The video features a femme-presenting person wearing an oversized denim jacket and sunglasses pantomiming a dramatic screaming fit synced to the intro of the song “UCKERS” by Shygirl. At the top of the screen, a caption reads, “Chad at the str*p club when you remind them that they do indeed have to pay str*ppers for their time.”
“Any joke that I’ve made about being in a strip club, about a “Chad” in the strip club, is about a guy that I’ve encountered and a guy that millions of other strippers have encountered,” explains Ro, the entertainer behind the TikTok video.
“Every club tends to have regulars, so if I’m speaking about my club, a co-worker will be like, ‘was that [TikTok] about so-and-so?’” she laughingly continues. “Strippers deal with a lot and we tend to deal with a lot of things people outside of our world don’t find funny, so I think that if I can make humor for us, it’ll build community. Sharing laughter is a magical thing and I want to share that with my entire community.”
Like so many others, I downloaded TikTok sometime in the beginning of 2020, right after the COVID-19 pandemic shut down my office and...well, everything else. It was by the grace of the Almighty TikTok Algorithm that I discovered Ro, who creates videos on the platform under the name Inapproprororo.
Ro’s videos are a blend of feel-good, motivational messages, jokes about sex work and LGBTQ culture, and tips on how to act respectfully in a strip club...and towards sex workers in general, since many people, somehow, seem to be lost there. Her TikToks, most of which use popular soundbites and format trends, are funny, feminist, and thought-provoking.
Because of the subject matter of her videos (none of which are actually explicit), Ro strategically censors certain words like “strippers” and “sex work” so that the app’s administrators don’t ban her account and/or delete her videos.
Ro is 24 years old, uses she/they pronouns, and is from Tucson, Arizona (“It’s a weird town, but it’s home”). When asked to describe themselves, Ro said, “I think that I’m kind and intelligent, annoyingly supportive, a goofball...just a multifaceted person, as we all are.”
Ro started dancing six years ago, when she was 18.
“I started dancing because for an 18-year-old who didn’t really have a lot of options or qualifications, it seemed like a really good way to make money quickly,” they explain. “I always said throughout high school, ‘If things go belly-up, I’m gonna go for it!’ and I’m a she-they of my word. I just fell in love with what I do and the people that I worked with. I found community there.”
“My first week [as a stripper], I think I was just terrified. It was an entirely new experience, it was something I’d never done before,” she laughs. “The first two or three days, I was just so intimidated by these gorgeous women around me! All Amazons in eight-inch heels, just killing it on the stage, getting rains...And then the more I got to know the people and the more I found my place there and my vibe and my flow, it got a lot easier. But it took a lot of practice.”
I asked them if they had done anything to prepare for their new job, like take dance classes or even just watch videos for some cool moves.
“Not at all,” they laugh. “Not even a little bit. I came in just gyrating. I had no idea what I was doing on stage and didn’t really know how to navigate an interaction with a customer, but I kept trying and I kept coming back for more.”
Ro described her experience of starting her job at a strip club as an immersive one in which she learned a lot just by doing the job.
“I was very lucky [and] I had a girl, another performer, who kind of guided me and taught me the ropes of the club,” they say, and with another laugh adds: “She tried to teach me how to shake my cake, but it took awhile. That doesn’t always happen [like that], but if you work at a club where it’s a really supportive environment, it can be a learning experience.”
Six years into her job and Ro is a total veteran—confident in her craft and confident in herself.
“I really like the freedom that comes with being a dancer,” she says. “I am my own boss. I make my own hours, I make my own schedule, I get to decide when I do or when I don’t work. And I get to decide who I do or don’t want to work with. I get to decide who shares my space and when, which is a real luxury that a lot of jobs don’t have.”
I commented that being able to call all the shots in your professional life and work environment sounded empowering. Ro agreed that it was nice but also said that they—meaning Ro and others in their field—were actually trying to pull away from the “empowering” narrative.
“The sex work community wants it to be seen as nothing more than a normal job,” she says. “There’s this thing where people are like, ‘Oh, become a stripper, become a sex worker, it’s so empowering.’ I just want to pay my bills, friend! (laughs) That’s it!”
“It can be [empowering] for some people. There’s absolutely people out there who have found empowerment through it,” they add. “For me, I’ve learned a lot about boundaries and being able to use my voice, but as a whole, we really want it to be seen as a job rather than this empowering journey. If you want to go down that road, absolutely go for it! [But] in general, we’re like ‘it’s a job!’”
When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down businesses and venues, including her club, Ro started creating content on OnlyFans to keep making a living.
“It was interesting,” they say of her experience starting an OnlyFans account. “I really had no idea what I was doing. I actually went on YouTube to find other people who offered OnlyFans advice just to see what I could do because I wasn’t used to it. That transition was really rough. It’s gone swimmingly otherwise! I really enjoy it.”
