end of a good night at the club, I felt properly compensated for my labor. At the end of a bad night at the club (leaving owing money to the club), I'd question every life decision I ever made. But every single morning without fail, I'd cry in the bathroom stall before heading to my cubicle. I'd grin and bear my day away. It was made extremely clear about my low rung on the corporate ladder. I stopped temping in Corporate America. I chased good nights in clubs for a decade instead. I, too, left my upstanding job.


Hustlers did a great job of showing the backstories of the women. How does a nice girl like you end up in a place like this? Because America is a place where you can work forty hours a week and not be able to pay all your bills. Every one of us has a unique life story. Hustlers shows that strippers don't just exist in a vacuum of spandex, stilettos and stages. People seldom consider the life of someone in sex work beyond the stigma, judgement of morals and the fact that they get some level of naked for a living. When I heard that the film hired the lovely Jacq the Stripper as a consultant, I was excited! She's someone who has actually done the job and speaks up for sex worker rights quite audibly. There are nuances that feel like inside jokes only other strippers will get. That gave the movie a nice authentic touch.

Then, watching the interview on 20/20 with the real life hustler, I hear that the story was made despite Destiny (played in the film by Constance Wu) turning down a lowball deal to sell the rights to her life story. This is how marginalized and stigmatized groups become silenced and made invisible. To profit from the lives of these women without permission or compensation falls right in line with experiences women have when working in the mainstream culture at large.


Asserting myself in corporate America gets me fired (or quitting first). Submitting to an exoticized fantasy of myself gets me paid well. However, the true value of the whole human is never acknowledged. A filmmaker can be shouting women's empowerment while simultaneously silently stealing from the same women she's profiting from.

I love that there is finally a strip flick that goes beyond the stereotypical telling of the industry. I'd also be lying if I said that I don't love a good underdog-getting-over-on-the-man story as well. In the end the "bad guys" get their due. However, it should not be lost that the women whose lives Hollywood is profiting from will now have to hustle to get properly compensated for their own life stories in other ways, if at all. Destiny is working on her memoir. If the others don't create a way to leverage this moment, they get nothing from this theft. According to The-numbers.com, Hustlers has made $66,260,645 nationally, $9,800,000 internationally and $76,060,645 worldwide in box offices [at the time this article was written]. Payback? Do the masterminds of this crime spree deserve to be compensated for a film about it?

I frequent a community that is filled with abandoned houses, neighborhoods devastated by unchecked and unpunished criminal-level corporate greed. Would you be mad that someone got to keep their house because their stripper loved one paid it off? Like Destiny in the film, many of us have the ten-year gap on our resumes. Are you hiring someone with a ten-year lapse in work experience? I haven't danced for about a decade but consultant after business consultant has warned me not to talk about my stripping past. In 2019, shame and stigma are weapons of legalized discrimination towards certain groups.


Stipppers and sex workers like, returning citizens, like sexual assault survivors, like those managing mental health, like immigrants, Native Americans and the LGBTQIA community (especially Black trans women), all exist in this world. It can feel like living on the outside looking in as society happens all around you.

Hooray for making a film where strippers are people, complex and flawed as all people typically are. But do better not to take advantage of people who are not in positions of power. There's no way to make drugging and stealing from people justifiable. There's also no way to make the greed-fueled capitalism that sunk this country in 2008 and continues to run this country today, defensible. There's no way punishing one and not the other could ever possibly be right. Hustlers film should duly compensate both the women whose lives this is about, dancers they did research from and the displaced workers of Show Palace in Queens where the film was shot. They were out of work for two weeks.

What would be amazing is if projects like this helped to remove the stigma from stripping and sex work versus profitting from dancers like they're a diregarded co-worker in the room you condescendingly underestimate and devalue. The director of the film is now hustling backwards, claiming she'll spend money at the club whenever she is in town and will donate a percentage of the film's earnings to SWOP. All an afterthought. Reminds me of working in good ole Corporate US of A. where what you provide is useful but you are dispensable. Is the character Destiny wrong when she says: "The game is rigged and it does not reward people who play by the rules"?

As long as they don't get caught, that is.

xoNecole is always looking for new voices and empowering stories to add to our platform. If you have an interesting story or personal essay that you'd love to share, we'd love to hear from you. Contact us at submissions@xonecole.com.

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ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.


We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
Sign up

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