The complexity of (expressing) female sexuality

This week I had the privilege of seeing the preview run of Sister at BAC, Rosana's lastest work made with her sister Amy Cade. Incidentally I also did the tech for the piece, meaning I got the chance to see the work multiple times and to have a deeper understanding of it. As with My Big Sister… the piece is less about hammering home a particular message or opinion (though it certainly takes a firm queer feminist stance) and concerns itself more with celebrating and exploring the sexuality, sexual identity and sexual expression of two queer women. Naturally this then dispels wider stereotypes about female gender roles, by showing two seemingly ‘opposing’ identities existing, and thriving, together. Sister blows apart the expectations of the radical lesbian-feminist scrapping with the sex-postitive lap-dancer, when they find common ground in queerness.

The piece, of course, has made me examine my own opinion on lap dancing. For me the lap dancing industry is problematic, as it is a key example of something that caters to the male-gaze. Seedy fully clothed men ogling at naked women is generally what comes to mind when thinking of strip clubs. It’s an industry based on being objectified. As a queer woman, I do find the idea uncomfortable.


It plays to a very specific idea of what is meant to make ‘men’ and ‘women’ feel attractive, as well as attracted to. BUT, as with lots of the sex industry, I think it would be great if the form was to open out and start creatively providing lots of different dancers doing lots of different kinds of dancing.

‘What is lap dancing if not a light version of misogyny?’ (How To Be A Woman, Moran, 2011, p.173)

As much as I can see where Moran is coming from, I think a key theme in Sister is that these industries aren’t going anywhere. They’ve existed for centuries. The only way to change them is to show that there is a demand for wider and more varied versions of sexual expression, both from sex workers and clients. The more we all talk openly about the sex industry, and sex, the more we can let go of the stigma and shame surrounding searching for sexual pleasure.


I also think that although interest in sex is steeped in lots of shame for people of all gender presentations, there are definite ways in which we teach ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ to relate to sex in our culture. J Halberstam puts it as:

‘While in most girls desire is never actually given a chance to flow and weave itself around objects and fetishes, boys are quickly encouraged and incited to feel desire, to direct that desire, to indulge desire’

Halberstam goes on to describe the effect of this:

‘What we call ‘women’ and ‘men’ are bodies that have been generally trained in either the interruption of desire (women) or its free flow (men)’

(Gaga Feminism, 2012, p.12)

This interruption is further complicated by the interruption of queerness, i.e allowing both men and women to feel that they can not only express desire (or lack of) freely but also are free to direct it at whomever they choose. The sex industry is not problematic for me because it is morally wrong (because it isn't). It’s problematic because it is part of mainstream culture that does not allow the scope for queer expression and presentation. That is to say, it mimics society as it doesn’t allow for exploration outside the gender binary, or pre-defined labels. Whatever the model ‘women’ choose to base their sexual identity on, whether that’s the hyper-sexualised lap-dancer or the hairy lesbian-feminist, it is not wide enough. That’s because it is only a model, and human sexual expression cannot be simplified to a set of rules to be replicated by all.

Sister is so important as it challenges stereotypes of female sexual identities, simply by giving space to two stories of female sexuality in its entirety – not the boxed in model. With its fluidity, and contradictions and layers. Hopefully the more we all talk about sexuality openly, the more we can begin to express ourselves without fear or stigma, whoever we are. It’s scary that two women being so honest about their sexual journeys still feels so radical.