July 30, 2018
By my third hour at Cabaret Kingdom, a dodgy Montreal strip club sandwiched between two rundown surplus stores, the menagerie of women dancing on poles in neon lingerie began to resemble a mesmerizing piece of performance art.
How did I get here? As a nobly appointed groomswoman, I was determined to put aside any preconceived notions about the adult entertainment industry and attend my friend’s bachelor party with open-minded enthusiasm. As the sole lady and staunch advocate of the mixed-gender bridal party, I was on a mission to convince the groom to experience his first lap dance.
It would be a weekend of “firsts” for us all.
Though I am close with both the bride and the groom, it is the groom I met first: nearly a decade ago, in a platonic meet-cute as freshmen locked out of our college newspaper office. So when I was given the option of attending either the bachelor or the bachelorette party, I chose to hang with the bros.
In the weeks leading up to the trip, friends praised me for this seemingly bold act of attending a bachelor party. “You are super-dope,” one exclaimed. Another described me as “goals.” Still, I remained anxious the dudes would think I was a buzzkill, the wet blanket who would put a damper on their fraternizing. Though my friend has never been the heavy partying, strip-club-going type, what if I put a wrench in their plans?
In my first hour in Montreal, I wondered what this group of mostly strangers thought about my presence. Despite my 10 years of friendship with the groom, I knew only three members of the bachelor party, mostly relatives and post-college pals I was meeting for the first time. A couple strong IPAs and sleep deprivation wearing on me, I eventually leaned over to one of my new acquaintances and asked what he thought about my attendance.
“Be honest,” I insisted.
“I didn’t really think much about it,” he said. “I just figured if a girl was coming, she better be up for anything, you know?”
I did know, I said. And I was, indeed, up for anything.
Overhearing this, the most raucous of the bunch interjected to proclaim my presence would be allowed only if I accepted locker room talk, then delivered President Donald Trump’s infamous phrase about grabbing women. I did my best impression in response. They seemed impressed. Was I in?
As the hours passed, I witnessed the dynamic shift as we figured out which of us was single (about half of the group, including myself). I am not a natural flirt, nor am I particularly gifted in the art of romantic entanglements, yet I found being the only single woman in a large group of men allowed me to be myself with an ease I rarely exhibited. Strangely free of that underlying sense of competition among fellow single women in the presence of single men, I teased, joked and playfully touched forearms with a lack of inhibition that comes from not second-guessing every thought or dwelling on first impressions. I left the dresses and heels I had carefully packed in my suitcase in favor of leggings and T-shirts, saving the energy I normally spent fussing over my appearance to genuinely enjoy myself and get to know these men.
Later that weekend, while in that hazy euphoria that comes from hours of drinking beer in the sun, we discussed the idea of men and women being friends. Earlier that afternoon, I overheard someone asking the groom if his fiancee and I are friends, as if he assumed awkwardness exists between us. (For the record, there is none, and we are very good friends.)
It struck me that despite the fact we live in an era that celebrates gender fluidity and the dismantling of binaries – where men are becoming CoverGirls, women are becoming breadwinners and others are eschewing pronouns altogether – the idea men and women can be platonic friends still seems to baffle many. Plug “groomswoman” or “bridesman” into Google and you will find countless threads and forums like “GroomsWOMAN: What is your opinion?” as if this experience holds a level of complexity akin to solving a Rubik’s Cube.
Anyway, back to the strip club. As we settled into our spot by the stage, it was determined I was the linchpin to our plan to convince the groom to get a lap dance. His reticence had less to do with being in mixed company and more to do with his likeness to Paul Rudd’s character in “I Love You, Man,” fully devoted to his fiancee and not keen on traditional male-bonding activities.
If I got one, surely my friend would cave, we reasoned, which is how I ended up getting whisked away with a fellow member of the bachelor party. Together we would embark on a “couples dance,” during which we would sit side-by-side as a stripper danced upon us both, simultaneously. We followed a busty blonde to the back of the club, where red velvet drapes cordoned off booths for lap dancing and a statue of a bronze lion kept watch on the wall above us. She led us into a private area and motioned for us to sit down. I said it was my first time and apologized ahead of time for the nervous laughter.
“Don’t worry,” she said, wasting no time as she situated herself on my lap and began to gyrate, as I sat stiff as a board. “Here, give me these,” she continued as she grabbed my cold, clammy hands, placing them on her behind as she started to unhook her top.
“Your perfume smells so nice, where is it from?” I asked, nervously attempting small talk.
“It’s Nicki Minaj,” she responded, before taking her top completely off and putting her breasts in my face to shut me up, prompting my new friend sitting next to me to ask bashfully if I minded he was watching us.
Once our collective lap dances were complete, and we had successfully lured the groom to one of the private velvet enclosures, we called it a night. As we munched on bad pizza back at our Airbnb, someone asked the name of the stripper we saw, to which I realized I had no idea.
“Ah, you’re truly one of the bros now!” someone yelled, the porch filling with laughter.
I felt simultaneously proud and unsettled, as I had earlier in the night, when I forced myself to avoid thinking about the overt objectification and help the groomsmen pick out their “girls.” I bit my tongue during cringe-inducing asides the men made, such as the guy who said, on abortion, he was “pro-life unless it involves me” and another who said a particular stripper “would be hot if she took out her nose ring.”
However, ultimately these moments were few and far between. I had a taste of performative masculinity, and in the end, I survived relatively unscathed. At the airport on the way back to New York, I handed my passport to the customs agent, a chatty older man who went through the usual questions about my intentions for visiting Canada. When I responded, he looked quizzically at me from inside his glass booth.
“A bachelor party?” he said.
I nodded yes in affirmation as he stamped my passport.
“Well, I guess that’s something we’re doing these days. What with the state of equality being what it is and all that.”