Episode 2: Dr. Carol Queen, Part 1 of 2; Erotic Writing: The Pleasure of Text

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"I think when you create anything, the process of creation is a particular kind of source for tapping into things that are bigger than you on some level . It's not surprising to hear that about art creation when someone paints or draws, but I think the same is true when you write erotica, that there's alot out there in the culture that you weave together to make your own responses, to make yourself, to make your identity. We're each individual and unique but none of us is in a vacuum." . Carol Queen, PhD From Host, Beth Crittenden: In this program with Dr. Carol Queen, we hear about the path this icon took in order to become a prolific erotic writer, as well as how her writing process looks and feels. Get up close and personal with the Doctor as she merges brain and body. We also hear why she became motivated to make Sex her profession. She found the pleasure, confusion, mystery, remnants of shame and things to work on, etc., irresistible. She reveals how Sex can bridge the generation gap and connect us all more deeply to one another. This is a fun, intelligent, provocative interview that you're sure to enjoy!

Transcript

Dr. Carol Queen, Part 1 of 2; Erotic Writing: The Pleasure of Text

Announcer: This is part one of a two-part program.

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BETH CRITTENDEN: Hello everyone. Welcome to “A Taste of Sex: Guest Interviews.” I’m your host, Beth Crittenden, here on Personal Life Media, coming to you from OneTaste™ Urban Retreat Center in San Francisco, where we are weaving orgasm into the world conversation and into our bodies. I am so pleased to present to you today Carol Queen. Welcome, Carol.

CAROL QUEEN: Thanks.

BETH CRITTENDEN: So Carol is here to take part in our Urban Monk Hybrid Practice lecture series, where we invite people from a wide variety of sensual research and discovery to come share their work with us. We have a practice of orgasmic meditation here at OneTaste™, which we base our business model on, we base our sleeping hours on, and so we’ll also base this radio show on that as well. Are you ready to go into the orgasm, Carol?

CAROL QUEEN: Sure.

BETH CRITTENDEN: Great! So, Carol Queen—I have a long list for you today—is noted for, she’s an award-winning erotic and sex and culture writer and editor with 10 books in print and she’s, her work has appeared in another 75 or 80 books. She’s the director of the Center for Sex and Culture in San Francisco, which we’ll talk about more later in the show. She holds a Ph.D. in sexology and is the chief cultural officer at Good Vibrations. Carol established the first gay youth group in the nation and she’s also made explicit educational movies along with her partner Robert, who’s with us in the room today. Hi, Robert! He’s waving, he loves you. Carol also has a history in the sex industry: She’s a sex-positive sex worker. She’s now working on her 11th book, and we’re just going to go right into some Q and A with Carol Queen, so get comfortable, get some nice tea to drink, and enjoy the ride.

[music]

BETH CRITTENDEN: Join us on “A Taste of Sex: Guest Interviews” as Carol Queen tells us about her erotic writing process, why it’s meaningful to her and what turns her on. She also will tell us about Coming for a Cause, the annual Masturbate-a-thon that she’s put together and is now traveling with internationally. Also we’ll hear about a fascinating place, the Center for Sex and Culture, located in San Francisco that is archiving sexual history, past, present, future, and doing some incredible work.

[music]

BETH CRITTENDEN: So Carol, welcome to the show.

CAROL QUEEN: It’s such a pleasure to be here. I love talking about all of these things, and doing it in an orgasm even better.

BETH CRITTENDEN: [laughs] Nice. Let’s first talk about what inspired you to start your erotic writing. You and I were talking earlier, and you said that you wanted to make a cultural product where you felt represented. So, when did this process start for you and how?

