Is sex work queer?

21Feb09

At times, I just loathe identity politics.  But identity is unfortunately important, especially for social movements. (This blog probably doesn’t appeal to people who don’t identify as sex workers, or who aren’t interested in those who do identify as such. ) And lately, I’ve been thinking about the queer identity.

A lot of people self-indentify as queer. Of course, I wonder about the appropriateness of using queer as an identity label. I haven’t read much of queer theory, other than some Judith Butler. (Yeah, that whole whores, especially whores without advanced degrees, can read heavy shit thing.) It seems as much as queer is a word that tries to break down identities, making it an identity is counter-productive. I say I have queer relationships. I try to be conscious of how I use the word. But sometimes the easiest way to describe myself in a sentence is including the word queer.

I find lesbian so unappealing because I don’t just fuck cisgendered women. Bisexual implies, to me, fucking either cisgendered manly men or cisgendered girly women. The people I fall for are somewhere in between. I have a fondness for androgynous femininity. I feel like queer more aptly includes the transgendered and intersexed people I’ve been attracted to.

This brings me to my original question: is sex work queer? There seems to be this popular stereotype of the cisgendered woman sex worker who just wants to have unpaid romantic relationships with other cis-women off the clock. Something about the boredom or exhaustion of men all the time. I have yet to meet this sex worker, so if you know her, send her my email address. I’d be curious to hear her stories. Rather, I know a lot of other sex workers who either are really into unpaid sex and love with hardy men, or who have the kind of love and sex I do, this vaguely queer, gender-irrelevant, yes-please-kinky kind of thing.

I find the idea about exhaustion with the penis or the male ego a bit puzzling. Sex is sex. It’s not easier or harder to separate based on genitals. (It would be irresponsible not to mention, though, that women are a hell of a lot better an not jack-hammering the cunt with their dry fingers.) Not to mention some of us also see women. Like me. I love women clients. I wish women seeing sex workers was more socially acceptable. Hell, I wish people other than heterosexual cis-men would see more sex workers. (There is that line about how women can just go to a bar and get it for free, but that assumes that all you see a sex worker for is straight up sex, not all the other things a sex worker does as part of the job, and definitely ignores the sex workers skilled at kink.)

Now, Adrienne Rich is going to crucify me for this, but I think in some ways sex work is a violation of compulsory heterosexuality. I know that Rich includes prostitution as The Definition of compulsory heterosexuality, but this is all just based on Catherine MacKinnon’s (excuse me) fucking weird ass eroticism of domination thing. More on that in a minute. If you definition compulsory heterosexuality or heteronormativity or whatever word you use as the demand that women only have sex within monogamous heterosexual relationships, then sex work fucks that all up. Sure, there’s the rise of the Sex and the City woman, but by and large, women aren’t encouraged to fuck around the way men are. You can have your fun, as long as you mean to eventually end up married and monogamous.

I’m opening a can of worms with this. I’m just thinking through what I think about this. I think often times there is this idea that queering something is positive. I’m going to argue that it’s value neutral. What matters is what happens to the relations of power involved.

Back to MacKinnon. Something that queer-minded thinkers have talked about is how MacKinnon treats sexuality and gender as one in the same. I don’t think they are, and this has long been my problem with this eroticism of domination malarky. It’s the same idea that prompts feminists to argue that BDSM, even between two women, is a reproduction of patriarchal domination. I’m not going to say that sexual desire exists in a vacuum, but you know, sometimes getting off isn’t all about the patriarchy.

So is sex work queer? I don’t know. If fucking with sexual desire and fucking with gender is queer, then I would say that’s a strong case for the idea that sex work is queer.

Thoughts? Want to tell me I’m wrong? That Catherine MacKinnon is god? That I prompted you to rethink something?

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