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Hypersexualization and the Dark Body: Race and Inequality among Black and Latina Women in the Exotic Dance Industry

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Abstract

During the 1980s in the USA, two sides of the pornography debate emerged: (a) sex work is oppressive to women based on sexism and women’s low economic positioning and (b) sex work is empowering to female sexuality and agency. However, a void remains in theoretical analyses of racial and sexual hierarchies within sex industries that create challenges for women of color that go beyond the pornography debates. Using a case study analysis of three exotic dance clubs, the author examines how hypersexualization structures stratification. The author explores the hypersexualization of Black and Latina women within the clubs regarding racial passing among dancers of color, pay differences, and club safety to examine how these factors produce inequalities between Black and Latina women in the exotic dance industry. Avenues for further social policy research focused on improving the sex industry work environment for Black and Latina exotic dancers are discussed. KeywordsStrip clubs-Stratification-Racism-Violence-Pornography
Hypersexualization and the Dark Body: Race and Inequality
among Black and Latina Women in the Exotic
Dance Industry
Siobhan Brooks
Published online: 23 February 2010
#
Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010
Abstract During the 1980s in the USA, two sides of the
pornography debate emerged: (a) sex work is oppressive to
women based on sexis m and womens low economic
positioning and (b) sex work is empowering to female
sexuality and agency. However, a void remains in theoret-
ical analyses of racial and sexual hierarchies within sex
industries that create challenges for women of color that go
beyond the pornograp hy de bates. Using a case study
analysis of three exotic dance clubs, the author examines
how hypersexualization structures stra tification. The author
explores the hypersexualization of Black and Latina women
within the clubs regarding racial passing among dancers
of color, pay differences, and club safety to examine how
these factors produce inequalities between Black and Latina
women in the exotic dance industry. Avenues for further
social policy research focused on improving the sex industry
work environment for Black and Latina exotic dancers are
discussed.
Keywords Strip clubs
.
Stratification
.
Racism
.
Violence
.
Pornography
During the femi nists sex wars of the 1980s, two sides of
the pornography debate emerged as a result of feminist
movements within the USA (Chapkis 1997). The first
position concerning women within the sex industry taken
up by radical feminists was that all sex work, and to a
lesser degree, heterosexual sex, was inherently exploitative
toward women wi thin a patriarchal society (Barry 1984;
Dines 1998 ; Dworkin 1991; MacKinnon 1989).
On the other side of the sex wars debate regarding sex
work, contemporary US feminists have focused on sexual
agency and the expansion of womens control of their
bodies and sexuality (Chapkis 1997; Nagle 1997; Queen
1997; Rubin 1984 ). However, in recent times, feminist
theory has argued for a more complicated position on
women in the sex indus try that is not just good or bad and
focuses on (national and international) sex workers rights,
with elements of both agency and oppressive circumstances
(Alexander and Delacoste 1987; Barton 2006; Bernstein
and Schaffner 2004; Bradley-Engen 2009; Chancer 1998;
Frank 2002; Kempadoo and Doezema 1998; Nagle 1997).
However, a void remains in a theoretical analysis of
racial and sexual hierarchies within sex industries and how
they affect dancers of color (Brooks 2001; Collins 1990 ;
Hunter 2002; Kempadoo and Doezema 1998; Miller-Young
In Press). No study to date has examined how race and
gender stratification are produced in the exotic dance
industry, and how this stratification influences material
and social exchanges between wome n in strip clubs. In this
article, I seek to answer the question of how racial
stratification is produced in strip clubs among Black and
Latina women by using a case study analysis of three exotic
dance clubs in Manhattan, Bronx, and Oakland. I will be
exploring how notions of hypersexuality functions within
the clubs with attention to racial passing among dancers of
color, pay differences, and club safet y to examine how they
work to produce inequalities between Black and Latina
women in the exotic dance industry.
This article focuses the following research questions:
How are Black and Latina women stratified in the exotic
dance industry? What are the consequences of this strat-
ification for dancers of color? How do dancers of color
This article is from my forthcoming book, Unequal Desires: Race
and Erotic Capital in the Stripping Industry (SUNY Press).
S. Brooks (*)
Department of Gender Studies, Lawrence University,
711 East Boldt Way,
Appleton, WI 54911, USA
e-mail: siobhan.brooks@lawrence.edu
Sex Res Soc Policy (2010) 7:7080
DOI 10.1007/s13178-010-0010-5
manage racism? To answer these questions, I use ethno-
graphic field research to examine how racial stratification
affects economic exchanges among Black and Latina
women in strip clubs. I argue that social constructs of
Black and Latina women as hypersexual makes them
receive less monetary value for their sexual servi ces, thus
situating them in potent ially violent work environments. I
expand on Patricia Hill Collins (2004) theory of control-
ling images and hypersexualization
1
of Black bodies. I aim
to locate my study of racial stratification of US Black and
Latina exotic dancers within the discourse of the sex wars
and conclude with possible public policies to improve the
situation of Black and Latina exotic dancers.
Literature on Women in the Sex Industry
Debates about whether sex work is exploitat ive or em-
powering for women have been a focal point in femi nist
discourse regarding women who work in the sex industry.
According to Wendy Chapkis (1997), the debates can be
categorized into three positions: (a) radical feminists, (b)
sex radical feminists, and (c) feminists who are arguing for
a more complicated position on women in the sex industry
that takes the debate beyond the feminist sex wars.
Radical feminists argue that within a patriarchal society,
women working in the sex industry are always exploited. In
this view, women cannot assert agency within sexual
economies; the belief is that women are victimized or
controlled by heterosexual male desire against their own
interest (Barry 1984;Dworkin1991;MacKinnon1989).
According to Catherine MacKinnon, pornography constitutes
[a] form of forced sex, a practice of sexual politics, an
institution of gender inequality. In this perspective,
pornography, with the rape and prostitution in which
it participates, institutionalizes the sexuality of male
supremacy, which fuses the erotization of dominance
and submission with the social construction of male
and female (p. 197).
