From the Library: Reading about Sex Work

Here at the Bitch Community Lending Library, we're spending the spring talking about sex work. Last Tuesday, our book club got together to discuss Working Sex: Sex Workers Write About a Changing Industry edited by Annie Oakley. In April we'll be discussing Unequal Desires: Race and Erotic Capital in the Stripping Industry by Siobhan Brooks, and in May we'll read Rent Girl by Michelle Tea. If you're in Portland, come to our book clubs! But regardless of where you are, if you're looking to put a few books that explore the sex industry on your bedside table, you should read along with us:

Working Sex: Sex Workers Write About a Changing Industry
Annie Oakley {Seal Press}

Working Sex is a collection of writings by sex workers. Edited by Annie Oakley of Sex Workers' Art Show fame, this book features words from an impressive lineup of contributors; Nomy Lamm, Michelle Tea, Stephen Elliott, Ana Voog, and Vaginal Davis are just a few of the 30 writers that grace these pages. In her introduction, Oakley explains that this collection "includes pieces that clash not just in content but also in form." She's right, the contributions are a mixed bag: stories, poems, songs, an interview, and even a play. And the pieces reflect on everything from worrying about what happened to the guy who used to call your hotline (Nomy Lamm's Jimmy) to working the second-ever 24/7 home webcam (Ana Voog's Anacam). Through presenting such a spectrum of voices and content, Working Sex demonstrates that experiences in the sex industry vary as much as the people who work in the industry do.

Unequal Desires: Race and Erotic Capital in the Stripping Industry
Siobhan Brooks {SUNY Press}

Siobhan Brooks worked at the Lusty Lady Theater in San Francisco while getting her degree in Women's Studies at San Francisco State University. As she explains in Unequal Desires, it didn't take long for her to notice racial disparities at the Lusty Lady: "out of 70 dancers only 10 were women of color, and of these, only 3 were Black." In addition to hiring very few Black women, Brooks quickly found out that Black women were given very few opportunities to perform in "Private Pleasures", a private booth that allowed workers to make much more than they did elsewhere in the club. Brooks confronted her show director, who told her that if they were to staff the private room with Black women they would lose money. Brooks quickly began to work on unionizing the club, and the Lusty Lady eventually became the only women-managed strip club in the US to unionize (read more here). Her experiences led her to further explore and research racial inequalities in the US stripping industry, both in queer and straight clubs. In Unequal Desires, Brooks explores the way that racial stratification translates into wage gaps, escalated rates of violence, and less desirable shifts for women of color. Her observations are articulate, thoughtful, and very well-researched, making this book an essential read for anyone exploring the sex industry. For more from Siobhan Brooks, check out our interview with her in the Make-Believe issue.

Rent Girl
Michelle Tea, Illustrated by Laurenn McCubbin {Last Gasp}

Rent Girl is an illustrated novel which chronicles the years that Michelle Tea spent doing sex work. As the back cover explains, "Rent Girl is the boldly illustrated saga of one broke baby dyke trying to make a buck in the surreal world of the sex industry." Each page is covered in vibrant and sharp black and red drawings of Tea and the women she worked with staring out at the reader. Wrapped around each of these drawings is Tea's equally vibrant prose, which details the women that she worked with and the clients she despised. Tea has a way with telling a story that is both humorous and heartbreaking, and Rent Girl exemplifies this. Michelle Tea is currently on tour with Sister Spit, which you should go see if you have the chance.

If there are other books about sex work that you would like to recommend to readers, leave them in the comments!

by Ashley McAllister
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10 Comments Have Been Posted

The Wisdom of Whores

'The Wisdom of Whores' is a fascinating analysis of the sex industry in Indonesia, where the author worked on behalf of the UN as an epidemiologist trying to assess ways in which AIDS spread through prostitution. Indonesia's complicated (and surprisingly fluid) gender definitions are explained in non-judgmental language, as well as the ways in which the UN and international aid efforts are failing to adjust their policies to the realities of the Sex industry in South East Asia.

The narrative is down to earth and allows those in the industry in Indonesia to explain themselves and their lifestyles in their own words. It's not exactly a book based on personal experience, as the ones above seem to be, but to see the way in which politicians try and engage with the issue and the implications the sex industry has on wider political issues (both positive and negative) is very interesting indeed.


Has anyone reading this read Indecent: How I Make it and Fake it as a Girl for Hire? I've been wanting to check that one out....

I read it

I'm currently doing my thesis on the strip industry and picked up this book. I skipped over some parts but over all I liked the book and found it to be a good yet disturbing read.

2 Australian recomendations

In my Skin by Kate Holden was a great, well written memoir of a Melbourne girls slide into drugs and prostitution. Another Australian one of interest is Gods Callgirl by Carla Van Ray, she was a nun who became a prosititute.
Hot Rod Librarian

Agreed - I loved In My

Agreed - I loved In My Skin!!!

Strip City by Lily Burana is

Strip City by Lily Burana is the best stripper memoir ever!

Katherine Frank's G Strings and Sympathy is another great stripper memoir, though academic.

Sex at the Margins by Laura Agustin should be read by everyone before making assumptions about migrant sex workers.

Trafficking and Prostitution Reconsidered by Kamala Kempadoo

Anthologies I love: Whores and other Feminists, Flesh for Fantasy, Hos Hookers, Call Girls and Rent Boys

Recommend* Flesh for Fantasy:

Recommend* Flesh for Fantasy: Producing and Consuming Exotic Dance by R. Danielle Egan, Katherine Frank, and Merri Lisa Johnson- a sweet anthology of stripping essays! I've read Lily Burana's memoir and The Ivy League Stripper, both were O.K.

Book Rec - short literary fiction about sex worker

Check out All Sorts of Hunger by Heather Brittain Bergstrom, a short story chapbook selected by Leslie Marmon Silko for the 2010 Kore Press Short Fiction Award.

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