Coming out of the Stripper Closet

People sometimes tell me how brave they think I am and I laugh inside my head because I know that fear is a long time dance partner of mine.  The only reason I do ‘brave’ things is because I can’t live with the alternative.  I don’t think there’s anything brave about that, it’s just practical.

I’ve backed off of a LOT of public things in the past year.  I’ve pulled back from my Toastmasters meetings, put my daughter in school out of home schooling, and left the Catholic Church.  Considering how all consuming each of these things once were to me, it’s a huge transition.  It still hasn’t been long enough for any kind of new pattern to emerge but I have been doing a lot of thinking with the new space that is here.

Earlier this year a woman I’ll call Ellen in Vancouver contacted me and offered me a job teaching public speaking at a new school she was starting that focused on the children of wealthy Chinese immigrants.  She asked me to write a proposal and for the first time ever, I asked for what I truly thought my services as a public speaking coach are worth.  It would be the most money I’d made since I was naked.

Ellen accepted my proposal and suddenly, I was going to be able to pay off our credit card debt by June.  I was positively giddy.

As the time approached, her focus changed.  She wanted more from me than I wanted to give.  She proposed I become the principal of her school.  Her dream was pushing mine aside.  I would be compensated handsomely, but it was getting harder to live with.

At the same time, I began to wonder if Ellen had NOT done the standard Google search on me because she had never mentioned my past stripper life.  One of the main reasons I started this blog was to be honest and transparent with the public. It’s so important to me that “I used to be a stripper” is right here on the internet and all you have to do is Google my name.

So a couple of weeks before the classes were going to begin, I sent Ellen a letter telling her

  1. I’m not prepared to give more to your school than what I originally proposed.  I can’t help you build your school- I can only teach, and  the contract must be under the moniker of Head Start Public Speaking.
  2. In my past, from 1986-2003, I worked as an exotic dancer and wanted to be sure you knew as I know not everyone is comfortable with that.

Ellen emailed me back and thanked me for being honest with her and also said that she would follow my lead as far as how much I wanted to give her school.

WHAT????  WOW!!!  SERIOUSLY??? OMG, was I finally past all this stuff?  I was thrilled!  It could not possibly have turned out any better!  I was honest about my wants and needs for the position and about my past and my character.  I was FREE.

Paula Howley ex stripper, speaker, author, public speaking teache

’cause I’m free, to do what I want, any ol’ time


A couple of hours later though, another email from Ellen revealed to me that her partners were NOT comfortable with my past.  She would be cancelling the classes and pulling back the offer.


Were they afraid some of my  moral failings might rub off on their kids or did they fear I’d be teaching pole dancing along with confident body language?  (I mean, I only do that in my advanced classes.  JUST KIDDING FOLKS)

So, was that brave?  Many people said YES it was.  For me, it was a no brainer.  I can’t live in fear of discovery of who I used to be.  It’s a stifling and frightening way to live.  Maybe that’s what I was doing in the church all those years- hiding in the sanctuary, waiting for a safe time to come out.  Apparently it’s still not completely safe for me to come out but come out I must.  How else can I live otherwise?

How can I unify who I used to be- a stripper, a headlining feature, an advocate for women in the sex industry, a writer and editor of a newsletter, a gymnastics coach, a drunk, a wiccan, a hard core feminist, with who I became- a Christian, a wife and mom, a home schooler, a speaker and writer, a teacher, a Toastmaster, an advocate for the unborn, with who I am now- a woman reconciling the parts of her life so she can live with the privilege of honesty?

I took a leap towards that on Thursday night.  I’m a member of the newly formed Self Employed Women’s Network on the Sunshine Coast and was voted on to the Board of Directors that night.  Before the vote we each had to give a quick run down of who we are.  I thought about it for weeks in advance, nerves churning my stomach as I drove to the event.  This is what I said:

“Hi, I’m Paula Howley from Madeira Park.  I spent 16 years as an exotic dancer and had a hard time transitioning into the civilian world.  I ended up using the tools of writing, public speaking and teaching to make that transition and I continue to use those tools as the owner of Head Start Public Speaking for Kids where I teach kids and young people how to walk through their fear and into their confidence.”

Boom chickalotta!  (as my daughter likes to say)

So, there ya go.  I did it.  Live and in person in front of about 100 of the movers and shakers of the area.  I was scared, I felt like I was outside of my body as I said it, but it was done!  A friend came up to me afterwards with tears in her eyes- knowing what a big deal it was for me.  She congratulated me, told me it made her cry (not that it’s hard to make her cry) and I felt a little more settled, knowing she had my back.  Not incidentally, she has 2 kids in my public speaking class.  She’s apparently ok with my potentially contagious moral decay.

And while everyone may not be ok with it, they may not be ok with other parts of my past too, as goes in life for everyone, not just me.  As of now, I am free of that particular chain.  I am officially out of the stripper closet.

Paula Howley ex stripper, speaker, author, public speaking teache

ladies, do we not ALL need a closet such as this?


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4 comments on “Coming out of the Stripper Closet”

  1. Vivien Reply

    Paula, I truly admire your “coming out” in the way that you did, without a second thought or batting an eyelash. Perhaps it may feel like a setback (though I’m not getting that vibe at all through your words on the blog post), but I believe as long as your heart FEELS like this is right, what feels like setbacks/consequences as a result of outing yourself will only pave the way for something better. Just something magically (in my own humble experience) that happens when you go with a choice that will have so-called “consequences” but your heart just KNOWS that’s the best way. That’s the only way.
    P.S. I am drooling over the thought of having a closet like that.

    • Paula Howley Reply

      To be honest Viv, there were many second thoughts. I thought about it for weeks in advance but I knew I had to do it. I was pretty scared, let me tell you. I’ll tell you what though, there’s nothing like not having to hide. Thanks.

  2. Vicki Reply

    What a beautiful, frank and moving post. Let me cheer you on as you dance with a new kind of transparency. Your tale of living in the truth of who we are is inspiring. Lots of love to you!

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