"The thinkers of the world should be guardians of the world's mirth."
-- Agnes Repplier (1904)
Mind Caviar, Vol. 3 Anniversary Issue, 2002
At Good Vibes I sort of wear two hats. For a long time I've been the Director of Continuing Education, which means that I take my sexology background and contacts in the community and put together monthly educational evenings for the staff. So, as far as I know, we're still the only retail store that does this so that when a person calls up with a very particular sexual issue - say, a transsexual woman calls wanting to know what kind of dildos would be best for her to use as vaginal expanders - things like that. so that the physiology of the transgendered woman is clear to the person she's talking to, that would be one example. Situations like, which is very common actually, the person who doesn't actually know an awful lot about sexual anatomy and is trying to figure out why they're not cuming adequately or different things. And there are still people in this day and age who are not exactly clear on what the clitoris is, never mind the G-Spot.
And of course, as years go by we get more and more and more men customers and far from being a solely woman focused place, which some people still think it is, we really think of our customer base as people who are interested in sex and that covers pretty much everybody, except for those few people who are interested in sex only so that they can bitch about what other people are doing. We don't have much for them but they tend to like to order SM books and get themselves really worked up. So, perhaps we're even making a little money off of those folks.
The whole idea was that we could really do a good job with customers' questions when they call to ask. We, in our Mission Statement, have education before we talk about being a retail space and making money to sustain ourselves. And, of course, we're a worker co-operative now and have been for the past several years, which means me and 15 of my dearest colleagues are co-owners of the business and we work all together in terms of the direction of the business and that sort of thing.
And the other thing that I do at Good Vibes is marketing. I'm the marketer! And what that means, of course, is talking to the press about sex all the time. I probably have the sweetest marketing deal in the whole universe. I don't have to try to promote SUV's whose tires blow up. I don't have any moral or ethical qualms about the kind of marketing that I do. And I try not to not only get the name of the company out there, we've got a whole marketing department to do that, but also to help further position us in people's minds as a sex toy company that knows about sexuality and is an appropriate place to ask questions.
From the special events that I do, like video clip shows or Masturbation Month special events to get attention for the company. I helped produce Annie Sprinkle this last Masturbation Month do a show. She's a masturbation goddess for so many. Not just for her own masturbation habits and facilities, but also as an erotic star and real sex positive goddess. So, we figured, "Wow, who better to get on the stage in the Castro theater than Annie." And it was great! So, I do those kinds of things. And then I just sit at my desk and chat with people from Men's Health and Cosmo and talk to the TV stations that are progressive enough to want to put something about sex on that isn't completely focused on titillation.
Not that I have anything at all against titillation. Don't get me wrong. But the thing that I really noticed is that certain shows would like to sort of construct the sex community in the image of what they think the sex community should be and what they want to put on television to attract viewers, like the experience that you had with the Playboy Channel. Whereas others are much more willing to say, "Tell us what you're about. Show us what you've got. What's this corner of the sex community all about, let's see if we can document it to show those people who don't know it's here." I've really had wonderful experiences with Canadian TV along these lines. U.S. TV is a little more constructionist about the way that they like to do documentaries. It's been a really fascinating situation to be in a position where I am sort of talking about the same set of things a lot to very different media outlets. It's very interesting to see how the different people, different journalists, different kinds of magazines and so forth want to pitch things. It's not surprising that people are confused by sexuality in this country because it's some different thing depending on where you look. It's certainly not a unified topic. It depends on where your point of entry is. Is it through the community, through the media. where is it?
That's what I do at Good Vibes. That's my day job. I work there half time and, theoretically, that gives me a lot of time to work on my writing projects and the other kinds of things that I do.
Darklady: Does Good Vibrations have any new ventures it's working on?
Carol Queen: I'm involved in a project now to help lay the groundwork for us to make our own videos, for example, which is going to be an exciting thing when we get that off the ground, which we hope we will do next year. We want to do both educational videos and we also want to do erotic videos which will fill gaps in the market that we know are underrepresented. We've talked about doing videos for more "full-figured" people and have talked about that not necessarily being a line that we produced but that we would at least want to mix up the body types in the videos we make, which in some ways would be a better thing than just doing fat girl or fat guy videos. But, at least doing big videos that don't have that sort of sense of smarmy, "we're going to make fun of these people as we watch them fuck," context that is so frequent in that genre.
