Friday, February 18, 2011

Discipline, or Pun-ish?

This evening, I'm reading some of my reflections on my career as a stripper at an event that's meant for scholars to share what they do in their creative/less academic moments. For me, there's no greater gulf than the one between my stripping and schooling. Grad school for me has often been alienating; I sometimes feel my brown skin and less-than-academic pedigree sticks me out like a sore, subaltern thumb. While I've found some buddies along the way, in general I feel that the grad school experience has been depoliticizing at times, or maybe pseudo-politicizing. In other words, a whole lot of sitting around and reading about stuff, and not so much interrogating how we - right there in the left-leaning academic department - are perpetuating, encouraging, even relying upon the oppressions we critique in our dissertations and panel presentations.

This will be the first time I go in front of an audience of people - many of them peers, some of them "superiors" - and talk about my work. At first, I wanted to talk about race and intersectional issues around dancing; I realized pretty quickly that it felt like pandering to the thirst for Third World Feminist knowledge that I anticipated my audience to hope to hear. (I thought they might expect some high-brow theoretical, overtly political reflections on sex work, race, and gender.) So I scrapped that, and instead I'm going for the raunchy humor - stories about gross customers, good customers, loyal customers, customers with funny nicknames, etc. Yeah, I'm sort of worried about the raunch factor. It's sort of giving a middle finger to all those Foucauldian ideas about how sex should be talked about, right? I mean, no one has a problem with Elizabeth Bernstein teaching a class on sex work politics, or with critiquing the law that has cast "unnatural" sex acts by prostitutes in Louisiana into the same category as pedophilia.

But, why then, do I perceive a greater anxiety emerging when an actual sex worker - not only incidentally a brown woman - talks about boners and grinding and bikini waxes. Is it in my head?


  1. I don't think it's in your head. When you're part of a special secret exotic othered group like strippers or "brown women", and you're talking to an audience of people outside of that group, their tendency is to want you to be representative of a larger population instead of an individual. Telling your own funny stories is a great choice. It's not your responsibility to always frame sex work in an academic/social/philosophical/economic context. Knock 'em dead.

  2. Being honest about our work still helps others to understand the industry and it helps them identify with it. I hope it goes well!

  3. oh pleeeeeeaaaaaaassssseeee give an update on how this event went. it's definitely not in your head that people, ESPECIALLY academic types, get squeamish around real sex workers as opposed to the abstract ones.

    and i so deeply appreciate your comment about academia's reifying of oppressorship (often as a tool it seems for academics to stay downtrodden and "revolutionary" victims). AND i also totally agree with you that there is often a total lack of self-interrogation and, put more kindly, personal-political sharing and growth.

    i really want to know what happened at your talk and how you felt before, during, after.