photography Roxy Lee

Inside the UK’s first LGBTQ+ strip club

Launching amid Pride season, Harpies is hoping to revolutionise the industry and centre trans strippers

The first LGBTQ+ strip club in the UK is opening its doors this Pride season. Harpies, finding its home in London’s Metropolis club, will feature dancers across a spectrum of gender and sexualities, with a main spotlight on transgender strippers.

Harpies, according to its founders, aims to make “radical social change” by showing that “wider society is attracted to trans people”, pointing to the fact that ‘transgender’ is one of the highest search terms on porn sites worldwide. They aim to celebrate trans bodies, and detach stigma for attraction to them.

“As much as we are seeing progression in LGBTQI+ rights, there is still an infectious shame that is ruining our lives,” Lucia Blake, the founder of Harpies, tells Dazed. Blake highlights the recent attack on a lesbian couple on a London bus and the recent spike in homophobia-charged public assaults. “We need a space where people can be proud of who they’re attracted to, to liberate us from this constant public humiliation.” Blake, who is also the founder of London’s Trans Pride, says Harpies is an effort to unite a “divided” LGBTQI+ community, where transphobia is as rampant as it is in mainstream media. “It’s why we’ve picked Pride season to launch the club, to bring us all back together and remember how much we really do need each other.”

Set up like a Las Vegas club and with input on its running from LGBTQ+ activists and sex workers, Harpies will put on choreographed live exotic shows as well as private dances. Punters will be able to purchase ‘tipping dollars’.

“Our goal is to revolutionise the industry by changing the patriarchal structures of stripping and exotic dancing,” continues Blake. “We are taking back control over our fetishisation and putting money back into our own community. We aim to spread messages of love and acceptance for all LGBTQI+ people and solidarity with sex workers all over the world.”

Cassandra, a dancer at Harpies, tells Dazed that the club caters to a “thriving niche” and “hot demand” that she has only ever interacted with online or on the street – “I am glad to fulfil it!” she says. 

“Harpies is a beacon of light for love and sex for all trans+ identifying people and their admirers” – Lucia Blake, the founder of Harpies

“I love the feeling of freedom and euphoria,” Cassandra says of stripping. “I love to communicate with the language of the body, and feel the energy transmitted from the symbolism of the shapes I am making with my body and the feelings it elicits in the viewer. I am fascinated by the mystical symbolism and language of certain dance moves and body positions — this sensual realm of non-verbal, carnal communications.”

LGBTQ+ youth are disproportionately affected by violence, homelessness, and unemployment. Young LGBTQ people make up to 24 per cent of the youth homeless population in the UK, with 77 per cent of that saying the problem is directly related to coming out to parents or guardians. A recent study also found that crimes against gay and lesbian people have doubled since 2014, and have trebled against trans people. With regards to sex work, activists have highlighted the current fight against the narrowing of safe work environments, both in the US and UK. Current British laws criminalise sex workers who work together as it constitutes running a ‘brothel’, despite the fact working alone puts people in vulnerable positions, and sex work abolitionist movements have been covertly filming dancers in British clubs, which sex work campaigners have compared to revenge porn.

Harpies aims to offer an alternative safe space for LGBTQ+ sex workers to make a living, with a strict policy of no touching and asking for consent enforced for the safety of both staff and customers. Jeanie Crystal, a co-founder of Harpies and a dancer herself, says the work offers her financial and emotional security. “I like the fact that the amount of money I make compared to the hours I work is a lot more than the average working wage, which means I get to spend more time with my friends and family,” she tells Dazed. “It also allows me more time to work on self development and educating myself, which is a massive privilege in today's society.” 

Blake points to the current media narrative – showcased in the Times’ fervent transphobic coverage of trans issues – as an issue they wish to address. “We’re as varied as people as cis-society,” she says. Some of us are well educated doctors, introverted librarians, on benefits, glamorous actresses, stay-at-home parents, and some of us are sex workers and strippers, all of these identities are valid and deserve respect.

“Harpies is a beacon of light for love and sex for all trans+ identifying people and their admirers.”

Blayke says they’re well-prepared for backlash when the club officially launches, having gone up against anti-trans groups who disrupted her work with London’s Trans Pride and London event series Transmissions. Speaking of both the dancers and the patrons, Blake asserts: “Our hopes are that our dancers will feel empowered, gain confidence and be able to have a stable income as the LGBTQI+ community is one of the most unemployed minorities and living in poverty, especially trans+ people and QTIPOC. 

“We want our patrons to come and be proud of their desires, for queer people to sit in a strip club just like heterosexuals do, for all women to be able to receive private exotic dances, just like men do.”

Harpies will launch July 20 at London’s Metropolis club, and you can experience Transmissions in the activist hub at Glastonbury’s Shangri-La

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