Juliette Tang

“Chronic” 2010



LIT/NCIBA Because poetic subjectivity is by and large an exclusive undertaking

in which the poet attempts to impress upon the reader, via the use of poetic conventions, his fundamentally unknowable immanence, it often results in complete discursive failure. Those who’ve ever experienced a poetry workshop surely recall the gentle "make it more concrete" euphemisms directed at those well-meaning but misdirected poets brave enough to tackle personal catastrophe with verse — the results of which are usually a mire of intimations, associations, and abstractions that in no way resemble poetry or even, on a basic level, communication.

"If it were that easy, we’d all be doing it" is, in this case, true. Few poets can convey complex interiority with such deftness, originality, and precision as D. A. Powell. He can rework what would otherwise be affective sentiment into a lucid and devastating articulation.

With his latest and fourth collection, Chronic (Graywolf Press, 64 pages, $20), Powell offers his best work to date, the winner of the Northern California Independent Booksellers Award in poetry. Its cavalcade of lyricism keeps tempo with phonic and syntactical playfulness (Powell is often compared to Gerard Manley Hopkins. Framing the poems in the collection is Powell’s epigraph, taken from Virgil’s Ecologues (itself a reworking of Theocritus’ Bucolica): Time robs us all, even of memory: of as a boy I recall/That with song I would lay the long summer days to rest./Now I have forgotten all my songs.

The result is a brilliant use of Virgilian source material as a formal element that provides a frame of reference for Powell’s own subjective experience. Among the book’s best pieces is a "redux" of Virgil’s second Ecologue, which tells of love and erotic longing between two male shepherds:

what was his name? I’d ask myself, that guy with the sideburns

and charming smile

the one I hoped that, as from a sip of hemlock, I’d expire with him

on my tongue

silly poet, silly man: thought I could master nature like a misguided


as if banishing love is a fix. as if the stars go out when we shut our

sleepy eyes

("corydon & alexis redux")

Even readers unaware of the fact that Powell is gay and living with HIV will not miss the dark subtext of the hemlock reference. The same themes, deeply personal to the author, are present in the book’s title poem. In "Chronic," Powell’s idiosyncratic verse structure — its syntactical breaks, lilting and elliptical sounds, lines that are unpunctuated yet entirely expressive — are employed to great effect in a lengthy, but quickly moving, rumination on ecological devastation:

and so the delicate, unfixed condition of love, the treacherous body
the unsettling state of creation and how we have damaged—
isn’t one a suitable lens through which to see another:
filter the body, filter the mind, filter the resilient land

and by resilient I mean which holds
which tolerates the inconstant lover, the pitiful treatment
the experiment, the untried & untrue, the last stab at wellness


No matter the overarching topic, each poem in Chronic is watermarked with Powell’s distinctive voice, one that his previous books Tea, Lunch, and Cocktails (things that, along with chronic, make for a satisfying afternoon) helped establish. The homoeroticism, pop culture references, adroitly inserted colloquialisms that lent charm and personality to past works are all present, but the scope has become more expansive and more complex. I am greatly looking forward to the next stopping points on Powell’s poetic horizons.



Cutting For Stone by Abraham Verghese (Knopf)


Zeitoun by Dave Eggers (McSweeney’s)


Chronic by D.A. Powell (Graywolf Press)


Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer by Novella Carpenter (Penguin)

CHILDREN’S ILLUSTRATED (award to illustrator)

Zero is the Leaves on the Tree illustrated by Shino Arihara (Tricycle)

Al Capone Shines My Shoes by Gennifer Choldenko (Penguin Young Readers)

Andromeda Klein by Frank Portman (Delacorte Young Readers)

Tamalpais Walking by Tom Killion and Gary Snyder (Heyday Books) *

Pigs in Oakland



LIT/NCIBA One gets the sense that Novella Carpenter can do anything. A girl from rural Idaho, she knows how to hack it in "scruffy, loud, and unkempt" Oakland, the murder capital of the United States, amid the drug deals, gun fights, and open prostitution on the urban fringe. She also maintains a healthy, active relationship with her auto mechanic boyfriend (described as "a love sponge"), her many friends, and her local community.

On top of these already impressive competencies, she probably knows as much as Laura Ingalls Wilder about farming: she can grow more types of vegetables than most of us have eaten or even heard of; harvest rainwater; keep bee colonies; make honey; and raise and slaughter chickens, geese, ducks, turkeys, rabbits, goats, and — Jesus Christ!pigs. You learn all this and more in Carpenter’s urban farming memoir, Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer (Penguin, 288 pages, $16), winner in the Food Writing category of this year’s Northern California Independent Bookseller Awards. Unlike many others who’ve published books on their stellar accomplishments, Carpenter is bitingly funny, an immensely gifted storyteller, and likeable throughout.

Carpenter always knew that farming made her happy. But recalling the solitude she felt as a child growing up on a farm in Idaho, "a place of isolation, full of beauty — maybe — but mostly loneliness," she "chose to live in the city." At first she couldn’t decide which city she wanted to live in, despite the dearth of progressive cities to choose from. Portland was out of the question for being "too perfect." Austin was "too in the middle of Texas," and in Brooklyn there was "too little recycling." San Francisco was "filled with successful, polished people." So she chose to move to Oakland, which was "just right." In Farm City, Carpenter points to Oakland’s "down-and-out qualities" — the music scene, the scruffy citizenry "who drove cars as old and beat-up as ours" — that made it feel most like home.

Moving to Oakland was the first leg of Carpenter’s journey. The next was to turn her small part of the city into a "modified, farm animal-populated version." Indeed, it is Carpenter’s relationship with her fellow animals that provides the biggest, most startling revelations in Farm City. If you’re an animal lover at heart, as Carpenter is, it seems nothing short of barbaric to raise your own animals, grow to love them, and then stoically kill them one day. But Carpenter thinks the matter through in philosopher’s terms, describing animal husbandry as "a dialogue with life." Raising her animals to be eaten is not a matter Carpenter takes lightly — she recalls the many hours spent Dumpster diving for enough food to feed her ravenous pigs — and, part and parcel, she assumes their slaughter as her responsibility. To render the experience is one of her duties as a writer.

But turning her Oakland habitat into a farm was not an easy process. Farm City, which begins with a cheeky nod to Isak Dinesen’s Out of Africa ("I have a farm on a dead-end street in the ghetto"), chronicles the obstacles, frustrations, fumbles, and profound satisfactions of achieving a major accomplishment through innumerable and successive trials and errors. Carpenter may have a clucking henhouse today, but at one point she had to use Q-Tips and, when they failed, her own fingers to remove backed-up fecal matter from the "blocked buttholes" of her baby chicks (when you have them shipped, they tend to develop digestion problems). In her learning process, Carpenter leaves no stone unturned and no detail — not even baby chicken butts — unexamined.

Point for point


› arts@sfbg.com

LIT In Chekhov’s story “Lady with Lapdog,” there is a passage that describes the inner life “running its course in secret” as that which holds “everything that was essential, of interest and of value … hidden from other people.” This revelation resonates throughout Elif Batuman’s new book, The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 304 pages, $15). Drawing its title from Dostoyevsky, The Possessed offers a compelling glimpse into the inner life of its author, one informed by a love for books.

Batuman’s graduate studies at Stanford took her on adventures to Samarkand, Uzbekistan; St. Petersburg, Russia; Ankara, Turkey; and Venice, Italy, but the richness of her descriptions owe less to exotic settings or the course of events than to the books she packs in her suitcase. Batuman’s chapters on Samarkand, which can be read as a crash course on Uzbek literature, are filled with recollections of Navoi, Farid al-Din Attar, Muqimiy, and G’afur G’ulom (the “Uzbek Maxim Gorky”).

Borges’s fanciful story “On Exactitude in Science” describes a map so large and exact that it covers the land “point for point.” The story ends with an eerie image of a tattered map stretching into the desert, inhabited by people and animals, until it becomes the very world that it outlines. In the same sense as Borges’s map, literature provides its own cartography. Like a true bibliophile, Batuman reads (and writes) as a traveler: a Don Quixote figure who navigates her way through the life that is revealed by tracing the longitudes of the life that is hidden.

From Stanford, where she currently teaches comparative literature, Batuman spoke with the Guardian about The Possessed.

SFBG In the last paragraph of “Summer in Samarkand” you write, “I am reluctant to say that what ended in Samarkand was my youth.” What do you mean by that?

Elif Batuman The pathos of graduate school is that you go in at 22, and they kind of spit you out at age 30, and you’re like, “Where did my youth even go? What became of it?” When you’re young, every adventure could be this life-changing thing that opens the door to something new, and after a certain point you kind of stay the same, and you’re doing all these things, but it’s just a succession of events. The biological narrative has ended, because you’ve reached adulthood, and the burden of creating that narrative falls onto you in a way that’s not the case when you’re young and everything is so dramatic.

SFBG At the same time, as a writer you feel that if you don’t incorporate your experience into some kind of narrative, it becomes a wasted experience.

EB One of the huge reliefs of writing this book is that I finally did something with that time in Samarkand. There is a nice story by Isaac Babel called “My First Fee” where he talks about how his untold stories are sitting in his heart “like a toad on a stone.” It is a little bit like that.

SFBG The Possessed is a literary memoir, and you write about people you meet in your academic career. You also talk about people you met at conferences, your boyfriends, and various academic trials and tribulations. What have these people’s reactions been?

EB I did get some negative response about “Who Killed Tolstoy” from a professor. She basically said that she thought I shouldn’t have published it, and she thought it was in terrible taste and horribly indiscreet.

SFBG Really?

EB It was [about] that episode on the bus. It was kind of a peculiar e-mail: “When I read this, I thought it was fiction, but recently I found out that this incident on the bus happened.”

SFBG When the guy who had an accident on the bus wouldn’t throw out his pants afterward?

EB Yeah. She used the phrase “despicably cruel.” I was frustrated by that e-mail, because it seemed to me the story was only being read as gossip when I tried really hard, when people did things that I thought were interesting or funny, to write about them in the service of some larger point. In the Tolstoy piece, it was about the universal frailty of the human body that affects all of us. It wasn’t about one guy who did something embarrassing, but about this horrible plight that we’re all in as human beings.

SFBG The Possessed got overwhelmingly positive reviews. When people said not-so-positive things, did you have to develop a thicker skin?

EB I can’t read reviews, because they freak me out. If they’re one paragraph, I’ll read it. My publishers send these publicity updates with one-sentence reviews in them, so I know the Buster Keaton–Susan Sontag quote [laughs].

SFBG “If Susan Sontag had coupled with Buster Keaton, their prodigiously gifted love child might have written this book.” It’s a weird description.

EB [Laughs.] It freaked out my mother. She was like, “Why would they say something like that? Why do they think Susan Sontag should be your mother and not me?’

From Beijing to Oakland



LIT In 2005, after dropping out of a PhD program in immunology, Chinese writer Yiyun Li debuted her first book of fiction, A Thousand Years of Good Prayers. A collection of stories exploring the aftershock of the Cultural Revolution on mainland and overseas Chinese, it won the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, PEN/Hemingway Award, Guardian First Book Award, and California Book Award. Li’s story “Immorality” won the Paris Review Plimpton Prize.

Afterward, Li’s green card application was rejected by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services — twice. Her “extraordinary ability” as an artist (Title 8, Code of Federal Regulations, Part 204.5) could not be proven until she won, on top of those accolades, a Pulitzer Prize.

Fortunately for the status of fiction in America, Li’s extraordinary ability was finally recognized in 2007, 11 years after her arrival to the United States. In a journey that has taken her from Beijing to Iowa, Li now resides in Oakland with her family. Li left China in 1996 to pursue a doctorate in immunology at the University of Iowa. Living in China, she had no interest in writing fiction, and her natural affinity and aptitude for telling stories in English took her by surprise. Her second language in speaking, she discovered, was really a “first language in creating and thinking.”

Li has a scientist’s eye toward precision and a gifted storyteller’s ability to extract meaning from the mad fracas of human circumstance. Last year, she published a well-received first novel called The Vagrants. Set in China during 1979, in a fictional provincial city called Muddy River, the novel provides an unflinching view into the era’s brutality and violence. The novel also reveals, carefully and without sentiment, the unexpected moments of transcendence that result when love, empathy, and human emotions bloom in the harshest of environments.

Li spoke with the SFBG about The Vagrants, released in paperback by Random House a few weeks ago.

SFBG You write in English, which you learned as an adult. Does this have to do with any innate differences linguistic between English and Chinese? Does it have anything to do with your associations with China?

