Queer Theory, Sex Work, and Foucault's Unreason
This article was originally published in Foucault Studies, 2017, Issue 23.
During the late nineties, leading voices of the sex worker rights movement began to publicly question queer theory’s virtual silence on the subject of prostitution and sex work. However, this attempt by sex workers to “come out of the closet” into the larger queer theoretical community has thus far failed to bring much attention to sex work as an explicitly queer issue. Refusing the obvious conclusion—that queer theory’s silence on sex work somehow proves its insignificance to this field of inquiry—I trace in Foucault’s oeuvre signs of an alternate (albeit differently) queer genealogy of prostitution and sex work. Both challenging and responding to long-standing debates about prostitution within feminist theory, I offer a new queer genealogy of sex work that aims to move beyond the rigid oppositions that continue to divide theorists of sexuality and gender. Focusing specifically on History of Madness (1961), Discipline and Punish (1975), and History of Sexuality Volume I (1976), I make the case for an alternate genealogy of sex work that takes seriously both the historical construction of prostitution and the lived experience of contemporary sex workers.