Jolene is an all-inclusive strip night that takes place at Cheetah’s in Hollywood. “All-inclusive” means trans women, female-identifying and non-binary dancers are not only welcomed, but encouraged. One of those dancers is Daphne Von Rey, who helped start Jolene. A SoCal native, Von Rey was born in Orange County and relocated to Los Angeles about eight years ago. Naturally, those early years in the relatively conservative surroundings of the O.C. had an impact.
“It was interesting,” Von Rey says. “It helped shape a lot of what I do today — the duality from a lot of the injustices and the oppressive thinking that I had to navigate when I was living there. It was a huge drive and I’m grateful for it, even though at the time I hated it — it pushed me into a space where I could thrive.”
Von Rey moved to L.A. before she started transitioning; she identified as a gay male when she arrived, and it was the queer community that took her in and helped her deal with some deep-rooted issues.
“From my conservative background, there was a lot of shame I had to deal with, growing up as a queer Christian,” she says. “Internalized misogyny and homophobia. It was only through my journey here and meeting people that I was able to fully realize the source of my identity issues. It’s been a tough journey to the woman that I am today but I’m grateful for it because it showed me who I am.”
Comfortable within her own skin, Von Rey started dancing last year, partly as a means of survival. She had been pursuing a career in the food industry, but soon realized that there’s a lot of work to be done about how people address trans people in the community.
“It was really hard to go from being celebrated for being a trans woman to having to correct people on my gender, correct people on my pronouns,” she explains. “Fighting to defend my identity. I got so tired of it that I left and had to seek some other outlet. I went through a breakup, and I found a community of women at a studio that were so supportive of me in my journey as a dancer. When I saw Jordan Kensley dance at Jumbo’s Clown Room, seeing these women own and channel the feminine and live in their body was so crucial to me as a trans woman. That was a goal. It came full circle when I was able to find a place and start dancing.”
While there’s a similarly open-minded club in Brooklyn called Pumps, Von Rey says that that there’s really nowhere like Jolene. Trans women can openly dance there without fear of getting beaten up and outed by insecure men.
“For Jolene, I have this lineup of half cis women, half trans women, and Jordan helped shape this idea of helping my goal of normalizing attraction to trans women,” she says. “A lot of the murders that have happened of trans women have been from their lovers who couldn’t deal with the shame of being outed for loving a trans woman. That’s a huge danger that a lot of trans women have to deal with. So it’s important to normalize it. There’s a hot person on stage if you want to spend time with them. Of course you’ll have to pay for the private dance, but at least it’s a step in the direction of normalizing and celebrating that attraction, as opposed to shaming it. I guess that’s the thing I’m doing differently.”