On the other side of the debate are feminists who have
emphasized empowerment and have focused on sexual
agency and the empowerment of women within sexual
economies as an expansion of womens control of their
bodies. They have argued that contrary to the view that sex
work is inconsistent with feminist ideals, women in the sex
industry are taking control of their sexuality (Chapkis 1997;
Queen 1997; Rubin 1984). The third position attempts to
get beyond the sex wars and underscores sex workers
rights nationally and internationally along with the reality
of both analyses of empowerment and oppression function-
ing simultaneously (Alexander and Delacoste 1987; Barton
2006; Frank 2002; Kempadoo and Doezema 1998; Nagle
1997).
Yet, these debates largely overlook structural racism
within the sex industry that makes it difficult for women of
color to maximize the benefit of the empowering aspects of
sex work sex radical feminists underscore and produces
problems not addressed by radical feminists, because sex
work in and of itself is often not viewed as a problem by
women of color but rather lack of decent shifts, safety, and
better monetary gain. Feminists who argue for a more
complicated view of women working in the sex industry
sometime fail to see how racism is a major constraint for
women of color choosing to do sex work; however, there
are some exceptions to this oversight.
Kamala Kempadoos(1999) Sun, Sex, and Gold:
Tourism and Sex Work in the Caribbean examined the
global conditions of the result of the outsourcing of jobs
and migration among female and male sex workers in the
Caribbean, and the racialized nature of sex work, empha-
sizing that the relationship of women and men engaging in
sex work is a product of colonialism with Westerners often
being the customers for sexual services. Kempadoos work
also has explored the racism inherit in which types of
women are viewed as sexually desirable, and how this
racism affects working conditions of women working as
prostitutions, with lighter-skinned women receiving the
desirable shifts and clientele. For example, in Global Sex
Workers: Rights, Resistance, and Redefinition, edited by
Kempadoo and Doezema (1998), Kempadoo stated that in
the Caribbean, racialized hierarchies structure the condi-
tions women work in when doing sex work: Migrant
sex workers from Columbia and the Dominican Republic
are predominantly light-skinned,
mulatto (mixed African-
European) women, while local prostitutes who invariably
work the streets and ill-paid sectors, are far more likely to
be of Afro-Caribbean descent (p. 131).
On a local US level, Katherine Frank (2002)has
examined in her book, G-Strings and Sympathy: Strip Club
Regulars and Male Desire, racial hierarchies within the
geographic location of strip clubs in her research site of
Laurelton. Frank observed during her participant-observation
in her fieldwork in the South that strip clubs are classified in
terms of race regarding customer taste, geography, and club
reputationhighly ranked clubs were rarely described as
Black, whereas Black clubs were referred to as out of the
way or lower tier, and often women would perform illegal
acts to make money. According to Frank, Black dancers
1
Joane Nagel (2003) has used this term (after Patricia Hill Collins
1990) to describe an all-encompassing social position of sexuality
extending Judith Halberstam (1998) argument about masculinity being
a legitimate sphere of men. I use the term to describe the social
construction of people of color as possessing a more active sexuality
than Whites.
Sex Res Soc Policy (2010) 7:7080 71
working in upper-tier clubs were encouraged to identify not
as Black but instead as mixed-race: In Diamond Dolls, the
Crystal Palace, and the Pantherthe Black dancers were
more concerned with looking as Caucasian as possible to
make the customers comfortable’” (p. 219).
My research contributes to these local and global findings
of systemic racism against Black women in the sex industry
and the sex wars debate by arguing that for many women of
color working in the sex industry, racism and constructions
of hypersexualization, not sex work itself, remain an
oppressive factor in their work environment. Similar to the
findings of Kempadoo (1999) and Frank (2002), I found
strip clubs to be categorized by geographic space associated
with race and class, and that Black and Latina women who
were light skinned received better treatment from customers
and club management. However, my work differs from that
of Kempadoo and Frank on two fronts: I studied sex workers
of color in the US context and explored racial stratification
among dancers of color, not among customers or White
women.
Theoretical Approaches
Patricia Hill Collins (1990, 2004) work on controlling
images of Black women is the departure point for my
theoretical approach to the structural posit ioning of Black
and Latina women working in the exotic dance industry. In
Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and
the Politics of Empowerment, Collins listed four types of
controlling images affecting Black womens position within
US society: the mammy, the matriarch, the welfare mother,
and the Jezebel. According to Collins, the images of the
mammy and the Jezebel originated in the institution of
slavery to justify Black womens oppression within the
home and sexualized violence for the purposes of breeding
slaves; the images of the matriarch and the welfare mother
emerged during the post-World War II period to justify
economic exploitation of Black women on welfare and the
ideology that low-income Black women on welfare were the
cause of poverty among Black families. In Black Sexual
Politics: African Americans, Gender, and the New Racism,
Collins revisited these controlling images of Black people
and hypersexuality in contemporary forms of racist practices.
She argued:
The new racism also relies more heavily on mass
media to reproduce and disseminate the ideologies
need to justify racism. There are two themes here
the substance of racial ideologies under the new
racism and the form in which ideologies are created,
circulated, and resisted. Ideas about Black sexuality
certainly appear in contemporary racial ideologies.
(2004, p. 34)
For Collins (1990, 2004), the intersection between the
new racism and Black sexuality is evident in constructions
of Black women on welfare and as possessing an ag-
gressive sexuality, resulting in forced birth control and
welfare cuts for low-income Black women along with mass
incarceration among low-income Black men socially con-
structed as rapists and criminals. In this article, I would like
to extend Collinss theory of hypersexuality and the
aforementioned stereotype s of Black women as sexually
aggressive and as welfare queens and applied it to Black
and Latina women working in the exotic dance industry and
economic marginalization. According to Collins (and also
antiporn activist Gail Dines), women of color are positioned
within pornography differently than White women, with
controlling images of them as hypersexualized resulting in
their being presented as animalistic vis-à-vis White women,
and thus more sexually available, which also has economic
consequences for women of color in the porn industry
(Dines 1998). Collins (1990) has argued that the subjection
of Black womens bodies on the auction block during
the ninet eenth century is the basis for White womens
positioning in pornography underscored by the exhibition
of Sarah Bartmann. Hence, Black women are starting from
an animal status, not a human one, unlike the status of
White women at this time, who were portrayed as an ideal
archetype of womanhood.
This analysis is useful to my investigation into racial
stratification among women of color in the occupation of
exotic dancing, in which race complicates the experiences
of women of color exotic dancers who are not objectified in
the same manner as White women (i.e., it is not a guarantee
that a Black women will be hired at a high-end club just
because she takes her clothes off). In other words, women
are not objectified equally in the sex industry and do not
have access to work in anywhere they desire in this industry
but are instead stratified by race and class, much as they are
in other service-sector jobs (Chang 2000).
