Sunday, February 22, 2009

Getting started...

Before deciding to go into dancing, I had been to a strip club once, as an undergrad, years ago. My roommate and I thought it would be fun/funny to see what the big deal was. (Or, as neither of us was willing to admit to ourselves or each other, we were probably a bit curious about women...We were in a heteronormative space where admitting that seeing women undress piqued some curiosity would have sentenced us to some type of ostracism by our pious girlfriends.) The commercial, un-intimate, and artificial setting in the club was somewhat comical, and guys kept on hitting on us and trying to buy us cigarettes. We had good laughs about it afterward, but neither of us ever returned.

But I'm always asked by friends and customers at the club why I decided to start stripping. (FYI, some people think "dancing" is the politically correct term, and stripping is derogatory. I feel that, but I'm trying to 'take it back'! Here, I use the terms interchangeably. Plus, I don't do a whole lot of squats, butt-cheek movements, and flirty gestures is more like it. Poles scare me.) Anyway, it's hard for me to pinpoint why or how I started... I have a good friend who was an escort for a while, and she totally revolutionized and forced me to rethink the way I view any type of sex work. It seems the mainstream is divided into two schools of thought: 1) That all forms of the sex trade are evil and dangerous and should be eliminated, or 2) That the women in these industries have no other choice and are often exploited, victimized, or don't know any better. Of course, each of these viewpoints is simplistic, problematic, and don't fully represent the range of experiences of women throughout the sex industry. I thought about it more and began to feel very disappointed with most representations of dancers, sex workers, escorts, and trafficked women. More importantly, I noticed that those categories (and the fractures within them) were hardly distinguishable for most people.

I realized that according to popular representations, there was something inevitably oppressive, objectifying, exploitative, and unsafe about women selling their bodies for sex. Yet, these same popular representations overlooked the ways women are often necessarily oppressed, objectified, exploited, and endangered by factory jobs or domestic work, and the manifold ways women sell sex without it being labeled as such. Furthermore, I began to notice that sex work as a type of labor was invalidated by these representations. Sex work, by occupying a place in the social imaginary of an immoral AND exploitative industry, became an easy target, while other types of labor were precluded from being critiqued on the same level. I wonder why people ask me about resolving any ethical dilemmas I may have about being a dancer, but my corporate attorney brother is never asked the same questions, nor is my cousin who's a p.r. rep of a pharma company. What is it about "sexual" ethics that comes to occupy a particular place, and how is this process linked to other socioeconomic processes?

I also learned very rapidly that the law is hardly on the side of women in the sex industry, while men who pay for various types of sex are often untouched by these draconian laws. The way that sex work is defined and policed unfortunately perpetuates much structural racism, sexism and classism (I use those categories intersectionally and not separately/additively). The more thought I gave to the place the sex industry occupies in the global economy, the more I realized that it was a critical site of many of the biggest socioeconomic injustices. We can understand a lot about how power works - imperial power, race power, gender and heteronormative power - by understanding the positioning of the industry. Along with blogging about mundane anecdotal stuff about my day-to-day experiences here, I hope to get at some of those issues too. (Don't worry, you'll also get to hear about the 60 year old lawyer who can come in his pants just from hearing you say the word "pussy" during a lapdance!)

Of course, I wasn't the first to think about these injustices. I was shocked to find a huge corpus of white, highly educated, tenured women professors who had made a living off of writing about sex work and stripping, many of them in a very sex-positive way, a way that encouraged the decriminalization of sex work. Yet, their involvement with any type of the sex industry was often as privileged voyeur. Some of them gave lapdances at high-end clubs for a while, but many resorted to standard sociological methodologies like interviewing escorts, hanging out at strip clubs, and conducting focus groups among johns. Also, they often glamorized the idea of 'choosing' to be in sex work as some necessary component of the work these women do, overlooking the range of privileges and disadvantages faced by women who sell sex. The elitism around scholarship and activism in the sex industry was, again, another site of some of the gravest inequalities. Of course, I was pleased to find some scholarship about the agency of women of color in the sex trade, such as work written by Kemala Kempadoo. Her work, for example, gives nuance to the complexities of the experiences and realities of being a sex worker.

I've never kept a regular blog before, and I understand that it might seem a bit presumptuous to assume I have anything of import to tell whoever stumbles upon it. Yet, at the same time, I think writing and processing work in a somewhat interactive setting might be useful in a number of ways. I hope to report on everything from racial dynamics at the club, the recession, the niche that stripping occupies in a neoliberal economy, religion, the constructed division between sex work and dancing, the law, citations and articles about stripping, cute guys who come to the club, creepy guys who come to the club, cattiness between dancers, sisterhood between dancers, stilettos, hair, and a whole lot more!

1 comment:

  1. I am already madly in love with this blog. But can we see more entries on hair...