column from author/activist
Carol Queen

The Royal Treatment

Sex During Wartime

It's yesterday once more. It's déjà vu all over again. Wasn't it, like, twelve years ago on the nose when people in San Francisco took to the streets to protest war with Iraq? Why am I having flashbacks? (I didn't ever do much acid, honest, Your Honor.) But I keep singing that old song that goes "We have all been here before."

The last time we got our war on (and I am using "we" here in a rhetorical, nay, ironic, sense, 'cause it ain't my war) I was working at the Lusty Lady as a professional Real Live Nude Girl. I did shifts at Good Vibrations on the side; I had just started working there. I also still maintained a private practice, as it were, as a call girl. While post-Cold War America stirred and grumbled, I was awash in sex, fucking all the time, doing fully three different jobs that had to do with sexuality and I was still on the training staff and phones at SFSI, come to think of it. As my ex-girlfriend said, "I could see if sex was your business. I could see if it was your hobby. But everything?"

If you've got to be surrounded by America at war, try to get as much sex as possible, that's all I can say. It's distracting and relaxing.

So I had a peeps-eye view of the effect war talk had on the libido of, if not America, at least the Bay Area, and it was not business as usual. Keep in mind, please, that we had not yet closed all the military bases that used to ring our bay, so a good many of my peep show visitors were in uniform. I always noticed that men, especially young men, in groups were the rowdiest peep show customers by far, but this took the cake. And when I got them alone, bravado and vulnerability crackled off them like electricity.

"Pleeeeaaase show me your pussy! I'm leaving for the Gulf tomorrow!"

"Come fuck me! I may never fuck anyone ever again! I might die!"

Wow, my pussy might be the last thing a poor Marine thought of before the Big Bang. That was a heady thought. And in retrospect I find it creepy and ironic that, though loads of US military personnel got in and out of the Gulf without dying, a good many of them came back with Gulf War Syndrome, one of whose symptoms is sexual dysfunction. Sexual frustration before shipping out and forever after! They weren't even allowed to look at Playboys while on base, since all our hosts were Muslim.

It wasn't just me feeling the panicky pheromones of war as I sat showing pink in my booth. A guy came running in one night and howled to the guy at the front desk, "Come fuck my wife!! Please! I'll pay you!"

Right, and now you're going to want to apply for that job, I suppose. I have to tell you, it never happened again. It was an artifact, I am convinced, of war hysteria, a "fiddle tonight, Rome is burning" sort of thing.

My phone rang off the wall at home -- johns wanting the usual and lots of it. My prostitution clients were not the guys going to war; in some cases they were more like the men helping create the cultural conditions that allowed it to happen. And actually, it wasn't business as usual. It was busier. It seemed I heard from everyone I'd ever seen as a working girl, plus a lot of new customers referred by my madam. Not all these guys showed up; no-shows are always a hazard, but the week we went to war in the Gulf it was worse than ever. And the guys who did show up often wanted something special. Two girls. A finger up the ass. Distraction at $200 an hour, and there was a long line.

At Good Vibes there was tension, of course -- we're not the war-mongering sorts. But none of us was ready for what happened the afternoon of the big Dolores Park peace rally. After the march broke up, the nearby store filled up to capacity. It was like a sardine tin full of agitated, energized, make-love-not-war types. I bet there was a San Francisco peacenik baby boom nine months later, because those people were ready for action.

Walking the sidewalks of the Civic Center neighborhood, where I lived then, I saw aftereffects of another rally. Stenciled on sidewalks was a clever ditty from the queer contingent: "Fags suck cock! Dykes lick labia! US out of Saudi Arabia!"

Last week, all these years later, there were some equally frisky protestors amidst all the families and gray-haired Unitarian ladies. "This bush is for peace!" read one sign held aloft by a cute grrrl it had a picture of a furry vulva on it. "Art is harmless, war is obscene," said another, accompanied by a nice Botticelli Venus. Yet another sign had a picture of a campy pinup girl: "Bombshells, not bombs!" Yeah, baby! And not quite as sex-positive but noteworthy nonetheless was "Bush, Dick and Colin -- No wonder we're screwed!"

It wasn't just the citizenry that had sex on the brain -- the authorities had some truly nutty brushes with sex back then. Actually, the problem was that they had bombs on the brain, and couldn't tell the difference between sex and violence, but that's not news. Still, two bizarre police cases hit the bay right about that time. In one case the cops and the Coast Guard converged on a small boat, adrift on San Francisco Bay, in which a guy lay, the unfortunate victim of a heart attack. But what a way to go! Like the Viagra virgin who croaks in the arms of the first hooker he's visited in twenty years, dying from sheer excitement, this fellow had been apparently jerking off in full view of the Alcatraz ferries, and he had a dildo up his ass.

This is going to give some of you people racy ideas, I know. Remember that I only recommend consensual exhibitionism. But the problem wasn't the exhibitionism or the heart attack -- well, no, of course that was a problem -- but the cops&Mac226; problem was the dildo. They surrounded the boat gingerly. They thought it was a bomb!

Do these public servants need some sex ed training, or what? What kind of mind sees a cylindrical object lodged in a rectum and thinks "Bomb squad!"

Another gentleman was found in possession of a smoothie-style vibrator in the South Bay. He happened to be of Arab descent, and the bomb, I mean sex toy, was found in his glove box during a traffic stop. Of course, the authorities do not engage in racial profiling, certainly not of people of Middle Eastern heritage -- everyone's glove box is checked for bombs! This unlucky fellow was carted off to jail. He tried to explain that the cops had just seized a simple, harmless sex toy. Whether it was en route to his girlfriend's house or had a date to go up his own ass I don't know, but he was a suspicious character in possession of a bomb-shaped object, and the bomb squad took possession of it. Guys in the bomb squad apparently also don't get out enough none of them recognized it for what it was either, so they do what bomb squads are trained to do. They took it out back and blew it up.

The shards of the shattered vibrator were discovered to have explosive residue on them, so the poor guy was in even worse trouble. I offered to go down and do a sex toy lecture for the bomb squad, but got no response.

Paging Mr. Kafka is Mr. Kafka still in the building?

Make love, not war, friends. And remember to tell the politicians what your priorities are. What did that savvy bisexual anthropologist, Margaret Mead, say? Something like, "Never doubt that a small, committed group of people can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."

A New Good Vibes Location

And still, life goes on. Good Vibrations has just opened our third retail store, on Polk Street between Sacramento and Clay. Yes, you can ride the California Street cable car there! I grew up on Rice-A-Roni commercials, so I am delighted by this. Yes, there are treats aplenty in San Francisco.

We had a little press shindig with our local supervisor, Aaron Peskin, who brought along a proclamation, as did a representative from Mark Leno's office. I was so proud to host fancy people in our fancy new store. It really is quite lovely, with room for tons more antique vibrators that we have ever been able to display before.

When you're in San Francisco, come marvel at the sex toys your grandmother might have used, before the police started to mistake them for bombs.