Method
I used ethnographic methods, fieldwork, and participant-
observation for my study. I conducted a total of 12
interviews with Black and Latina women ranging from
ages 19 to 45 in New York City and Oakland, California.
My study passed institutional review board requirements,
and I used pseudonyms for dancer names and clubs to
protect the identity of the women in their professional and
personal lives. I interviewed six US Black (non-Latina)
women, two Black Latinas, and four non-Black Latinas
all were dancers except for two (one waitress and one
manager). Many of the dancers I interviewed were students
at colleges within the City University of New York or
72 Sex Res Soc Policy (2010) 7:7080
working in other service industry jobs. My sample is from
two clubs that cater to a male audience (New York) an d one
that caters to a lesbian audience (Oakland). I chose two
gentlemens clubs (one Black/Latino/a, one mostly White)
and a Black lesbian club to get a range of experiences from
dancers regarding racial stratification and to explore
whether dancing for women was different than performing
for men. My sample size is small because these data were
taken from a larger project that did not solely focus on
the experiences of dancers , so my data is not meant to
generalize but rather add to a discourse on women of color
in the sex industry in the USA, a topic that begs for more
research.
My goal was to determine the connections between
dancer employment, desirability, monet ary earnings, and
racial positioning of the women who worked at these
clubs. I met my interviewees and conducted participant-
observation in two strip clubs in New York City, Conquest
in Manhattan and Temptations in the South Bronx,
2
as well
as Girlielicious in Oakland, California. At all three clubs, I
entered as a customer, often alone, and paid for my own
drinks. Conquest charged a cover fee of $30; Temptations
was free before 7:00 p.m., after that, the cover fee was
$20. At Girlielicious in Oakland, the cover was $10 after
7:00 p.m. At all of the clubs, I interviewed dancers while
they sat at the bar waiting for their turn to perform their
stage show. I would often buy myself a drink and strike up
conservations with dancers asking them how long they
worked at the club, what they liked about it, if they feel
their race is an asset, if they felt safe, and how much money
they earned on a shift. I usually bought dancers drinks so
they could talk for longer and carried a notebook to write
down my fieldnotes. I was not allowed to record any
interviews at my sites (also, the music would have made it
hard to hear interviewees), so I went into the bathroom to
write my fieldnotes. Sometimes I shared with the women
that I used to work as an exotic dancer to gain their trust,
and I found that this trust helped the dancers open up to me.
My conversations with dancers lasted about 10 to 15 min,
with the exception of four women who felt comfortable
giving me their phone number for follow-up questions.
Temptations employed mostly Black and Latina dancers,
with few Asian or White dancers; it catered to a working-
class crowd, and the women tended to be creative with their
costumes and had voluptuous figures. Conquest hired
mainly White dancers, with few Black, Asian, or Latinas;
howev er, the waitres ses, b artenders, and janitors were
racially diverse. This club catered largely to White business-
men, who considered Conquest high class compared with
Temptations, which customers classified as low class or
ghetto. A Black lesbian in downtown Oakland named
Silky, who had a history of club promoting in the lesbian
community, started Girlielicious in 2003. Girlielicious is
described as being one of few queer clubs for Black women
and is known for lip-syncing events every Thursday among
performers and occasional violence among female customers
(usually couples) at the club.
Description of Settings
Temptations is located in the South Bronx in New York City
and surro unded by t he following institutions: Hostos
Community College, a Medicare health rehabilitation service
center, the Triborough Bridge, a diner, a public auto auction,
a car wash, a muffler repair shop, and a Kentucky Fried
Chicken. There are no banks anywhere in sight but many
check cashing places. South of Temptations is the Mott
Haven neighborhood, with housing projects and local
business, though many buildings and businesses had been
abandoned and were boarded up. According to the 2005 US
Census, the median family income for the Bronx was
$33,460. The racial demographics of the Bronx are 23.6%
White, 32.1% Black, 0.4% American Indian, 3.2% Asian,
0.1% Native Hawaiian, and 52.3% Latino/a. Temptations
promotes fine wine, gourmet food, champagne, and beautiful
women for the customers.
In contrast, Conquest gentlemens club in Manhattan is
one of the most famous strip clubs in the country among
middle and upper class, mostly White men. Conquest is
located in Chelsea. Chelsea is located on the west side of
Manhattan and has a large queer population. According to
the 2005 US Census Bureau, the median family income is
$43,434. The racia l makeup of Manhattan is 56.8% White,
16.7% Black, 0.8% Native, 11.3% Asian, and 25.1%%
Latino/a. Conquest is known for its restaurant business in
addition to its bar and stage shows. The hours are 8:00 p.m.
to 4:00 a.m., Monday through Saturday, and 8:00 p.m. to
2:00 a.m. on Sundays. Both clubs are located within 500 ft
of a school, church, other sex venues, or residential area,
and thus have survived former mayor Rudolph Giulianis
1995 zoning laws (Delany 1999). Most of the bartenders,
security personnel, waitresses, and bathroom attendants are
people of color (Black, Latino/a, and Indian), whereas the
dancers and custo mers are predominantly White.
Oakland, California, has a diverse population. According
to the 2005 US Census Bureau, the population is 31%
African American, 25% Latino/a, 20% White, 16% Asian
American, and less than 1% Native American. In addition
to racial diversity, Oakland, like San Francisco, has a large
concentration of same-sex couples, and according to the
Urban Institute of US Census 2000, such couples are
almost three times as likely to live in Oakland vis-à-vis
2
In this article, I use pseudonyms to protect the identity of clubs,
dancers, and interviewees.
Sex Res Soc Policy (2010) 7:7080 73
other cities within the USA. Girlielicious is located at a
popular queer bar in downtown Oakland, close to the Bay
Area Rapid Transit train and some Chinese food restau-
rants. Most of the dancers, wor kers, and customers are
Black queer women, with the exception of a male bouncer.
