Good Vibrations celebrates 25 years with Carol Queen!
The Doctor is still in!
After 25 years of promoting sexual health and empowerment for Good Vibrations, this Queen of hearts, feminist icon, and progressive leader of sex-positivity continues to go strong. Join us as we take a look down memory lane in this exclusive interview with the legend herself.
GV: Hey Carol, tell us how you started working here at Good Vibrations.
CQ: I met Joani Blank, GV’s founder, at a Betty Dodson workshop! I think it was in 1988. Months later she called me and offered me a one-day-a-week job which has morphed into the most extraordinary career. I have now been here—this is mind-blowing to me—longer than Joani was. It just goes to show: You can network anywhere!
GV: What led you to become a sex educator?
CQ: I was a sexuality activist in the 1970s and ‘80s, and back then it was pretty hard to imagine that could be a professional identity. I didn’t really want to be a sex therapist, the only other thing I’d heard of. But the AIDS crisis was getting bad, and I accompanied my girlfriend to look at college catalogs at the University of Oregon library, and there it was: a catalog from a school that specialized in sexology (the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality). All we could do about HIV/AIDS in those days was teach about safer sex, and that’s what I thought I was gearing up to do. But then I got completely bitten by the sexology bug, via IASHS, San Francisco Sex Information, Good Vibrations, the Lusty Lady, and everyplace else I encountered sexual diversity and issues. Clearly I was in this because I was supposed to be here! Then I began writing about sexuality and that clinched it.
GV: Is there any advice you wish you had been given as a young adult?
CQ: That I didn’t have to wait for “a job”—that I could not only engage in (unpaid) activism, I could figure out how to do what I cared about entrepreneurially. In fact, when people want to be sex educators, that’s practically required, because there are fewer jobs than people who want to do this work.
GV: Absolutely. And with so many people looking to make sex education their profession, can you share with us the most interesting thing that you have learned as a sexologist?
CQ: That you can never, ever feel you know all about human sexuality, no matter how much you study and experience. There is always more to it, and erotic possibility is so diverse as to be almost endless. Every time you think you have it figured out, someone will come along and confide their own fetish or fantasy and it’s mind-blowing all over again.
GV: Carol, you are a very accomplished person. An author, educator, performer, community leader, historian, curator, and an absolute delight to be around. The list goes on and on, but what project or accomplishment are you most proud of?
CQ: I am really proud to have been able to help hold Good Vibrations history and shape its future—without this job, I have no clue what my life would have been like! On the page, I am extremely grateful to have found the space to be an essayist. I love love love writing erotica, but there’s something about the essay format that just deeply resonates with me, and I‘m super-proud of PoMoSexuals (which I co-edited with Lawrence Schimel) and glad to have Real Live Nude Girl out in print. That’s in the book-iverse, and on the streets, absolutely it’s the Center for Sex & Culture, a really unique project that Robert and I started 20 years ago without knowing what exactly it would become, and it has turned into such a wonderful community space.
GV: Sex-positivity is a phrase used commonly today but many people still don’t know what it means and where it comes from. Being that you were there during its formative years within the community, can you tell us what are some ways in which the culture of sex-positivity has changed in your last 25 years with Good Vibrations?
CQ: Absolutely! I actually wrote a blog post about the development and core values of the phrase last spring titled What Sex-Positivity is, and is Not. When I started this job in 1990 the term sex-positive was decidedly underground. You would not have heard it anywhere in the media, except maybe in queer and sex community contexts—never mainstream. Now people have run with it (such that I had to write a slightly cranky essay on what it is—so many people have the wrong idea about its definition!) and it is out of the corral, for sure.
Your question makes me think of two things: First, the way the 1990s, the decade when sex-positivity really came into its own, saw a really large surge in diverse publishing about sex. Even before the Internet was a Big Thing, lots of books and zines were being created; now, of course, it’s more likely to be blogs and websites. When GV got its start in the 1970s there were fewer than a dozen books on the shelf; publishing about sex was just exponential.
The other thing: When I began, there were two main ways to be a sex educator: You could do it from a health perspective (Planned Parenthood or HIV education, for instance), or it could be more academic, like college sex ed or sexuality studies (and there wasn’t a ton of the latter yet). The people who emerged from sexuality community to teach were mostly just showing up, though Betty Dodson had been doing it for 20 years already, and a few people from the BDSM community for nearly that long (Patrick Califia, for instance). But the many “sexperts” who have come on the scene were only just emerging, and Robert and I were among early traveling sex educators who’d teach a class pretty much anywhere, from a bookstore to a bar. There are many, many more such people now, and young people decide they want to pursue this as a career much earlier than most anyone in my cohort knew that might be a possibility.
GV: Your long term relationship with Good Vibrations has a very deep and rich history. Looking back over the last 25 years at GV, what is your favorite memory?
CQ: Oh, that’s a hard question! So many to choose from. It was so exciting when we became a worker-owned co-op in the early ‘90s (and of course we did not clearly see what that would mean on the ground, or any difficulties to come). I had great times doing clip shows and helping develop what would become our first film production arm, Sex-Positive Productions. It was amazing when Down There Press, which we then owned, published Exhibitionism for the Shy. Helping run the Erotic Reading Circle was amazing—I still remember the story that made me want to edit Sex Spoken Here (which I did with our wonderful colleague Jack Davis). But my VERY fave memory is helping an elderly woman buy a vibrator (the Magic Wand, naturally). She said she didn’t want to live her entire life without knowing what an orgasm felt like. That was an amazing interaction.
GV: It’s clear that you are a very busy person who loves working on new projects! Can you tell us what are you currently working on?
CQ: I am JUST finishing up a big, big book with my longtime friend Shar Rednour: The Sex & Pleasure Book: Good Vibrations Guide to Great Sex for Everyone. We hope it’ll hit the stands by the end of the month! That would be an awesome 25th anniversary thing, huh? And next week my family starts a collaboration on a new project, getting my partner Robert Morgan Lawrence’s work on the anatomy and neurology of sensation into book form at long last. I rely on his knowledge and theories every day! We’re working with our partner Dina Fayer on that book. AND my erotic stories are in the process of getting collected to be published in one volume—25 years of erotica. (After that? More essays, then I’ll start a memoir at some point, and I’m still going to do an anthology about the Rocky Horror Picture Show and how it changed our ideas about sex and gender possibilities!)
GV: Through your touring and educating, you’ve had the chance to work with so many interesting people and travel all across the globe. Of all the places that you could be, what keeps you here at Good Vibrations?
CQ: I love the history of this place, the role it has played in the women’s sexuality and sex-positive movements, the amazing people I’ve met and worked with—it feels like I have such significant roots here that if I tried to go someplace else, it would be like uprooting a plant! Good Vibrations has been a supportive home for me, and I hope I have had a role helping to grow it in return.