Transgendered folks have much the same issue with much mainstream video. It's like, "oh, look at the specialty tape." For that community, this is not a specialty thing, this is their identity and it's harder to integrate our ideas about who's sexy if all we ever see are the same body types, the same age range. It just goes without saying that if we get a chance to see a wider erotic range, we can more easily eroticize a wider erotic range and we can more easily take seriously various peoples' eroticism. So it's all part of the high-minded goal of focusing on erotic diversity and making people feel good and comfortable about that, whether we're doing it as specifically educational or whether we're trying to put good erotic material out there into the marketplace. And there are people who are trying to do nice things out here, certainly. But it's all still pretty much fitting into this category that says, "specialty," all non-mainstream still. So, we would like to have an effect on the industry that way, actually.
that we've had an effect on the industry as far as sex toys are concerned.
Many of the distributors take our input very seriously now. We were one
of the very first places that let people bring back toys that they were
disgusted with and say, "Hey, this didn't work! This isn't any good!" And
we tried the toys out ourselves to make sure that we thought that they
would work in the first place. We turned away more things than we actually
accepted for the store. It's still true. A traditional sort of adult bookstore
type, porn magazine, video and toy store of the sort that is mostly out
there still will pretty much get stuff from distributors and stick it on
a shelf. They let the distributor kind of tell them what to carry. We've
never done that. We've always read the books, watched the videos, played
with the toys, evaluated them, filled out a little form, put the form on
file and then either carried the toy or said, "Nah, this is not for us
or our customer base." So those kinds of things, no matter what we carry,
are always of interest. And if we ever branch out into actually manufacturing
toys, what we'll do is follow up on the tons of feedback that we've got
over the years around what people with that they could find, about the
things that people think are good and not so good about the toys that are
out there now.
So, bisexuals could read Best American Erotica because there was some gay, some straight, some bi, some this, some that, some of the other things and bisexuals tend to have a fairly wide ranging appreciation for different kinds of erotic literature since we have a wider range in appreciation for different eroticisms, at least across the supposedly two genders. And yet there was nothing specifically in print for the bisexual reader in which, for example, the protagonists of the stories were pretty much all bi and the various issues and erotic situations that might be especially appreciated or related to by the bisexual reader - where were those? Those were out there but not collected together.
So Bill and I decided, 'Well fine. Enough of all that. Let's rectify this situation, this big gap in the literature." So we did Best Bisexual Erotica, which may turn out to be maybe not an annual but certainly a series of books. There are so many great bi writers out there and we've only scratched the surface here. I think that a lot of people appreciate bisexual erotica. Bisexual people, of course, have a little more to relate to in those scenarios at least potentially. But I think there's such an enormous amount of curiosity, erotic interest, what we've been calling bi-curiosity within the bi community, at least. So many bi-curious people out there who aren't prepared to say, "Yes, I'm bisexual," but given an erotic scenario in a video or especially to read in a book find it pretty fascinating, pretty erotically compelling. So, I think there really is a future for bisexual erotica.
the stories that we got for Best Bi were often very inventive and really
excellent. Definitely a lot of the author's perspectives helping to shape
some new and interesting scenarios. Plus, most of this we didn't publish,
but we got a ton of very well-written, thoughtful, good, but not too overtly
sexual bi stories that sort of explored relationship dynamics and things
like that. We could almost have done another volume of bisexual stories.
I think that there's enough momentum now in the bisexual communities to
fuel, not just give readers to the writers, but also to create more writers
who are willing to use bisexual characters in scenarios. There's a little
more of a "there" there than there was even a decade ago and I don't see
that changing, especially thanks to the medium of the Internet that allows
people to talk to one another over great space and allows people to sort
of orient and identify even if they don't have a community where they are.
So, I think that there's really a great deal of community strengthening
and formation that's happening via the Internet. And people who are gonna
log onto the Internet are mostly readers. If you're not a reader then you're
just looking for the picture sites and then logging off. But if you get
on the lists or engage in the chat groups or read the stories on alt.sex.story.whatever,
you're a reader and I think that giving the death knell of the book is
a bit premature, although we'll see what happens in the next twenty years
When I say that there's more "there" there, it's partly because the bisexual community itself has made more space, more institutions are becoming available, the Internet is an important part of this. And we have seen some real strides against homophobia in the culture in the last decade/decade and a half, although there is still plenty to go around.
Darklady: That's true. But what about how gays and lesbians view bisexuals?
