Issue 10.1-10.2 | Fall 2011/Spring 2012 / Guest edited by Joseph N. DeFilippis, Lisa Duggan, Kenyon Farrow, and Richard Kim

Sex Work and Queer Politics in Three Acts

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The historical and political issues that these three activists describe, including the need to see race, class, gender, and sexuality as intersecting and constituted by power, are being extended in the bloom of sexuality-based movements for progressive social change. Key spaces for this work are being defined in LGBTQ organizations that are using an intersectional approach in their work and in sex workers’ rights movements. The sex workers rights movement in the United States, which began in the 1970s through organizations like COYOTE (Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics), is vibrant and growing. It includes organizations in almost every major city, annual conferences, Listservs, legal interventions, direct action and protests, and a web of activist networks made up of sex workers and their allies. The legacy of queer rights and sexual liberation is evident in the ways in which these organizations define their own priorities and interests. SWANK (Sex Workers Action New York) and SWOP-NYC (Sex Workers Outreach Project – NYC), for example, describe themselves on their Myspace page as, “a group of radical, current and former sex workers who are committed to building community and providing support to sex workers and our allies. We identify as sex-positive, gender-inclusive, radical, queer-positive, kink and BDSM-friendly, critical of capitalism (though not necessarily anti-capitalist). We are opposed to and don’t tolerate any form of oppression, including but not limited to: stigmatization, stereotyping, homophobia, racism, ageism, sizeism, transphobia, sexism, and patriarchy.” As the broader discourse on sexuality and power continues to engage with questions of state power, marginality, and normativity; the work of these movements will remain critical for pushing the edges of what we conceive, imagine, and practice.

The author would like to thank all three interviewees for contributing their time and insights in preparation for this piece, and Emily Thuma, for providing detailed transcriptions of all three interviews.

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