Ro explained that, like her job as a stripper, on OnlyFans, she has free rein of her schedule and hours, and has complete control over who is allowed to be in her space. She said that she has had a lot of success attracting new patrons and clientele through promoting herself on Instagram.
“TikTok has so many blatantly whorephobic guidelines,” they say. “[Censorship on Instagram] can be really hard [as well]. It’s really weird because there will be a few months where everybody’s getting flagged, accounts are being deleted, posts are getting taken down...and then things will simmer. But then [they’ll] pop right back up. It’s a cycle. It can be hard to promote [on social media]. It can be really [restrictive] in growing and making a living.”
Taking a step away from social media, I asked Ro some essential questions about a subject mired in controversy, well-meaning but horrible-in-practice legislation, and misrepresentation in the media: sex work.
“I define sex work as using one’s sexual appeal and wiles for monetary gain. And that opens up a lot,” she says. “Because a lot of people, just from that, could be considered sex workers. But I think the line comes in at full nudity, building a level of intimacy with people...and there is a physical aspect. For me, my physical aspect is dancing as opposed to full service sex workers, sugar babies, and escorts, where their physical aspect would be sex or whatever act they would be performing that day.”
I asked them if they would describe themselves as a sex worker.
“Mmhmm. Oh, I am a sex worker,” they nod. “There tends to be a bit of debate within the sex work community [that argues that] non-full service strippers, who offer ‘extras’ as we call it, aren’t real sex workers, and that’s just not true.”
Ro told me that she wants to clear up all misconceptions about her job and about sex work in general.
“There’s this archetype in society that strippers are people who are struggling with dependency or they’re cold-hearted and only care about money; that we’re gold-diggers, that we don’t care about the people that we’re doing business with,” she says. “We have a job that requires a level of vulnerability and we’re told we’re only allowed to exist in the underbelly of society. And that’s just not the case. Sex workers are a diverse group of people from all different types of backgrounds. The way that we’re portrayed a lot of the time [are] as these [stereotypes]. Most of the people that I’ve worked with are happy people who just want to make their money and go home.”
“Every sex worker’s experience is unique and it’s important to listen to those and hold space for those [experiences].”
“My least favorite thing about [my job] is how people treat me [and] treat my community. I absolutely abhor it,” they continue. “We deserve space in this world just as much as everyone else. And just like any other profession, I don’t think that any sex worker should have to live in fear of getting murdered because of what they do for a living. That is the part I hate the most.”
And now for the most important question: How can we best support sex workers?
“From a base level, to start and grow, would be to integrate sex positivity into the mainstream,” Ro says. “When sex isn’t vilified in society, we won’t be vilified for using it. We won’t be dehumanized; we’d be put at less risk. Bring trans, male, and POC sex workers into any discussion about sex workers. Any of them. We don’t want to focus on just one archetype of a sex worker. It’s all of us.”
“Another thing is to stop casting judgment on people who utilize sex workers’ services; there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it,” they say. “Make sure that when discussions about sex workers are happening that full-service sex workers are included and that it is a point of the discussion: I support full-service sex workers. And especially Black trans sex workers; we need to protect them so they really need to be part of the conversation.”
“Change the vernacular we have around ‘legalizing’ sex work to ‘decriminalizing’ sex work. It’s one word shift, but it makes such a difference. Start speaking out against FOSTA-SESTA,” they continue.
“They are two pieces of anti-sex work legislation: the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act and the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act. Basically, they hold platforms accountable to what individuals post, as opposed to [holding] the individual [accountable], which causes platforms to crack down on people who are posting explicit content. It forces platforms to have stricter guidelines, which gives sex workers [fewer] safe spaces to exist. Start reaching out to your representatives [about FOSTA-SESTA]—you know, I’d bet a lot of them don’t even know what whorephobia is. ”
I asked Ro if, as a sex worker, she feels added responsibility to speak out against the difference between sex trafficking and consensual sex work.
“Yes, absolutely,” she says. “A thing I’m constantly saying to SWERFS (Sex Worker-Exclusionary Radical Feminists) is that sex work and sex trafficking are not the same, and the conflation of the two harms both sex workers and victims of sex trafficking.”
Speaking of SWERFs...we couldn’t not talk about the various activists and movements calling for a “cancellation” of pornography.
“I fully support porn,” Ro says. “Safe, consensual porn. I’m a big supporter of that and believe that that is work as well. I think there are people out there who view sex as bad and they don’t want the porn industry to exist. I don’t think that taking away an industry that helps people thrive will help anyone. I think that it would just push sex workers further back into the dark and put us in more danger than we already are in. [And] any person who’s been filmed non-consensually or in a bad situation is a victim and we need to recognize that and we need to help them.”
“I want people [to be] safe!” they say.