(Editor’s Note: This article contains nudity and discussions about sex work)
The cheesy 90s music starts up, and Pussy Willow struts in wearing a fluorescent orange spandex crop-top and leggings, looking lean, hot and powerful. The pole in the middle of the room glistens, as Pussy grips, kicks, spins and flips like a sexy Olympian. Next door, Felicity Azura bites into a juicy red ball-gag, so scintillatingly red if you’d told me it was an apple I’d have believed it. In the next booth, Them Fatale pulls out a cucumber and licks and sucks it into another sloppy dimension. Camp, fun, and hot as hell – and even cooler because I’m at a virtual strip club.
I’ve never generally been a massive fan of strip clubs. Stripping itself? Count me in. Several times over. But I’ve always found the clubs to be quite heteronormative: I feel horrendously out of place as a femme person who’s still clothed, and normally spend the evening avoiding awkward stares from tipsy fellow punters. I mean, come on, it’s 2021 – I thought we were over this ‘women should be bashful about their sexuality’ thing? Why can’t I publicly admire boobs too? Why shouldn’t I also be able to enjoy these fierce performers strutting their stuff?
So when Cybertease first popped up on my Facebook, here was the answer to all of my problems: all the fun and tease, and none of the awkward ogling. Plus all from the comfort of my own home – I could have a cup of tea, a comfy chair and a plethora of smouldering, playful striptease accompanied an effortlessly cool DJ set by Queer House Party. Pinch me, I’m dreaming.
But how did it all start? And where will it lead? Settle in, kids, as we chat to two of the performers at Cybertease to find out…
Biggest Cybertease Clean-Ups: emptying a full-sized paddling pool from a routine in the kitchen cupful by cupful (before she could drag it to the back door and empty the rest), and cleaning up a Halloween fake ‘blood’ bath full of food-colouring
Favourite Cybertease Act: a Dirty Dancing tribute co-starring a cake, complete with soundtrack medley, romantic floor-crawling, and a dramatic ‘lift’ that ended with her cake-sitting
U: How did you both get involved with Cybertease?
Gemma: I joined the United Sex Workers Union last year, so we have our own little community and we were all talking about it on the Whatsapp group. It just started floating around: wouldn’t it be cool if we set up our own virtual strip club?’ So it just went on from there, throwing ideas around.
April: One of the other performers sent out a message, and I was like ‘oh, I’m not sure about getting my tits out on the internet, I don’t know… I can always say yes and then I can change my mind later?’ So I went ‘yeah, alright’, and it actually ended up happening. Then I did it, and I was like ‘this is so much fun, I’m so glad I agreed to do this’. From then it’s just gone from strength to strength.
U: It really has, and it certainly feels pretty different to a mainstream strip club in a tonne of ways. Did you set out to make it different, or did it just end up that way?
Gemma: One thing that we wanted to make sure was we were inclusive of everyone, no matter people’s gender, size, background, anything like that, we were open to everyone who works in the sex industry. That was really important to us, we went away from this idea that ‘you have to look a certain way to be able to earn money or be in a mainstream strip club’. Because obviously mainstream strip clubs do tend to push a certain narrative of what they consider is societal beauty standards.
April: Most mainstream strip clubs you would have to be a cis female to work there and some strip clubs have criteria in terms of how you look, whereas at Cybertease, we have guest performers who identify as any gender, any sexuality, any body type, so we’re super inclusive about that. We get so many applications, so we do prioritise sex workers who are historically more marginalised or if there’s somebody in need, but we’re open to everyone and we’re trying to challenge the patriarchal norms of mainstream strip clubs.
U: Having that strong social mission must make you really well-aligned with Queer House Party, makes sense that they’re your resident DJs.
April: Queer House Party are amazing. I don’t know how we would have done it without them, they’ve been so supportive. We did some guest performing for one of their shows in April and recently they organised something called Solidaritease, which was specifically for sex worker collectives. We had four of us from Cybertease performing, a few from Soldiers of Pole, and a few from the Black Sex Workers. So that was good. That was really fun.
U: Speaking of fun, how was your first time at Cybertease?
Gemma: The first show, it didn’t go how we planned it to go… I was so nervous, I sat drinking gin can after gin can and it was the first time I’d drank in lockdown. And then there was a technical error with the event link going out and we were twenty minutes late, and it was like ‘oh noooo’… But it was absolutely fine, and we completely pulled it off. Now that we’ve done loads of shows, we’ve definitely been able to perfect it. We don’t really need to worry too much about the tech side of things anymore because we’ve managed to get it down to a T.
U: When I went, I was really impressed that everything was very slick. Although there was a funny moment where a guy’s face popped up on the screen because he clearly accidentally turned his video on…
Gemma: [laughs] Yeah, that happens. Obviously occasionally people do accidentally turn their cameras on which is probably what you saw.