YIYUN LI I wasn’t trained as a writer in China, and even though I widely read Chinese literature when I was in China, I never had the urge to write in Chinese until I came to America, picked up English, and felt it a natural way to express myself. I think it is a more personal decision than I may have indicated, though honestly I myself sometimes feel mystified by this switch of languages too. I feel much more like myself when I write in English, which is to say English is really my first language in creating and thinking. In a way I do censor myself less when I write in English — again, that censoring is not from others, but from myself.

SFBG Do you think in Chinese?

YL I no longer think in Chinese. Of course as my mother tongue, Chinese is still used in my everyday life — I still count and do my math in Chinese, but when I think about literature, art and philosophy I think in English.

SFBG As an international student, your decision to forgo a promising medical career and become a writer was extremely brave. During the process of writing your first book, did you experience great anxiety or doubt? Were you ever tempted to give up and go back to medicine?

YL I didn’t feel self-doubt — I think by the time I gave up my immunology career, I was certain I wouldn’t go back. There was a certain level of anxiety but I would say at the time it was minimal. I probably just lived with a tunnel vision and all I thought about was to write, and write well. I was certain that I needed some time to improve myself, so it did not occur to me to give up.

SFBG When you write, do you find you draw any lessons from your experiences studying medicine?

YL Medical knowledge, like any kind of knowledge, is helpful and useful for a fiction writer. I think my training perhaps helps me look at the world and its many violences without being sentimental.

SFBG In The Vagrants, even small children in Muddy River are completely unmoved by public executions. This strikes me as devastating and true. My mother told me that when she was growing up in China during the early 1970s, she saw a man bleed to death on the side of the road. The real horror of the experience didn’t dawn on her until decades later. You were seven years old in 1979, the year in which The Vagrants takes place. Writing about violence from the perspective of children, do you recall events from your own childhood in China?

YL Your mother’s experience was quite close to my own experience, and indeed for most children, empathy and sympathy come not naturally, but with some help from grownups and education. When violence is prevalent, as one sometimes finds in life, not only children but adults too stop questioning the injustice. I did draw from my own memories of the time, but like your mother, I had to look back as a different person to understand the tie.

SFBG Have you gone back to China since you’ve left? How are you received?

YL Yes, I have been back visiting. I keep a very low profile when I visit China. so there is not much trouble for me.

SFBG You’ve mentioned that your biggest literary influence is William Trevor. You’ve named Chekhov, Tolstoy, and Greene as influences, too. Do you draw any influences from Chinese literature?

YL My favorite Chinese author — Shen Congwen — influenced me a lot, not in the way of how he wrote stories and how he used language but how he looked at the world as a storyteller.

SFBG Speaking of Chinese novels, some of your characters in The Vagrants, like Teacher Gu, are quite literary. I enjoyed that Kai and Kialin hold their clandestine meetings in the library. I also liked that Jialin’s mother steals books for him from the shelves she’s supposed to guard. What books are these characters reading? If you could pick a book for each Gu, Kai, and Jialin, what might be a book that affected the way each viewed the world at that time?

YL This is a great question. For Jialin and Kai, I imagine they would be reading Gadfly, a little-known novel in the West but a hugely popular novel in China (and Soviet Union) written by the Irish author Ethel Voynich. I also thought Jialin might be interested in reading French authors. For Teacher Gu, I would imagine he would read Tolstoy.

Melissa Febos whips it good


Whip Smart
By Melissa Febos
(Thomas Dunne Books)

In her new memoir, Whip Smart, Melissa Febos — who’ll be reading at Eros on April 4 — examines, with frankness, generosity, and unexpected grace, the four years she spent working as a dominatrix in a midtown Manhattan dungeon. Readers are invited into the world of high-price humiliation, in dungeon rooms decked to the nines in the accoutrements of masochistic fantasy, where Wall Street types pay huge sums to be flogged, diapered, and pissed on. Her revelations are often funny, occasionally sad, and fearlessly candid. Febos also writes of the heroin habit that led her to accept the job, and details the emotional strain and psychological effort of kicking addiction. She speaks with the SFBG about life as a professional domme and the process of turning that life into memoir.

SFBG: What is the single most frequent question you get asked when people confront your history as a dominatrix?

Melissa Febose: There’s really a list, and they usually come in rapid succession, and they are basically the same questions I answered repeatedly when I was a domme: What did your clients most commonly want? What did you wear? Did your parents know? How much money did you make?  People are pretty predictable.  I get really excited when people ask original questions, when people ask about the writing process, or the experience of publishing such a personal story.  It has been so long since I was a domme, and all the questions are answered very quickly in the actual book.  To me, the process of creating art out that experience is much more interesting than the actual job was. 

SFBG: Before your sessions, you write that you’d be in a state of “happy absence, whose vacancy made room for some other, unnamed thing”. You were free of all sexual desire and you “reveled in its absence”. This seems to me almost like a description of Zen, a sort of ’emptying out’ of ones desires. As you were writing about your experiences.

MF: Well, I don’t think my mental state pre-session could most accurately be described as Zen. I think of a Zen state as actually being a very present state.  There was a way that working as a domme necessitated a kind of presence, a clearheadedness, but I also think I was pretty detached emotionally from a lot of those experiences.  When I showed people early versions of chapters, they all loved the material, were intrigued and compelled, but felt there was an emotional element missing; they sensed that absence.

How did you access the highly specific memories, both physical and emotional, that you describe in your book? What was it like to enter, from a state of “absence”, one of presence?

MF: So when I really dug into writing it, I knew I had to enter, as you say, a state of presence with the experiences I was recounting.  Essentially, I had to experience them emotionally for the first time.  I think this was possible only with the distance I had from those years.  I had thawed out a lot between quitting and writing the book.  Frankly, I wouldn’t have been able to write this book, do the story justice, without a good therapist.  People don’t imagine memoirists doing much research, but that’s a misconception.  I did a lot of research for this book, and some of it was internal.

SFBG: What were the things you enjoyed the most about being a dominatrix, and what did you enjoy the least?

MF: I loved the feeling of power that it gave me, that having a secret life gave me.  I genuinely enjoyed the work, a lot of the time, and I loved many of the women whom I worked with.  Now, I love how much I learned about myself, and the way it made my heart bigger. I didn’t love a lot of the sessions – the way that I compromised what I was comfortable with in some of them. Clients who topped from the bottom also drove me bananas.

SFBG: Judging from the experiences you describe in your book, you pretty much saw the extremes of human sexual behavior. What was the craziest thing you saw during your days as a pro-domme? Does anything surprise you in the bedroom anymore?

MF: Well, I’ve always kept my personal sex life and my work in the sex industry pretty separate. Many of the things I did in session never came up in my own bed, and probably never will.  And if they do, it’s a very different experience. At work, I saw pretty much everything – sweater fetishes, bug fetishes, poop fetishes. You have to read the book for the goods on that front.

SFBG: Have any of your former clients contacted you since your memoir was published?

MF: Yeah, I’ve gotten a couple emails. All friendly. Though they haven’t read the book yet.

SFBG: Once you made the decision to publish your work under your real name, was there a moment between when you signed the contracts and before the book hit the stands, that you had a legitimate freak out?

MF: No, actually that moment didn’t happen until the book hit the stands.  Intellectually, I understood that the book was very, very candid, and that it would probably end up being a lightening rod for all sorts of opinions, judgments, projections, assumptions, and more.  But when the fact of that really hit my heart, it was pretty staggering.  I’m actually a very sensitive person; I want to be liked, I want to be considered for my full complexity as a human being, and when you publish a book about a single narrative from your past, inevitably, the public’s perception of you will be reductive.  That’s unavoidable.  But still pretty painful. 

I seriously considered publishing it under a pseudonym, but I couldn’t stomach the irony of publishing a book partly about eschewing secrecy under a secret identity.  Also, it was important to me that it be clear that I saw my experiences as valuable, not something to be ashamed of.  I love the fact that I am a living example that you can be a sex worker, a heroin addict (now former heroin addict), and also a college professor, a writer, a thoughtful person, an emotionally balanced person, a feminist – these identities are not in conflict. My past and present are all part of a continuum that makes perfect sense.  I want that to be visible.

SFBG: What are you working on now that we should keep our eyes out for?

MF: I’ve got a few novels gestating – when I have time to delve into a long-term project, I’ll see which one calls the loudest. In the meantime, I’ve been working on a bunch of short essays, which will probably be enough in number for a collection at some point. I blog regularly for The Nervous Breakdown, which is a fabulous site, full of great writing.


Those interested can meet the author in person during one of her upcoming San Francisco book readings. She will be reading at Eros (2501 Market, SF) on Sunday, April 4, as part of the K’vetsh Reading Series, at 8pm. On Tuesday, April 6, she will read at a RADAR Reading Series event at the San Francisco Public Library, Main Branch, at 7pm.

Dare you take offense at Steven Wolf Fine Arts?


Keith Boadwee is a fascinating artist. Known for his outrageous self-portraits — which combine media that include but are not limited to photography, performance art, painting, self-administered enemas, and pornography — his work is unorthodox to say the least. Boadwee has photographed himself in situations that 99.999% of the world would probably rather die (like for real die) than experience for themselves, and he kills himself fearlessly (see NSFW — I repeat NSFW — images on his Web site). Viewing Boadwee’s work in a gallery setting, such as that of Steven Wolf Fine Arts, is like experiencing the collision of someone’s private world with your own public forehead.

Boadwee’s “Denim on Ice” exhibit there — consisting of works he made with his former students Erin Allen and Issac Gray — evokes the demented scribblings of a disturbed child, albeit one with a great sense of humor. In a more hostile environment, these painting would be legitimately disturbing. Seen together as they are, crowded onto a single gallery wall, the effect is still one of something totally crazy, though overall harmless. Even weirder: the paintings in this exhibit, with their wholly unsophisticated content, evoke the high expressionism of artists like Matisse and Muehl. My favorite piece in “Denim on Ice” was the still-life rendering you see above, “Titties and Milk,” a strange composition of breasts, a glass of milk, and a hat-wearing cactus (who has a face).

“Lincoln Log Bong” by Boadwee, Allen, and Gray

The gallery describes “Denim on Ice” as “paintings that take low humor and bad taste so far they come around again as refinement.” To me this feels accurate. The paintings are in such absurdly bad taste that it’s difficult to imagine how taste level can possibly go lower. While I wouldn’t call any of the work particularly “refined,” the collection displays its subterranean brow so cheerfully that you can’t help but smile and enjoy the ride.

“Birmingham I” by Rives Granade

Paintings “Birmingham I” and “Birmingham II” by Rives Granade — also on display in the gallery in a collection called “Love Force” — pluck figures from famous civil rights photos and transpose them into the sterility of corporate architecture. The effect is uncanny in the strictest Freudian sense. The old black and white photographs of the Birmingham freedom marches, with their nightmarish displays of police brutality, disturb and shame us deeply. In light of the past, the instinctive reaction upon viewing these new paintings is to cry blasphemy. Upon further examination, viewers will note that these paintings are not actually politically irresponsible.

“Birmingham II” by Rives Granade

The images, which draw from the firmament of political history, invite viewers to draw new moral comparisons. The past is still present in Granade’s re-contextualized paintings, camouflaged but not erased. The brutality of that past is obvious, even in an ahistorical setting that seems, for all its artifice and architecture, like a Hobbesian state of nature.

Keith Boadwee, Erin Allen, and Isaac Gray: “Denim on Ice”
Rives Granade: “Love Force”
Through March 20
Steven Wolf Fine Arts
49 Geary Street

“Original Plumbing” reading


San Francisco’s sexiest new magazine, Original Plumbing, will be hosting a reading at Books Inc. this Thursday for the official launch their much anticipated second issue. Considering the diversity, scope, and increasing visibility of FTM culture, it’s mind-boggling that Original Plumbing — “OP” — is the first magazine of its kind. Now that Original Plumbing is here, let’s ensure that it stays.

Though locally headquartered, OP isn’t limited to the scope of San Francisco. The magazine takes care to address topics, like last year’s Trans March in Paris, that are relevant to the international FTM community. Politically charged as it is, OP is also visually compelling on an aesthetic level that you don’t have to be gay to appreciate. Amos Mac’s explicit photography of FTM bodies are the perfect conceptual counterparts to OP‘s literal content. Throughout all of this, OP is full of fun and lighthearted, campy humor. Even the sex readers are made so aware of refuses to take itself too seriously. Judging from the manscaping-themed second issue (titled “Hair Issue”), beefcake is an integral aspect of OP‘s editorial philosophy.

Incapable as I am of resisting a burly seduction, the following sneak peak already has me impressed.

