There was something surreal about reading Susana Maia’s Transnational Desires: Brazilian Erotic Dancers in New York during down time in the strip club where I now work. Perhaps because I was reading about Astoria strip clubs while in an Astoria strip club, Maia’s ethnography hit close to home. Maia and I are both social scientists; we even share some of the same academic mentors. We both felt an uncomfortable alienation in Manhattan strip clubs. We’re both interested in intimacy, desire, gender, and transnational ties for immigrants.
The similarities stop there. Maia saw herself in many of the Brazilian middle class dancers she so passionately describes in the book, whereas I haven’t yet met another South Asian or Muslim dancer in four years of dancing. Maia chose to write about strip clubs as an observant ally and outsider, and she never danced. I, on the other hand, focus on an entirely different subject in my academic work. Stripping keeps me entertained and helps pay my bills. I’m not doing my dissertation on strip clubs, though friends often inquire why not. Maia sees herself as ambiguously positioned between the United States and Brazil. For me, the U.S. is certainly home.
A reader might be surprised to see a lack of citations from the so-called “sex worker rights literature” in this book. For Maia, this is a deliberate choice, as she resists reducing these women to a static “sex worker” identity. The book is about more than just what happens in the strip club for Brazilian dancers. Maia explores race, colorism, downward class mobility, and cultural citizenship as she traces the journeys of nine dancers. She asks why middle class Brazilian women, often highly educated, choose to move to New York and work in the adult entertainment industry.