There are few bus trips sadder than the Sunday ride home from a bucks weekend.
Last weekend I was the Buck - hooray! - and alongside twenty of my best mates, we piled into a minibus driven by a sunburnt-yet-cheery fellow named Jan.
We left on a Friday, full of promise, returned on a Sunday, heavy with sadness. By Monday I thought the hangover had dulled and I assumed the worst was over. How wrong I was.
"Was there a stripper?" asked my friend Amy. I nodded.
"Wow, I'm shocked you guys would do that."
Split down the middle
This was a question and response I had heard several times both before and after the bucks party. The presence of a stripper seemed to divide people, men and women alike. Either they were for it, believing it to be a part of the tradition, or it was a gross throwback to an era we should all forget.
As the hangover made a triumphant return shortly after breakfast, Amy's words began to haunt me – was this just hangxiety or did she have a point?
"Wow, I'm shocked you guys would do that."
Not those kind of guys...
But why? Having averaged at least three bucks parties a year, for the past four years, almost all had featured a stripper. And for each bucks I'd attended, the corresponding hens had included a stripper too.
"I don't know," continued Amy.
"Your friends don't seem like the type, isn't it like a real footy boys, macho man thing?"
This felt even stranger to me and perpetuated the cliche of a helpless stripper being forced to perform in front of a rowdy group of testosterone-fuelled lads lads lads!
Good for the goose
Now before I go on, I'm aware that this might sound like a strange hill to die on: to fight for my right to watch a strip show. But the interesting part for me is the difference in response to having strippers at a hens party versus a bucks.
My fiancee's hens night was the weekend prior, a rosé-fuelled shitstorm that featured not just one stripper, but two topless waiters! They were booked for three hours (!), stayed for four and chucked in a free (nude) performance of Kenny Rogers' The Gambler. No one bat an eyelid.
The most shocking part was that they were all seriously good looking - not a rubbish tattoo between them. I know this because I received a flood of photos, showing the chiselled men gyrating across Kate's torso. I thought the pictures were hilarious until it was pointed out to me that, if you look closely you can spy a sad cardboard cutout of me watching on in the background.
I would later ask Kate if anyone had grilled her on the strippers; was there an up-in-arms reaction?
"Yeah, a couple of people hit me up on Instagram to ask who we booked them through."
Stripping down prejudices
Fantastic. And yet even at my own bucks party, opinion was divided.
When the doorbell rang, and Angela arrived, some of the guys were unimpressed and rolled their eyes. I wasn't fussed either way, and rightly or wrongly I don't see stripping as a taboo thing.
The fixation on the point from both sides of the gender spectrum was what hung with me.
I thought we had accepted that stripping was now a perfectly respectable career and anyone who has seen Magic Mike or Hustlers can attest, a killer way to improve your core strength. Cardi B herself has taught us that stripping isn't to be shamed or looked down upon.
Tame as bro
The actual event itself was pretty standard, and more than anything it was awkward, on my behalf.
I was wearing a too-small toga that made me look like an extra from Xena: Warrior Princess. The music was loud and blaring, so each time Angela gave me an instruction, I had to ask her to repeat herself.
Much of the time was spent with her yelling in my ear, while I tried desperately to lip read.
It was a small and enjoyable portion of a long weekend that was mostly dedicated to drinking beers, talking crap and celebrating the fact my friends cared enough about me to chuck a sickie on the Friday.
And yet whenever I was forced to admit that yes, I had a stripper at my bucks, it felt like coming clean to some type of leering locker room talk. As if the entire weekend had been a nude lockdown at the creep compound.
Reality vs outside expectations
But the reality of the night couldn't have been further from that.
After Angela finished, we had a drink and spoke candidly about her job and the misconceptions of the industry...in what must be the least sexy end to a strip show ever.
Angela confirmed that there is an almost a cartoonish concern that every woman stripping is the product of a damaged childhood. Whereas her male counterparts are all Channing Tatum style sex gods sent here to titillate the fine ladies of suburbia.
Ultimately, it's that view which continues to set everyone back - men, women, male strippers, female strippers, bucks and hens. I can understand that some people shudder at the idea of having strippers at all, and that's fine.
But if you're prepared to holla at (Magic) Mike, then you need to appreciate Angela too.
After continually being told to "use his words" as a young boy, Thomas Mitchell took that advice on board and never looked back. Since then his words appeared all over the place, including in the Sydney Morning Herald, Time Out, The Huffington Post and GQ. Thomas spends his days observing the unique behaviour of the Australian male, while trying not to overstay his welcome at the local cafe.
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