There’s been more than one Polly, the author and namesake of the new memoir Polly: Sex Culture Revolutionary. That may be true for each of us as we engage with different interests and identities during our sexual development, but Polly has distilled her psychosexual journey down to three distinct personas that she assumed along the way.
The Polly I’ve known for years is Polly Superstar, the fabulous hostess of Kinky Salon parties in her luscious and sprawling former Mission Control pad, community-minded sparkle pony in the Burning Man world, and a mindful feminist promoter of various sex-positive entrepreneurial ventures in San Francisco (including this independently published book, which took a massive Kickstarter campaign to get into print).
But the Polly I know passed through two previous Pollys — the Polly Whittaker she was born as in London in 1974 and the Polly Pandemonium that she became when she arrived in San Francisco 15 years ago on Folsom Street Fair weekend — on the way to becoming the woman she is today. And that woman was feeling very vulnerable as we met for lunch recently.
“I’m terrified,” she told me as she prepared to speak at Bawdy Storytelling that night and anticipated the general release of her book on Sept. 22. “I feel really exposed, I wonder what my motivation was to be so raw and open with this.”
A book that began four years ago as essentially a sassy guidebook for the Kinky Salon events that have now spread to another half-dozen cities around the world at some point turned far more serious and personal. Sure, we get to follow Polly through her crazy sexual antics, soaking in the sexy world of Mission Control.
“The crisp silhouettes of their bodies showed every detail: how the woman on all fours took his cock in her mouth, how the second guy traced his finger around his lover’s nipple, how the woman tucked underneath gently explored the body above her,” Polly wrote about a scene from Kinky Salon. “There were no wanted wandering hands, no staring eyes making me self-conscious. I became overwhelmed with a sense of pride. Fuck yes. This feels right. It feels good. These are my tribe — these crazy pleasure seekers. These brave pioneers of love.”
But those aren’t the “raw” bits that Polly referred to. No, as she wrote this book, Polly came to place her father’s slow and painful death from a brain tumor while she was a teenager at the center of the narrative, an event that propelled her subsequent sexual journey, for good or ill. She sought comfort and pleasure in the pain of the London BDSM scene, continuing that path here in San Francisco before morphing her fetish parties into sex parties that were more artsy and playful. Yet this sexual superstar still couldn’t achieve orgasms with her partners, a secret source of shame before she dealt with it more openly and honestly, helping other women along the way.
This memoir is less a wild tell-all by a high-profile libertine than intensely human story about a woman raised in a sexually liberated household (her mom was a sex therapist, her dad a hot-air balloonist, many of their friends swingers) who nonetheless struggles with her own sexual identity and ambitions against the backdrop of personal tragedy and smaller set-backs.
Polly relays and celebrates San Francisco’s storied history as the center of the American sexual revolution, from the old Barbary Coast days through the North Beach strips club, free love in the Haight-Ashbury, and gay liberation in the Castro, to the AIDS crisis, rise of BDSM, and creative ways of expressing sexuality.
But even for Polly and others who make their sexuality such a central part of their lives and personal identities, sexuality is still a nuanced, evolving continuum that regularly raises challenging questions and issues.
“It’s a complicated, really complicated, issue, and it’s at the core of the cultural shift that is happening around sexuality,” Polly said of the delicate balance between female sexual empowerment — which she’s all about — and sexual objectification, which this feminist strongly resists.
Growing up in the fetish scene and becoming a latex fashion designer, Polly can happily play the alluring sex kitten, as long as it feels playful and fun. But she’s quick to tear into scenes or situations that display women as sexual objects just to turn the boys on or sell products.
“I think one of the biggest problems on the planet is the sexual objectification of women,” she told us, noting the fine line she’s walking as she promotes a sex book with deeper themes. For example, at her book launch party, “We’re going to have a burlesque show, but you’re also going to get the lecture about sexual objectification.”
And even today, with her Kinky Salon community taking center-stage in her book, that community has been uprooted by the same forces of gentrification and displacement that are roiling the rest of the city (the monthly rent for their Mission Control space tripled after they got ousted).
“The sexual revolution didn’t happen in Oakland, it happened in San Francisco, and we are part of that lineage,” Polly tells us, noting that Kinky Salon, now rotating among temporary underground spaces, is still having a hard time finding a new home.
“If Kinky Salon has to move to Oakland, that will be telling of the state of San Francisco sex culture.”
UP THE REVOLUTION: LAUNCH PARTY FOR POLLY. With Porn Clown Posse, Trash Kan Marchink Band, DJ Fact50, and more Oct. 4, 9pm, Venue 550, 550 15th St., SF, www.pollysuperstar.com