The movie Magic Mike brought widespread Hollywood acclaim to male stripping.
However, it didn’t depict the entire truth of male strip clubs. Stripping, in fact, goes hand in hand with prostitution.
Dante, who identifies as heterosexual, stripped and ‘turned tricks’ at the largest male-only strip club in Toronto, Remington’s- Men of Steel, for four years.
So what is the reality of the male sex trade and stripping?
At the time, Dante was an undergraduate student at the University of Ottawa. He grew up in the city, had loving parents and pursued an education.
But by his second year of university, he had run into difficult financial circumstances and didn’t know what to do.
“I was 19 or 20. I knew somebody who was doing it and I needed money,” he says.
“I did it for two years, then I stopped, then I did it for another two years.”
Dante would fly to Toronto on Friday and work an evening shift, stay Saturday and work all night, and take the bus home to Ottawa on Sunday.
He rented a room at a bathhouse, a type of hotel where men go to have sex, for a strippers discount of $12 a night.
No one in Ottawa knew about the double life he was leading in Toronto, not even his family, and they didn’t questioned his regular travel or excessive spending.
For full sex, Dante was charging $300 for the first hour and $250 for every additional hour. Many of the club’s patrons were wealthy, married business men also leading double lives.
“Only a few of them weren’t turning tricks,” he says of the male strippers, “but the club is a way to get clients.”
“Per weekend, I’d average out about $1500-$1600. The best I ever did was $4000,” says Dante.
However, leading two lives, many male strippers and sex trade workers would turn to drugs.
“Clients would try to pay you with drugs, other strippers would say, ‘hey man, let’s go do some drugs.’ Cocaine, MDMA; it was everywhere,” he explains.
Dante was able to stay away from this thanks to his support network of family and friends back in Ottawa.
But similar to the female sex trade, the male one is a slippery slope. The money is lucrative, drugs are rampant and when you become isolated from normal society, things can get out of control, which eventually became the case for Dante.
“It became a downwards spiral,” he says, “I didn’t have anything else going on in my life, I was having some troubles with girlfriend and family and it was becoming too big a part of my life.”
The double life he was leading began to unravel.
“At one point, it was the beginning of my shift. It was on a Friday, I had just gotten to Toronto and I was just on my way up to start walking the floor, and I just lost my shit,” he says,” I started bawling my eyes out. I was just like ‘I can’t do it anymore.'”
“I went downstairs, got changed, went to go see the DJ and the manager, and I told them I just couldn’t hack it anymore and then I walked out.”
After leaving the sex trade, Dante had to readjust and rebuild his normal life with far less money. Inevitably, once again, financial instability rolled around.
“I spent two years getting my brain right and getting my shit together and then went back with a plan,” says Dante.
While working in the strip club and making so much money, Dante had bought a very expensive car. He soon realized after leaving the industry that he wasn’t able to make the payments.
“When I stopped dancing, I had to park it for a while because I couldn’t afford it,” he explains.
One day after he had gotten the car back on the road and was pulling into a gas station, he was hit by another driver. Luckily, there were no injuries, but the car was totalled.
“At that point, I had to buy a new car and I still owed money on that car,” he says.
“At that time I was riding high; I was mentally good, and when they told me that (the car was totalled) I was like, ‘alright, I’m ready to go back and make this happen,'” he says.
He worked one weekend to make the $2000 down payment and bought a $60 000 truck.
At that point, Dante was making $4000 to $7000 a month. He soon started saving money, investing it and started a business.
“I quit on my birthday two years later. It was like a closure thing, it wasn’t like running away this time,” he says. “I had set everything up for work and I was moving on to the next chapter in my life.”
Dante still faces the consequences of his former life. The long-term girlfriends who knew the truth have cited his past as the reason for ending the relationships; but his life is now far from what it once was.
“I mean it’s always there,” he says, “I know I could go back at any given time to survive if have to.”