More-than-Survival Strategies: Sex Workers' Unhappy Stories( file size: 468k )
Mann, S. E.
Sex work, prostitution, pornography, exotic dancing, autobiography, blogging, affect, the bad life
Abstract: This essay examines the contributions of unhappy autobiographical narratives to the sex workers’ rights movement. Dominating sex worker advocacy discourse is a “happy hooker” image that eschews “negative” and “stereotypical” characterizations of prostitutes and other sex workers. But as the internet becomes more and more a site for sex work activism, some unhappy whores are using online autobiographical practices to resist this disavowal of negative experience. While reluctant or coerced engagements in sex work are often referred to as “survival sex work,” unhappy sex workers’ online writing practices function as a more-than-survival strategy, politicizing and resisting rather than disavowing the harms they experience in sex work. After reviewing literary and geographical scholarship on the political disenfranchisement of sex workers and situating this disenfranchisement in Judith Butler’s analysis of “the bad life,” this paper presents two close readings of sex workers’ online autobiographical practices. The first analyzes the discourse of disavowal of unhappy experience in sex worker advocacy and its harmful effects on unhappy sex workers. The second close reading discusses sex workers’ stories about exiting the sex industry, highlighting sex workers’ use of metaphors of space and place to elucidate their experiences. The essay concludes on sex workers’ strategies for more-than-surviving: using the three politicizing tactics identified by Butler to resist their expulsion to the bad life.