But Some of Us Are Brave

The Work of Rebecca Hall, JD, PhD

ClexaCon, Taking ALL the Space, Part 1: Feministing Hooters

By Rebecca Hall & Lauren Wood

A Black Lesbian and a White Non-binary Person Walk into a Bar.

I can tell that Lauren is a little freaked. As I sit down at the Blackjack table with all white men, Lauren stands behind me like a sentinel. They had never been in a place like this before.  I, on the other hand, feel pleasantly invulnerable. After 2 days of ClexaCon I am riding high on a wave of validation.

 

Rebecca:

Lauren and I are in Las Vegas for the first #ClexaCon. It is Saturday night, after day two, and what are two queers to do? Lauren is going to go to the ClexaCon party later to dance their face off. I am too old for all that noise. I am going back to the hotel room and curl up with some amazing comics I bought from venders at the Con, and to ice my back. But the night is still young, why not go and Feminist a Hooters?

I talk Lauren into going with me to play $3 Blackjack. It is the only place near the strip with a minimum bet below $10. I had been to Hooters once before and knew that it would be a sea of objectified women and that, by our very presence we would change the game, at least for a little while, with the actual currency of respect.  My favorite part of gambling actually is tipping women dealers for this reason. And because I can have an immediate positive impact on someone else’s financial wellbeing, at least for a little while.

I can tell that Lauren is a little freaked. As I sit down at the Blackjack table with all white men, Lauren stands behind me like a sentinel. They had never been in a place like this before.  I, on the other hand, feel pleasantly invulnerable. After 2 days of ClexaCon I am riding high on a wave of validation.

Just the Tip

Rebecca:

When I play Blackjack, I tip the dealer every hand.  I thought that was common practice. I immediately notice that no one was tipping the dealer. I ask, “Why isn’t everyone tipping?” The white men surrounding us began to equivocate. “The dealer is killing us.” The dealer wins when we win if we tip. She loses when we lose. She is not the House. She is not killing us. She is providing a crucial service for those spending their money on Blackjack. She is not on your team because you are not tipping her.  

Since I am tipping her, she is giving me statistical probabilities. “You have a 39% chance to win if you take a card now, and a 61% chance to win if you stay.” White man: “That is the first time a tip has paid for anything.” The pit supervisor pops by and says, “I can’t believe he just said that.”  The dealer smiles. I say, “Tipping makes the world go round. It pays for everything.”

The dealer is a woman in her mid-thirties. Lets call her Samantha. She got her bachelor’s at Michigan State University. “In East Lansing?” I know where she is from. I tell her, “My mom was a history professor there.” In the distraction of our conversation, I put down the tip, without placing my bet. The white man next to me smirks and says “Just the tip.” He is disgusting.  I now call him Just the Tip man.

I ask Samantha about how the job works for her, and how the pay is.  She has been dealing for 11 years. 40 hours a week. She makes about $32k. Tips help her and her 3 kids survive. Who tips her? She says, “I only get tipped by thoughtful women like you…”

You Holler at Who You See

Lauren:

In my mind, I see the battle lines drawn. The dealer is not tipped by these men. To them, she is the House. I am reminded of an exercise that Rebecca taught me years ago. The game begins with 10 people and 10 chairs. An equal distribution of resources, and gradually, with each round of the game, one person accumulates many chairs and then the rest sit on each others laps and try to squish themselves into one seat. This game illustrates capitalism; the way the people at the top can enjoy all of our “chairs,” while the person at the bottom of the seating pile is only truly angry at the person in their lap.  Anger deferred to the individual most readily accessible to receive it. An American narrative as simple as apple pie. She is here in front of me taking my money. Therefore she is the House. Therefore she is my enemy. Therefore it is only right that I make her feel threatened.

A Seat at the Table

Lauren:

A new man walks up to the table and squares his shoulders next to mine. A queue has formed at the cheapest table in the house. I break the ice, and compliment him on a Fuchsia Polo shirt, trying to bring comfort into an uncomfortable situation. I say “Nice shirt. Bold Choice.”  He builds rapport with me, before switching his attention to our dealer, saying “She looks pretty from here, but when you wake up next to her in the morning, she is ugly as fuck.” I retort, “What the fuck? You can’t say that!” Rebecca turns and says that is disgusting, “You can’t talk to people that way.” He clams up, unsure what to do next. We are in uncharted territory for him. But he does not leave. We have ruptured the routine. No one knows what is next.

