"What's 'Hustler?'" Paige asked with a markedly innocent curiosity as we were driving up the West Side Highway from Brooklyn last night.
It was past 10:00 p.m., and we'd been visiting friends in Sunset Park. Paige had been happily playing with dolls and making rainbow loom bracelets all evening with the couple's five year-old daughter while our boys practiced sliding into home plate on the smooth living room floor, and the adults drank beer and chatted in the backyard garden.
"Uhhhhh...," I stammered, buying time while I came up with a good explanation.
Knowing that adults are often more uncomfortable with awkward topics than children are, I relied on my usual unorthodox tactic of frank directness in parenting.
Two beats, three.
"It's a grownup magazine with naked pictures of women and this building here is a place where people go to watch women dance without their clothes on."
"EW! That's gross!" Paige said. "Why would people want to do that?"
"Well," I continued, "some people think it's sexy. You're supposed to think it's gross because you're a kid and it's not for you. It's not for kids. It's like alcohol or pot or R-rated movies. It's something for grownups."
I decided to leave judgment out of it. Through the process of writing this blog, I have met and learned a lot from adult entertainers. I don't pretend to have a morally absolutist point of view about stripping or exotic dancing. People have different motivations for doing that work, and I don't believe in judging it with the sanctimony that maybe I once did.
Instead I just adopted a flat affect and let Paige take from my tone and response whatever she would.
Paige will be 10 this year, and is highly gender-conforming so far. It was at about that age, I remember, when the onion layers of a buoyant girlhood began to peel back one by one, revealing a stinging rawness and rot in the way society treats girls and women.
I know from the near universal American female experience that the next 10 years will include battling erosion of the self confidence I have tried to instill and promote in Paige.
Slowly it will dawn on her that the world has designs on and expectations of her identity, body, mind, and future. She will undoubtedly and by turns come to see her femininity as a liability, a blessing, a weapon, a tool. She will inevitably struggle with feelings of inadequacy amid a cacophony of mixed messages, and all I can do is to try to help her cut through the noise to find the signal.
So what's Hustler? I'm not sure. I guess it depends on your perspective.