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Sex, and its Opposites: Agency in Queer Labor, Abject-Positive Feminism, and the Prostitute Imaginary

Date and Time: 
Tuesday, March 29, 2016. 06:00 PM - 08:00 PM
Meeting Location: 
Stanford Humanities Center Board Room
Workshop: 
Feminisms & Queerings
Meeting Description: 
About the speakers:
Maya Andrea Gonzalez is a revolutionary Marxist feminist from Oakland, California. She is currently a PhD candidate in The History of Consciousness department at University of California at Santa Cruz working on a dissertation thesis on Lotta Femminista, the group who founded the Wages for Housework movement in Italy in the 1970s. Her work is an intellectual history of the movement focusing on a theory of capitalist reproductive labor from primitive accumulation to the present through the viewpoint of 70s Italian Feminism. She is also a member of the journal Endnotes. Currently she is working on themes of violence, race and the capitalist state form with respect to slavery and prostitution. Her work has been published at Viewpoint, in the collection Communization and its Discontents: Contestation, Critique, and Contemporary Struggles, and Contemporary Marxist Theory: A Reader.
 
Cassandra Troyan is a writer and researcher living in Oakland, California. She studies socio-cultural issues through a materialist Marxist feminist lens by researching the intersections of sex work, gender, state violence and the anti-trafficking movement under the purview of “Conscious Capitalist” ideology. She is currently writing on the mainstream popularization of BDSM (made possible by the Fifty Shades of Grey enterprise) and its influence on depictions of consent or non-consent in hardcore pornography. Along with organizing around issues of criminality and rights through the Sex Worker Outreach Project (SWOP), they have been active in various sex worker and kink communities for the past 10 years.
 
Meeting description:
How is the Girlfriend Experience defined? What is the job in of itself, what is being performed? How then does a prostitute differ from a sugar baby providing the GFE? Who is a prostitute or who is being targeted or marked by that term? The prostitute imaginary is inherently racialized and polarized by means of societal stigma often reducing the profession into two stereotypical roles: a high-class (white) call-girl in a 5-star hotel and poor women of color (often trans) who work on the street. Even trans women (or those outside the gender binary) who work within the frame of the girlfriend experience are chosen for their momentary fetishistic fulfillment. Queerness and the otherness of desire becomes a fantasy that can be purchased by the client without his insertion or dedication to its practices, therefore reinforcing hierarchies at both poles. 
 
Simultaneously, sex work in relation to the question of feminism addresses a history of political rifts divided along the line of sex positivity or sex negativity. This false bifurcation leaves the question of agency to remain as a self determined category popularized through the ideology of “yes means yes,” without acknowledging the dynamics of choice in an interpersonal relationship do not address greater structural imperatives for enjoyment or gendered oppression. As made apparent through the Sex Worker Right Movement, where “Sex Work is Work” serves as the ideological slogan necessary for valorizing a labor constantly framed as purely coercive, it leaves little room for critical inquiries on the nature of work itself. Without reverting to sex-negative critiques or narratives of complete agency proudly self-identifying with the labor of selling sex, our approach aims to complicate the politics of producing pleasure through an abject-positive model by acknowledging the emotional labor of sex work is a labor concomitant to the reproduction of sexual difference, which expands structurally beyond the interaction between client and provider. Or, comparably in the context of the male/female relation, what is perceived to be a personal relationship is in actuality a relation of production. Thus the agendas of feminism and queer theory in the context of sex work need to be able to think beyond theories of sex based in ambivalence, negativity, or normative/non-normative modes of sexuality and in order to prioritize how labor within the capitalist mode of production has generated the conditions, where for vulnerable or surplus populations, sex work is often the best of few possible options.

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