Stripping, sex work, OnlyFans and the underlying struggles behind them


Addison Greene

The dark setting of the stage illuminates during lunch on Mondays.

Addison Greene, Arts & Features Writer, [email protected]

It’s 12:30 p.m. on a Monday afternoon and the sun shines bright with the warmth of day, but when you open the double doors to the Treasure Club in Asheville, your environment quickly changes. 

The walls are a light purple, the lighting consisting of dimmed light bulbs and neon signs with popular beer brands, an underlying smell of cigarettes, perfumes, expensive, cheap and desirable. 

There are tables arranged restaurant style with topless dancers rehearsing on the stage located front and center, lined with mirrors and a brass pole. 

Mariah, who’s real name is omitted for her safety, operates out of an office that seems like any other ordinary office space, minus the money counter on the desk and the sound of loud rap music on the other side of the door. 

“A lot of the girls try to use more natural names and then we also have fake real names, because everybody is like ‘what’s your name, no what’s your real name’ and my fake real name is Sarah. So you’ll bring clients to the side and say something along the lines of ‘OK my real name is Sarah, but don’t tell anyone or you’ll get me in trouble’ and they’re all like ‘it’s nice to meet you Sarah’,” Mariah said in an interview from November. 

Mariah said it’s very important to pick a story and stick with it for your safety. She said dancers are encouraged to do this to prevent clients from harassing, finding them on social media, etc. 

“Keeping up with the story is hard. I tell my girls you come up with something you stick with it because when you’re meeting hundreds and thousands of people you will not remember who you told what to, and if someone becomes your regular and your story becomes irregular, you will lose that regular real quick,” Mariah said in an interview from November. “If you live in West  Asheville, tell them you live in East Asheville.” 

Mariah said there are 47 dancers on staff and they see about 30% turnover throughout the year, but there are girls who have been on staff for more than 10 years. 

“We are always taking applications for entertainers but it depends on where we are and what season we’re in, and we’re getting into our slower season so we’re probably not gonna be doing a lot of hiring right now given our 30% turnover rate,” 

Mariah said Treasure Club is ‘outlawed’, referring to the strict laws Buncombe County has on strip clubs and the law that banned strip clubs from Buncombe County, but Treasure Club was grandfathered in around the law. 

“If something were to happen to the building, we could no longer continue. We would have to have everything up and running or fixed within 30 days,” Mariah said. “We do live in the ‘Bible Belt,’ so 50% want us here and 50% do not, and it’s been that way for a long time. On the other hand, we’re the only game in town because you can’t build another gentleman’s club here and all the other surrounding counties. Every time somebody tries, they shut it down real quick whether it be permitting issues, or any other reason they can come up with to prevent it from happening.” 

According to a 1976 Supreme Court ruling, sexually oriented businesses, which include strip clubs, topless bars, adult stores and even adult car washes, are not to be within 500 feet of residential communities and within 1,000 feet of another sexually oriented business. 

“We’ve had a lot of people come in that will go up to the dancers, or even came up to me before, and let you put your boobs in their face and tell you ‘this is not God’s plan for you’ while giving you dollars and after they paid the cover charge,” Mariah said. 

Mariah said while there are people who are judgmental and make being a sex worker hard, there are people who see you for you as a person and not what you do for a living. 

“We also have a group of church ladies who come in that we absolutely love. They come in and give a whole feast for Thanksgiving, they’ll bring pizza for staff and entertainers, they bring gift baskets all the time whether it be baby wipes to clean up the stage or themselves after a dance, makeup, really sweet sayings and they’ll even help us get girls into rehab who fall down the rabbit hole with drugs or alcohol,” Mariah said. 

Kate Brizzolara, a senior drama major at UNC Asheville, currently works as a carpenter and as a student ambassador for the university. Brizzolara said she loves theater and set-building, hanging out with friends and ran an OnlyFans account for two years during her freshman and sophomore year. The sun from the window glistens in her eyes as she dives deeper into her experience with the site, her subscribers, the mentality and the human factors behind turning people on for money. 

“I started because one of my other friends had one and she had a pretty good following on it, so I thought ‘I could probably do that’,” Brizzolara said in an interview conducted in November. “But I feel like the media in general is just like ‘it’s so easy for women to start an OnlyFans and make a lot of money off of it’ but it is way harder than most people ever talk about.” 

Brizzolara said the hours weren’t necessarily long, but if you want to make real money you have to be available 24/7 to respond to subscribers. 

“It’s not just running the OnlyFans, you have to run a Twitter too to market to people, maybe a private Instagram or Snapchat.  You have to not just be on OnlyFans but constantly be marketing on other social media sites, and on those sites you’re not making any money off of that, so you’re putting in work that isn’t making you any revenue,” she said.

Brizzolara said there are lots of underlying factors people don’t talk about when people discuss OnlyFans and the content the members create. Subscribers can forget there are humans behind the screen and under the skin of the creators. 

“I started to objectify myself. I only saw myself as something only for sex or sexual attraction or as if that was the only thing I had to offer,” Brizzolara said. “It messed with my brain to the point that the only thing I had to offer is what I could do for someone sexually and I as a person was not enough, like I as an individual with my personality, without any sort of sex, nudity, cleavage or my body wasn’t worth knowing.” 

Brizzolara said she made $600 to $700 a month once she gained a bit of a following on the site, but said it wasn’t worth it with the tax it had on her mentally. 

“If you’re not a big creator, you can’t ask for a lot of money right off the bat or you won’t make any money,” she said. “For the most part, if someone goes to your account and sees that you only have five or six subscribers and you’re charging $30 for a picture, they’re not going to do that. It’s very hard to start out.”

Brizzolara said her mental health wasn’t great during her time on OnlyFans, especially since it was during the pandemic. She said there were good and bad times while she was on the site. 

“Nobody wants to pay for porn that’s basically just saying ‘everything sucks, shit’s awful right now and I’m just crying all the time’,” she said. “It was hard to pretend I was completely fine and cheerful when I was feeling absolutely horrendous.” 

Brizzolara said that during the good times, she made memories with the people she cares about.

“The easiest part for me was taking the photos and doing the photoshoots. I would either set up my camera, take a video or take screenshots later of good poses. I also had friends and a partner at the time who would take photos for me,” Brizzolara said. “Those were always fun when friends were together doing it because we would hype each other up and be silly and stupid. There were some really great moments that were like  ‘this is so great, funny and really liberating’ where I was also like ‘I’m just a person in a body’.” 

Brizzolara said for now, she will continue finishing school and start her career, but would potentially become an OnlyFans creator again. 

“If I had advice for people who are currently making content on OnlyFans, it would be to take care of yourself and give yourself grace because it is hard work. Recognize you’re doing a lot and it takes a very strong person to do that and if you need a break, take it,” Brizzolara said. “For people who are considering going into it, be 100% certain you have support systems set up, you have people around you who can help take care of you when you don’t feel the best and who can remind you  you are more than a sexual object.”