CAROL QUEEN: Well you know I always had in my head that writing would be a dream to do. I always, from the time I was a little girl and books were more important to me than some of the people around me. I’m sure a lot of people can relate to that, where I could visit other worlds and other possibilities, writing has always been something that seems like a glorious thing, and I’m lucky enough to be able to write fairly easily; some people have to struggle with and it stare at an empty page, and I usually have something to say, so I’m fortunate that way, but I didn’t really start a writing practice that I shared with other people very much until I came to San Francisco and I had already begun my course of graduate study at the Institute for Advanced Studies of Human Sexuality, which is where I got my Ph.D. in sexology. I started in the late ’80s and kept dropping out to go learn on the street, so I wound up not getting my doctor until 1998 and during that time when I was dropping in and dropping out and starting my work at Good Vibrations and doing sex work and all the other things I was doing, I was also falling in love with my life partner Robert and exploring sex to as profound a degree as I could, given that I came from a rather small city in a more conservative state where there wasn’t as much to explore, at least not as much accessible, community-oriented, organized and with people to sort of lead the way.
So while I was running around doing all of this exploration and taking it to the streets and trying out different kinds of erotic practice, what I found was nothing in print that I found really expressed that mélange of experience and exploration. There was stuff that was lesbian, and there was stuff that was sadomasochistic, and there was stuff that sex workers rode, and there was this and there was that and there was the other thing, and there wasn’t anything that really reflected me back—a sexual adventurer, if you will—somebody who, for whom clearly sex was a profound life path. At least, I was pretty sure it was, and I certainly haven’t fallen off it yet, so I think that still is true, and so I started to find options to write for little anthologies, for zines, for community newsletters, and I started to take that opportunity. I had always written for myself as journaling and poetry and all of that so many of us do, you know, to get the feelings out and process, but now I was writing for people who I wanted to communicate with and what was really interesting to me was people immediately, as soon as I got published even a little bit, started to come up and say that there was something in what I had written that spoke to them and even if their life looked very, very different from mine, there was something in it, in my life, that was a connection that they could make with me, and that was a connection that they made with other people. So the kind of community of not one specific slice of community in a way became my beat, and making connections between all those different communities, helping what I learned in each of them inform what I learned and experienced in the other ones, and trying to put that all on paper and put it out in the world.

BETH CRITTENDEN: You mentioned that the writing process is, it kind of flows for you. Do you feel like you get to a sexual place when you are writing erotically, or is it kind of like more of a dry process and afterwards you enjoy it? How does that work for you?

CAROL QUEEN: I wouldn’t call it a dry process at all. If it’s a dry process, I don’t generally wind up enjoying the finished product as much as if it’s a juicy process. It isn’t necessarily a process that makes me feel as though I’m in a sexual response cycle, although sometimes it is, you know, sometimes I go take a break and go make love or masturbate or, you know, sort of get in the physical part of that energy, and then they come back to it. And often times when I’m done with this story, that’ll be my response to it, and when I started to write erotica specifically, I really wanted to find things that appealed to me deeply and erotically. I didn’t see the point of writing it if it wasn’t going to turn me on at least, and everybody else was everybody else. I was fortunate enough to hit some waves there too, I think, and get, especially in the case of what became my erotic novel The Leather Daddy and the Fem, tap into some queer women’s real love of queer men, and the sort of taboo that’s in the community, or was in the community certainly when I was lesbian-identified in the ’70s that, you know, that lesbians and gay men did not even socialize too much, much less go into a space where they were in erotic space, and I always found that a great lack. And there were men I related to culturally, in a whole different way and in a stronger way. So I made some stuff up. [laughs]
And a bunch of people came up and said, that’s so amazing, that’s so amazing, I think about that too. I think, you know, I think when you create anything, the process of creation is a particular kind of source for tapping into things that are bigger than you on some level. And you know with, it’s not surprising to hear that about art creation, you know, when someone paints or draws or whatever, but I think the same is true when you write, that there’s a lot out there in the culture that you weave together to make your own responses, to make yourself, to make your identity, and we’re each individual and unique, but none of us is in a vacuum; we’re all influenced by one another, and I think that comes out in my erotic writing. I hope it does.

BETH CRITTENDEN: Describe a turned-on Carol Queen for us.

CAROL QUEEN: Ohh a turned-on Carol Queen, well, a turned-on Carol Queen, when I’m writing, starts out typing faster and faster, and really being in the zone of the of the plot or the description. It’s especially easy to get into the zone if I’m describing erotic experience, and it’s one thing to, you know, have characters talk to each other in voices that seem realistic, and all the things that you would, you know, learn about in a writing class, but that’s fun, that’s not a turn-on as much as getting into feeling as though I have a connection between my brain and my body’s lived experience and potential. And I’m writing faster and faster, I’m getting more excited, and as I said, sometimes I just have to leave the computer and go up in the bedroom, or get in the bathtub, or wherever it’s going to happen.

