Skip to main content
Log in

Queer desire in the sex industry

  • Articles
  • Published:
Sexuality and Culture Aims and scope Submit manuscript

Abstract

“They are all lesbians anyway,” is one of the stereotypes with which mainstream society labels sex workers. In this field study of exotic dancers, I research what dancers feel about this stereotype as well as the shapes they perceive queer desire assuming in the sex industry. In this article, I highlight a fascinating tension between the desire that sex workers perform for men and the queer desire they feel for other women. Using the framework of ethnographic descrition, I explore this tension through the description and analysis of the sexual identities of sex workers. Specifically, I examine the sex industry as a site that encourages women to expand notions of their own sexuality. This is partly because the environments of strip bars and peep shows offer women easy access to other women, invite them to break taboos, and teach them disdain for men.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Similar content being viewed by others

References

  • Adler, Patricia A. and Peter Adler. (1998). “Observational Techniques.” In Norman K. Denzin and Yvonna S. Lincoln (Eds.), Collecting and Interpreting Qualitative Materials (pp. 79–109). Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.

    Google Scholar 

  • Barry, Kathleen. (1995). The Prostitution of Sexuality: The Global Exploitation of Women. New York: New York University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bell, Holly and Lacey Sloan. (1998). “Exploiter or Exploited: Topless Dancers Reflect on their Experiences.” Journal of Women & Social Work, 13(3): 352–369.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bright, Susie. (1997). The Sexual State of the Union. New York: Simon and Schuster.

    Google Scholar 

  • Califia, Pat. Public Sex: The Culture of Radical Sex. Pittsburgh: Cleiss Press.

  • Chapkis, Wendy. (1997). Live Sex Acts: Women Performing Erotic Labor. New York: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Denzin, Norman K. and Yvonna S. Lincoln. (1998). Collecting and Interpreting Qualitative Materials. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.

    Google Scholar 

  • Dworkin, Andrea. (1974). Women Hating. New York: E. P. Dutton.

    Google Scholar 

  • —. (1987). Intercourse. New York: The Free Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Fontana, Andrea and James H. Frey. (1998). “Interviewing: The Art of Science.” In Norman K. Denzin and Yvonna S. Lincoln (Eds.), Collecting and Interpreting Qualitative Materials (pp. 47–78). Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.

    Google Scholar 

  • Forsyth, Craig J. (1998). “A deviant Process: The Sojourn of the Stripper.” Sociological Spectrum, 18(1): 77–93.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hochschild, Arlie Russell. (1983). The Managed Heart: Commercialization of Human Feeling. Berkeley: University of California Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Langley, Erika. (1997). The Lusty Lady: Photographs and Texts. Zurich: Scalo.

    Google Scholar 

  • Leigh, Carol. (1997). “Inventing Sex Work.” In Jill Nagle (Ed.), Whores and Other Feminists (pp. 223–231). New York: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lerum, Kari. (1998). “Twelve-Step Feminism Makes Sex Workers Sick: How the Sate and the Recovery Movement Turn Radical Women into ‘Useless Citizens.’” Sexuality & Culture, 2: 7–36.

    Google Scholar 

  • MacKinnon, Catharine. (1989). Toward a Feminist Theory of the State. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • McCaghy, Charles H. and James K. Skipper, Jr. (1969). “Lesbian Behavior as Adaptation to the Occupation of Stripping.” Social Problems, 17(2).

  • — (1972). “Stripping: Anatomy of a Deviant Lifestyle.” In S. D. Feldman and G. W. Thielbar (Eds.), Lifestyles: Diversity in American Society (pp. 362–373). Boston: Little, Brown.

    Google Scholar 

  • Nagle, Jill. (1997). Whores and Other Feminists. New York: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Paglia, Camille. (1992). Sex, Art and American Culture. New York: Vintage Books.

    Google Scholar 

  • Patton, Jessica. (1997). “500 Words on Acculturation.” In Jill Nagle (Ed.), Whores and Other Feminists (pp. 136–137). New York: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Pendleton, Eva. (1997). “Love for Sale: Queering Heterosexuality.” In Jill Nagle (Ed.), Whores and Other Feminists (pp. 73–82). New York: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Perry, Richard Warren and Lisa Erin Sanchez. (1998). “Transactions in the Flesh: Toward an Ethnography of Embodied Sexual Reason.” Studies in Law, Politics, and Society, 18: 29–76.

    Google Scholar 

  • Queen, Carol. (1997). Real Live Nude Girl: Chronicles of Sex-Positive Culture. Pittsburgh: Cleiss Press Inc.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ronai, Carol Rambo and Carolyn Ellis. (1989). “Turn-Ons for Money: Interactional Strategies of the Table Dancer.” Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 18(3): 271–298.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • — and Rebecca Cross. (1998). “Dancing with Identity: Narrative Resistance Strategies of Male and Female Strippers.” Deviant Behavior: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 19: 99–119.

    Google Scholar 

  • Rubin, Gayle. (1984). “Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics of Sexuality.” In Carol S. Vance (Ed.), Pleasure and Danger: Exploring Female Sexuality (pp. 267–319). Boston: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Scott, David A. (1996). Behind the G-String: An Exploration of the Stripper’s Image, Her Person and Her Meaning. Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Co., Inc.

    Google Scholar 

  • Sweet, Nova and Richard Tewksbury. (2000). “‘What’s a Nice Girl Like You Doing in a Place Like This?’: Pathways to a Career in Stripping.” Sociological Spectrum, 20(3): 325–344.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Thompson, William E. and Jackie L. Harred. (1992). “Topless Dancers: Managing Stigma in a Deviant Occupation.” Deviant Behavior: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 13: 291–311.

    Google Scholar 

  • Zoticus, Les Von. (1997). “Butch Gigolette.” In Jill Nagle (Ed.), Whores and Other Feminists (pp. 170–176). New York: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Barton, B. Queer desire in the sex industry. Sex Cult 5, 3–27 (2001). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12119-001-1000-9

Download citation

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s12119-001-1000-9

Keywords

Navigation