Rebecca:

I am thoroughly enjoying myself. I love rupture. I feel safe, because I am a paying customer.  Capitalism. I feel safe despite all the straight white men at the table with me. I feel powerful in my confidence and integrity. Integrity can be a superpower. I can feel it flowing through me. You can take my life, but you can’t take my heart.

I look down and notice that I am wearing my Team Tamsin and Black Lives Matter buttons.

The men start talking about their wives. How long they have been married. I say, “I have been with my partner for 28 years, but I couldn’t legally marry her until 2 years ago.” Samantha congratulates me and gives me a high five across the Blackjack table. I have won against everyone in game of relationship validity and stability. We talk about our wives.

Polo shirt is seated now, as a space becomes available. He says in a loud voice “Samantha used to be an A cup, and now she is a C cup.” I turn to him and yell, “What is wrong with you!” I turn to Samantha: “How do you do this job? I would kill somebody.” Just the Tip guy:  “You wouldn’t have this job.” Samantha: “I just keep smiling. Sometimes these men get violent.“ Just the Tip: “I would never do that.” “Yes you would.” Samantha says, with a smile.

Yes he would.

Mirror in The Bathroom

Lauren:

I stare, feet spread, straight into my reflection in the smudged covered bathroom mirror of Hooters. My shoulders roll back and I feel my gut unclench as I check and re-check my posture and how my clothing falls over my breasts, my stomach and my low-hung pants. I run water through my hair to make sure it looks un-intentionally quaffed. It may be shaggy, but this is a men’s cut.  I know when I re-enter the smoke-filled casino floor and ask the bartender for my next beer he will read me a world apart from the fem servers by his side. I compulsively groom in these public spaces, a relic of a gendered past, mindfully confronting an old frontier, I slip between cowboys and frat bros, walking a fine line back to the Blackjack table where Rebecca sits. Going back to the only buoy of safety I can see. We sit, an Island, a world apart.

 

Same Sex Cards

Rebecca:

Another man sitting to my right is explaining a betting procedure. He says if I bet on being dealt two face cards of the same suit (it is a multi-deck table) and it happens, I get paid 40 to 1. Later I am dealt two Queens of Clubs. “Like this?” I ask.  Just the Tip guy says. “No, there are no same sex cards in Blackjack.” I am confused. I say, “I said same suit, not same sex.”  He says, no, he meant same sex. You have to have a King and Queen. You can’t have two Queens.

  You Have To Fake It To Make It

Lauren:

Rebecca leans into me and asks, “Can I get a Coke with Lime?” I pivot to make this request of the cocktail waitress. She shuffles some drinks, murmurs that she heard me. She briskly walks away, head tilted toward the ground. Another hard day at the office. Samantha makes eye contact with me, and mouths “was she rude to you?” I reassure her that no, it’s all right. I have been a server and I have definitely had those days, too. Samantha says: “She can’t, here.” I say, “Sometimes people have a bad day.”  She says to me in a muted, maternal tone, “No, she has to fake it.” With eleven years experience she should know.

Lauren:

With hawk eyes perceiving everything around me; I make quick calculus of the power-dynamics and odds stacked against Rebecca and myself; and even those odds are considerably different. My whiteness acts as an invisibility cloak in many ways, wrapping around me an often-ignored layer of privilege. I find myself painfully aware of how visible Rebecca is, sitting at the table, unabashedly herself, all her cards on display. I keep mine close to the chest, play into my masculine tendencies, cocoon uncomfortably before un-cloaking my full self later amongst my queer-peers. Blackness cannot be coded in this way, and I reel with respect for how easily Rebecca claims herself in this uncomfortable space; having never had the luxury to closet or cloak parts of herself; we sit on our own islands, side by side in a deeply unfamiliar sea.

Why?

Rebecca:

ClexaCon for me is about taking the space. Taking all the space. We even take space within ClexaCon, organizing an impromptu panel to further discuss the lack of representation of queer women of color in media (more on that later):

Las Vegas is a nasty place for feminists. Women are things here. You can have women delivered to your room. Resist every day, in every way. Take the lesson from ClexaCon: Take all the space. Feminist ALL the space.


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