I stumbled across this in the library and photocopied this chapter which ended up sitting in my room for about a month. Finally I got round to reading it and it turns out that it echos things that I wrote for a zine submission recently. The zine is Achey Breaky Heart Zine which is about breakups and relationships. This issue in particular is about identity and I wrote about the identities adopted by sex workers and the use of my real name.
As part of my critical research I am interested in the relationship between women of the working class and promiscuity and sex work. In this particular text by Alison Murray, Femme on the Streets, Butch in the Sheets (a play on whores) one of the opening statements is, “working and pimping have their place in working-class butch-femme subcultures, although they were denied and drowned by some streams of 1970’s feminism”. This resonated with me as I want to figure out why there is a relationship between working class women and sex work.
“Lesbians establish their identity through their images and how they perform them [cf Butler 1990], both for themselves and for a changing audience; while an audience can use these performances to make rigid categorisations of exclusion and inclusion, making stereotypes something to avoid: ‘I had these fears that I might have to have cropped hair, an earring through my nose and wear a pair of army boots. And so now I think it’s laughable’ [quoted in Valentine 1993b,240].” Throughout my research, performance is key to identity, gender and sexuality as it is important for people to be visibly the gender or sexuality they are. For example for trans women, being hyper feminine is important to their transition because part of identifying as a woman is being received by people as one.
” Lipstick femmes since the 1990s have often adopted a hyper-feminine image which makes it harder for homophobes to point out ‘lezzos’, but as Bell et al argue [1994,42], the femme image is not designed to destabilize heterosexuality so much as to confront stereotypical lesbians. It is a ‘political backlash against the ideological rigidity of lesbian feminism and androgynous style’ .” Women are going through a revolution of hyper femininity. When lesbians and feminists tried to shake the delicacy of femininity to be taken more seriously in a mans world it made women feel guilty for being girly but there is a whole movement of women reclaiming their femininity and making it powerful.
“While dykes can choose to adapt to or resist both the mainstream and each other, dykes who are also sex workers are more likely than most to make changes in their performance according to the space they are in [the client’s space; the girls’ room; the street; the dyke bar; the prison]. Being a sex worker is first and foremost an act, and this audience is paying. Changing clothes after the shift/show makes a personal distinction between work and not-work, and is perhaps a strategy to avoid labelling and stigma.” Sex work is mostly fantasy fulfilment and professional intimacy. These have to be performed just like gender and identity. This can also be related to social media. Many people are performing a version of themselves online creating a fantasy of a life they think people want to live.
“‘It would be great to think that lesbians have gone beyond the tired old stereotypes of sex workers as sad [junkie/victim], bad [immoral nympho slut] or mad [acting out unresolved childhood abuse], but unfortunately this is not so’ [O’Sullivan 1994,40] .” These are the harmful stigmas that exist for sex workers everywhere.
“You don’t have to tell male clients about your personal life, or anything – they are usually happy with whatever story you think they might like to hear…. But they can be especially happy if you tell them you’re a dyke – it can make them feel like they’ve made a real sexual conquest, depending how well you fake it. They might want to see you again with a girlfriend, too. They are just as confused as some feminists about the differences between sex as work and sexuality as identity:” Sex work exclusionary radical feminists (SWERFS) choose to ignore certain intersections of feminism.
“Lesbians are divided and workers are stigmatized by those feminists who argue that the sex industry supports patriarchy.” In a lot of writing by feminists about the sex industry they vilify the sex industry and also vilify the women that work within it claiming that they cause men to abuse non sex working women because of how they are allowed to view and treat sex workers. They believe that the women sex workers perpetuate violence and abuse against women.
“‘Indeed, because it is a gender system, butch-femme has come to occupy the position of ‘whore’ relative to lesbian feminist ‘marriage’, not only in a literal sense, where the whore is the woman with whom sex is illegitimate and unspoken, but in a more symbolic one, wherein butch-femme, particularly because of its class and race associations, has become another manifestation of the ‘whore stigma’: that portrait of uncontrolled sexualness given groups deemed ‘other’ by a dominant culture.’ [MacCowan 1992,327]” Does this imply that class affects a women’s sexual control?
“The history of butch-femme has been working class, or at least it is imagined and imaged as such and blended with the concept of ‘whore’. However I would personally argue that in comparison with the rigid class structures of Europe and elsewhere, ‘working class’ is not downtrodden in contemporary Australia. So many lesbians seem to be downwardly mobile: they have comfortable lives but wear ‘working class’ [e.g ‘dad had a blue collar job in the Western suburbs’] as a badge of honour. While working Aussies are historically fairly egalitarian: tradesmen can earn similar wages to the Prime Minister and the number of obscenely rich people is obscene, but still relatively small.” A fetishisation of the working class to suit their sexuality stereotypes.
“Sex worker performance artists have led the way in demolishing dyke antipathies and dichotomies like good and bad, abused and empowered [S Bell 1993, Juno 1991].” Annie Sprinkle is a sex worker turned performance artists whom also made porn. She now aims to demystify the female body and promote sex positivity.