the queen of the con: carol queen on bdsm and sex work

So much to write about… so little time.

This will be my attempt at a short review of the U of T kink conference of last weekend, “Fetish: Working Out the Kinks.” I’m going to see if I can do it in… umm… three sentences per presentation. Okay, goal set. Wish me luck!

We start with the Friday night keynote with Carol Queen, an untitled talk whose topic was the intersection of BDSM/fetish and the sex industry. Carol gave a fantastic overview of her own experiences as a sex worker who, while not specialized in BDSM sessions, was exposed to a massive variety of kinks during her sex work career, which leads her to believe that kink is way more common that we might think. “Most people don’t think of sex workers as knowledge-gatherers, but they certainly are!” Indeed.

She talked about these clients as often “residing at the intersteces of the commodified sex world and the BDSM community,” and described their various motivations for paying a sex worker – among them, a greater comfort communicating with a professional than with a partner or spouse (yowch), and the desire for practice or experimentation with kink in a situation where they are not currently in a relationship or they are in a relationship that’s hostile to those desires (again, yowch) or where they themselves are caught in the Madonna/whore dichotomy where they simply would never ask their pristine wife to do such dirty things. She explained that some such clients become integrated into the BDSM community, whether on their own or through professionals who themselves already are; some, of course, remain clients or simply stay home and masturbate. To each their own.

Carol also expressed her own annoyance at how some clients of professional dominants are most certainly not giving their wives much power at home, and are instead going out and paying for it elsewhere. Again, that Madonna/whore thing… grumble. She mentioned, too, that while the stereotype of sex workers presumes them all to be young nubile girls, in reality, “Sex work is not the province of the young, particularly in BDSM and fetish when you’re talking about the level of competence, experience and knowledge required to do that work and do it well.” Good point.

Overall, I found her talk to be thoroughly entertaining and insightful. On the down side, I also felt that it wasn’t as… focused? as I would have liked. Carol made a ton of excellent points, and drew heavily on anecdotes from her own very valuable and relevant life experience. But I didn’t feel like there was a strong thesis stringing it all together. Not that a thesis is necessarily the yardstick against which I measure the quality of someone’s work, but I guess my brain was just in a super-focused theory-hungry space and I was hankering for someone to scratch the itch with academic rigour.

As for the insights themselves – well, I’m always intrigued to hear more about how the sex industry operates, and to hear that from the mouths of those who work within it rather than those who moralize from the outside. It was also intriguing to note that while her talk was not structured in a comparable way to the talk I gave the next day on the intersections of poly, kinky and queer, a lot of what she had to say nonetheless did speak to the ways in which the worlds of BDSM and sex work intersect. Of course this was of great interest to me becausein writing our paper, Pepper and I both noticed that sex work connects with BDSM (as well as with poly and queer) and realized that neither of us was sufficiently qualified – i.e. neither of us has done sex work – to comment from the inside out on those connections. Given that our paper is rather explicitly based on our community experience and then backed up with academic references and our own theory-head thinking, we don’t feel that it’s fair for us to speak on behalf of a community we’re not part of. So for now that piece is absent from the work. But to we may at some point wish to bring in a third co-author who has that sort of experience to help us confirm and articulate those connections, and considering what Carol had to say, clearly there’s at least some basis for our feeling that this would be a valid enterprise. So who knows… if we can get Carol on board, there may be some fun collaboration in the future.

Well, that’s definitely way over my three-sentence limit. Oh well. I’ll publish this now and return in the near future to give my thoughts about the rest of the conference and share my notes about specific presentations. For now, happy long weekend!

3 Responses

  1. I am anxiously awaiting your input on the rest of the conference! I think it spoke volumes about the dichotomies between socio-cultural brackets (one of the biggies being AGE) in the kink/queer community. I desire to write an opinion piece regarding the matter, but as my perspective is one of an outsider, would love some input from someone as open-minded and experienced as yourself.

  2. «Carol also expressed her own annoyance at how some clients of professional dominants are most certainly not giving their wives much power at home, and are instead going out and paying for it elsewhere.»

    So true. At least it was the case with my former stepfather, who very much behaved like an autocrat. He exerted a lot of control over my mom and myself. And then complained for whatever little liberties she allowed herself. He was constantly pecking at her, and in the meantime would have these side escapades playing submisse, which my mom would only discover later.

  3. Evelyn – I’d be very interested in hearing your point of view on this. In what sense did you notice age-based dichotomies in the kink/queer community as played out at the conference? Do you mean among presenters or among attendees or both? I’m quite curious. If you want some input, don’t be shy to drop me a line directly at veryqueer3 at yahoo dot ca.

    Janik – Fascinating to hear your personal experience, thanks for sharing! I’ll definitely pick your brains about this someday…

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