Two Decades Naked [May 6]
Last night I launched a new memoir called ‘Two Decades Naked’ (Hachette). It was written by my student Leigh Hopkinson, who spent two decades working as a stripper in clubs across Australia, New Zealand and the UK. This is the speech I gave at her launch:
First impressions can be deceptive.
When I first met Leigh Hopkinson it was in a small writing group I was mentoring at RMIT. She was quiet, considered, unadorned, sweet. Well-mannered. A nice girl. Capital N, Capital G. And then I started reading her draft memoir.
Turns out this nice girl had a naughty side. Capital N naughty. And I very quickly realised that I was reading the first draft of a book that was very definitely going to be published.
Two Decades Naked’ is everything a memoir should be.
It is immersive – Leigh us takes by the hand and leads us inside the doors of places many of us – especially those of us who are usually Nice Boys and Girls – rarely enter. Places where women take a long hard look at the men who are there to take a long hard look at them – and those women quickly work out how to assume the upper hand – how to get what they want from those men.
And we get to feel the sticky carpet under our feet, to hold the slippery pole in our hands and know what it’s like to gyrate and pose for the male gaze – to strip away, not just our clothes, but our inhibitions, our preconceptions, and at times, our dignity.
It’s immersive, and it’s full of deftly-drawn character portraits – of men and women with false names and nick-names.
Women with names like Tiffany and Jade and Bonnie and Chelsea – and Violet.
Leigh tells us: ‘Violet wore all black: a fringed suede jacket, a miniskirt and a lace teddy. She greeted the working girls without moving her lips, which were deep purple and hung open non-compliantly, slashed across her porcelain skin like a blackening wound. Violet stripped to heavy metal, shuffling self-consciously, her eyes downcast. She was scarily fascinating to watch.’
Men like Thursday Man, who ‘opens his wallet like a spinnaker to the wind’. Men like Vietnam Phil, and Weatherman John whose ‘wife dropped him off (at the strip club) on her way to classical concerts’. Men like The Maestro – Leigh describes him like this: ‘A rotund man in shirtsleeves prancing around the podium, directing a topless dancer reclining on her elbows. It was The Maestro: a weekly weirdo and master of grandiose hand signals, with dubious musical ability.’
This memoir is immersive and full of character portraits – and full of love. Leigh falls in love – hard – several times – and she takes us into her heart as she wrangles that complex emotion.
And she is full of love for both her fellow strippers and her clients – she loves their strengths and their vulnerabilities in equal measure. She doesn’t judge, Leigh – she watches, and listens, and looks, and learns, and she wonders.
This memoir is full of wondering – about the strange world she’s entered, about the people she meets there, and about herself. And above all, if you write a memoir, you have to be willing to wonder – hard – about yourself.
Leigh is not a proselytiser – this is not a political tome, far from it – but she instinctively understands what Anne Summers meant when she used the term ‘damned whores and gods police’, and Leigh doesn’t want to be cast in either of those roles.
She understands the cost of stripping to the women who do it, and to the women who don’t do it but whose male friends watch it. But she has also seen the ways in which stripping empowers many of the women she worked with – the mortgages paid off, the businesses established – even just the rent paid. Leigh figured out that there were ways to set boundaries for herself in the world of stripping and for the most part she policed them very effectively.
Leigh’s memoir opens our eyes to the contrasts in this world she’s been observing for two decades – the contrasts between the clichés and stereotypes of stripping, and the reality of stripping. She has a wonderful ear for contrasts – for example, the tired woman who answers the phone at the massage parlour ‘and says ‘Pleasures’, flatly.’
For Leigh, at least at the beginning, stripping ‘is a small, select club. Stripping was (her) juicy secret… ‘ But Leigh also learns that stripping involves both shame and narcissism. ‘Two Decades Naked’ is sexy without being titillating, it’s gently mocking without being judgemental, it’s funny and sad and wise. It’s a bloody excellent read.
I commend it you. I congratulate Leigh – I’m so proud of her I might just burst. Please raise your glasses – to author Leigh Hopkinson and to her two decades naked.