This article investigates sex work among Black transgender women in Chicago’s ballroom scene, drawing on ethnographic data to argue that Black transwomen engage in sex work as a practice of self-investment undergirded by an epistemological shift regarding the centrality of affective labor to their work. In so doing, interlocutors reap the benefits of deploying embodied knowledge—the harnessing and transformation of insight derived from lived experiences of racial, gender, and sexual subjection into useful strategies, tactics, and tools—to secure material and human resources necessary for survival. A focus on how Black transwomen live, despite continued physical, spiritual, socioeconomic, political, and cultural annihilation, remains critically important given the myriad indicators (low average life expectancy, low annual income, disproportionally high murder rate, etc.) that expose the world’s indifference to the plight of this community and Black bodies writ large. Further, the author places interlocutors in conversation with Black feminist historians’ and theorists’ discussions of sex work among Black women to expose points of convergence between Black cis- and transgender women. The author also complicates narratives that link sex work to “survival” and subsequently obfuscate explorations of limited and situated agency among Black women that have significant historical precedent.
Customer Service Representatives: Sex Work among Black Transgender Women in Chicago’s Ballroom Scene
Julian Kevon Glover is an assistant professor in the Department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies and the Department of Dance and Choreography at Virginia Commonwealth University. They hold degrees from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, Indiana University (MPA), and Northwestern University where they earned a PhD in African American studies. They were awarded a Franke fellowship at Northwestern’s Kaplan Institute for the Humanities and in 2019 were inducted into the Edward A. Bouchet Graduate Honor Society at Yale University. Glover’s work appears in publications including Souls, American Quarterly, Harvard Kennedy School’s LGBTQ Policy Journal, Feminist Formations, and Text and Performance Quarterly.
Julian Kevon Glover; Customer Service Representatives: Sex Work among Black Transgender Women in Chicago’s Ballroom Scene. South Atlantic Quarterly 1 July 2021; 120 (3): 553–571. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00382876-9154913
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