U: Do any of your ‘in-person’ customers from 2020 BC (Before COVID) come and see you online? Does it feel weird at all?
Gemma: There are definitely a few customers that I’ve seen in person and seen online. It just feels really nice that they support you in person at work and then they’re happy to support your other ventures as well. It’s really sweet. I’m not really sure I can compare it.
April: It’s hard isn’t it, because with Cybertease online, you kind of want to call them ‘audience’. But then sometimes you might get people who come who are your customers from the club. ‘The watchers’, I dunno! The thing is, when we’re performing in the actual show, we can’t see the customers. They can type in the chat, but we can’t see them. When you do a private dance for someone, it’s completely up to you if you want them to have their camera on or not, or to talk to you or not. I personally don’t mind if we have a bit of a chat, but they don’t tend to turn their camera on.
U: I’m guessing some of the ‘audience’ might feel a bit nervous about privacy.
Gemma: Being involved in this industry, while we expect people to respect our anonymity, we obviously do give them the same respect, in the same way that if a customer was in a strip club in person. You’d still maintain that level of confidentiality whether you’re doing in-person work or online work. It kind of works both ways in terms of customers and performers.
U: Don’t you get worried about people taking pictures or videos if they’re not on screen?
April: Obviously working online there are different pitfalls and risks, and working online isn’t like ‘oh my god, this is so amazing and it’s the best thing ever and it’s the solution to all our problems.’ It’s more like ‘we’ve adapted to working online because we had to.’ We’ve now realised that it’s opened up a whole new avenue in terms of people we can access, and the sort of event that we can put on. But obviously there are disadvantages and advantages to everything.
Gemma: Even in an in-person strip club, there are signs, but it still happens, and unfortunately that is down to the customers that choose to ignore those rules and it’s a real shame. I like to think that with Cybertease our audience is fairly onboard with our morals and ethics. We have our own community and we have a lot of the same people coming to each show. And I genuinely like to believe that people come along because they’re respectful and everything.
U: I’ve got to say, as a bi woman who would love to go to strip clubs but doesn’t often feel comfortable, Cybertease seemed like a safe space and a breath of fresh air. We know that your performers are different, but have you noticed your audience being different at all to the mainstream clubs?
Gemma: While we definitely have the classic strip club regulars, I would say our audience is massively LGBT-based, and that is obviously very different from ‘normal’ strip clubs. Personally I think it’s good, I think it’s great that people feel comfortable enough to come along and enjoy the experience. A lot of people can’t go to mainstream strip clubs because of mental health reasons, or physical health reasons, or not feeling safe and comfortable. I like the fact that people from different communities are feeling comfortable and safe to come along to our shows and that’s very, very important to us.
April: I do think that Cybertease opens it up to people who wouldn’t normally feel comfortable being seen going into a strip club, or knowing how to be in a strip club. When you can watch it at home, it’s completely different, it’s a much safer space. A lot of strip clubs aren’t wheelchair accessible or sensitive to people who may have disabilities like visibility problems, so definitely, that is something that is good when you’re at home.
U: The other thing I loved was the interactivity and sense of community between you and the audience, in the chat box and even through the tipping system. I know I’m being nosy but… how does the money work at Cybertease?
April: At a standard mainstream strip club, all the money that was paid on the door would go to the club and you would only make money from your private dances. In Cybertease we make money from the ticket sales, we make money from the tips and the private dances, and we share it all equally,
U: Wow, you even share the tips?
April: We take all the money and we split it between everyone involved. We worked together on it, it’s a collective.
U: That’s just such an amazing sense of community. I’m kind of awestruck! So, the final big question. Looking forward, what’s the plan for Cybertease? Is it just going to disappear once the world opens up again?
Gemma: We’re not looking to phase it out any time soon. I can’t speak for everyone else, but personally I can’t imagine not doing it. We want to do pop-up shows as soon as we’re allowed to, with Queer House Party, and make a real-life event. There are so many people that come along that otherwise wouldn’t feel potentially comfortable going to a ‘normal’ strip club, so we wanna still be able to offer something that people do feel comfortable coming along to. So definitely no plans to phase out Cybertease whatsoever because we really enjoy doing it, and we really enjoy being able to accommodate everyone.
April: We definitely want to do some live shows, but I think we probably still do some online shows because that is how it was created and it works. And even when restrictions were quite lifted and people were going out again, people were still watching our shows. So we might in future have shows less often, but there’s still a market for it, there’s still people who wouldn’t want to go into a strip club and do enjoy watching it. So why stop doing it?
If you want to find out more about April Fiasco or follow her work, visit her Instagram (which includes links to future events and her OnlyFans)
Gemma and April were interviewed by Maddie Jones