Performance and the Management of Racism
For dancers at all three clubs, erotic performance is marketed
in four ways: (a) the DJ announcing the dance set, (b) stage
lighting, (c) striptease, and (d) dancers soliciting lap dances
before or after their performance. The role of the DJ is to
play songs that will complement the dancersbodyand
movement on stage. The dancer usually selects 3- to 5-min
songs for the DJ to play during her set, and the skill of
dancing is learned on their own; most dancers have not had
professional dance lessons, although others have had some
formalized dance training. The stage lighting consists of dim,
sultry lights ranging in greens, purples, and reds to make the
dancers appear sexy and create a sensual mood between
them and the audience.
Dancers market their bodies by performing a strip tease
dance down usually to a thong and walking around before
or after their set to see if customers want to buy lap dances
from them. The stage provides a dancer with the most ex-
posure to customers with the help of the DJ playing music
and promoting her prior and during her set, and the lighting
covering up blemishes that would be more obvious in
bright lights (Frank 2002).
Dancers of color in addition to marketing themselves to
customers as desirable must manage racism among cus-
tomers as a result of being racialized and hypersexualized
with some d ancers being in more advantageous positions
than others. For example, Alicia, a 22-year-old Canadian
Black dancer from Toronto working at Conquest, stated that
it was harder to make money being Black:
You have to try harder to talk to the customers and ease
them into buying a lap dance from you; smile at them,
engage them more, because many White men are
scared of Black women and sometimes Black men
dont want to see a Black woman either, whereas the
White women have an easier time talking to customers.
Some nights I make anywhere from $150 to $300 a
night, whereas White women make around $500 a
night or more.
Mona, a 26-year-old dancer who worked at Temptations,
could pass for a dark-skinned Latina, but she is Italian,
Irish, and US Black. When asked how she markets herself
racially, she replied:
At Temptations, it didnt matter since most women at
the club are Latinas, but when I work in Manhattan, I
never say I am Black because the customers dont like
Black girls, I always say I am Italian and play up my
Italian accent.
Diana worked at Conquest, was 19 at the time of the
interview, and of German and Puerto Rican ancestry. She
was going to college to be a medical technician and is
dancing as a way to earn extra money. When asked if she
viewed her race as an advantage to working at Conquest,
she replied: Yes, because Im Latina, Im blondI could
be a lot of thing.People dont really know what I am. I
can play on that.I can be whatever they want me to be.
Dianes response says a lot about how race and class
function in the exotic dance business. She feels her race is
an asset in dancing primarily because she is mixed and can
therefore perform various ethnicities for customers. In other
words, customers can imagine her to be the race of their
choice and can even ignore the fact that she is Latina and
just see her as a White blond woman.
Spice was 28 years old at the time of the interview and
had danced at Girlielicious for 3 years and, before that, had
danced at male-managed clubs she identified as biracial.
When I asked her about racial marketing when dancing, she
stated that when she danced for men, she marketed herself
as whatever the customers wanted her to be, thus under-
scoring the fluidity of racial categories, especially for
mixed-race individuals:
I learned to be whatever they want me to be because
they are there for a fantasy. I remember I used to
actually tell them what I am [Black, Native American,
and Scottish] and they would get turned off when I
would really tell them because thats not what they
saw me asthey saw me as Latina or Black. If I were
dancing for them at a table, they would no t spend a
lot of time with me. So, I learned to ask them what I
looked like to them, and based on what they said, I
would tell them that is my racial identity.
Spice
s response mirrors Dianes at Conquest regarding
the passing between racial identities, although for Spice,
passing was not as easy as for Diane, because Spice clearly
has African features.
In the aforementioned examples, all the dancers except
Alicia used racial passing as a strate gy in ma naging
customer racism by morphing into racial identities com-
fortable for the customer, who was often non-Black. Unlike
the other dancers, Alicia had to perform higher standards of
emotional labor (Hochschild and Machung 2003)asa
strategy to manage racism to make White customers (and
sometimes Black ones) feel comfortable enough to tip and
buy lap dances from her. For Alicia, marketing her
sexuality did not translate into a smooth transaction with
consumers, because some men appear scared of Black
74 Sex Res Soc Policy (2010) 7:7080
women, so her erotic value was lower than that of her
White counterparts at Conquest.
In my research, many dark-skinned Black women talked
about losing opportunities to make money dealing with
White customer racism, whereas White women had an
easier time making money. Tammy, a Black 20-year-old
dancer who was studying psychology at Merger Evers
College, stated:
Many White men are scared of Black women, so it
takes longer to have a customer warm up to you for a
lap dance, which means you lose time and money on
this step. In the amount of time it takes for a Black
dancer to get a lap dance from a customer, a White
dancer would be getting two or three lap dances.
This quote underscores the intersectional challenges of
race, class, and gender involved in Black dancers trying to
make money in a predominantly White club: her position
as a Black woman, to his position as a White man, her
position as a dancer, to his position as a customer. It also
confirms the stereotype of the overly aggressive Black
women ambulant in popular media, which customers
internalize, thus making it harder for Black exotic dancers
to obtain dances and the wages they deserve for their erotic
labor.
The concept of Black women being viewed as hyper-
sexual by customers withi n the exotic dance industry often
results in them being seen as the controlling image Collins
(1990) has referred to as the welfare queen or, in the case of
Black dancers, gold diggers.
3
Black women I inte rviewed
discussed the idea of Black dancers being seen as gold
diggers, which they say does not help them in the exotic
dance industry to make money. Natasha, a 24-year-old
Black waitress at Conquest, said she believes that White
women get what they want out of sexual relationships with
men regarding material items, whereas when Black women
do the same, they are labeled gold diggers, expressing the
low exchange value of Black womens bodies and the
stereotype of working- class Black women taking advantage
of government programs, such as welfare (Collins 2004;
Quadagno 1994; Roberts 1997).
I asked Natasha more about how she percei ved the
image of Black women as gold diggers affecting them as
workers in the exotic dance industry. She stated:
White dancers can be a bit more direct in asking
customers for money, whereas Black dancers will be
seen as gold diggers and pushy. I hear customers say
that about some Black dancers at Flash Dancers
[Manhattan] and at Su gar Hill [in Harlem] there was
that image of the pushy Black woman asking for
money. Men come in the clubs and think they will get
a rap video with Black women all over them.