Among other things, OP‘s second issue will feature an interview with the ever-supportive Margaret Cho (“She’s enTRANsed!” screams the blurb), a spotlight on the 2009 Paris Trans March, and a piece on writer T. Cooper. As accompaniment to divinely hirsute “Ayden” (who combines two of my favorite things in one convenient package: myopia + a hair vest), a new crop of FTM eye candy will be introduced in issue two and I have been promised that they will be present at the event for you to admire.

Dirty Stories with Original Plumbing: A Reading
“Celebrate Issue #2 with Books Inc and the OP guys”
Thurs/11, 7:30pm (ends at 8:30pm)

e.e.’s coming


When I was a young reader first discovering poetry — and still very much under the thumb of my strict Asian parents — I blushed (for obvious reasons) whenever I encountered e. e. cummings’ name. In those prudish days, were I to know that cummings penned some of the most deliciously sensual poems of the last century, I might have been frightened off literature for good. This hypothetical is redundant, as I wasn’t scared off poetry and eventually outgrew those jejune ideas of virtue. This hypothetical is further redundant because his erotic poems were never published together in the same volume until now, in Erotic Poems, a new collection of cummings’ amatory verses and sketches.

Readers will delight in these works, which are as naughty as they are tender, bemused as they are earnest. Consider the below, from “16”:

(may i touch said he
how much said she
a lot said he)
why not said she

The poem winks at its author’s salaciousness while joyously proclaiming it. Other poems in the book replace cheekiness with bodice-ripping romance:

you said Is
there anything which
is dead or alive more beautiful
than my body,tohave in your fingers
(trembling every so little)?

Reading through these lovely pieces, I was reminded by how beautifully Michael Cain recites cummings’ “somewhere i have never traveled,gladly beyond” in the film Hannah and Her Sisters (by Woody Allen). I hadn’t seen that movie in years, yet as I read along I could hear Cain’s clement voice reading in my ear.

nothing we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility; whose texture
compels me with the colour of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens; only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody, not even the rain has such small hands

In the movie, as Cain recites the above excerpt to the sister (played by Barbara Hershey) of his wife (played by Mia Farrow), Hershey is seduced by the poem’s slow cadences and the sensuality of cummings’ beautiful words. The viewer, watching, can’t help but sympathize with her, even as she steals her sister’s husband. You can’t blame someone for engaging in a torrid affair with a man who read e. e. cummings from memory: it’s not the man she wants, but the poetry. The works in this newest collection, which was released earlier last month in time for Valentine’s Day, remind us again and again how thrilling it feels to be seduced by language.

Let’s all read Sand Paper


Charmingly disheveled Adobe Books, strung as it is on the alcoholic’s crucifix known as the cross-section of 16th and Valencia, has become a beloved sanctuary for readers, drunkards, and occasionally homeless individuals alike. I always look forward to Adobe Books’ events because you can never predict who among the circus just outside will enter and join the fun. Not many bookstores on this dry earth permit customers to imbibe openly from brown bags of Colt 45 during poetry readings. Adobe Books’ Dickensian squalor places it fondly in my heart even as its floorboards sink beneath the weight of dusty overladen bookshelves — and when the smell of stale beer and, somehow, cats, forces me to breathe through my mouth while I peruse.

On Monday, March 1, Adobe Books will host the San Francisco launch party of three new books from Sand Paper Press. It’ll be worth holding my nose to dive in.

Known for featuring and promoting the works of writers associated with Key West Florida, Sand Paper is not as provincial as it may seem. Key West is like Iowa City in that both localities are marked by a disproportionately high writers-to-population ratio. Elizabeth Bishop, Wallace Stevens, Tennessee Williams, and Earnest Hemingway have all served as pro tem Floridians. This upcoming Monday, books by Stuart Krimko, Shawn Vendor, and Arlo Haskell will be presented and read at Adobe.

Stuart Krimko, currently based in Los Angeles, is the author of The Sweetness of Herbert, a collection of poems loosely inspired by the works of Welsh poet George Herbert (1593-1633). Herbert was remembered for his fancifully monastic poems about the existence of God, and his influence is most evident in lines by Krimko like “(As God in the form of a nauseous wave cast Jonah out.)/ That’s what aggressive living is about.” Readers should note that the collection’s title is intentionally misleading; Herbert’s allusion is tangentially related to a work that is richly imbued with Krimko’s own personality.

Key West poet Arlo Haskell’s collection Joker is lovely. John Ashbery once commented that Haskell’s poems “conjure an ambiance as temperate and welcoming as ocean air.” Ashbery was correct in the sense that Haskell’s poems have a flowing and pellucid quality to them, best seen in phrases like “Imagination is our hard respite/ and the birds in the trees are one of a kind: loneliness./ Our law, like love and lust, is liquid”. However, Haskell’s work is not always temperate nor welcoming; they are frequently political and incisive. Despite Haskell’s aptitude for a pretty turn of phrase, he is not afraid to stir the water. Nor is he apprehensive in revealing what lies beneath.

Along with Haskell and Krimko, young writer Shawn Vandor will also be at Adobe, reading from his collection of stories Fire at the End of the Rainbow.

Sand Paper Press launch party
Mon/1, 7pm, free
Adobe Books
3166 16th Street, SF.

Kevin Killian’s sex is unpretty



By Kevin Killian

(City Lights)

Author Kevin Killian’s relationship to sex is too complicated to be pinpointed as merely “homoerotic,” but homoerotic encounters are a frequent occurrence throughout the stories in Impossible Princess, Killian’s latest collection of gay short fiction.

Killian’s stories are full of nervous energy. The pace of his writing is jerky and striated, and events change and adjust so suddenly that Killian’s words read as if short of breath. The panting quality of the work is, in terms of form, utilized most effectively in the writer’s vivid and ominously perceptive descriptions of sex. These sexual encounters are often baffling.

In this sense, the sex described Impossible Princess feels accurate. Sexuality and sexual preferences continually evade our attempts at designation, both in fiction and in life. Killian toys with this idea of fundamental strangeness. In “Spurt,” lighthearted S&M suddenly turns into gore. In “Zoo Story,” an ailurophile finds himself mauled by panthers. When they are realized, Killian’s stories seem to argue, sexual fantasies can be experienced in ways both nightmarish and sublime.

While some of these stories seem fantastical, others are rooted in worldly experience. The sex Killian is so adept at describing also seems, for all its exuberance of libido, deeply and humanly sad. “Hot Lights,” which I first heard Killian read at an “autobiography-themed” Small Press Traffic event at Canessa Gallery last fall, is the tale of a young student (purportedly Killian during his Lower Manhattan days) turned porn performer who develops an infatuation with another porn performer, only to be outright rejected later on in the story. “Making Waves,” told from the perspective of an aging and washed-up former pop star, recounts the successful seduction of a young virgin that, unfortunately for the male ingenue, revealed a broken condom.

As we surely recognize, this sense of alienation is accurate to human experience. In its most honest portrayal, even sex that is shared between two (or more) people can feel unfathomably lonely. Just as sex can bring people together, it has the power to isolate us even further. Sex frequently severs us from our tenuous hold on an other as well as our all too malleable perception of ourselves, a point which Killian’s stories drive home. Sex is fluid. It is a current whose pace and destination cannot be mapped or predicted. When it comes to unpretty and unsentimental sex shed of the layers of accumulated euphemism, Killian doles it out in spades whether readers are prepared for it or not.

Philosophy, get hip: “The Examined Life” comes to the Herbst


In new documentary The Examined Life, eight of the most famous minds in contemporary philosophy — Cornel West, Avital Ronell, Peter Singer, Kwame Anthony Appiah, Martha Nussbaum, Michael Hardt, Judith Butler, and Slavoj Zizek — seem almost unintimidating. Detached from the props of intellectual life and presented in public setting away from rapt crowds, miked podiums, and the protective custody of academia, these philosophers appear comfortingly average, for entire milliseconds. For instance, on a sunny afternoon, post-structuralist scholar Judith Butler could almost be any other leather-jacketed San Francisco Missionite with a cool haircut ambling down Clarion Alley, perhaps en route to Thrift Town for some more leather jackets. That is, until she begins to discuss, in a slow and deliberate manner with eyes fixed intently into the middle distance, the body’s morphologies as experienced by the subject. Cover blown.

Examined Life director Astra Taylor will be appearing — along with philosopher Judith Butler and activist-artist Sunaura Taylor (who appears with Butler during the segment filmed in Clarion Alley) — at a screening of her film at the Herbst Theater on Thu/25, at 7:30 PM. The three women will participate in a discussion and Q&A session following the screening.

In the last few years, Astra Taylor has become known for her documentaries about philosophy. Previously, she directed the film Zizek!. I hold Zizek! partly responsible for introducing American hipsters to the Slovenian Lacanian-Marxist with saliva glands as hyperactive as his intellect who so rapidly became for youngish creativeish urbanites a sort of Mitteleuropean Moses to Marx’s Abraham.

As a documentary filmmaker, Taylor is no neutral observer; she openly reveres her subjects. Though it has been criticized (A. O. Scott of the New York Times said the film was “too glamorized by its brainy stars to engage them critically”), Taylor’s reverence is fine by me. These eight philosophers are inspiring people who make it their business to think their way through some of life’s most difficult questions. Furthermore, I prefer to keep my philosophers on a pedestal, even when they’re rambling about jazz in the back of someone’s Volvo (ahem, Cornel West).


To be fair, Cornel West could talk about his favorite lunch foods and I would find it interesting. ‘Cerebrities’ opining about anything, literally anything, makes for entertainment. In this film, the entertainment value is heightened by some particularly bathetic physical settings. Taylor aims to represent her philosophers outside of the stereotypical realm of academe, and she attempts this by filming them in public places that are both neutral to the philosophers’ private lives and exist outside outside the structured environment of the workplace. In The Examined Life, Appiah is interviewed while waiting around at the Toronto airport. Hardt is filmed rowing a wooden boat, with some difficultly, on a lake in Central Park that is congested with loud, unseemly geese. And, not to be outdone, Zizek requested his segment be filmed at the dump.

But, funny public settings notwithstanding, there is a discernible soapbox in each section of The Examined Life, one all eight philosophers in the film are given time to use carte blanche. Each thinker is provided an open forum to deliver decontextualized soliloquies as if at an imaginary podium in front of some metaphysical audience, and the camera eyes this dotingly. Pretentious? Yes, but forgivably so. With their contributions to their disciplines, these eight thinkers have the right to believe they have important things to say. Watching them, I am inspired to think more critically and rigorously, perhaps from a contact high off the glaring epistemological glow.

In the middle of all this talking, the philosophers do experience occasional challenges in presenting their ideas in a way that make sense to listeners. This is to be expected; even if you limit the scope of the discussion, it is impossible to unpack an ‘examined life’ in the time it takes to watch a movie. I commend these philosophers for trying at all. I also commend them for managing to not be dull, even when in their labyrinthine monologues they’ve lost me completely.

For those interested, I encourage you to attend the screening at the Herbst Theater. If philosophy is the enormous pharmacy we raid to cure ourselves of an unexamined existence, and if an actual philosophy class would be akin to the smallpox vaccine, then The Examined Life is the equivalent a mild herbal supplement. While this film won’t heal anyone of a painfully unexamined existence, a dose of it has its benefits. Think of it as a gateway drug. A documentary may proffer only a minute, highly mediated glimpse into how a philosopher thinks, but it does have the power to ask an non-philosophizing audience to think more philosophically.

Herbst Theater
Thu/25, 7:30PM, $25
401 Van Ness, SF.
(415) 621-6600

Oakland to be soaked in Moregasms


Heads up, fans of informative playfulness: Babeland co-founder Rachel Venning will be at Diesel Books in Oakland on Tues/16 to read from and sign copies of her latest book Moregasm, a guide to getting more from our sexual forays.

The majority of mainstream sex guides currently available follow a formula I’ve never understood, which is to feature real people in the cover photo and then nowhere else in the book. These ludicrous covers, mostly featuring underwear-clad models in suggestively prone positions, are a source of embarrassment at the cash register, but a worse offense is found inside. Upon opening the book the reader discovers, rather than any useful or instructional photos, a slew of black and white diagrams in stick-figure detail accompanied by text that is generally inscrutable. The sexual acts are described in ways that are alternately clinical and deliberately vague, peppered with medical terms like “vasocongestive arousal” along with meaningless Cosmopolitan-isms about revving engines or raising temperatures or similar banalities with which we are all familiar.

Taking this convention into consideration, Moregasm happily does the opposite.

