Strippers is what they are, but that's not all. They are men with hearts, minds, souls, educations, feelings. Of course, it's those G-strings that matter most to the 2,700 women who are here at the Great American Male Strip-Off at Graham Central Station. It is co-sponsored by Playgirl magazine, and billed as the "largest male strip-off in the world," featuring the "Top 25 Finalists From Across the U.S.A." And I am here, too, humble man with slight beer gut and the Svengalilike ability to coerce my wife into shaving my back, sometimes twice a month. If I feel like it. But it's obvious I don't belong here, obvious as soon as I arrive at the front door.
There are women lined up, hundreds of women. Big, small, old, young, lovely, plain. Some wedged into daring, seductive outfits suitable for a night out in Scottsdale, some dressed to clean out the stables. A stretch limo pulls up and nine girls emerge swilling Zimas, hooting with excitement. A woman in form-fitting black locates her friends at the door and yells: "Hello, beautiful ladies!" One of her pals has a shirt straining across her chest; it says "100% Natural."
In other words, it's a mixed bag of people, just like at a male strip club. And that's where comparisons end; at most men's joints, the boys are pretty subdued, sitting in the dark as still as Lincoln's Memorial while the ladies gyrate for singles. But here at the G.A.M.S-O., anticipation and adrenaline flow through the crowd like a virus. Make no, uh, bones about it, these women are here to have a good time, and you can bet they're going to get it.
It's still a while 'til showtime, but the women are heavy into prep and recon as music blares from the PA. They're finding their reserved tables (ringside spots go for $15 a head), queuing up for drinks, stalking about in small groups, turning long, white cigarettes into smoke. Dancers who have traveled from macho sex capitals as far away as California, Texas and Vegas mill about, fully clothed, doing a little preshow meet-and-greet.
A lot of the ladies are familiar with the "talent," many of whom work for Body Heat, the company that is putting on this extravaganza and does male strip shows here every Thursday and Saturday. But those are not Strip-Offs, no sirree, not like tonight. This is special. There are knots of females around each of the dancers, chatting them up, getting the studs to put the ol' John Hancock on calendar shots, eight-by-ten glossies and magazine layouts. I approach one tanned, chiseled guy dressed as a cowboy and drag him away from his fans. This is Randy. Randy Master Blaster. Though the blue-eyed Texan's birth certificate bares the somewhat more simple name Randy Ricks, here he is indeed the Master Blaster, a stripper of no small accomplishment. At 36, he tells me he's been at it since February of '79, when he entered his first contest "on a dare" and found his calling. He makes "awesome money. I haven't made under $100,000 in 15 years." His only wish is to be "the best male stripper in the United States."
If there's anyone who is a font of knowledge on this profession, it is the Master Blaster. "There are two different kinds of people who do this, the ones that do it for a lifestyle, and the ones that do it for a living," he clarifies. "I do it for a living. I've owned the biggest outcall service in the United States for seven years, called Master Blaster's Strip-A-Gram. We do 60 to 100 shows a week, and I've been at the same club in Dallas for 12 years. That shows you determination, perseverance and job security."
I ask him to clarify a recurring theory about male strippers, that a good percentage are gay. He looks at me defiantly. "Zero percent. In 15 years, I've never met a gay man. I mean, I don't hate gay men, I have a lot of gay friends; it's just that gay men don't like women--they think they're tuna--they want to be a woman." I think I get it at this point, but Randy, who mentions that his girlfriend of five years was Playboy's Miss March for '95, offers more logic.