The view of Black women as gold diggers also results in
customers wanting to bargain down the prices of lap dances
given by Black women and sometimes Black wom en
perform illegal acts in attempts to make more money and
break even at the end of the night, because they often have
to tip out a certain dollar amount at the end of shift to
management. This situation puts them at risk for being
arrested on charges of prostitution if there is ever a police
raid at a club.
For example, at Girlielicious, one thing I noticed during
my fieldwork, there was the explicit nature of many of the
performances. One woman let someone suck on her breast
during a lap dance for a dollar, another woman pulled pearls
out of her vagina on stage, providing the audience lots of
shock value as people stood up in their chairs to see her
performance. When I asked Silky about these performances,
she stated:
I give everyone a chance to perform. Many dancers are
working mothers who work 9 to 5. I give everyone an
opportunity to perform and make some money; single
mothers often need additional money. I think the
dancers are really into giving the audience a good
show and getting the attention of the audience. I like
when dancers are into their performance and use props
with their shows
Spice critiqued what she felt were women giving away
too much for too little money:
I dont like it, and I dont think the audience does,
either. Women who do that may have shock value, but
if you watch closely, they dont get any money for it.
It just brings down the standard for the rest of us. It is
also the result of the newer dancers not having proper
mentoring into the industry and not knowing what
prices they should charge for servicesthat should be
a private show, not public. Also, when they do that,
they put the venue at risk for losing their liquor
licenses.
Sandy, a 24-year-old dancer and single mother, also
disapproved of the sex acts that some dancers perform; she
felt that most people would rather see artsy performances
involving talent and skill. As she put it:
Many women who do those tricks are used to dancing
for men where they w ant us to stick things in
ourselves, but women often think Isnt she going to
get a yeast infection? whereas many men dont care.
3
The term gold digger has been popularized in hip-hop culture, which
constructs Black women as materialistic and money hungry, out to get
money from the men they date. Many Black feminists have critiqued
this term as sexist, arguing that it ignores the low wages many
working-class Black women earn on the job or on public assistance.
Sex Res Soc Policy (2010) 7:7080 75
Also, because women dancers perform at the same
venues for the same audience, that trick becomes
boring because everyone saw the dancer pull pearls
out of her pussy, but for the men they like it because
they havent seen the trick before.
It is noteworthy that the undervaluing of Black womens
erotic services does not just exist in clubs managed my
men, but in Black lesbian clubs also, suggesting that Black
women are not except from internalizing popular images
of Black women as hypersexual, especially if they have
worked in male clubs where these kinds of performances
are encouraged.
However, some non-Black Latina dancers at Conquest
were able to maintain White customers as regular clients
and ask for a high value for their erotic services. Cristina,
a 24-year-old Puerto Rican with olive complexion and dark
hair, was studying political science at one of the city
colleges in New York. When asked if race is an asset to her,
she replied:
Yes, because White men think I am exotic I can use
that to my advantage. There is this older Jewish man
who is really nice and he helps me with my rent. I live
on the Upper West Side where my rent is $1,550. He
sometimes helps me out with part of it, but a couple
of times he has paid my full rent for me. He also helps
me with my English, which is great. Like, if I mis-
pronounce a word he will correct my English. He
speaks perfect Standard English, so I feel like when he
corrects me that helps me to speak better in school.
For Cristina, her erotic capital helps her to attract
customers who not only financially help her but also aid
her in her educational career. At Conquest, erotic gains are
highest for White women and higher for non-Black Latinas,
especially mixed-race Latinas, than for dark-skinned Black
dancers who are more at a disadvantage for being hyper-
sexualizedleaving Black women at all three clubs having
to work harder for wages (which means often engaging in
explicit sex acts for little money), whereas non-Black
Latinas and White dancers either make more money doing
less or are able to accrue various others forms of capital
(e.g., social networks and cultural capital) via their erotic
services.
Symbolic Violence and Black Clubs
A consistent theme among Black dancers in my research was
their negative experiences in all-Black malefemale strip
clubs regarding low-level security and customer harassment;
most said they would not work in an all-Black club if they
didnt have to. For example, Alicia remembered her
experiences working at a Black working-class strip club in
Atlanta, Georgia:
I would never work at a Black strip club again. I
worked once at a club in Atlanta, and the customers
acted like they were just entitled to have you. They
were rude touched you even after you told them
certain areas were off limits. Also, I remember I was
charging $25 for a lap dance, and come to find out the
actual price was $5, so I had other dancers getting
mad at me because I was overcharging. I quit after a
few months there.
Though Alicia was racially marginalized at Conquest
because she made less money than her White counterparts,
she actually enjoyed working at Conquest because of the
security, and the caliber of the customers was better. This
level of customer harassment against Blac k dancers by
some Black male customers emphasizes the internalization
of stereotypes of hypersexualized Black women some
Black men hold, which in turn makes them view Black
women in a negative light, similar to their non-Black
counterparts. This devaluing of Black womens bodies
happens not only at the individua l level of customers but
also institutionally regarding the types of shifts Black and
Latina dancers have at predominantly Black and Latino/a
clubs, which puts them at risk for customer violence.
Sonya, a 25-year-old Black graduate of Penn State,
worked at Crunch gym during the week and danced at
Temptations for extra money on weekends. She felt that
there was a form of racial stratification among dancers and
that Black dancers, especially heavier dancers, were
scheduled more on the night shift when the customers are
younger, rowdier, and mostly Black and Latino, than in the
afternoon when customers tend to be older and racially
mixed and often include White businessmen:
During the day you usually find Asian and Latina
dancers, a few Black dancers, and most are thin. Also,
when you work during the day the stage fee
4
is lower,
its $60 as oppose to $100. I feel its hard for Black
women to make money because you compete with the
lighter-skinned women and thinner women. At night
you get a rowdier crowd, so Black women have to put
up with that more, beca use thats when most of us are
scheduled. I am skinny, so I work in the daytime. I
worked at night once, but stopp ed because I didnt
feel safe.
4
A stage fee is what many dancers, who are legally classified as
independent contractors, pay to work nationally. The stage fee has
been a source of activism for many involved in the sex worker rights
movement who are fighting for exotic dancers to be recognized as
employees verses independent contractors.
76 Sex Res Soc Policy (2010) 7:7080
In this case, stratification highlights divisions based on
skin color among women of color within the same status of
being dancers. Non-Black Latinas and mixed-race women
of color have higher erotic value than dark-skinned Black
women; as a result, they are tipped more, work more
desirable shifts (which lessens their experiences with
customer harassment), and pay less of a stage fee based
on the time they work.
