As for measure and other technical apparatus, that’s just common sense: if you’re going to buy a pair of pants you want them to be tight enough so everyone will want to go to bed with you. — from “Personism: A Manifesto,” by the poet Frank O’Hara
I was going to begin this post by writing about the small but serious place in cultural history Carol Queen plays, the extraordinary work she does at the Center for Sex and Culture, and even the influence she’s had on my own writing.
And then the well-beloved O’Hara quote popped into my head, leaving me to ponder Carol’s fabulous, commonsense, organic, and totally sexy fashion instincts, at least as my starting point for telling you something about the luminous personage who’ll be hosting my reading/party this Friday night, and introducing me as well.
Because as a writer of romance and erotica, I know that the relationship between style, surface, and substance is a rich, provocative one. In support of which idea I could quote you chapter and verse from ur-texts like Susan Sontag’s “Notes on Camp” or point to the dreamy swoony passages about ladies’ clothing in the work of Joyce and Proust.
But it’s more fun to talk about Carol and her getups. I’ve heard Susie Bright marvel at Carol’s way with a pair of high wool stockings from our local organic grocery and general store, while I reserve my awe for what Carol can do with the highest vintage heels and the raggediest pair of jeans I’ve ever seen (not to speak of my wonderment that she found them at all).
And in her book Talk Dirty to Me Sallie Tisdale tells us that Carol Queen is a petite woman with little black-rimmed eyeglasses. She wears red hot pants and high-necked black velvet dresses, like a hallucination of Alice in Wonderland all grown up.
A hallucination and also a gentle suggestion that if this is Wonderland , it’s time (as they said in The Whole Earth Catalog) we got good at living here.
The Center for Sex and Culture is itself furnished in a giddy ensemble of Office Depot functional and estate-sale fantasia. The sexology library, the cabinet of antique vibrators, the file cabinets and computer seem happily at home among bordello-deco furniture upholstered in yellow and purple velvet, a giant rococo bed with tufted headboard, and a mind-bending chair in the shape of a leopard-skin high-heeled shoe.
Talk Dirty to Me is, sadly, out of print these days, but still highly recommended if you can get hold of it. It’s a discussion of what was (back in the 80s and early 90s) more likely to be called pornography than erotica, as a technology for seeking, pondering, and choosing what we actually like sexually. Author Tisdale extended her discussion into the the subcultures of sexual arousal — sex workers and sex zines and the epoch-making women-owned sex toy store Good Vibrations, where she learned from Carol and others how to sell vibrators and other sex toys, and more importantly, in Carol’s words, to role-model comfort about sex.
Carol told Tisdale that we wouldn’t have to know a damned thing about silicone dildos. Just being here and and saying, “Come and look at the butt-plugs!” is enough. People can’t believe someone just said that to then, as though you were saying, “Hey, come look at the zucchinis!”
It’s true. It works. I experienced the butt-plug/zucchini effect myself when I read as Molly Weatherfield at Good Vibes a few years ago, as part of a monster marathon group reading event called Litquake.
The store was still open for business. And Carol, as mistress of ceremonies, kept the proceedings rolling nicely along by every so often informing telling recent arrivals (in her sweetly reasonable but always enthusiastic voice) that “We’re having a SMUT reading tonight, but if you’re here to buy a dildo we’ve left an aisle free.”
Of course they had. Because in this Wonderland there’s always room for Carol’s signature mix of wit and style, ease and expertise.
Just as you can sometimes catch Dr. Carol Queen (she has a PhD in education and human sexuality) on local San Francisco late-night PBS, speaking sanely, sweetly, and simply about ways you can maximize your own erotic pleasure no matter what your age, preference, or state of abledness.
Or as you can go the Center to take a class in macrame for bondage fetishists.
Or even hear a talk and reading by an S/M-turned romance writer — who first read her Molly-Weatherfield work out loud at Good Vibes way before it was published; and who got not a little bit of inspiration for Phizz/Phoebe in Almost a Gentleman from Randy/Miranda in Carol’s novel The Leather Daddy and the Femme; and who’s going to be researching her current work among Carol’s educational videos (no spoilers — you can check ’em all out here).
And here, once more, are the vital statistics for my reading/party for my just-released The Edge of Impropriety:
Date: Friday Night, November 21
Time: 6-8 pm
Place: The Center for Sex and Culture, 1519 Mission Street between 11th and S. Van Ness, San Francisco, CA
I’m looking forward to saying hi and hanging out with you.
And am just now beginning to worry about what I’m going to wear.