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A prominent downtown Toronto strip club is seen on Sept. 29, 2020.Colin Perkel/The Canadian Press

Marci Warhaft is the author of The Good Stripper: A Soccer Mom’s Memoir of Lies, Loss and Lap Dances.

“Gentlemen! Put your hands together and welcome Cassidy to the stage!”

Wearing a black-lace teddy that fits my body perfectly, I strut onto the stage. My curls are wild; my lips, cherry red. I move to the front of the stage and swing my hips from side to side, scanning the roomful of strangers looking up at me.

That was me, 15 years ago. By day, I was Marci, a 32-year-old mother of two; by night, I was a 28-year-old exotic dancer named Cassidy. It was not the life I’d imagined I’d be living, but it was where I found myself during a challenging time in my life.

In the aftermath of a series of traumatic events, including the deaths of my mother and brother, the arrest of my bank-robbing stepfather and a near-death experience that left me hospitalized for months, I found myself in a twilight zone of sexual misadventures that included stripping, swinging and sharing my body with numerous questionable men in an effort to feel some sense of control or self-worth. I confused using my body with being used for my body; it nearly destroyed me.

While there are definitely experiences I regret being part of during that time, dancing wasn’t one of them. I danced naked, I made money, and then I went home to my family.

Sadly, one of the things my stripping experience taught me was that, despite working for a business providing services that are always in high demand, the sex industry remains demonized.

Up until a week ago, when I published my memoir, I had kept my stripping past and the subsequent rabbit hole a secret. The thought of people discovering that I had been involved in the sex industry had terrified me for years, and that fear is too common among strippers. And now, sex workers are forced to see this stigma play out in Ontario’s response to the COVID-19 second wave: Even though the pandemic is wreaking havoc on all businesses right now, the province’s strip clubs are the only ones that, after being allowed to open at the start of Stage 3, have been ordered to shut down.

COVID-19 numbers are surging, and I completely understand the need to tighten our restrictions until we can get things under control. However, the callous way in which these restrictions are being enforced seems thoughtless and even misogynistic.

Ontario strip clubs, worker advocates say provincial shutdown is unfair

The province’s focus on strip clubs further perpetuates the negative stereotype that dancers are dirty and deviant – stereotypes that are unfair and disrespectful. How else can you explain why restaurants and bars are being allowed to stay open, but clubs with all the same safety precautions in place – Plexiglass barriers, mandatory masks for customers, temperature readings at the entrance – are being told to shut their doors and put their employees out of work?

While people tend to feel empathetic when they hear of people losing their jobs during this pandemic, there is a lack of concern for the dancers, bartenders, DJs and bouncers who have their own bills to pay. In fact, in their place, there are often wisecracks about all of the husbands who are going to have to actually work late or stay home with their wives now that they have nowhere to escape to any more. Indeed, last month, when Torontonians learned about a large number of patrons of a downtown strip club who may have been exposed to COVID-19, there were a number of childish jokes – but strangely, there were none to be found during reports of infections connected to restaurants, bars, nail salons and other businesses. That’s telling.

In our society, a stripper is often seen as little more than the service they provide, offering entertainment and escapism. But they are more than that: They are living, breathing human beings with the same financial responsibilities as everyone else, and they need to be treated that way. It’s easy to dismiss strip clubs as unnecessary; I mean, who needs to watch women take their clothes off for money, right?

But then, who needs to eat out at a restaurant or have a beer inside a bar?

The value propositions being placed on businesses appear to be different depending on what service is being provided – and that kind of discrimination is patently unfair. Restrictions need to be based purely on health facts, and not moral perceptions.

After all, as Rudyard Kipling said, sex work is the oldest profession in human history. Those workers need support as much as any other.

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