Stratification based on skin color at Temptations was
further underscored by a comment made by Casey, a
22-year-old light-skinned US Black and Puerto Rican
dancer at Temptations, who stated that although the club
hired Black and Latina women, dark-skinned Black women
were often disco uraged from working there:
Often when dark-skinned Black women audition they
are not hired the way light-skinned Latina and Black
women are. Once around six dark-skinned Black
women auditioned and none were hired. Wh en I
asked the manag ement why, they said too many dark-
skinned women would make the club lose money.
Hence, ideas of hypersexualization affect women differ-
ently at Conquest and Temptations. At Temptations, lighter-
skinned Black women and mixed-raced women work less
for tips, are touched less, and are desired more, not just by
White customers but also by Black custo mers, whereas at
Conquest, darker-skinned women work more for tips but
were not exposed to unwanted touching and low security as
were the women at Temptations.
In addition to skin color discrimination, many Black
women complained of being inappropriately touched by
customers while walking across the club or having cus-
tomers haggle down their prices for dances. If a dancer said
a lap dance cost $20, a customer might try to get it for $10.
This situation of unwanted touching, haggling down of
prices, and of dark-skinned Black women being placed
on latter shifts means that their erotic labor is being
devalued and they not being paid what they are worth. So
economically and symbolically, they are less valued at
Temptations.
5
Ideas of hypersexualization play an important role in the
way customers interact with Black dancers. Spice has
worked at a number of clubs, known for their ill treatment
of dancers via the payment of stage fees and low-level
security and has experienced violence at these clubs:
The managers didnt deal with viol ence towards the
dancer. You dont just wait for security if you want to
survive; you ve got to handle it yourself. I used to hit
the customers with this big metal purse I would carry
on stage that had my makeup in it, but I would carry it
to hit the customers if they tried to hit me or touch me
in the wrong way. Once this White frat boy type came
in and thought he was going to get a free dance. I told
him a dance was $20, and he kept trying to bargain
me down . I was on stage getting ready to walk over to
another customer, and he grabbed my arm. I told him
to stop, but he wouldnt let go, so I hit him over the
head with my purse. The manager was angry that I
was hitting customers, but I told him, You cant
expect me to put up with that shit if youre not doing
anything about it. They [managers] also hired short,
nonthreatening men as security. If you want to have
customers behaving appropriately, you have to have
the idea of intimidation to make people fear doing
something wrong in the club.
Once while doing fieldwork at Temptations, I witnessed
a customer who appeared to be drunk behaving in an
inappropriate manner. He c ame up to a Latina dancer, with
an olive complexion, and she offered him a lap dance, but
within 5 min of the performance, she stopped and walked
away from him. He continued approaching dancers on stage
and offering the waitresses money, without buying a drink.
I could tell this behavior made them uncomfortable by the
way they smiled and told him, No, thanks, but he kept
invading their personal space. Meanwhile, one of the
bouncers was near the stage, watching, but not intervening.
Some dancers at Temptations felt the inner-city environ-
ment and low reputation of the club as seedy contributed to
the lack of respect dancers received there. Sheila, a 23-year-
old US Black dancer, gave her account on why she felt
Temptations was different than other clubs in the Bronx but
cautioned against stating that Temptations did not share any
elements of seedy behavior with the other surrounding
clubs:
At Temptations the girls do audition, whereas at the
other clubs often there is no audition, and you can
almost just come in from off the street. So, in that
case it has more class than other clubs. But on the
other hand, it is still ghetto.For example, after
midnight the crowd goes from businessmen to
younger, rowdier guys. So, you get some yelling,
people are frisked for gunsthough there are fewer
fights here than at other clubs, but occasionally there
are police raids.
5
While doing fieldwork, I remember once being at Conquest when a
middle-aged White man yelled at the bouncer on duty and actually
took swings at him. He had to be escorted out of the club. I then heard
an ambulance siren. It turned out he was drunk and had a heart attack
while swinging at the bouncer. The police did not have to come,
because the bouncer successfully took care of the situationalso, the
clubs image was not stained because of the incident, as it would be at
Temptations.
Sex Res Soc Policy (2010) 7:7080 77
Sheilas quote indicates that although Temptations may
be considered a classy gentlemens club by South Bronx
standards, it still carries elements of behavior associated
with lower-tier clubs, such as rowdy custo mers, low-level
security, and thus lower value on Black dancers bodies
vis-à-vis customer behavior and lower expectations of
having to pay Black (and Latina dancers) what they are
worth for lap dances.
Whereas dancers of color reported feeling unsafe at
Temptations, dancers at Girlielicious felt safer dancing for a
Black lesbian crowd than men, even though fights would
occasionally break out among the female customers, often
over couple disputes. Spice noted that she felt safe with
the audience. I think most of the drama is between the
people dating each other, not the performers. Sandy also
felt that dancing for men was more dangerous than
performing for women:
Men want to touch you and are often aggressive and
dont want to pay the price you want. They also act
out in front of their friends and may refer to you as a
bitch or a ho, you just never know what can happen,
especially at a bachelors party where you dont even
know if security will be there. Men often dont
respect you when you dance, and they want you to
work harder, like by putting objects in your vagina. I
dont like that.
Sandys comment highlights the danger many Black
women exotic dancers face when performing at bachelor
parties for men, again as a result of their bodies being
perceived as more available than those of White women,
and therefore of less value. As noted earlier at Girlielicious,
some Black dancers perform by putting objects into their
vagina for little money, a practiced carried over from per-
forming for men, but telling in the kinds of erotic work, Black
women do to remain desirable and hopefully profitable to a
male clientele. In other words, they must work harder than
their non-Black counterparts to remain in the exotic dance
industry and risk their health, as well as sometimes being
arrested, to try and make a decent amount of money in the
industry, all while managing images of themselves as
hypersexual.
Summary and Conclusions
In my resear ch, I found that the Black and dark-skinned
Latina women gained less returns for their erotic services,
were affected by negative racial stereotypes of them as
hypersexual or aggressive, and thus were racially margin-
alized in their employment at White clubs. Yet, Black
women would rather work at predominantly White clubs
such as Conquest than at a predominantly Black club,
where they were likely to be subject to rowdy customer
behavior and low-level security measures. T he Black
women who wor ked at Temptations were in the majority
of dancers but complained of being devalued by internal
stratification within the club concerning skin color divisions
among women of color and being placed on undesirable
shifts.