From the outset, Moregasm is non-intimidating and neutral, with a cover that, instead of revealing body parts that might cause certain readers discomfort, finds clever use for the fermata. Not having to hide a book under the bed: always a plus! The inside of the book, conversely, is far from demure. Venning makes sure to feature actual photos of real people in compromising positions, which readers are sure to find, shall we say, insightful. The text is simple when it needs to be, and when a more detailed explanation is required, the descriptions are thorough but clear enough to be understood at all experience levels.

Venning has ad hoc access to an enormous pool of people from which to extract sexual-anthropological data: her customer base at Babeland. Babeland is a popular Seattle-based adult toy store that Venning founded in 1993 with Clare Cavanah (co-author of Moregasm, along with Jessica Vitkus) that has since expanded to New York City and Brooklyn. It is perhaps most famous for its online presence, which can be accessed anywhere. As an author and, for lack of a better word, sexpert, Venning certainly has the requisite experience. She also knows, from the looks of Moregasm, what isn’t working with mainstream sex guides. Sex writing often feels like verbal rehash, but Venning’s book includes updates that help it read like new.

Tue/16, 7pm, free
Diesel Bookstore
5433 College Ave., Oakl.

A brief meditation on erotic comics (slightly NSFW)


The Kinky Comic Carnival was held at S&M cafe Wicked Grounds a couple Saturdays ago. Comic book fanatics, stimulated by both caffeine and visual erotica, swarmed in unexpected numbers to meet local creative talents that included Ted Naifeh (Courtney Crumren), Justin Hall (Glamzonia, the Uncanny Super Tranny), Serena Valentino (Gloom Cookie), Greta Christina (Best Erotic Comics), Tristan Crane (How Loathesome), and Storm (Princess Witch Boy). The crowd was a mix of committed comicphiles, local kink enthusiasts, passerbys intrigued by the fuss, and confused SOMA-ites who just wanted their coffee.

The eroticism of a comic book is a rather ambivalent one. First, to eroticize a comic book character requires a leap of imagination that most people cannot take; I blame it on the lack of a third dimension. Second, at face value, comics just don’t seem that sexual in the age of gonzo porn. The Victorians liked their quaint pornographic drawings, but then came the moving picture and the drawings became antiquated collector’s items, ancient history. Finally, we are warned that those who read comics after a certain age invariably morph into basement-dwelling creeps. The belief persists that comics block production of potent growth hormones and can prolong an adolescence like nothing else. (They should market that.)

Fans of the genre couldn’t disagree more. For them, the syncretism of X-rated adult content with G-rated comic form represents an appealing erotic alternative to the constraints of real life. Comic book fans like comic books because they represent an escape from mundane 3-D reality. Because their fantasies exist outside the literal world, comic book porn — the exaggerated drawings, crazy sound effects (in a Justin Hall comic, fellatio is accompanied the onomatopoetic “BAM!”), and benevolent deux ex machina who always gets the good guy/gal laid — could not be further from everyday sex. Unharnessing the Id? You don’t have to be a comic book collector to acknowledge the tantalizing possibilities.

This Saturday, give your Valentine the gift of … VD?


In honor of Valentine’s Day, a series of parochial films called “Love, Sex, and Venereal Disease,” presented by Oddball Film and Video, will premiere at 275 Capp Street on Saturday/13. Local filmmaker Stephen Parr runs the enterprise, and Oddball’s public showings are compiled from Parr’s enormous archive of offbeat film stock footage.

“Love, Sex, and Venereal Disease” is a motley repertoire. Included are films like “VD Attack Plan,” a Disney animation about syphilis and gonorrhea, and the judicious “Social-sex Attitudes in Adolescence,” which assures viewers that, being merely a phase, teenage gayness is not to be feared. There is also “Lot in Sodom,” a 1933 avant-garde interpretation of the well-known Biblical story, and “The Innocent Party,” about a lascivious teen whose past is checkered by venereal disease.

“Dater,” “Lovemaking,” “Chew Chew Baby,” “How to Date,” and a “Candygram” from Peter Lawford round out the selection. What the instructional program lacks in relevance, surefire entertainment makes up for. These desultory artifacts cannot said to be wholly irrelevant, however, even for an audience of San Franciscan been-there-done-thats boasting lifetime Tetracycline refills.

Freed from the polyester girdle of the 1950s, these films concede some unintentional revelations, like that cone-shaped brassieres look good on no one. Never very cohesive, my attention span has become a fragmented mess thanks to, among other things, 24/7 access to the Internet. Perhaps this is why I derive great pleasure from short films. For a time, Wholphin was the single greatest source of my procrastination (a title since supplanted by Jersey Shore).

Attending a showing at Oddball Films is like discovering a clip on YouTube that none of your friends have seen. It is found art for people who don’t necessarily want to do the legwork behind actually finding art. This lassitude is forgivable in our age of mechanical reproduction. Context-deprived weirdness is a potent antidote for cinematic ennui care of mainstream Hollywood soullessness. A lazy spectator myself, I’m am glad there are those, like Parr, driven to amass, catalog, and share the best specimens on others’ behalf.

“Love, Sex, and Venereal Disease”

Sat/13, 8pm, $10

RSVP at (415) 558-8117, info@oddballfilm.com

Oddball Films

275 Capp St.


The Sexy Professor speaks at City Lights


Literary critic, Stanford professor, and sexy-brainy scholar Terry Castle will be speaking at City Lights Books on Tuesday, Feb. 9, about The Professor and Other Writings, a series of meditations on topics ranging from Art Pepper to the Polermo catacombs to Susan Sontag. When read together, the essays coalesce into a singular, fearless new memoir.

Castle has produced an incredible body of literary criticism and, in her work, she often explores the complicated relationship between literature and sex. Books like The Apparitional Lesbian and The Literature of Lesbianism examine depictions of love between women in the Western literatary canon. Boss Ladies, Watch Out: Essays on Women, Sex, and Writing investigates female sexuality in works by famous women writers.

But don’t let the lit theory put you off. Even those allegedly allergic to theory will enjoy the candid, intelligent essays in Castle’s latest work. Her intellectual gifts are obvious — even her informal pieces have the pleasing effect of making their reader feel smarter — but Castle remains accessible to a wide audience. In fact, her writing seems targeted at those who exist on the outskirts, or even outside, of the literary cognoscenti. Castle makes no secret of her distaste for the “preening and plumage display” of current day literary criticism, or what she calls “jargon-ridden pseudo-writing,” and her informal pepperings of middle- and low-brow references throughout The Professor add to Castle’s likableness. None of my college professors would ever (admittedly) discuss the “hotitude” of famous Hollywood stars; neither would they (admittedly) jam out to bass-bomping hip hop on their iPods.

The Professor is marketed as a memoir, but it reads more like a collection of prose pieces, each distinguished by their own specific ideas and themes. Though a touch gossipy, “Desperately Seeking Susan,” about Castle’s prickly friendship with Susan Sontag, is a delightful read. Near the essay’s end, the two women attend a dinner party at Marina Abromovic’s apartment also attended by (if this tells you anything) Lou Reed, Laurie Anderson, and the “freaking-looking” singer from Fischerspooner. The disaster that ensues is a finely-rendered comedy of manners, equal parts hilarious and grim.

Castle’s “Que Modo Deum,” a collage posted on her blog

Castle touches on the work of jazz saxophonist Art Pepper, whose underrated genius is vaunted by jazz enthusiasts, in “My Heroin Christmas”. In “Travels With My Mom“, a short travelogue which can be read online, the author’s relationship with her mother is illuminated in a series of seemingly innocuous glimpses. The title-essay, “The Professor,” which was my favorite, is a searing reflection on sexual discovery, and details the romantic entanglements of Castle’s own college days, the most significant one being her relationship with a troubled female professor that arrives full circle, many years later, in a chance meeting that I refuse to spoil for you here.

The essays in this fine collection are personal to their author, but their focus is outwardly directed. They observe and describe, in rich personal detail, other things and other people. They are not a periscope view into Castle’s human psyche, lesbian psyche, or any psyche for that matter. Castle is far too tasteful to go there. In The Professor there is no hint of the solipsistic introspection or blubbering confessionalism that has gives bad name to the memoir form. Castle is generous with personal anecdotes, opinions, and history, but her subjective experiences are used to shed light on ideas that remain, while important to the author, wholly independent of any one person’s life. I enjoyed this collection immensely. 

Terry Castle
Tue/9, 7:30pm, free

City Lights Book Store

261 Columbus Ave. (at Broadway)

(415) 362-8193


The Professor and Other Writings
By Terry Castle
352 pages. HarperCollins.

Atlanta beats the pants off SF — again


Hot guys mostly not in their underwear at Atlanta’s 2009 Pride Parade

In general, San Franciscans deal with an existential crisis in one of two ways: binge drinking or making idle threats to move to New York. Usually, it’s a combination of both. Concerning the latter, we frequently cite the Big Apple’s better nightlife, for which we are prepared to sacrifice amazing food, outrageously mild weather, and overall happiness and sense of well-being.

Our behavior needs to stop. Listen, whatever problems you may have, New York isn’t going to solve them for you. I learned this lesson the hard way. Once upon a time, I turned threat into reality. I packed up all my things, threw myself a teary goodbye party, and got an apartment in Williamsburg. Several months later, I was happily back in San Francisco. It was embarrassing.

Here’s a piece of advice. Next time you hate your life, instead of threatening to move to New York City, why don’t you threaten to move to Atlanta?


I’m serious. Last year, a Trojan sex study revealed that Atlantans are “most sexually satisfied” out of 10 cities surveyed. San Francisco ranked dead last. 73% of Atlantans participating in the survey professed to have satisfying sex. That’s pretty good.

I know what you’re thinking. Back then, I was skeptical too. Now, I’m prepared to suspend some of my disbelief. The Advocate just published an article on the 15 gayest cities in America, based on the number, per capita, of gay couples, gay bars, cruising spots, and gay films on Netflix queues, among other criteria. The gayest city, of course, was revealed to be… Atlanta?

What is it with this place?

San Francisco wasn’t even on the list. Mike Albo writes, “This admittedly subjective search reveals spots that are much more pink than you might think. Determined by a completely unscientific but accurate statistical equation, these gayest cities may surprise you. Iowa City, Austin, and Asheville have more gays per capita than the biggies.” On Atlanta, he says, “Atlanta guys are hunky… And who doesn’t love the sweet lilt of a Georgia accent on a knockout guy or gal?”

Admittedly, the Southern accent is cute. Next time you are sexually or otherwise frustrated enough to utter that old “I’m moving to New York” platitude, why not replace “New York” with “Atlanta”? Atlanta has better weather, a lower cost of living, and good-looking people, and the stats show that, whether straight or gay, Atlantans are having a lot of great sex. Repeat after me: “I’m moving to Atlanta!”

Before I get labeled a disgraceful turncoat, I’ll admit I’m arguing Atlanta’s case on the basis of reverse psychology. Those temporarily dissatisfied with the Bay Area might finally have a cure for their existential malaise! Imagine waking up tomorrow to find yourself living in Atlanta. Let that thought marinate for a while. You live in Atlanta. Suddenly, things don’t seem so bad here, do they.


“The Viagra Diaries”: sexy chick lit for the over-sixty set


If the idea that a mainstream San Francisco newspaper would publish a weekly sex/dating column called The Viagra Diaries — targeted at local singles over the age of sixty — sounds like a work of fiction, it’s not because Violet Blue isn’t in her sixth decade yet.

The Viagra Diaries is a novel by Barbara Rose Brooker, a 73-year-old local writer whose latest protagonist happens to be a septuagenarian dating columnist named Anny Applebaum. [No doubt revered Russian historian and political journalist Anne Applebaum is tickled — Ed.] The name of Applebaum’s fictional column supplies the book’s title. Old but hardly wise, Anny struggles with personal finance and falls into a messy relationship with an emotionally unavailable older man. Given that Anny shares Carrie Bradshaw’s mental age, perhaps it makes sense that her column is more like “Sex and the City” than “Sexually Speaking with Dr. Ruth.”

Known to Anny’s readers as “Mr. X,” Marv is a 75-year-old diamond dealer whose merits include being addicted to JDate, constant cheating, and lusting helplessly after women who are too young for him. He wears a flashy gold Rolex and drives a Mercedes convertible. His eloquence is revealed in statements like, “I love all sports. I ski all over the world. My first wife was a champion French skier. She ran off with her trainer and died in a ski accident.” Ever drawn to the bad boy, ingenue Anny enters into a mostly-NSA sexual relationship with Marv, and the emotional detritus provides fodder for her column. Brooker’s novel seems to argue that poor decision-making skills, romantic and otherwise, are not wasted on the young.

