I try to avoid going to Christmas parties, whenever I can. I’m honestly not a fan.
In 2001, I was working for a taxi company. There were only three women working there – one of whom was me – but I got along with most of the guys who worked there (somewhat superficially, admittedly – I’d go for drinks with them but I wasn’t about to invite anyone around mine for dinner) so I didn’t really think much of the imbalance between the sexes. When it came to the Christmas party, I figured if the big boss dude was going to be there, then no-one would misbehave, right?
At this point I had only been living away from home for a year and a half, and I hadn’t been able to go to the Christmas party at my previous job the year before so I figured I’d make up for it with this one. The party was above a pub and even though I was only 17, I was allowed to go. I took my boyfriend with me (who we shall call Joe), and we arrived to find a free bar. Back then, my favourite alcohol was free alcohol, so I thought this was pretty fucking cool.
Of course there’s a catch. There’s always a catch. In this case, the catch came in the form of strippers.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t care if strippers are your thing. But seventeen-year-old me was not equipped to cope with strippers. The trouble wasn’t that men were ogling a woman as though they were starving wolves and she was a piece of tasty meat – I mean, that’s not great, but that’s not what the issue was here. No, the problem I had was that – in an attempt to coax the drivers’ wives and girlfriends out and also give them a ‘treat’ – one of my two female co-workers had decided that what we needed was a male stripper to address the balance.
I’ve only had to endure a male stripper twice in my life. The first time was at this particular party, and the second time was a trashy hen night (of course) that took place around five years later. I was more prepared the second time round. (I went to the bar.) One of the lesser problems I’ve found is that I get the same issue as I do when I’m opening Christmas presents or being serenaded: I don’t know what to do with my face. And when I try to work out what I need to do with my face, all of a sudden I have to control every single part of it – I suddenly have to remember to blink, at the right time, and control my mouth, and breath, and oh fuck what face am I pulling? So I default to ‘politely interested’, which is fine for unwrapping presents but is probably offensive to someone singing at me and fuck knows how it comes across to an unnaturally brown and oily man dancing around in front of me.
It turned out that Joe felt the same way as I did. Well, kind of. He was an upper middle-class, sheltered white boy and so he just thought the people watching the strippers were trashy and weird. In fact, he thought that about everyone there even before the strippers arrived. He wasn’t the best boyfriend for looking after me in such situations, now that I think about it. He would have just been laughed at, had he piped up, and I don’t think he would have known what to do with that.
In fairness, I thought everyone was trashy and weird as well. It just seemed less snobby when I thought it, because I was of the same social class and I had grown up with people like them. Joe tried to keep away from people like that. He was appalled when I took him back to Grays and he saw that it was a crappy town made up of housing associations and council estates – he seemed to think that because I had talked about playing in cornfields as a kid, that I lived in some kind of rural idyll.
I’m sorry if I sound as though I’m throwing him under the bus here. I wasn’t expecting him to beat everyone up and then make caveman noises while he dragged me back to his parents’ house, but a little help would have been nice.
Anyway, at the party, I think we had intended to leave and get some food and then return once everyone’s clothes were back on. Unfortunately, and most likely because of Joe’s obvious snobbery and my obvious wide-eyed panic, we were gleefully separated and dragged to see the female and male stripper respectively. Looking back, I was actually more worried about Joe at this point because (I thought) I knew I could handle myself (because seventeen-year-old me knew fucking everything) but I wasn’t sure I could say the same for Joe. It felt like he was a lamb being taken to slaughter while I was being dragged to watch a greasy live-action Full Monty.
Up until this moment in my life, I had only ever heard of strippers in their more innocent forms; sanitised stories of strip-o-grams and films with Robert Carlyle, where the fact they get totally naked is the titillation. It wouldn’t be until years afterwards that I’d hear stories involving blowjobs and bananas. Up to this point, I thought all they did was take their clothes off and maybe flash you a bit as the song ends and then they shuffle away to get dressed while the crowd get rowdy. This is not what strippers are actually like. Or, at least, it’s not what pub strippers who may or may not have been hired on some kind of buy-one-get-one-half-price deal are like.
In spite of me trying to hide behind all the horny old women trying to get at him, he gyrated his way round to me and I think I managed to maintain my ‘politely interested’ expression right up until he got too close and then I think I probably grimaced a bit but he must have taken it as some kind of aroused grimace as he then took my hand and put it down the front of his oily leopard-print stripperpants. I genuinely was not expecting that. My hand was as limp as his cock as I pulled it away while the wifeys all cackled around me and offered themselves up in my place.
The rest of the night is a blur of free whiskey. I think I ran and found Joe but I couldn’t quite bring myself to tell him what had happened because I was simultaneously trying to process it and forget it happened.
And thus, I had been put off the idea of Christmas parties forever – before I was even legally old enough to drink.