Dancers of color managed racism in two ways: racial
passing or performing large amounts of emotional labor to
appear nonthreatening. Non-Black Latinas at Conquest had
greater opportunity to benefit from their erotic labor in
customer interactions than Black dancers, especially if they
performed racia l representations of Whiteness and, there-
fore, had the ability to move between racial categories. At
Temptations, non-Black Latinas and Asian women also
could get betters shifts and have more options of working
at different clubs, especially if they were mixed race. In
Temptations, inequality was produced by Black dancers
being placed on shifts deemed unsafe, where stage fees are
higher, customers wanting lower prices for lap dances, and
skin color differences among the women.
At Girlielicious, Black women felt safer performing than
at male-managed clubs, and their race was more of an
asset than it would have been at Conquest or Temptations.
Yet, issues of the Black female body as hypersexualized
prevailed in this space because the Black dancers some-
times performed explicit shows for little money, illustrating
that they feel they must do these kinds of perfor mance to
remain attractive to paying customers, often what they have
internalized from dancing at male clubs, because the female
customers do not pay more for these acts.
In this article, I have illustrated how Black and Latina
women are hypersexualized within the exotic dance in-
dustry, expanding on Patricia Hill Collins (2004) theory
of controlling images and hypersexualization. My aim was
to add to the sex wars debate the idea that the hyper-
sexualizatoin of women of color, along with individual and
institutional racis m, provides unique challenges for women
of color in the sex industry. I provided an examination of
the ways that hypersexuality functions for dancers of color
using a case study analysis of three exotic dance clubs in
Manhattan, Bronx, and a lesbian club in Oakland inter-
viewing Black and Latina dancers using ethnographic field
methods.
I argued that the hypersexualization of women of color
does not help them advance in the exotic dance industry
but, on the contrary, forces them to work harder at
achieving monetary and social capital vis-à-vis White
women sometimes within the same club. For Black women,
this hypersexualization is even more pronounced, because
among non-Black Latinas and mixed-race Black women,
racial passing is more of an option than for d arker-skinned
Black women, who in turn gain less from selling their erotic
78 Sex Res Soc Policy (2010) 7:7080
labor and are valued less in both White and Black clubs.
For example, in predominan tly Black c lubs, they are
touched more without being tipped by customers, work in
clubs with lower levels of security than predominantly
White club s, thus exposing them to violence and are
perceived by male customers, both White and Black, as
worth less sexually, thus being more sexually available than
White women. This image of Black women as hypersexual
has dire consequ ences for Black exotic dancers who cannot
rely on Black male-managed clubs to be a haven from the
racism in mostly White clubs, such as Conquest, because
many Black male customers and management have inter-
nalize these negative stereotypes of Black women, so the
range of options for them to work in the exotic dance
industry is limited. Even in Black lesbian clubs, where the
work environment is better regarding safety, the hyper-
sexualization of Black women is present in some dancer
performances.
The image of Black dancers as greedy or as gold diggers
when they are asking for money for lap dances implies they
are not worth the price they are charging.
In a larger context, it supports the attacks by neoliberal
conservatives on welfare, such as former president Bill
Clintons 1996 welfare reform, and on affirmative action
based on views that Black and Latina women are sexually
promiscuous, lazy, and socially irresponsible, and thus
undeserving of social services afforded to White women.
The hypersexualization of Black and Latina women who
work in exotic dance industries has consequences for Black
women not only in the sex industry but also in the legal
system. A recent example of Black womens low erotic value
within the legal system is in the May 24, 2009, edition of
The Post-Crescent (Appleton-Fox Cities, Wisconsin) news-
paper, which printed an article concerning the unsolved case
of the murders of five Black women in Milwaukee, who
police claimed were prostitutes, between 1986 and 2007. It
was not until the week the article was released that police
reveled recent DNA test to link the murders of these women.
According to the article, many people in the community felt
that the race of the women and the stigma of them being
prostitutes kept police from pursuing these crimes aggres-
sively and that some officers referred to prostitutes as crack
whores. All of the women who were killed were Black,
except for one White woman, who police believe someone
else may have murdered, though the suspects DNA was
found on her body. This case says a lot about how racism
and classism function to devalue the lives of people from
marginalized groups, such as sex workers.
The devaluing of Black women in the exotic dance
industry also has implications for const ructions of race
within the post-Civil Rights era. In White Americans, the
New Minority? Non-Blacks and the Ever-Expanding
Boundaries of Whiteness, Warren and Twine (199 7 )
argued that Whiteness has historically expanded to include
groups that were not considered White, such as the Irish,
with Blacks serving as the measuring stick toward
assimilation. They have asserted that non-Black people
often distance themselves from Blackness to create a
middle space for them to be viewed as closer to a White
racial category, especially in the state of California. They
have stated that Blacks, at least at the national level, serve
as the anchor for Whitenessin other words, precisely
because Blacks represent the other against which White-
ness is constructed, the backdoor to Whiteness is open to
non-Blacks (p. 208).
This so-called back door to Whiteness allows some
mixed-race dancers to play on the social construction of
their race and, therefore, can have it be an asset, because
light skin is often valued over darker skin, especially in
marketing techniques used by club owners in advertising.
My research has shown among the women I interviewed
that working in the exotic dance industry is in and of
itself not a problem, contrary to the position of the antiporn
feminists, but rather lack of dece nt wages, customer
harassment, and overall safety are the issues most important
to exotic dancers o f color. Althoug h some of these
problems a re indeed challenging to erad icate, such as
symbolic racism against Black dancers by customers, there
are ways feminists interested in social policy geared at
helping women in the sex industry can work toward
eliminatin g some of these har dships. One way is for
feminists interested in sex workers rights to work with
city planners to make sure street corners where some inner-
city clubs are located on well-lighted streets or create a fund
that gives dancers cab fare to go home on late night shifts.
Another suggestion that the Exotic Dancers Alliance has
taken on in San Francisco is to have club management get
rid of the payment of stage fees, so dancers could keep
more of the their tips. Policymakers can also work to ensure
that efficient safety measures are implemented at clubs
where Black dancers work.