BETH CRITTENDEN: Nice. Why do you think sex is your path? Why did that call you for your life?

CAROL QUEEN: Well that’s a really good question. It is as puzzling to me as that it isn’t more people’s path, you know, because there is, it’s got everything, it’s got pleasure and confusion, it’s got mystery, it’s got, for so many people, shame, or at least the remnants of shame, and so something to work on, sort of a personal growth aspect. There’s excellence to be had, there’s learning in specialized areas to be had, there’s… My ex-girlfriend said to me once, you know, I could see if sex was your hobby, and I could see if it was your work, but everything? [laughter] And basically what I said was well it’s not, it’s not one thing! Sex is not one thing. Who thinks sex is one thing? Maybe Bill Clinton, who said he didn’t have sex with that woman, who when he—hello!—clearly had some form of sex with that woman, I mean, why do people want to restrict it? That puzzles me a lot. I have some theories, of course, but none of those things speak to me like how interesting it is to allow your mind and your body to work together in the profound way that they do when you’re in erotic space, and I don’t know anything is really compares to that. I mean, I’m sure some people who have, you know, devoted themselves to drug exploration and stuff would say that there’s a comparable way of living in your mind and your body. That may be so, but I just know that sex is mine, and the other part of the answer to the question is even before I had that connection with my body, even before it was orgasmic, before I could get to my own arousal, I had profound fascination with sexuality, and I problematized it, because I watched my parents, and it was problematic for them, and as a little kid I knew, something’s going on there; I don’t quite know what it is, but it bears watching. [laughs]
And I think once I began to understand what it was—it wasn’t until after my dad died that my mom disclosed to me that she’d been sexually abused as a girl—I’m sure she was never orgasmic in her entire life. She was helpless behind this expectation in her marriage, she was helpless behind any desire she felt but that was thwarted, and it affected her so profoundly, and I think if we all think about people that we have known, people in our families, people in other generations, I bet we can all think of somebody like that, maybe not who’s come from a space of sexual abuse necessarily, but neglect, and being lied to, and given really, really inappropriate or useless information or none at all about sex, and so, back to what I said initially it’s surprising to me that more people don’t take us on as a path, truly a path, because there’s in our culture so much remedial work to do for so many of us before we even get to the transcendent part. But then we do get to the transcendent part, and it’s extraordinary, you know, for some people it’s a spiritual connection. For some, it’s the heart of love, and what’s not to like?

[break]

BETH CRITTENDEN: How do you cultivate openness for the ideas and the inspiration that you get for your writing, and does resistance come up for you, do you get an idea and you’re just like, that’s way too crazy, I can’t put that in—

CAROL QUEEN: [laughing] Oh my God, I can’t go there—

BETH CRITTENDEN: —print?

CAROL QUEEN: You know, I have one time written under a pseudonym—

BETH CRITTENDEN: Ohhhhh—

CAROL QUEEN: —so the pseudonym is the friend of the of the resistant writer, or the writer worried about getting called on whatever they thought, and since time immemorial I suppose, and I wrote—I had fun picking my pseudonym—the story I wanted to write was about erotic charge with animals, so I though *gasp* [whispering] I can’t write in my real name! Picked a cool pseudonym, immediately came out about it right away, right away. It was as if I sort of went through the process of being worried and then tried to shake that off right away; that’s not how I want live in my mind and in my body, I don’t I want live that way. And certainly I think there are there are elements that are harder to write about than other elements. I mean, when I’ve tried to tackle this question of my parents’ sexual wounds and things like that, and the closer to home it is and the more it discloses about other people who are people whom I know, the harder it is to just get it out there and put it out in the world, but those are the main kinds of blocks or struggles that I have, and in the case of a just disclosure in erotic memoir, I give other people the option of picking their own pseudonyms and asking them, what should I change in order to deflect the attention that it’s you [laughs] that I’m writing about. And a lot of times people don’t even care about that.
The other thing that I think is relevant to your question is that because I have had so many different kinds of sexual experience, identified around so many of them that are not OK in the culture, or at least not all of the culture, I’m really aware of what it means to suppress and silence, and so I try really hard not to do that. I know how alone I felt before I found connection, other people writing that helped me understand that I wasn’t alone, not the only person who was interested in these things, etc. etc. Somebody else will have that same response at something one of us writes, and it may not be what I write but it’ll be what somebody writes and I think it’s so important that there’s an alternative press and a little slice of the mainstream press is fairly brave to the degree that they are—these guys all have attorneys making the editors nervous in the big publishing companies. And really the small presses are the places—and online now—that make real, honest space available for this kind of discourse. I think it’s really, really important and especially now in this culture when clearly it’s controversial, and that’s putting it mildly. It’s a culture war, people have used that phrase and I don’t disagree with it, and as long as that’s going on, I think there really, really needs to be this alternative space where voices can be heard.