Carol Queen: When people relax about homophobia they, by definition, have relaxed at least a little bit about biphobia, although there's still people, gay and straight, who tell us we're confused because they, themselves, can not imagine being us. Therefore it is really they that are confused but why slap back? Living well is the best revenge! And it's easier now, I think, to live well, than it was a decade ago when it was much harder to find connection and space within the queer community. I mean, this whole notion of queer as opposed to gay and lesbian and bi and transsexual and questioning and friends, etc., etc., etc., helped keep the door open at least a little bit.
Using "queer" as an umbrella term to encompass bisexual people, gay men, lesbians and sometimes transgendered people. Some trans people don't necessarily want to be put under that umbrella and others, especially those who are a little more radical about the notion that they might be neither gender or both or "What do you mean two?" You know, who have a more radical and exploded notion about gender. Those people might feel pretty fine being termed queer. And plenty of heterosexual people these days are comfortable thinking of themselves as being queer - even if lesbians and gay men would rather not have heterosexual people come into the queer community. It really shows where the resistances and prejudices in identity politics are, as well as the very positive ways that identity politics helps people find each other and get into supportive communities.
Boy oh, boy, you don't hear much about "heterophobia," and I always put quotes around that anyway, because it certainly doesn't have the kind of institutional power and viciousness that homophobia has. But on an individual and community level, it can be just as bitchy, vicious and exclusionary. And that is really one of the not always talked about things that make up biphobia, especially as the gay and lesbian community tend to express it. It's not the bisexuality per se, it's the proximity to heterosexuality and heterosexually coded choices.
In the queer community, there have been so many people who have tried to be straight and not been able to do so that I think it's entirely understandable that there's this tension and defensiveness. I just think it's really a shame. In any venue people assume from their own experience that they can understand and therefore judge other people. We see it in the feminist community when we talk about sex work, we see it in the queer community when we talk about bisexuals, it's just all over the place and it's unfortunate. It's not a character of strength.
Darklady: Do you think books like Best Bisexual Erotica can help people understand us a bit better?
Carol Queen: It's really interesting reading through Best Bisexual Erotica because there's plenty of hot bi sex, of course. But there's perhaps even more than Bill and I expected when we solicited the stories. Also, a lot of information and speculation about bisexual relationship issues, which, of course, is when you get down to it, when you just really shake it down, most people have sex kinda similarly, kinda. Ok, penises, vaginas. Ok, whatever. Engorgement, arousal, friction, touch, the need for lubricant. it's pretty similar across orientations and genders. Some of what seems strange to people about bisexuality is not sex, it's relational issues. Questions of monogamy vs. polyamory. Can you be bisexual if you have one partner of one gender. How can that be? That tendency to conflate orientation and relationship status, which is dangerous.
People get to be what orientation that they are and they get to find themselves in the relationships that they do and they don't necessarily always match as readily as someone who would like to do a strict taxonomy might desire. You just have to let people be who they are. In Best Bisexual Erotica you find bisexual people and not necessarily bi-identified, but bi-behaving people being who they are in the context, not just of their eroticism but also the way that they connect with their lovers, the number of lovers they have, the kind of erotic play that they might choose when they get there.
Darklady: Do you have any favorite stories from the anthology?
A couple of really interesting stories, to me, in Best Bisexual Erotica is the one we open with and then one quite far back. The first one's called "First, Hello" and it's the story of a dyke who has been having a flirtation with a guy and she finally invites him over and there's all this first time shyness and tenderness to it, as well, since they're obviously friends. You can get that they probably made friends at work or something like that and they're in a community together. You get that from the story, even though there's not a lot said about it. Then there's, further on in the book, an interesting companion piece to it. A love story which looks at the movement in a lesbian couple getting into dildo play and the point at which that really brings up gender issues and questions of bisexuality for the participants. And that's a fairly deep level of exploring eroticism if you get down to it, looking at how sex practices affect our orientation and gender identity and how we see ourselves and the things that we seek out and that kind of thing. And they're both really interesting to me, too, because I come from a lesbian identification.
Darklady: That's true. What was that like? Changing from lesbian to bi identification?
Carol Queen: I went from a bisexually identified to lesbian identified back to bisexually identified because I was bisexual all along, godddamit.
It's true that you can choose an orientation to a really substantial degree, especially if you're bisexual and you could go either way, as the staying goes. But I also think it's true that our choices can also overlay deeper potentials and things we could be doing if we lived in an optimal world that would let us explore everything we wanted maybe we wouldn't choose either/or as often.
