I have excerpted here some of the ethnographic material from a research article that has much more in it, on how Mexican migrant men’s loneliness affects their sexual behaviour. The article illustrates how ethnography can illuminate our understanding of the sex industry. It’s a description of one particular place in New York City and the activities of one specific group of young men from Puebla, Mexico. I’ve chosen to excerpt two kinds of material: 1) description of the site and dancing and 2) how male socialising may depend more on watching and talking than directly on sex.
‘. . . The signs on the outside of the La Garza club provided an accurate depiction of the differences between strip clubs or brothels and this type of social space. These signs said in both English and Spanish:
Every day beautiful dancers; Monday – Mexican nights tequilazo; Tuesday – all dancers in sexy babydolls; Wednesday – bikini nights; Thursday – sexy dancer nurses; Saturday – all dancers in micro-miniskirts; Sunday – school girls night; Happy Hour from 4 to 10pm, $3 beers and house drinks; no caps or hats, no sneakers, no jeans; decent place to dance; we are looking for dancers.
. . . La Garza was a 1-floor [table-dance] club with bathrooms in the basement, a 20-foot-long bar, 1 large-screen TV, 1 pool table that can only be used by VIPs, a dance floor in the center of the club, and 3 small seating sections around the dance floor. There is no entrance fee. Each dance costs $4 but clients can get a private dancer for $40 per hour.
. . . some couples danced physically close whereas others did not; some danced fast, others slow. However, reggaeton songs were danced almost the same across patrons; men were pressed against the columns or standing by the walls by the women dancers who would thrust their backs and buttocks against the men’s penis area (this is also known as grinding). Reggaeton was probably the most erotic dance in the club, and, yet, the most common behavior among men in the club was drinking and watching women dance, with other men, by themselves, or with other women.
. . . The men who attended La Garza can be divided into 3 main groups: (1) those that went mostly to dance with women, (2) those that mostly spoke and flirted with women and rarely danced and; (3) those that went to drink and watch, but rarely danced or spoke with the female dancers.
. . . [In] the second group . . . men paid women to speak with them for the duration of a single song (approximately 3 minutes) but most often they started their conversation in the middle of the previous song). They expressed that they had a better chance of getting together with any of the women by talking with them rather than by dancing and grinding. . . . Men . . .talked about their experiences in places like La Garza as a way of being able to talk to women without the ‘complications’ of doing it at work or in the neighborhood. As expressed by research participants, these complications induded the difficulty of initiating a conversation with a strange woman, the need to avoid sexual harassment in the workplace, and prohibitions on men being able to talk to clients in many of the restaurant establishments in which they worked. . . .’