Brooker sold the movie rights to The Viagra Diaries and has appeared recently on the morning talk circuit promoting her book. Her goal, she’s said, was to show that old age doesn’t necessitate BINGO and nursing homes, that old people can have successful careers, grand aspirations, and good sex too. This argument, to which Sophia Loren is a walking testament, is hardly new. At one extreme, I suppose you have something like 77-year-old Philip Roth’s The Humbling, featuring a sexually-potent protagonist in his mid-sixties who likes a lesbian threesome every now and again, and on the other, something like this.

The Viagra Diaries is addressed to a particular type of older woman. Helen Gurley Brown would read this book. Doris Lessing and A. S. Byatt would not. But by its intended audience, The Viagra Diaries will be well-received. Joan Rivers, not known for being easy to please, described it as “a poignant picture of dating, romantic love, parenting an adult daughter, and sex after sixty.” Brooker is no belletrist, but she manages to unassumingly, sometimes even unintentionally, charm. With scaffolding borrowed from the much-loved chick lit canon, her characters are immediately recognizable to anyone who has ever read a matte-finished paperback with a stylized handbag or lipstick tube on the cover. It makes perfect sense for Anny and Marv, old though they be, to fashion themselves after Candace Bushnell and Helen Fielding characters. What better method can there be to feeling young-at-heart than to indulge in the immature follies of the young?

10 sexy books published in 2009


As the aughts, a decade fondly described by many to be the worst decade ever, mercifully makes way to the grave, an uncharacteristically optimistic blogosphere is abuzz with requisite “best of the decade” lists, signaling that even the grimmest times come with small condolences. These “best of the decade” lists are — for all their neat hierarchies, pithy generalizations, and annoying assumption of authority — quite fun to read. And, as a rare opportunity to recycle old news as relevant content, they are also fun to write.

Among the many “best ofs” floating about at the moment, I find myself gravitating toward the literary. For all their Anglo-centric, sexist, dead white male undertones, and despite the occasional mentions of Malcolm Gladwell or Dan Brown, these “best books” lists seem far less depressing than their pop-cultural (like hipster of the decade) or political counterparts (like top political scandals of the decade). And as I peruse the many books deemed by many opinions to be the best of the year or, grander yet, best of the decade, I find myself compiling a modest, literary list of my own: 10 Sexy Books Published in 2009. Having been all of 14-years-old in the year 2000, I don’t really have the authority to create a “best of the decade list” regarding anything sexual.

However, I have certainly read some very sexy books this past year.

If sexy is to be taken by its dictionary definition as “sexually interesting or exciting,” then the following ten decidedly qualify. Some are sexy for their potent ability to raise readerly temperatures, others, for their intellectually seductive, mentally stimulating faculties. Despite a somewhat disparate array of themes and subjects, each book is capable of producing the feeling that compels readers to, as my aunt puts it, “close their legs and open a book”: the ecstasy of reading.

10. Confessions of an Ivy League Pornographer, by Sam Benjamin. Ahh, Ivy Leaguers, drawn, as moths are to a flame, to porn careers which are subsequently turned into quarter-life memoirs. Or not. Mind you, this career trajectory is not something I fault a college graduate, or anyone at all, from pursuing. In an economy in which a college graduate is lucky to find a job doing anything, partying with porn stars sounds like the glittering reward at the end of a Horatio Alger (himself an Ivy League grad) tale. With the dreaded spring semester looming ahead, soon-to-be-graduates are advised to find inspiration where they can. Hint: Benjamin’s book.

9. Over Here, a volume of poems by Frank Sherlock. Having won a coveted Sexiest Poem of 2009 award, from CAConrad’s “Sexiest Poem Award” blog, Sherlock is a shoo-in for a spot on this list. “Over Here” is, without a doubt, a sexy poem — though it’s not a poem about sex. What makes Sherlock’s poem sexy is, in CAConrad’s words, its “tenacious defiance for culture’s endless forms of violence to our fellow humans, other animals and the environment.” Hmm… tenacious defiance…

8. Live Nude Girl: My Life as an Object, by Kathleen Rooney. In the beginning, there was irony: Rooney began working as a nude model after being fired from her cafe job because she refused to sleep with her boss. Her experiences as an art model are the inspiration and subject of her book. Rooney is a talented writer whose honesty, conviction, and obvious poetic gifts underline her ambitious theoretical observations. In this contemplative book, Rooney ruminates on working in the buff and, in the process, finds something to say about Roland Barthes, Judeo-Christianity, and the Terra Cotta warriors of China. Somehow, she succeeds in making such declarations convincing; Rooney did earn money being naked, but her memoir cloaks that nudity in layers of meaning.

7. Obsession: An Erotic Tale, by Gloria Vanderbilt. I wrote about Vanderbilt’s erotica earlier this year. Vanderbilt, who will be entering her 86th year in 2010, has a habit of becoming hugely successful in endeavors that should reasonably predict the exact opposite. Like that time in the ’80s when she lent her name a line of high-waisted mom jeans… for women and men. The famous socialite’s new career as a writer of BDSM erotica has impressed even Salman Rushdie, who acknowledged, “Writing about work and writing about sex are probably the two hardest things. If I’m still doing it when I’m 85, I’ll be very grateful.”

6. Roberto Bolle: An Athlete in Tights, photographed by Bruce Weber. Men are lucky. Men are not confronted nearly to the degree that women are by images of bodily perfection. Can you imagine what would happen if half the advertisements featuring undressed women, from Victoria’s Secret to American Apparel to PETA, were to be replaced with one of Weber’s strapping Adonises? For my benefit, can we conduct an informal experiment using Weber’s images of Roberto Bolle?

5. Best Women’s Erotica 2010, edited by SF’s own Violent Blue. As a genre, erotica is tarnished with a sorry reputation, so it is a truth universally acknowledged that a writer in possession of good erotica-writing abilities must be in want of a literary champion. Anais Nin had Henry Miller; these women writers have Violet Blue. Like the other “Best Women’s Erotica” collections Ms. Blue edits, her latest will not disappoint her readers and fans.

4. Important Artifacts and Personal Property from the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris, Including Books, Street Fashion, and Jewelry, by Leanne Shapton. To any degree that a break-up can be sexy, this one is, perhaps because, in reading Shapton’s book (an experiment of form that is part story, part photo essay, part auction catalogue) we can’t help but recall the intensity and sadness of our own past relationships. Through ingeniously chosen ephemera, vibrant “artifacts” Shapton employs to bring her characters to life, the otherwise cloying artifice of a fictional auction becomes believably real. As this is a story of a break-up, it makes perfect sense that we should see nothing of Lenore and Harold themselves. Like our own ex-lovers, their identies are marked by absence outlined in memory, as invisible fingerprints tracing the objects they leave behind.


3. The Adderall Diaries: A Memoir of Moods, Masochism, and Murder, by local writer Stephen Elliott. Granted, neither murder nor Adderall is sexy. Then again, this isn’t a book about murder or Adderall. Like most of Elliott’s work, The Adderall Diaries is about Stephen Elliott and, true to form, his latest effort contains (in addition to good writing and a dark backstory that readers familiar with Elliott’s work will recognize as one that could only have happened in this author’s universe) a healthy dose of stolid sexual confessionism. Judging from the behavior of some of Elliott’s fans, as gathered from his own reports and my own firsthand observations of several local readings, Stephen Elliott is a subject that some women do find sexy indeed.

2. We Did Porn: Memoir and Drawings by local writer/artist/pornographer Zak Smith, a tome that helped SFBG‘s D. Scot Miller overcome his “fear and predjudice of hipsters.” Given that Smith looks like a combination between Devon Sawa’s character in SLC Punk and a guy I had a crush on in high school who drew pentagrams on his fingernails with a White Out pen, we shouldn’t understate the accomplishment. In any case, it was the art that swayed D. Scot, who contends that despite being a “artsty-fartsy, probably spoiled, uber-talented white boy artist,” Smith’s “artwork is impeccable. There is tenderness, daring, heat in his pieces. With a Nan Goldin compassion, he captures an intimacy and inclustion that is often lacking in the movies he and his comrades made.” Seconded.

1. Don’t Cry, by Mary Gaitskill. Mary Gaitskill is, in my opinion, the sexiest writer currently working in the English language. I’ve been an overzealous fan since I discovered, at an impressionable age, her short story “Secretary,” a BDSM-themed story of a young secretary’s affair with her boss (that later inspired the Gyllenhaal/Spader movie of the same name). Gaitskill is unafraid to tackle grand themes in small spaces, and it’s her short stories — oozing as they are in love, sex, and grief — that her formidable abilities are most obvious. She lends an intelligence, devastating accuracy, and unmatched bravery of sentiment to topics otherwise reducable as merely “perverse”. In “Folk Song,” Gaitskill creates a female character who decides to have sex with a thousand men in a row. A 43-year-old woman, in “Old Virgin,” lends her anatomy to Gaitskill’s precisely honed scalpel. My favorite of the collection, “Mirror Ball,” reveals the theft of a soul, literally, as something that a beautiful young Mephistopheles collects from his trail of lovers. Like the sex that Gaitskill is so adept at describing, the stories in this collection are first brutal, then revealing — and necessarily in that order.

Grey’s anatomy: An interview with Sasha Grey


To state that hardcore porn nymphet Sasha Grey has mainstream appeal is like arguing a truism. Thrust onto billboards and magazine covers, written into highly publicized Hollywood movies, integrated into our cultural vernacular, Sasha Grey didn’t just cross over into mainstream territory; we brought her here.

It’s easy to see why, among the many female performers in adult entertainment, Sasha Gray has become the unwitting locus of the public’s gaze and speculation. Next to those flaxen, suprafemale Barbies who dominated porn in the 90s, Grey’s handsome brunette naturalism seems somehow transgressive. Grey’s bosoms are not big enough to generate their own gravity, and her smooth, skin-colored skin and svelte muscularity are the products of youth and genetics rather than of dubious cosmetic procedure. With her placid, heavy-lidded eyes, broad forehead, and insistent jawline, Grey’s face looks real rather than representational. She looks like the pretty 21-year-old that she is — with an age appropriate penchant for darkening her already dark Mediterranean eyebrows — and it’s this sense of the familiar that makes Grey, a real girl among a valley of dolls, so erotically appealing.

Sasha Gray in an ad for American Apparel

The media has the tendency to describe Grey in extreme binaries: young yet wise, beautiful yet intelligent, intellectual yet a porn star, and so on. In a sense, this tendency is understandable. Most writers, yours humbly included, are not citizens of the adult entertainment world. It’s tempting for writers to use obtuse paradoxes and reductive generalizations when describing those who seem, by virtue of their work, so fascinatingly equivocal. And Grey doesn’t make our jobs any easier, with her casual mentions of Baudrillard and Sartre, her appreciation of Godard, and her use of the adjective “Jungian,” while cheerfully inhabiting an industry that we take for granted as being intellectually unconcerned. As fellow twenty-something with an affection for cultural theory and French New Wave, I relate to some of her interests, but beyond that, my interpretive abilities hit a wall and all that’s left is conjecture. Grey is a descriptive paradox, and it would not surprise me if she preferred it that way.

Grey was recently announced as this year’s keynote speaker at the 2010 AVN Awards and I had the opportunity to interview her. Not wanting to add to the guesswork that surrounds Grey’s celebrity or to embark on a vague meditation of the porn-star psyche, I limited the questions to her involvement with the AVN ceremony. The result was simple, straightforward and, at least for me, refreshing.

SFBG: As such a young performer — and one relatively new to the adult entertainment industry — are you comfortable with the responsibility of giving the AVN keynote address?

SG: This has been an incredibly exciting year for me, and I feel each year I continue to excel… but the industry has changed rapidly, in my almost fourth year of experience. I am proud that I have the chance to share my voice with the industry and show appreciation for the fans that support my career and adult film-making.

SFBG: At the moment, what are some of the most important issues or concerns for the adult entertainment community?

SG: First and foremost the never-ending battle of obscenity laws, i.e. the ongoing case against Evil Angel Video. If Evil Angel is found guilty, we’ll be rolling backwards in time when Naked Lunch was banned for obscenity. Secondly, the state of AIM Healthcare, where all performers are tested, could be shut down any day due to grueling legal battles with Cal OSHA, which would temporarily shut the business down until there’s a replacement testing facility… and who knows how long that could take.

SFBG: You’ve performed in so many films and been in the spotlight for so long that it feels strange for me to ask, but are you nervous about giving this speech?

SG: Nope.

SFBG: This will be your third year attending the AVN Awards. Do you enjoy the ceremony?

