I talk to the press all the time, especially to 'zines and webmags that
focus on sex and culture. These are links and reprints from some of those
to Susie Bright about "Grifter," her story in Best
American Erotica 2006; the late feminist pornophobe Andrea
Dworkin; and more!
Bright: Your story Grifter, was different for you- i've never seen
you write like Mikey Hammer! And you had a real bad femme fatale who got
a helluva punishment. What was it like to not have the usual "feminist
heroine" and be dealing with a "buncha lowlifes"?
Carol Queen: It was really fun, actually. I worked up these extreme
characters and their noir-ish world partly to give myself real space and
context for writing from a dominant space. I'm not really a domme in real
life (my newest book, Whipped!, notwithstanding, which is all stories
of dominant women), so I think I know much more deeply how to present
erotic submission; I used these characters as a hook to hang my dominance
on. Maybe, like my character Micki, I really have a nonconsensual streak,
and just never let it out in real time! Because when it came time to give
Alice the work-over she so richly deserved, it was frighteningly easy
to get nasty, at least on the page.
I actually consider Micki a feminist heroine, in a twisted way. She has
an extremely clear view of sexual politics, and although she seems to
be powering her revenge on Alice via her outrage on behalf of the men
Alice has grifted, her real issue is how manipulative women tear up the
playing field for other women. This is really Micki's --and my-- little
critique of The Rules.
As for lowlifes? You know, I hung out with bikers a bit when I was eighteen.
I retain a soft spot for people who go "bad."
SB: You spend so much time teaching people how to "play nice"
in their kinky fantasies, it must have been fun to be ruthless. Do you
ever feel like, "oh, if only people knew how reckless and irresponsible
I really am..."
CQ: SO fun to be ruthless! This scene got me going in so many ways when
writing it. My favorite thing is the snarky talk Micki inflicts on Alice
along with everything else, and I hope readers like that too. If I do
have a vicious top residing inside me, she's totally a talker.
Anyway, the context and characterization is everything, because if you
boil "Grifter" down to just the sex, it could be, like,
an outtake from The Leather Daddy and the Femme! Just another amusing
evening where everybody ties each other up and goes at it like crazed
SB: If you could turn your favorite film noir into a sex movie, which
ones would you be tempted to mess with?
CQ: You know, people aren't going to believe it, but I am just
culturally illiterate when it comes to old movies. So I don't really have
a favorite old noir. But I read Raymond Chandler as a freshman in college
in a very early postmodern moment: my professor Dr. Strange assigned us
William Blake, Chandler, and Bob Dylan, which perhaps could only have
happened in the mid-'70s, and I was very taken by Chandler's women. Not
very feminist (in fact, I expect that's what my term paper said), but
sexy in spades. I guess in a way "Grifter" is my version
of a noir catfight, since the guys are far from the most important characters
-- the fact that I use a male narrator notwithstanding. I probably just
couldn't stand the heat of writing Micki in the first person! <g>
SB: The Center recently got reviewed by the New York Times. How do you
think the mainstream media regards sex museums, schools and cultural centers
these days? What's their spin versus your own observations?
[Note: Here's the article Susie mentions: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/05/national/05sex.html
CQ: Lots of people have seen the little NY Times article, which
was about an event we did, the Belle Bizarre Bazaar -- a holiday shopping
fair where most of the vendors were sex workers selling sexy stuff. Proceeds
went to our Exotic Dancers' Education Project, providing dancers with
skills that will help them maximize their potential and choices. This
event got into the Times despite the worries of its author, a journalist
who'd been posted over by her editor. She thought the Times was way too
conservative for the likes of us, which may be true, except they now have
so many column inches to fill with distracting stuff that isn't
about Judith Miller!
The one thing the Times article does not do is present the spectrum of
the Center for Sex & Culture's work, especially the academic and serious
side of what we do. This, I think, points to the real answer to your question:
mainstream media culture remains quite nervous and touchy about sex-related
issues, especially those that take sex really seriously. A frivolous take
(or a good, juicy, shocking angle) on a sex story works for the mainstream
press: a sex-positive and serious take, not so much. When the San Francisco
Chronicle did its article about us a year ago, the writer focused just
on our porn collection. Now, we very much value that, but we also collect
academic journals and sex education materials, and not a word about those!