I know about the biphobia that's within the lesbian community that is really intimately connected to stuff like this. I remember the dykes in the '70s who were firmly anti-dildo because the assumption was that if a woman got into a dildo she could just as easily get into a guy. In my story in Best Bi, "Like a Virgin," the story in which the lesbian approaches Robert and me so that she can have an experience with a man, one of the reasons I keep saying, "There's a man attached! Look, it's a man!" is because I've definitely heard it all about this sort of privileging of penetration. That particular segment of the lesbian community, you know, "If she gets too used to being poked she's gonna leave you for a guy," because Lord knows we all want heterosexual privilege when we get down to it. It's like, well, actually, some of us do what we can to reject heterosexual privilege every chance we get and ya know. no. That is too simplistic. And yet, when it happens, it's such an extraordinarily fraught situation, probably more around dealing with your community and friends than around just the sexual experience that has happened. So there definitely are a good number of stories in there that kind of explore the lesbian/bisexual connection and dissention. And there are a few things from the point of view of the gay male/bisexual male discussion, too. Although the discussion is less heavy there. It's heavier among women.
A woman's much more likely to get just drummed out of town if it turns out that she's bisexual, as opposed to the guys who may, ya know, sorta sneer a little bit. Half the time gay men will look at bi men and say, "Oh, that's cool. So you could get married and have kids if you want to. Come on down to the bath house." It's not an exclusionary category in the same way, although for some men, certainly, it can function that way, to some degree.
There are dykes now who are much, much more comfortable with being in common cause and being side-by-side with bisexual women and being lovers with them. It doesn't matter as much at all to them as it did 20 years ago. It felt threatening because there's not only heterosexual and male privilege but also the way in which when we come out to our parents and they cry because we're queer because it's so hard to be queer and you know, "People will give you a hard time and I don't want that for my baby." And that's true. You can't deny it. You can find the most supportive communities possible and that's good. But you can't deny that that happens a lot. So, to the degree that everybody knows to really live a life as a dyke unsullied by homophobia and happy, healthy, supportive - is a big challenge. Even today.
I think that the notion that somebody's girlfriend could say, "You know, baby. This is too hard. I love you. I love your dildo. But I'm going to go across town and I'm going to do what my mother wanted me to do," is always a present possibility even though it's not what most of us do. I think it's been a problem in the gay and lesbian community of assuming that when a bisexual person has an other gender relationship, that that is what they're doing. When a lot of times, that's not what we're doing at all. We refuse to get married. We have a polyamorous circle. We're doing things as queerly as anybody else, it's just that we're two separate genders apparently, as far as we can see from the outside. Lord knows what everybody is calling each other in bed. And Lord knows what kind of persona play we may be doing. Our heterosexual intercourse may be fucking our boys up the butt. That's not necessarily seen from the outside and it's all this defensive reaction of, "Oh, I knew she was going to go back to men." Many of us didn't come "from men" in the first place, come on now! That's really a much too simplistic way of looking at it, but it's still very present and it was even more present 20 years ago when there was a much, much, much smaller and more marginal bisexual community with which we might affiliate. So, of course they assumed we went back to men.
Darklady: So, how is the bisexual writing community helping change these views?
The thing that I think is really important is that the bisexual community is in a phase of producing its own literature and its own ideas and ideals about sex, gender and relationship. One of the things that allowed the gay and lesbian community to grow as much as it has in the last 20 years really was the production of a literature. The fact that, even if you didn't have a community with which to affiliate, you could go to the next big city over and find a book in a bookstore and get a sense of what was possible. Those people who were the activists then could try to organize something even in smaller cities and communities. I lived in Oregon 20/25 years ago and one of the things we were doi ng as a project was activists from Portland and Eugene were going to Coos Bay and Baker City and little communities that didn't have an organization and meeting with as many of the gay people in town as the other gay people in town knew to invite to try to encourage people to form at least support communities, if not actual organizations. It was like throwing stones in the water in all the big cities in the United States almost simultaneously and watching the ripples go out to the smaller cities and the smaller communities. And even if we're not going to be in a position as bi people to have the kinds of bi institutions that the gay and lesbian community has created... Like the notion of going to a bi restaurant seems a little silly even to me. Like, so what, exactly? Even if that isn't going to happen, and I won't say that it isn't. That may be the next step, this level of creating our own institutions within a large enough community to be patronizing the institutions so it can be successful. Even if that's not the next step, we're much more of a critical mass around numbers, ways for people to connect, information for people to bounce off, to set their own identity level according to what the literature says.
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