SG: The awards show has always been a fun way to end a long week of press and meeting fans, and there’s certainly the neverending people watching which always entertains!

SFBG: Just out of curiosity, have you read “Big Red Son” by the late David Foster Wallace? He attended the AVNs 11 years ago and wrote about his overwhelmingly negative experiences as a journalist and onlooker. He prescribed the AVNs as a humble alternative to self-castration and described the adult industry as “predictably vulgar.”

SG: No I haven’t. Why do you think they don’t hold most awards shows in Vegas? People would be letting their inhibitions go! Vegas: a great example of the Jungian idea, the duality of man. People put on a mask; those who don’t ordinarily drink too much yet end up wasted, spend too much money on strippers and gambling, etc, this goes for 90% of people who visit the city of sin. People from the adult industry or those who mingle with its crowds are aware that Vegas calls for celebration, and they are usually comfortable letting their inhibitions go, or wearing these masks. I am sure this might intimidate an onlooker with no knowledge of the adult entertainment community, but this doesn’t reflect the day-to-day life of the businessmen and women that run this industry.

SFBG: What did it feel like to win your first AVN award in 2007, less than a year after having entered the industry?

SG: It was a real shock, I had only been in the business for five months before the nominations went out, so I was just happy to be nominated.

SFBG: You’ve won 4 AVN awards in 4 separate categories. Of these awards, which one meant the most to you?

SG: Female Performer of The Year of course!

SFBG: In your own career, are awards a huge honor for you, or just icing on the cake?

SG: I used to think they were something to add to your resume, until I actually won. The anticipation, being unsure, and then winning… yeah it’s incredibly gratifying.

Do it naturally



SEX Future sexologists will pinpoint the 2000s as the decade in which the sex toy industry finally crawled from its toxic swamp toward the green light. Before now, mainstream sex toys were garish in appearance, sloppily constructed, and intended to be dumped in a landfill after a few months of use. Made in shady overseas factories by exploited workers, many contained chemicals, like phthalates, that have been linked to cancer and were powered by frequently disposed-of batteries. Virtually nothing about the assembly or life cycle of the average sex toy indicated any consideration of consumer safety, labor standards, or environmental sustainability.

Fast-forward to today. Toys are available in a range of medical-grade, recyclable, and body-safe materials that don’t threaten users with possible tumors. There are rechargeable, recyclable, hand-cranked, organic, or solar-powered erotic accoutrements for the picking. A growing number of businesses manufacture locally. Retailers are using their influence to spread the natural sex toy word. And the products are actually selling.

The Bay Area has been pivotal in catalyzing these changes. Many of the most influential and promising environmentally-minded sex entrepreneurs, retailers, and advocates are based here — we house more green-compliant adult manufacturers than any other city. In a city where the word "sexual" is happily associated with innumerable prefixes — homo-, bi-, poly-, pan-, a-, omni- — we’ve earned a new variation: ecosexual.

If you’ve turned yourself on in the past 33 years, you probably know about Good Vibrations (www.goodvibes.com), the sex-toy juggernaut that evolved from a small women-owned cooperative into a worldwide phenomenon. I met with Carol Queen, PhD and staff sexologist, and Camilla Lombard, publicity manager, at Good Vibes’ Polk Street retail location, where large posters announced a new "Ecorotic" line: "Have Sustainable Sex! Kiss uninspired evenings goodbye!" The candy-colored Ecorotic toys, rechargeable and organic, occupied the most prominent display tables and cases.

Good Vibes has influenced some of the industry’s most important ecosexual developments. In 2001, the popular German magazine Stern ran the first feature on the harmful effects phthalates in sex toys, and Queen recalled, "The [journalists] stopped at Good Vibrations on their way back from Asia, after having gone to enormous toy factories in China and Hong Kong. They thought they were going to do a Life magazine-type spread on sex toy factories there. But their photographer was a medical doctor and when he smelled the air in the factories, he knew something was wrong. So they came to us the day after they got off the plane from Asia looking for alternatives. We started that conversation well over 10 years ago." (More than 70 percent of the world’s sex toys are still manufactured in China, where safety and environmental standards can be sketchy.)

Good Vibrations was among the first major retailers to phase phthalates out of their inventory, but they are, to this day, among the minority to do so. Included in this minority is Libida (www.libida.com), which like Good Vibrations is a local, women-centered adult e-boutique. Libida’s founder, Petra Zebroff, has a doctorate in human sexuality. (While most cities can’t boast of a single sex shop with PhD-certified sexologists on staff, San Francisco, perhaps unsurprisingly has several). I asked Petroff for advice on choosing a safe product. She warned, "If you smell a strong chemical smell or it’s unusually inexpensive — phthalates are the cheap way to make a rubber pliable — it probably contains materials that are not good for you or the environment."

As an alternative, the staff at Libida and Good Vibes suggests silicone, a recyclable, hypoallergenic, and nonporous substance also used in cookware and medical devices. Both retailers stock products by Vixen Creations (www.vixencreations.com), a local woman-owned dildo company celebrating 17 successful years. Vixen develops and manufactures popular silicone toys at its San Francisco factory, where each toy is crafted by hand and given a lifetime warranty — something unprecedented in the field.

Like silicone, wood is used in body-safe and eco-conscious sex toys, but has the added benefit of being naturally beautiful. Founded in 2005, NobEssence (www.nobessence.com) sells handmade sculptural toys that resemble antique curios. CEO Jason Yoder has an environmentalist’s background, having worked as an auditor for SA8000, a global accountability standard of ethical working conditions. During a phone conversation, Yoder remarked, "We hold ourselves to that standard not because we want to seem greener but because it’s self-evident that it’s the right thing to do." NobEssence sources sustainably farmed and harvested hardwood, and suppliers sign a code of conduct designating penalties for labor or ecological violations.

Borosilicate glass is another aesthetically pleasing material option. Sexual locavores who enjoyed the recent Dale Chihuly retrospective at the de Young Museum must visit Glass Kandi (569 Geary, SF. www.glassdildome.com), where each uniquely hand-blown toy is a gleaming parcel of sexy sui generis. "I have more glass dildos in my kitchen than I do in this store," owner Samantha Liu told me mischievously. "I’d been using this stuff for years." When I heard her say "kitchen," my eyes instinctively fell upon her "Produce Collection": halcyon dildos of garden-variety cucumbers, jalapenos, and bananas — plus a Chinese bitter melon and a cob of corn. "I’ve had people send me pictures with one of these in a fruit basket," Liu said. Liu designs most of the toys herself and works with local glassblowers to materialize them into objects of desire. Borosilicate glass may not be the recyclable kind, but these crystalline baubles would be criminal to discard.

Stationary toys like glass and wood dildos have their advantages, but sometimes it’s helpful when a toy moves on your behalf. With unique technical innovations, two local companies, JuicyLogic (www.juicylogic.com) and Jimmyjane (www.jimmyjane.com), have introduced impressive reinterpretations of the traditional vibrator, clearly illustrating that the demand for green solutions has never been higher than now.

JuicyLogic, started by Zebroff of Libida, is the company behind the only solar-powered vibrator on the market. "I started JuicyLogic in an ongoing effort to focus on finding and making green sex toys," she explained. "The idea of Sola Vibe came up when we found out that the only solar-powered vibrator on the market was being discontinued. We knew there was nothing else available, and we wanted to make sure solar power was an option for vibrator users." Like many green crusaders, Zebroff hopes to reduce battery waste. "The average person uses up eight batteries per year, leaving 2.4 billion batteries disposed of each year. I thought of how vibrators use batteries as their main source of power, and I felt an obligation to advocate for other sources of energy for vibrators." When the alternative source didn’t seem to exist, she created it herself: a silicone vibrator equipped with a solar panel containing 2.5 hours of vibrating bliss.

Jimmyjane, like JuicyLogic, is an inventive young company. Founded in 2004 by Ethan Imboden, an industrial designer and engineer, Jimmyjane is recognized as the industry’s current technological leader. With patented external docking devices that power a lithium ion battery, Jimmyjane’s vibrators are sleeved in silicone, hygienically sealed, and fully operable three meters underwater, displaying a thoughtfulness of design, a mechanical know-how, and a cavalier extravagance that distinguish them from others. Jimmyjane just released the Form 2, a smaller vibrator using similar technology. The nifty items in the Form series have more functions than most cell phones and rival Apple products in sleekness of design. Why the detail? Imboden answered, "We realized early on that if Jimmyjane is going to be a part of peoples’ sexuality — because sexuality is such an intimate and a vulnerable aspect of our lives — there are a whole set of responsibilities that go with that. We don’t market ourselves as an eco-company because for us, it’s an assumption that that’s our responsibility." They’ve certainly done their part: the Forms require not a single alkaline battery.

Thrillingly, the city’s DIY-oriented sexual community is also producing ecosex craft innovations that are as groundbreaking as they are thought-provoking. Madame Butterfly (www.butterflyrope.com) is a textile artist who handspins bondage rope out of raw silk, bamboo, and other natural materials. On the more steampunk side of things, SFSU student Martin Cooper recently unveiled an attention-grabbing, water-powered fucking machine in a nine-foot wood and metal frame. If it looks a little medieval, well, that’s part of the attraction.

Back at Good Vibrations, I asked Queen why San Francisco has become the crux of the ecosex movement. "It’s the sex-positivity," she said. "I think it’s because in the Bay Area — I hate the word ‘normal’ when talking about sex — but here this discussion is normalized in a different way than it is everywhere else." It’s true that savvy entrepreneurs are just a small part of our larger, sex-positive culture. Still, the ecosexual movement may be the proof that our culture as a whole is pushing forward toward a more sustainable future. After all, everything starts with sex.

Of human bondage



Swingin’ with a star: Madison Young, photographed by Pat Mazzera

San Francisco is America’s capital of kink. Consider Sunday’s Folsom Street Fair (www.folomstreetfair.org) as a flagship holiday and the Armory, occupied by Kink.com, as a kind of sexual City Hall, and there’s little dispute.

But it may seem peculiar for a city so committed to gender and sexual equality to be the patron city of BDSM: a complicated acronym that stands for bondage and discipline (BD), domination and submission (D/s), sadism and masochism (SM). In crude terms, BDSM relationships are marked by deliberate and sometimes extreme inequality, where a submissive party voluntarily forfeits partial or complete physical, psychological, and emotional control to a dominant one. Although "switching" does occur, D/s — the Dominant (capital D) and submissive power dichotomy — may seem to be everything our traditional concept of liberal empowerment and classical feminism rail against.

But while it might be difficult for some to grasp, BDSM — which includes a broad spectrum of sexual acts including (but not limited to) bondage, corporal punishment, electrostimulation, piercing, branding, suspension, golden showers, and asphyxiation, as well as general play relationships like age play, pet play, medical play, and cross-dressing — is controlled by a strict code of behavior referred to as "SSC," or "safe, sane, and consensual." San Francisco even has its own BDSM nonprofit, the Society of Janus, which was founded in 1974 to promote safe adult power exchange.

Ropes aficionado Fivestar, photographed by Pat Mazzera

And unlike that other U.S. capital, Washington, D.C., where women are systemically outnumbered in the decision-making process, in San Francisco’s kinky community, strong and sexually empowered women are well represented — if not always well understood.

Women in BDSM, unfair as it seems, often receive some of the harshest criticism from a varied opposition. D/s women frequently find their lifestyles attacked by religious groups, academics, psychologists, and sexual conservatives, as well as much of the midsection of the United States. Whether stigmatized as self-loathing antifeminists or insatiable man-eating jezebels — or dismissed as insane — much misinformation has been spread about women (gendered, self-identified) who operate within the community.

However, the strong, independent-minded D/s women of San Francisco will have the vanilla (their term for those who do not engage in BDSM activities) know that BDSM is not what you think. Indeed, BDSM: It’s Not What You Think! premiered last year at the Frameline Film Festival. Frameline, the longest-running film festival dedicated to LGBT programming, featured a cast of prominent figures in the San Francisco leather community, many of them women.

For the women of bondage in our city, many of whom maintain 24/7 D/s relationships, BDSM is considered a liberating force. The following profiles are shout-outs to just some of these women, each representing a different facet within the BDSM spectrum. Most have participated in the community for more than a decade — and all really, really love what they do.

In San Francisco, the old Rousseauian adage "Man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains," could easily be rephrased as: "Woman is born free, and everywhere she uses chains to get off".

Madison Young, photographed by Pat Mazzera


Madison Young refers to herself as the "kinky girl next door." With blue eyes, strawberry blonde hair, and a translucent, Kidmanesque complexion, Young is one of the most recognizable performers in the adult entertainment industry, though perhaps more recognizable to those who enjoy inflicting pain on women tied with rope.