I think this is one really essential linchpin of sex-negative or erotophobic
culture, that sex is only allowed to be either light or heavy, and when
it's heavy, it's about really heavy issues like abuse. Recently
I gave some quotes about something-or-other for a Cosmo story and the
editors didn't want to use the term "sexologist" to describe
me, saying that it wasn't a real word! You know, stuff like that from
the Times would not be all that surprising, but Cosmo is now policing
the language? Please!
The small group of people who work to make sex institutions part of the
culture, whether they focus on art, education, or support (or all three,
like we do), do it because we think sex is important, and that the larger
culture does not give it its due. This is so evident when we look at the
crappy sex education to which almost every young person has been subjected,
especially recently; but the way sex takes its place in pop culture supports
this way of looking at it as well. As we have seen so clearly during this
administration, the mainstream press is frightened about rocking the boat.
So much alternative sex discourse springs up in the cracks in the pavement,
but the average American is still left not knowing how to tell good information
SB: In my intro to this edition [of Best American Erotica], I noted
that I turned in my manuscript the day the Andrea Dworkin died. In discussing
her legacy, I wrote: "I wonder how many of the authors in this collection
were directly influenced by AD. How many were inspired to "roll their
own" after sampling her wares? I look at their names and see at least
half of them who would say, "Oh Yes I remember the days." Some
of us remember rather vividly being on the wrong end of the firing squad
when we first defied her." With hindsight, what element of Dworkin's
influence has made a difference with you?
CQ: I think Dworkin and her followers are specifically responsible for
me doing erotic writing the way I do it; when I came out, in the '70s,
it seemed sort of normal that straight people would say hateful and clueless
things, but when feminists began doing that within the women's community,
it felt so much more invalidating. '70s feminists excoriated Freud for
having the gall to ask what women wanted, but it turned out many of them
were unwilling to hear the full range of answers to that question. Dworkin
herself was such a powerful voice that she greatly encouraged the tendency
of ordinary women (raised in a sex-negative society, full of sexphobia
themselves) to turn on one another. And the irony is that she herself
was so clearly fascinated with sex, her writing full of powerful sexual
images that she could not find any way to own save through her sex-negative
So I started writing about sex to clarify for myself what I valued about
it and my experience with it, as well as to construct validation for my
own fantasies. These had not felt validated during the years I identified
as a lesbian feminist, though it was my experience then that actual women
sought to have good and empowered sex lives (my girlfriend and I did,
anyway). But my belief is that Dworkin's work made that harder to do,
and that she specifically sought to inculcate shame, for the exact same
reasons that sex-negative Christians do: it's such a useful control mechanism.
course, she is one of the roots from which I drew inspiration in developing
the theory of absexuality, the idea that some anti-sex people actually
are turned on by the porn, sodomy, and other wild and crazy stuff they
purport to hate: that, in fact, this is their sexual orientation. Betty
Dodson, my partner Robert, and I sat around trying to figure out what
Dworkin and Jesse Helms had in common, and absexuality, in my view, is
it. ("Ab" is a Latin prefix meaning "away from"; absexuals
push sex away, but they stay in contact with it, always fulminating, unlike
garden-variety folks who, when they see sex-related stuff that makes them
uncomfortable, simply turn away.) So I thank her very much for that, but
when you get to the bottom of it, I would prefer that Dworkin had been
able to have a life free of sexual conflict, even though she was such
a strong inspiration to so many of us to articulate alternative and especially
feminist notions about sex. She is, on top of everything else, a great
example of someone for whom sexuality is a cause of distress, which is
the other reason I do what I do around education, support, and articulating
ideas about a sex-positive future: not just because she's the alternative
to it, but because she herself needed it.
Visit the Center for Sex & Culture online at www.sexandculture.org,
and come visit us when you're in San Francisco! We have classes and cultural
events almost every week.
Some of my writing and my bibliography is at www.carolqueen.com,
and the Good Vibrations website, www.goodvibes.com,
also carries my regular Q&A column in its magazine section. I'll be
blogging there, too, when we get around to it!
Whipped! is, I think, in the stores now, from Chamberlain Brothers.
I edited it at their request. And I might be about to do a second volume
of 5 Minute Erotica for Perseus/Running Press; any short-short
story writers out there who do erotic work? Query me!
My essay on absexuality is in my book Real Live Nude Girl, though
I'm going to do an updated take on it soon. Readers wanting more crazed-weasel
sex might like The Leather Daddy and the Femme.