Playing the Whore: The Work of Sex Work

Playing the Whore (book cover)

A Village Voice favorite book of 2014:

Keeping the focus on ideas instead of autobiography has an impressively unsettling effect, as we’re forced to acknowledge the writer’s boundaries, and our own voyeurism.”

A Baltimore City Paper top ten non-fiction book of 2014:

Think of this tightly written and impressively argued treatise as both a state of the sex work activism now and a complete redefining of the discussion. An absolutely vital read.”

One of Autostraddle’s Top Ten Queer and Feminist books of 2014

ABOUT PLAYING THE WHORE

The sex industry is an endless source of prurient drama for the mainstream media. Recent years have seen a panic over “online red-light districts,” which supposedly seduce vulnerable young women into a life of degradation, and New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof’s live tweeting of a Cambodian brothel raid. The current trend for writing about and describing actual experiences of sex work fuels a culture obsessed with the behavior of sex workers. Rarely do these fearful dispatches come from sex workers themselves, and they never seem to deviate from the position that sex workers must be rescued from their condition, and the industry simply abolished — a position common among feminists and conservatives alike.

In Playing the Whore, journalist Melissa Gira Grant turns these pieties on their head, arguing for an overhaul in the way we think about sex work. Based on ten years of writing and reporting on the sex trade, and grounded in her experience as an organizer, advocate, and former sex worker, Playing the Whore dismantles pervasive myths about sex work, criticizes both conditions within the sex industry and its criminalization, and argues that separating sex work from the “legitimate” economy only harms those who perform sexual labor. Sex workers’ demands, too long relegated to the margins, take center stage: sex work is work, and sex workers’ rights are human rights.

Purchase

Direct from Verso (print or ebook)
or: Indiebound / Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Kindle / iBooks / Nook 

Excerpts

from The Work (at The Nation)

from The Peephole (at Guernica)

Reviews

“Underneath Grant’s strategically inclusive argument lurks a harder political critique of the transformation of politics and economics since the 1970s.” -Katrina Forrester, London Review of Books

“Grant is one of the most interesting policy thinkers in the country when it comes to sex work.” – Mike Konczal, Washington Post’s Wonkblog

“…Grant, I think rightly so, is less interested in eliciting from her reader a position on sex work than a position on police violence against sex workers.” – Hannah K. Gold, The Rumpus

“…sharp, persuasive and comes at a time when it is sorely needed.” – Muna Mire, Rabble

Advance Praise

“Collectively as a society we’ve got a whole bunch of tangled, warped intuitions and policies towards the exchange of money for sex. Melissa Gira Grant does a remarkable job of rigorously teasing these apart and righteously scrapping those she finds wanting. Her work has been hugely influential in how I think about sex work and outright changed my mind on a number of points. She’s a must read.”
– Chris Hayes, host of All In (MSNBC)

“An important contribution to debates around sex and work, and deserves to be read by anyone who wants to get beyond tired and damaging understandings of both.”
– Nina Power, author of One Dimensional Woman

“An informative and extremely worthwhile addition to the existing body of literature on sex work.”
– Stoya, adult performer and Vice columnist

“Learn, listen, take heart—this is the real deal.”
– Susie Bright, sex and culture critic, and found of On Our Backs

“Well-researched and provocative … A vital text on an incendiary topic.”
– Lily Burana, author of I Love a Man in Uniform and Strip City

“Gira Grant weaves her way through sanctimony and hypocrisy with wit, eloquence, insight, and a dose of necessary outrage.”
– Laura Kipnis, author of How to Become a Scandal and Against Love

“Makes precisely clear that a culture that polices, silences and marginalizes women who sell sex is a culture that cares nothing about women. Period.”
– Janet Mock, author of Redefining Realness

“As self-appointed saviors like Nicolas Kristof command mainstream media attention for their crusade on behalf of trafficked women, Melissa Gira Grant provides a sharp and powerful counternarrative, a layered, justice-minded critique of such interventions as well as a much needed skewering of ‘carceral feminism.’ An important, illuminating and engaging read.”
– Liliana Segura, Senior Editor, The Intercept

Select Interviews

Melissa Harris-Perry / WNYC / BBC / The Observer (UK) / NYmag.com / Tits and Sass (part one, part two) / Citizen Radio / VICE / Radio Dispatch / The Awl / The Billfold / The Toast / Bitch