"I found a Kink.com posting on Craigslist," Young says. "I had been involved in kinky sex before then, and was really into things like fisting and golden showers and light bondage. But I had never really done flogging or anything around rope bondage. Peter [Ackworth] was the first person who ever tied me up, and I fell in love with it instantly." Since then, she’s become famous, adored by fans for her raw, honest performances and for her incredible toughness.

And Young is really, really tough. Run a simple Google Image search and you’ll find photos of her subjected to things that would make a Navy Seal weep — like being suspended from one elbow by a single rope strung from the ceiling, with her legs pulled apart as far as legs can go. Young is one of the few working models who can withstand what is known as a "category five suspension," bondage positions so grueling they can only be endured for mere seconds. "I have a really high pain tolerance," she says. On a scale of 1 to 10? "Out of the models that exist, I’m a 10."

A self-identified masochist, Young’s interest in bondage is uniquely centered around rope. "I’m not really into metal restraints, scarves, zip ties, or anything like that. It has to be rope."

Young is also among a small but growing number of women who are writing, directing, and producing porn, and runs her own production house called Madison Young Productions. She also finds time to run Femina Potens, a female-focused art gallery located in the Castro.

www.madisonbound.com; www.feminapotens.org

Midori, photographed by Constance Smith


Midori, the artist formerly known as Fetish Diva Midori, is adamantly opposed to being portrayed exclusively within the confines of BDSM. "A lot of people, sure, see my bondage stuff. But that’s just one of many, many things that I do."

That may be so, but all the same, you can’t talk about San Francisco’s women of bondage without including a legend like Midori. While she might claim "I don’t distinguish S-M, because it’s just all sexuality," she is a huge personality, respected sex-educator, and popular author in the realm of BDSM. Her sought-after bondage workshops include weekend-long intensives on "rope bondage dojo," a type of bondage she developed and trademarked.

For Midori, growing up in Japan has had an enormous impact on her work, and her heritage manifests itself not only her rope bondage specialty in but also in her academic interests. She published a collection of S-M stories titled Master Han’s Daughter based in a Tokyo of the future and developed a course on contemporary sex culture in Japan. She also has written instructional books like The Seductive Art of Japanese Bondage and Wild Side: The Book of Kink and taught sex education courses all over the world.

Although stunning, this one-time fetish model and former professional dominatrix is wary of her status as a sex symbol. "If people appreciate my writing and enjoy my classes and get something out of it, and dig my work because of my art and my activism and stuff that I do, hey, that’s great. I think I’m, like, way past the age of being the pretty something, because after all I’m well in my 40s. There are certain people in my private life, well, I hope they think I’m sexy. But beyond that, I hope people appreciate my work because of its content."

www.planetmidori.com; www.ropedojo.com

Simone Kross, photographed by Constance Smith


The perceived life of a traveling dominatrix is alluring: exotic getaways, extravagant dinners, five-star hotels transformed into makeshift dungeons. But the reality is not easy.

Says Simone Kross, a traveling pro-domme: "The perception is maybe that I am wealthy and I have clients flying me around and it’s really exotic and glamorous. It’s really not. It’s hard work, and I pay my own way. The clients and sessions help me fund getting from one place to the next, but it’s not as glamorous as it may seem. At least not for me."

Kross has no illusions about her frequently grueling work. While working out of hotels, she runs her advertising on Eros Guide, a large online erotic service listing. "I can get busy to the point where I might not see the outside of a hotel room for three or four days. After I finish my sessions I can be pretty tired, order room service, and go to bed. I could be doing sessions from one in the afternoon until 10 at night."

An added stress is traveling with heavy gear. "The biggest problem is weight requirements, because you have to keep it under 50 pounds," she says. What could be so heavy? "You’d be surprised," she says. "Leather and metal, D-rings, rope, whips. I don’t even use half the gear I pack, but you never know what someone requires for a scene. The shoes also tend to weigh quite a bit."

Explaining a suitcase full of floggers, rope, gags, whips, and harnesses to airport security might seem awkward, but Simone says "they have checked my bags because they are a little heavier, but no one has given me any problems."

You can see Kross, a gorgeous brunette with cheekbones that appear perfectly convex from every angle, in action on Men in Pain, a chapter of Kink.com.


Natasha Strange, photographed by Constance Smith


Now that the age of feudalism has passed, not many women can admit to having a coterie of ladies-in-waiting, so Natasha Strange’s "pink posse" — cross-dressing clients who have offered their services to her — is quite the blast from the past. And their title is not in name only: these ladies (or "sissy boys") actually do wait on Natasha.

For instance, Sissie Sandra’s responsibilities include walking Strange’s dog and running errands, duties that Sandra faithfully blogs about on a site called "Sandra in Waiting." Who knew moving someone’s car to avoid a street- cleaning ticket could be so erotic?

To her ladies-in-waiting, Strange is "the Princessa": a draconian ruler (they wouldn’t have it any other way) whose Marie Antoinette-esque whims become the word of law. With her wide blue eyes and long wavy hair, she resembles a cupcake Glinda the Good Witch, and it’s not hard to see why her pink-clad sissies have grown attached over the years.

Strange lives a charmed life. Her career began at Fantasy Makers, a fetish house in Oakland, when she was 25. Through her relationships with dedicated clients, her talents as a mistress, and sheer luck, she has fallen into a life many young dominatrices can only dream of.

She doesn’t take that luck for granted. "I have been really, really lucky to establish myself with a clientele that is really devoted to me," she says. "I don’t have to go out and hustle nearly as much as I did when I started out, even in this economy."

While she isn’t taking new clients, Strange hasn’t retired as a dominatrix just yet.

"I don’t think good dommes really retire. They sort of fade away. They take their favorite clients and they go. That’s probably what I’m starting to do. I haven’t advertised anywhere in two years. I’ve taken 90 percent of my website down. But I still have my tight-knit little group of subbies and sissies."

www.kittenwithawhip.com; sandrainwaiting.blogspot.com

Val Langmuir, photographed by Constance Smith


If you’re not living a BDSM lifestyle, it’s unlikely that you’ve heard of the Exiles and the sizable contribution they have made to the San Francisco BDSM scene.

This group, an educational organization (for women) that teaches safe BDSM (between women), had several lives before becoming the organization it is today. Says Val Langmuir, co-coordinator, "The Outcasts was the name of the former group. It originated in 1984 and ceased to exist in 1997. The Exiles was founded in 1997 by former Outcasts and immediately held its first program: Guns, Knives, and Choking, Oh My."

While it appears as if these women enjoy flirting with death, hardcore BDSM is the reason the Exiles exist in the first place: they want to make sure women know how to engage in it and survive. Their classes have included controversial topics like "Brutal Affection: Punching, Kicking, Slapping, and Sex," "The Art of Hazardous Age Play," and a program educating attendees on breath play, or what Langmuir describes as "how not to kill yourself when engaging in erotic asphyxiation." Langmuir moved to San Francisco 12 years ago from London, where she protested the horrifying Spanner Operation in 1990 that saw 16 Manchester gay men arrested and thrown in jail for participating in BDSM. Since then, Langmuir has been dedicated to advocating the right to participate in BDSM.

She has been involved with the Exiles since its inception. "We have meetings in the Women’s Building the third Friday of every month. Usually at each meeting, I’ll see at least one new face."


Selina Raven, photographed by Constance Smith


A former Catholic schoolgirl who attributes her sadistic tendencies to "all of those Sunday mornings spent contemputf8g the bloody figure of Christ," Raven began her pro-domme career in a structured, hierarchical way: she apprenticed. "There aren’t a lot of other women who are practicing BDSM as professionals who went through the process of apprenticing themselves to an older mistress. There’s only one other woman in SF right now, Eve Minax, who has actually done things in a more traditional manner."

Now Raven is not only one of the most established mistresses in San Francisco (and a 2007 Guardian Best of the Bay winner), but something of a mentor to up-and-coming dommes. Perhaps it’s because Raven benefited personally from the tutelage of an older mistress, Sybil Holiday, that she "always resolved to be a friendly face in the community, in being that person who I wish was around when I was 18: a little wicked but armed with good information and good experiences. That’s why I see myself as Mrs. Robinson."

A popular guest lecturer at UC Berkeley and sex educator at the Academy of SM Arts, an organization based in Menlo Park with workshops around the Bay Area, Raven is a happily-settled Oaklander with a supportive leather family. "I have my slave, and I have my former apprentice. And her boy lives with us too. I do not lack for love and companionship, but it’s not in the traditional hetero-normative form."




"I love diapering," says Eve Minax. "Age-play is a huge force in my life."

AB/DL, which stands for adult baby/diaper-lover, is a paraphilia most people tend to find either comical or disturbing. Minax disagrees. "Diapering in and of itself isn’t about age play as much as it is about getting somebody into a primal state — that baby state, that place before you’re actually living, thinking, feeling, in civilization."

In terms of maternal figures, Minax — who is six feet tall in heels, with short spikes of orangey-red hair and a fluty, theatrical voice — looks more Auntie Mame than Mommy Dearest. That is, if Auntie Mame looked like she could flog you into an intensive care unit. (In fact, the first time I met Minax in person, her right wrist was in a cast. She sprained it while flogging a client too enthusiastically.)

And speaking of intensive care, Minax is known as much for her medical play as she is for age play — in case you’re on the market for a rectal exam.

After eight years of working in San Francisco and living in Chicago, Minax finally made the decision to make SF her home base last year, much to her own delight. "I come from Chicago. I’ve lived in Paris. I’ve lived in Melbourne. But San Francisco is the mecca for alternative sexuality. All everyone ever talked about was San Francisco! It was almost like having a religious experience. I wanted to wait until I was about to retire, but then finally I was like: fuck it, I’ll just move here."

Minax’s current projects writing a cookbook of "food and BDSM pairings", such as "pork ribs with a side of rubber gimp".


Editor’s note: This list is by no means exhaustive. There are an impressive number of women making an impact on San Francisco’s BDSM scene. In particular, we’d also like to give a nod to Cleo Dubois, Sybil Holiday, Madame Butterfly, Luncida Archer, Mistress Morgana, Fivestar, Maitres Madeline, Janet Hardy, Hollie Stevens, and Princess Donna.

Splurge and save


We often find ourselves at a crossroads between what we want to eat and what we can afford to eat. I want champagne and caviar, but I settle for beer and a tuna sandwich. I want stuffed quail, but I buy a rotisserie chicken. Given the economy, there is something about splurging on food that seems almost inappropriate. These are uncertain times, when everyone is trying to save money and even the most extravagant are keeping an eye on the size of their wallets. In the hierarchy of oxymorons, "cost-effective splurge" ranks up there with Microsoft Works, compassionate conservative, and Gov. Schwarzenegger.

We live in a city where the average meal cost is $38.70, according to the most recent Zagat survey, and the price of a splurge can land well into the three digits. Even so, treating yourself to good food doesn’t necessarily mean an orgy of excessive expenditure. And if you spend your money wisely, you’ll find that even in a city as expensive as ours, great dining deals can be found — even if your cravings are more Niman Ranch and your budget more Oscar Meyer. The following are some tips on how to get the most out of your money when you treat yourself to a gourmet meal on the town.

1. BYOB. The cardinal rule of smart splurging is to bring your own alcohol. Alcohol has a notoriously exorbitant mark-up at restaurants, but some restaurants allow you to BYOB for a small corkage fee or, even better, for free. Anchor Oyster Bar (579 Castro, SF. 415-431-3990, www.anchoroysterbar.com), Indigo (687 McAllister, SF. 415-673-9353, www.indigorestaurant.com), and PlumpJack Cafe (3127 Fillmore, SF. 415-563-4755, www.plumpjack.com) never charge corkage. Some restaurants will comp corkage one or more nights of the week. Laiola (2031 Chestnut, SF. 415-346-5641, www.laiola.com) has free corkage on Mondays, Zazie (941 Cole, SF. 415-564-5332, www.zaziesf.com) on Tuesdays, and Alamo Square Seafood Grill (803 Fillmore, SF. 415-440-2828, www.alamosquareseafoodgrill.com) on Wednesdays.