BETH CRITTENDEN: What’s the response that you’ve gotten for your readership and what’s been the role in that in your life?

CAROL QUEEN: When I’m writing, I try not to focus on who my readership is, because in the first place, that feels like a little bit of a luxury or a later step in terms of the process of getting whatever is I want to get out onto paper. It’s not necessarily the most comfortable thing to wonder how people are going to take it during the first draft, so, and I think lots of writers sort of grapple with this. They try to get it out, and then they say, OK, what of this—I mean, this harkens back to your last question, too—what of this can I keep? How much of this is, do I dare to disclose, or just, you know, does this flow? Is this going to be easy for somebody else to read, or fun, or challenging in the right way instead of challenging the wrong way and it doesn’t make any sense? So the writerly piece comes in. For me, I try to leave my interaction with the audience and thinking hard about how the audience is going to take this material at that level of, am I literate enough to give somebody a pleasant reading experience, and then let the content of what I wrote take care of itself out in the interaction with the person. So it’s almost like I’m not interacting with them; the written product is interacting with them, if that makes sense. And I don’t think of that as a sort of a screen, I just think that in many cases I’m never going to have a chance to interact with the person that I’ve just disclosed to, or fantasized and given the product of fantasy to, but what I produced is going to become part of their life on some level, just like things have been very important to me, books and other kinds of written material or songs, too, have become part of my heart, and have influenced me and will always influence me. I’m not sure I want to or can take credit for that relationship, because I think the writing is a third entity—it’s almost like a threesome.

BETH CRITTENDEN: So then it doesn’t stay attached to your identity? Do you feel you’re kind of letting it go when you publish?

CAROL QUEEN: In a way, and partly it’s because I write both fiction and memoir. You know, if I only wrote one thing I might very well feel really differently about this, but people get my stuff in their hands and read it, and they can either assume that they know something about my own personal sex life, which is often true, but they might not! You know, they always have gotten something that passes the “it’s interesting enough for me to write about” fiction test, you know, it might have gotten me really hot, it might be the wellspring of my fantasy that never come true, but although I have to say if I have a fantasy that hasn’t come true I’ve always tried pretty much right away to figure out if it could come true. But you know there are always things that you want to hold back for later, and the idea that I’ve disclosed all true stuff—I mean, many writers are totally allergic to that—you’re like, [whisper] don’t assume any of this is me! I think some of all writing is them, it’s got to come from somewhere, and this stuff, it’s not like we pluck it off of trees, it comes out of our psyche, but I also know that I disclose a lot, but that doesn’t mean that people know me thoroughly, and I try not to make the assumption that I’ve got that intimacy with somebody until I meet them and start to actually grow it in real life, because I think that’s where true intimacy is between two people, and the writing is a third party.

BETH CRITTENDEN: Interesting. Thanks for that. We’re going to take a short break now is there anything that you’d like to add about your writing or your beliefs around any of it before we sign off?

CAROL QUEEN: I think the one thing I want to say about my writing is that I really do it to give voice to certain kinds of sexual diversity and sexual desire and pleasure, and I don’t pretend that I cover the waterfront, so if anybody is listening out there and has ever thought, I don’t see very much of this thing in print, [whisper] start to write!

BETH CRITTENDEN: Nice. So this is Beth Crittenden speaking with Carol Queen on Personal Life Media’s show “A Taste of Sex: Guest Interviews.” When we come back from the break, which we’ll take to you identify our generous sponsors, we’ll talk about the upcoming Masturbate-a-thon and the one just happened in England. Then we’ll also talk about the Center for Sex and Culture, which is such a fantastic organization. Join us, we’ll be back shortly.

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Announcer: This concludes part one. The interview will be continued in the next episode of this show. Find more great shows like this on personallifemedia.com.