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past interviews

talking to carol

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 interviews.

Carol talks to Susie Bright about "Grifter," her story in Best American Erotica 2006; the late feminist pornophobe Andrea Dworkin; and more!

Susie 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 weasels.

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: ]

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 from bad.

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 perspective.

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.

Then, of 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.

Shameless self-promotion:
Visit the Center for Sex & Culture online at, 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, and the Good Vibrations website,, 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.

contents : meet carol : appearing soon : advice : travels : opinion : talking to carol : faq
recommended reading : bibliography : videography
"a dr. like this" : the center for sex and culture : contact