If Carol Queen reaches 5'5" I'll be surprised. If she weighs 120 pounds I'll be shocked. But her obvious intelligence, energy, good humor, and enthusiasm make her one of the biggest people in any room. When I met her, I wanted to kiss her, to pet her, to spank her but most of all, I wanted to listen to her.
I was still reeling from the power of her kick-ass essays about her experiences as a sexual professional, human being, and academic in her new book, Real Live Nude Girl when she blew briefly into town for a reading. I admit it. I don't generally go to readings. I tend to find them tedious because most people who can write can't speak or read aloud well. Furthermore, I've avoided the works of female (and particularly feminist) writers because I refuse to read someone's work based purely on their gender and, as a "tomboy" whose closest friends have been male and who works in the sex industry, I just haven't found many women writers who've said anything that resonated with me. The pixie-quick Queen knocked down all of my preconceived ideas about readings and women writers, however. In her essays I found a woman with intensity, charm, an adventurous spirit, a keen mind, and a puckish determination to not simply push her boundaries, but to shove them until they get the hell out of her way. For the first time... ever... I found myself reading another woman's words about sex, labels, relationships, academia, men, and the process of unraveling the mysteries contained within oneself, and finding myself going, "Yeah. That's how I feel, too!"
Oh, don't get me wrong: I'm not about to build a shrine to Queen Carol any time soon. I'm too cynical for that. I'm not the goddess-worshipping sort on any level, be they living or dead. I prefer to elevate those I respect to the level of Truly Alive Human. There are so many zombies walking around blindly following societies dictates without ever bothering to wonder why. But Carol Queen... now here's a woman with a mind that asks questions and a heart that searches for answers.
Queen is a woman who has worn many hats (and, at times, not much else). Writer, public speaker, educator and sexual activist, she organized one of the first gay youth clubs in the country while living in Eugene, Oregon. Her work has appeared in anthologies such as Bi Any Other Name: Bisexual Women Speak Out, Herotica II and III, and Leatherwomen, as well as the magazines Penthouse, Taste of Latex, On Our Backs, Black Sheets, and Libido, to mention only a few. Her first book, Exhibitionism for the Shy , published by Down There Press, has met with enthusiastic reviews.
For those of you hot to see her naked, make sure and pick up a copy of the wonderful Down There Press book I Am My Lover: Women Pleasure Themselves. Although I found the shots of Queen to be much more butch than she appeared in person, the book is filled with high quality erotic photos of 12 women from a variety of ages, ethnicities, and body types engaged in self pleasure. Each model's photos are accompanied by a brief personal statement about her feelings concerning her body and Jilling off (masturbation, for those of you who don't know) , and are often touching and insightful. I recommend it to anyone interested in the thoughts (and images) of real world women enjoying their sexuality.
Real Live Nude Girl, on the other hand, has no pictures except for those you create in your own mind, and if you're anything like me... that's plenty good enough. After a truly moving letter to her dead mother about how she had hoped to come out to her about her time as a whore, Queen shares many deeply personal experiences with her readers. It's hard for me to select which essays are my "favorites" because they are all so tight and well-written, but I was particularly interested in her experiences as a fantasy booth performer ("Minx Manx"), and prostitute. Anyone who has decided that all sex workers, especially those who actually put out are pathetic shells of womanhood desperately plodding from one fix to another until they can be rescued by superior religion or feminism may think twice about their prejudices after reading Queen's insider insights. This book should be required reading for all Women's Studies courses, in my opinion.
Her description of the internal struggle to accept and acknowledge her bisexuality are particularly timely. I think the next sexual liberation movement will come from the bisexual population; a group particularly fed up with being told it's "confused," or "going through a phase," and being shunned as plague carriers. Regrettably, there appear to be as many homosexual/lesbian absolutists as there are heterosexual on this issue.
Those of you investigating non-traditional sex styles will find her essays on strap-ons, SM, Daddy/girl scenes, and San Francisco's Jack-and-Jill-Off parties particularly interesting. During these times of nervous sex it's reassuring to know that we're finding creative ways to experience our sexuality without risking our lives.
For me, one of the most fascinating and touching essays in Real Live Nude Girl concerns Queen's recently deceased friend, who you may have seen in the Re/Search book, Bob Flanagan: SuperMasochist. Flanagan died in 1996 of Cystic Fibrosis at the age of 44 (quite an accomplishment for anyone with CF) and left a legacy of high quality pain art behind him, chronicling his struggle to live with, and ultimately embrace and surmount, the agony his body subjected him to daily. SM allowed Flanagan an opportunity to exercise some control over his own pain and his art allowed him to translate that into a format others could understand. A section of his poem "Why" is included in Queen's book: "'... because they tied me to the crib so I wouldn't hut myself; because I had time to think; because I had time to hold my penis; because I had awful stomach aches and holding my penis made me feel better;... because I'm a Catholic; because I still love Lent, and I still love my penis, and in spite of it all I have no guilt...'" This poem wound, in a continuous line, around the room at the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York City as part of Flanagan's installation, Visiting Hours.
Queen's book is not, ultimately, simply about her own experiences, but about the continuity of human experiences. When she describes the sensation of dildo-fucking her "dear darling" (who seemed a charming fellow when I met him) and seeing him look back at her with an expression she had only seen on other women, that of "voracious slut and sweet, yielding submissive" I could not help but flash back to the times when I had also seen such hungry vulnerability on the face of my loved one. Likewise I found myself identifying with Queen's internal dialogues about her interest in SM and her search for an appropriate sexual identity "label." Society pretends that human sexuality and relationships can be neatly categorized like parts in a hardware store and those of us who find we can not stick a convenient stock number and description on ourselves, or who have been programmed to worry that elements of our fantasy lives might be evidence of deep-seated dysfunction often feel alone and alienated from others on this journey of self-discovery. Work such as Queen's is a great help in understanding that while we may ultimately walk down the road of our own life alone, we are all stumbling along in quest of ourselves.
For those of us who are either providers or consumers of sexual services, the most powerful essays are certainly those concerning her work in the peep show booths and as a prostitute. I have heard many feminists rant about how sex work objectifies women, and how clients simply "use" the professionals they visit without concern for or interest in them as people. Certainly, not every man who slaps down a wad of bills in exchange for a peek at a pussy or a suck on his cock is the kind, sensitive, poetic sort, but Queen's obvious affection for (most of) her clients is hard to throw off. The elderly widower who hired her to fantasize out loud about his wife while he masturbated, the man whose wife would not let him gaze at her pussy, the man who watched her watching him while he used a dildo (suction-cupped to her window) on himself... these are real human beings with emotional and sexual needs not being satisfied in mainstream society.
Sex workers truly are, as Queen shows us, healers worthy of praise in a world which condemns them for doing their good and necessary work... all the while reaping the benefits of their work through taxes, their participation in the workforce, and clandestine appointments with these self-same scarlet women (and men).
I wholeheartedly recommend Real Live Nude Girl ($14.95) and I Am My Lover ($25). If your favorite adult or feminist bookstore isn't carrying them, you can order them and other titles from Down There Press by calling 1-800-289-8423, or writing to 938 Howard Street #101, San Francisco, CA 94103 for information. You can preview I Am My Lover at http://www.goodvibes.com/dtp/dtp.html.
When you order your copy, by all means, tell them you read about them here.