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It was just a month ago when Landon Shimek took his clothes off onstage for the first time. It was at Stag, one of Portland's two gay strip clubs, as part of the second edition of T-Bone, a night exclusively for transgender dancers who identify as masculine. He says being a patron at the first event inspired him to try stripping for himself. Now, he's hooked. Because trans bodies are beautiful. Portland ranks No. But even here, it can be difficult for transgender strippers to find welcoming venues.
That's starting to change. In March, Stag launched Trance, a monthly event that features trans femme dancers. Soon after came T-Bone, with a spotlight on trans masc performers. Those are in addition to the longer-running Velvet Strip night at swingers club the Velvet Rope, an event that features dancers of all genders.
Clubs that host trans strip nights are rare. Portland's are some of the only ones in the nation. Dancers from across the country say Portland's events create spaces to be seen, supported and celebrated—and that stripping is a powerful outlet for feeling confident in their bodies. Bambiana, a San Francisco performer who helped launch Trance, says she knows of only three venues outside Portland that cater specifically to trans performers.
You almost have to go to the clubs and ask for work. Even for go-go dancer positions, people won't give you the time of day to give you a job, because you are trans. Bambiana is one of five trans women featured on the docuseries Transcendent, which follows the women's lives and work at San Francisco's AsiaSF Cabaret and Restaurant.
Since March, Bambiana has been traveling between California and Portland to dance. We need exposure and inclusion. Others say the current events don't do enough to be inclusive of nonbinary dancers. Last month, a former Stag employee wrote on Facebook about reservations about the party "[showcasing] trans people who aspire to pass as cis. Taylor Snider, Stag's new event producer, contests the critiques.