After a hectic Pride weekend, it’s about time to slow down. A Sat/30 performance-workshop (part of this week’s stellar This Is What I Want performance art fest — read Guardian theater critic Robert Avila’s enlightening interview with artistic director Tessa Wills here) should fit the bill nicely. Introducing “Slow Sex Symposia” and its curator, internationally-acclaimed writer and dancer Doran George. George is planning an afternoon exploration into alternative sexual practices, lifestyles, and unique relationships. Slow sex is a term the artist coined to serve as counterpoint to today’s fast-paced, commercialized notions of sex. Last week, George and I spoke about what it was like to work with a blockbuster lineup of artist, “the economics of queer desire,” and a childhood solo of “Yankee Doodle.”
San Francisco Bay Guardian: Tell us about the slow sex movement. What makes it important?
Doran George: Slow sex is not a movement as far as I know. It’s a term that I coined for the symposium because I like the idea that communities of alternative sexual practice are engaged in the long-term process of cultivating a culture of sex that takes time, in contrast with the immediacy of practicing conventional ideas about sex.
Setting up a good SM scene, negotiating non-monogamy, negotiating racist ideas about the sexuality of non-white bodies while still claiming the space for pleasure, these all take time. There is also a parallel [between slow sex and] the slow food movement, in the sense that I believe the radical pleasure community provides a model of sexual practice that is more nourishing, [similar to how] slow food is better than its fast equivalent.
SFBG: In your artist statement you reference accessibility to touch, conceptualizing new models of relationships, and the complexities of race in the sex industry. Can the slow sex movement move into mainstream and can queer forms of thought (around sex) be integrated into popular culture?
DG: There are many examples of alternative sexual practice entering mainstream culture. Unfortunately most of them are bitterly disappointing. Mainstream culture constantly needs new images and ideas to make it seem exciting, but at the same time it is usually committed to sustaining convention. Take Madonna’s use of SM imagery in the late 20th century as an example. Although some of the aesthetics were tantalizing, the bodies and constructions of gender were incredibly conservative. There were no sexy butch leather dykes on Madonna’s stage or in her videos.
I think this is partly because the real power of alternative sexual culture is located in the fact that it is something you have learn and practice — it often entails carefully unpicking and rethinking relationships.. All of this takes careful work that is difficult for the fast consumer culture to contend with. In this sense I’m not sure that existing structures for the production and distribution of mainstream culture are very well designed for alternative sexual culture because radical sex depends upon local economy rather than global corporations.
SFBG: You are working with a blockbuster cast of queer artists, sex educators, and performers. What was it like working alongside all these influential queer people?
DG: I first heard about radical sex culture when I was in the fourth year of my dance training, nearly 20 years ago. Rachel Kaplan came to my dance academy and gave me a copy of More Out than In which was writing that came out of 848 space about the intersection between art, sex and community.
A few years later I came to San Francisco from London with an artist’s grant to research diverse sexual cultures. It was 1999 and I was refusing to use gendered pronouns and regularly getting harassed on those big red buses for looking like a freak. When I first arrived in the Bay Area I felt like a queen. Susan Stryker showed me the hot-spots of transgender history and bought me my first\-ever burrito in the Mission. Pat (now Patrick) Califia and Matt Rice took me out for sushi. Annie Sprinkle gave me a pin badge that said “metamorphosexual” on it, and I met with Carol Queen and a host of other San Francisco folk.
I was overwhelmed by the culture that had emerged in this city, the ideas and practices that people had pioneered, and the history that was being recorded. Returning to the UK I carried on making my own dance works that were influenced by the knowledge I had gleaned from people in the Bay. Being able to create a symposium that looks at how the unique sex culture of San Francisco has informed and been informed by the practice of art is therefore my own way of honoring the people and the gifts I was given as a young queer artists.
SFBG: What does the term “the economics of queer desire” mean for you?
DG: I’m interested in how conventional economies of desire are queered, or how the queer dimensions of economies of desire become visible. Someone said to me recently that the extra-marital affair is the straight way to play. It made me laugh and struck me as a beautiful queering of heterosexuality, although Carol Queen’s Bend Over Boyfriend is still my all time favorite queering of straight sex.
SFBG: Where does art, desire, and sex intersect in your opinion?
DG: I don’t think that art, desire, and sex ever don’t intersect. Artistic practice has been involved in representing ideals of gender, desire and sex for centuries, and they inform the way that we practice sex. The symposium provides two different frames in which to think, one of them is
performance, and the other is sexual practice, but in reality these things are not separate. Having two frames is useful because it helps to start a conversation by giving us two different ideas to talk about: Performers make their work to represent or express something, and sex radicals do their practice to connect with people erotically (in all the different dimensions that the erotic can exist).
SFBG: How should attendees of the Slow Sex Symposia expect to walk away feeling?
DG: I hope that attendees will walk away thinking about their feelings, and feeling about their thinking! I also hope their thinking and feeling moves in lots of different directions. My desire for the symposium is that it will provide a space for discourse about sexual and artistic practice to proliferate. A strong culture is one that can contend with diverse opinions being voiced.
SFBG: I enjoyed reading your bio on the This is What I Want website. You are quite an accomplished artist and scholar. Can you tell us something about yourself most people don’t know?
DG: My first major stage performance was a solo rendition of “Yankee Doodle” at the age of nine in the scout gangshow at the amateur dramatic theatre in a working class hosiery town in the British midlands. I don’t think the audience or I ever really recovered!
Slow Sex Symposia
Sat/30 noon-4pm, free with reservation
Center for Sex and Culture
1349 Mission, SF