As I stated at the beginning of this article, this area begs
for more research, and it is my hope that this article will
alert feminists concerned about sex workers
rights to some
of the unique challenges of racism and classism affecting
dancers of color and that those on both sides of the
pornography debate may find solutions for a group whose
needs are not yet properly addressed by either position.
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80 Sex Res Soc Policy (2010) 7:7080
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Written for a broad audience and grounded in cutting-edge, contemporary scholarship, this volume addresses some of the key questions asked about pornography today. What is it? For whom is it produced? What sorts of sexualities does it help produce? Why should we study it, and what should be the most urgent issues when we do? What does it mean when we talk about pornography as violence? What could it mean if we discussed pornography through frameworks of consent, self-determination and performance? This book places the arguments from conservative and radical anti-porn activists against the challenges coming from a new generation of feminist and queer porn performers and educators. Combining sensitive and detailed discussion of case studies with careful attention to the voices of those working in pornography, it provides scholars, activists and those hoping to find new ways of understanding sexuality with the first overview of the histories and futures of pornography
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Bisexual People of Color (POC) may experience greater barriers in connecting to social support compared to White sexual minority people and heterosexual racial or ethnic minority people due to multiple intersecting experiences of marginalization. Social support may be positively related to bisexual identity experience and mental health. We investigated the relationships between different types of social support, bisexual identity experience, and anxiety and depression amongst a sample of young bisexual POC. We conducted a survey with 178 bisexual people ages 18–25 who identified as either POC or with a racial or ethnic minority identity. Social support was related to lower reported rates of experienced binegativity, anxiety, and depressive symptoms, whereas greater connection to the Lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and queer (LGBTQ) community was related to higher rates of binegativity and bisexual identity affirmation. Amongst some participants, greater rates of binegativity were associated with worse depression and anxiety symptoms. The current findings support that young bisexual POC are able to effectively utilize positive sources of social support.
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This article reviews the literature on racism in medicine in the United States and reflects on the persistent barriers to diminishing racial biases in the U.S. health care system. Espoused strategies for decreasing racial disparities and reducing racial biases among physicians are critiqued, and recommendations are offered. Those recommendations include increasing the number of minority students in medical school, using Xavier University in New Orleans, Louisiana, as the model for medical school preparation; revamping the teaching of cultural competence; ensuring the quality of non-clinical staff; and reducing the risk of burnout among medical providers.
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In this chapter, the author investigates the state of diversity in the pornography workplace. According to Flory (2015), the pornography industry has a diversity problem. This hierarchy usually proceeds according to which sex acts are considered most taboo and, sometimes, most physically demanding for the female performer. However, “interracial” porn, which is frequently seen as the ultimate feat for an actress, is held out as more extreme not because of which body part goes where, but because the adult industry reflects the old attitude society still holds on to: that the color of a sexual partner’s skin can by itself make the act forbidden. The author explores the state of diversity and biases in pornography industry.
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This article adds to the debate on digital labour by including sexual labour, a feminised form of work that is traditionally excluded from official labour statistics and mainstream labour politics because of the embedded sociolegal, cultural and political context that defines female sexual labour as illegitimate work. This exclusion has been extended to digital labour politics. This article draws on a four-year multi-method qualitative study in the UK, which in part focused on sex work mediated and managed by digital platforms. Drawing on and adding to the literature on women’s digital entrepreneurialism, I argue that digital sex workers embody an ‘entrepreneurial subjectivity’ and narrate ideals of flexibility and choice. However, on closer inspection, digital platforms shape and manage the labour so that agency over labour practices and processes become coerced choices.
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In Canada, like in many other countries, people working in the sex industry are subject to prohibitive regulation, stigma and pervasive moral judgement. At the same time, workplace and client demands, in concert with various modes of socio-economic marginalization, shape sex workers’ experiences of and access to work. However, sex workers are seldom recognized for overcoming these challenges as skilled workers. Moving beyond arguments about whether or not sex work is a legitimate form of labour, we argue for the recognition of sex workers’ entrepreneurial and security strategies as creative problem solving and in turn cognitive skill. We do so by drawing on two qualitative interview-based studies highlighting the intersectional experiences of female sex workers who modulate their appearance and behaviour to perform race, gender, class, culture and sexuality to succeed in the Canadian indoor sex industry.
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In this article, I argue that Ndebele women, as the subject position of those who pay the gender price of the marginalisation of Matabeleland within Zimbabwean nationalism, are an impossible category in representation. In what can be characterised as the twin challenges of the “crisis of voice” (Couldry, 2010) and “crisis of representation” (Alcoff, 1991), they cannot represent themselves and efforts to speak about them and for them further silences this group. In this article, I mobilise postcolonial and decolonial feminist theories in considering ways in which the double play of invisibility and hypervisibility silences women in the marginalised Matabeleland region (Ndhlovu, 2007; Mhlanga, 2013; Ncube and Siziba, 2017). I trace this invisibility and hypervisibility through a cartoon published in the state-owned daily newspaper, The Chronicle, on 4 February 2016, illustrating how the silencing of Ndebele women works discursively. From the lenses of Zimbabwe’s regional politics, the cartoon was interpreted as sexist, regionalist and bordering on ethnocentrism. However, this dominant reading of the cartoon was challenged for its patriarchal representation of Ndebele women. I use Fairclough’s (1995) discourse analysis method to locate the struggle over meaning in the broader context of the politics of representation in Zimbabwe in terms of popular culture production in the Southern region, and the ethnicised and regionalised politics of the country. I seek to problematise “location, voice and agency” in the representation of Ndebele women in popular culture, in general, and in an editorial cartoon published in a government-owned newspaper, in particular, considering how their subjectivity is “constructed within structures of domination” (Shome and Hedge, 2002:266). Following from Spivak’s (1988) work, I argue that Ndebele women are a subaltern class existing outside mainstream institutional recognition and validation.
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Regulating Sex is an anthology that presents debates over the role of the state in constructing and controlling erotic practice, intimacy, and identity. The purpose of this edited volume is to address sexual dilemmas in law and the state in substantive areas such as same-sex domestic partnerships, sexual economies, and childhood sexuality via a series of spirited dialogues between socio-legal scholars from diverse disciplinary, national, and political perspectives.