2. Parlay happy hour. Bars and restaurants regularly offer great deals in that dead-zone between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m., a time I fondly refer to as "lunchtime." At Andalu (3198 16th St., SF. 415-621-2211), Tuesday happy hour means $1 ahi tuna tacos. At Olive, (743 Larkin, SF. 415-776-9814, www.olive-sf.com) drink a perfectly mixed, classic martini for $5 on weekdays, followed by a $7 pizza large enough to split with friends. And don’t forget the tastiest of all happy hours: oysters! Happy hour oysters are $1 each at Woodhouse Fish Company (2073 Market, SF. 415-437-2722, www.woodhousefish.com) on Tuesdays, at Hog Island Oyster Company (1 Ferry Bldg, SF. 415-391-7117, www.hogislandoysters.com) on Mondays and Thursdays, and at Waterbar (399 The Embarcadero, SF. 415-284-9922, www.waterbarsf.com) on weekdays before 6pm.

3. Explore specials. Restaurants are feeling the economic downturn just as much as we are, and to usher in customers, many been offering tempting and reasonable "recession specials". Case in point: on Sunday through Thursday nights, Luna Park (694 Valencia, SF. 415-553-8584, www.lunaparksf.com) currently offers a rotating "blue plate special" priced from $10 to $12, with accompanying drink specials for $5.

4. Decide ahead. Most restaurants have online menus, and if you choose what you want before you get to the restaurant, you’ll prevent yourself from making impulse orders at the last minute.

5. Go prix fixe. At many restaurants, you can eat a delicious three-course meal for under $25 if you order off the prix fixe menu. Baker Street Bistro (2953 Baker, SF. 415-931-1475, www.bakerstbistro.com) offers a popular three course prix fixe dinner menu that includes soup, chef’s choice of an entree, and any dessert for $14.50. At Pisces (3414 Judah, SF. 415-564-2233, www.greenopia.com), start off with an organic green salad, followed by Muscovy duck leg with pear compote, and end with a crème brulée, all for $23.

6. Try lunch. According to Zagat’s San Francisco Dining Deals Guide, lunch items are generally 25 percent to 30 percent less expensive than dinner items, even if both menus are exactly the same.

7. Take a class. Give a man a fish taco and he’ll eat for a day. Teach him how to sauté a whitefish and make his own fish taco with mango salsa, and he’ll eat well for the rest of his life, plus impress his friends. Emily Dellas (www.emilydellas.com) at First Class Cooking, teaches three-course cooking classes out of her beautiful SoMa studio for $55, which covers all the ingredients. Post-cooking, you’ll sit down and eat the gourmet goodies you learned to make.

8. Go ethnic. Dining at ethnic restaurants is a great way to eat sumptuously without spending every penny in your pocket, since hole-in-the-wall places are almost always better than the expensive versions. Shalimar (532 Jones, SF. 415-776-4642, www.shalimarsf.com) is easily one of the best Indian restaurants in San Francisco, and most entrees on the menu are under $5 (BYOB). With prices like that, you can justify heading up the street afterward to The Hidden Vine (620 Post, SF. 415-674-3567, www.thehiddenvine.com) for some chocolate truffles and a glass of wine.

5 Great Sandwiches


Tourists may flood into our city each year just to eat bread, but we locals know that bread tastes a whole lot better if you make it into a sandwich. A good sandwich can cure a hangover, elevate a bad mood, decrease boredom, increase likeability, boost physical performance, raise your appeal to the opposite sex, hone your intellect, enhance your memory, and improve your personality — really, it’s shocking how little a sandwich can’t do. I could wax poetic until 2012 about the merits of two pieces of bread separated by edible fillings, but I believe my stomach says it best when it, quite simply, growls.


I don’t know what kind of sandwich voodoo they practice at Submarine Center in West Portal, but their subs are so yummy I’ve decided not to question it. For nearly 30 years, Submarine Center has made some of the best — and most enormous — hot subs in SF. Their gargantuan Atomic Sub is one of the few sandwiches in the world that could probably shoot down a military aircraft if blasted out of a bazooka. A beautiful symphony of ingredients, the Atomic Sub features toasted white French bread, hot pastrami, hot ham, hot roast beef, lettuce, tomato, fiery jalapeños, onions, mayo, and an unexpected grace note of piquant Italian dressing. The fact that they’ll put crushed rather than cubed ice in your Coke is just icing (ha ha) on the cake.

820 Ulloa, SF. (415) 564-1455, www.submarinecenter.com


Why offer just one type of grilled cheese sandwich when you can offer six? Blue Barn Gourmet, a rustic café housed in a barn (you can’t miss it) in the Marina District, answers this important philosophical question by giving the venerable grilled cheese its own special menu. The apotheosis of the grilled cheese has never looked so heavenly. Brie d’affinois, provolone, white cheddar, manchego, Jarlsberg and Gruyère, or mozzarella burratta — whatever the craving, Blue Barn aims to nurse that grilled cheese fever. Our favorite is the simple and effective cheddar panini, a textbook on proper sandwich- making written on pages of black forest ham, white cheddar, and honey mustard and bound with two slices of freshly baked sourdough. This is Velveeta on Wonderbread all grown up.

2105 Chestnut, SF. (415) 441-3232, www.bluebarngourmet.com


It’s comforting to know, before diving into the behemoth fried shrimp po’boy sandwich at Yats’, that San Francisco General Hospital is across the street. It’s still unclear why Jack’s, a humble Potrero District dive bar, made the decision to start serving authentic N’awlins style po’boys, but since that decision was made, we’ve all benefited. Featuring real Louisiana French bread shipped from the Leidenheimer Bakery in NoLA, this mountain of fried shrimp snow-capped with mayonnaise is so delicious it’s worth the risk to your heart. You won’t get your three-to-five daily servings of veggies, but if you feel guilty, they’ll readily give you extra lettuce and tomato. Finish your meal with a thick slab of cornbread and a beer or three. Your soul will thank you, even if your arteries don’t.

2545 24th St., SF. (415) 282-8906, www.whereyats.com


For the meatball fan who likes everything about meatballs except for the meat, the Meatless Mike sandwich at the popular sandwich shop Ike’s Place will happily satisfy that craven need for animal protein, sans animal. Tasty ground soy protein "meatballs" are thickly slathered in marinara and Ike’s own house-made garlic aioli ("dirty sauce") and topped generously with pepper Jack. Served on a toasty Dutch crunch roll, it’s so good that your next sandwich is on me if you aren’t convinced it tastes as good — if not better — than real meat. Instead of eating your sando on the sidewalk and using up a roll of napkins, eat in Dolores Park around the corner and wipe your hands on the grass. So gooey, messy, and delicious, you’ll proudly wear that dirty sauce stain running down the front of your shirt as if it were a gold medal.

3506 16th St., SF. (415) 553-6888, www.ilikeikesplace.com


A sandwich so elegant, it’s like the Lawrence Olivier of sandwiches. Fresh baked wild salmon topped with a layer of smoked salmon, with fennel, dill, and a sheath of iceberg lettuce on a soft roll, this sandwich is thoughtful and deliberate in its approach to taste and texture. It might sound fancy, but don’t confuse this sandwich for a snob. At $8.50, you get a bang for your buck. "The Sentinel" is an imposing name for a SoMa sandwich stand that offers no seating, let alone a bathroom, but like Thomas the Tank Engine, this tiny place means serious business. Owned and operated by chef Dennis Leary of Canteen — who will personally wrap your sandwich for you — these sandwiches work so hard at being good it makes other sandwiches look like lazy bums in comparison.

37 New Montgomery, SF. (415) 284-9960, www.thesentinelsf.com

San Francisco style


› culture@sfbg.com

When it comes to fashion, San Francisco is an interesting paradox. Bay Area designers and consumers are notoriously innovative, politically conscious, and stylishly playful. Many who grow up or study here go on to make waves on a national or international scale. And yet this city still is not considered a global style center in the way that New York, Paris, or Milan are. In recent years, even L.A. seems to be getting more attention as a legitimate fashion capital than San Francisco.

With spring (and spring fashion lines) afoot, we decided to profile some of our favorite local designers — those who, regardless of their popularity outside city limits, have decided to stay put or move here to contribute to the San Francisco fashion design dialogue. We predict it won’t be long before the fashion establishment is singing their praises — and wearing their designs. 269-fashioncover.jpg On Lawrence Cuevas and Marivel Mendoza, from left to right: 1) Denim double pocket shirt, avocado tee and twill shorts by Turk+Taylor; 2) Leather jacket and sheer top by Mi, leather hotpants by Shaye, jewelry by Muscovie Design; 3) Raindrop dress by Sara Shepherd, kit leather button shoes by Al’s Attire, jewelry by Muscovie Design; 4) Leather jacket and jeans by Mi, dot tee by Turk+Taylor, white tie by Indie Industries, wing-tip shoes by Al’s Attire; 5) White tee by Mi, corset skirt by Shaye, jewelry by Joy O, polka-dot hat by Al’s Attire. (All Photos by Jeffery Cross. Photo illustration by Mirissa Neff. Styling by Lauren Cohen, Laura Peach, and Juliette Tang. Hair and makeup by Shamika Baker)



With delicate features, a smattering of transparent freckles and dark blonde hair that hangs in messy curls to her elbows, Shaye McKenney could be a model. But her approach to fashion is more altruism than narcissism. After returning from an extended sojourn that took her to India, tribal Amazon, and on many nomadic adventures in between, the Oakland native and daughter of a designer opened La Library on Guerrero Street a borrow-or-buy boutique whose purpose is to make stylish clothing available to all.

“The sense of ownership we have is not sustainable,” says McKenney, whose business model was inspired by the designer handbag rental concept seen in Sex and the City. Which is why she doesn’t just sell outright the airy white dresses, embroidered linen jumpsuits, and leather hot pants she makes from her mother’s fabric remnants. It’s passion for social change — as well as for a good pattern and great fit — that drives her. The whole point is being able to share. “We should not have to sacrifice glamour and art because of money and a bad economy.”



Tucked away in a former North Beach butcher shop among towers of vintage hatboxes and fabric bolts stacked to the ceiling, custom clothier Al Ribaya is king of the cutting board. His old world tailor shop Al’s Attire makes every imaginable piece of clothing to order, paying more attention to detail than profit. “It’s a difficult thing to make money at,” he admits. “People don’t know what it takes to build something one stitch at a time.”

The other distinguishing factor about Ribaya’s shop is that he outfits people from head to toe. Using the same effort, energy, and remarkable focus, he makes everything from shoes crafted with soles of repurposed tire treads or turn-of-the-century buttons to suits, shirts, pants, jackets, skirts, and dresses. He even makes hats from suit fabric remnants. Every garment is custom labeled with the wearer’s name (alongside Al’s, of course). But despite all this retro hard work (and handiwork), Ribaya’s styles are remarkably fresh and modern. 269-fashiondoll1.jpg On Lawrence, clockwise from top: 1) Striped hat by Al’s Attire; 2) Double-pocket zippered denim shirt by Turk+Taylor; 3) Chambray golf jacket by Al’s Attire; 4) Dark denim jeans by Mi, 5) Silver wing-tip shoes by Al’s Attire; 6) Seersucker shorts by Turk+Taylor, 7) Brown leather jacket by Mi; 8) Avocado tee by Turk+Taylor. Underwear and socks by American Apparel.



What if one piece of clothing could be worn seven different ways? What would happen if you took a jacket and turned it upside-down? Or backward? These are the questions that the innovative, boundary-breaking creative minds at Harputs Collective have been asking. Their answer— called the swacket —hangs beside an oversized mirror in the airy industrial Harputs Own shop. The collective members are waiting for curious customers to come and play with the architectural sweater/jacket outerwear—putting it on backward, changing the swooping collar into a hood, then flipping it upside-down and adding a belt, until the most flattering fit is found.

The studio was started in September, a serendipitous confluence of a few thoughtful designers, a retiring tailor who stocked the store with fabrics and machinery, and an established high-end retailer with such a sense of play he will dye garments from New York lines when they are past season just to see if they will sell better in indigo than white. Our favorite part? A garment that fits well and can be worn several ways is less likely to go out of style — and therefore inspires us to consume less. (Our least favorite? They declined to participate in our fashion shoot. But we love ’em anyway.)



Mi Concept‘s visionary pieces are offered as a bespoke capsule collection for people who appreciate fashion-forward, cutting-edge design — and who aren’t afraid to look like time travelers from some distant utopian future.

Before designing any piece of clothing, Dean Hutchinson, creative director of the Mi Concept, asks himself, “How do I stimulate conversation?” The purpose, Hutchinson, says, is to challenge people to think beyond fashion. It must be working: ever since Mi Concept emerged at 808 Sutter last December, conversation and buzz have followed.

Peek inside the unmarked store and you’ll find an eerie modernist sarcophagus illuminated by fluorescent tubes, where dauntingly expensive-looking clothes cling to hangers as if worn by invisible ghosts. Together the space and the clothing create a synthesis of progressive, modern design.

Hutchinson eschews classic forms in favor of postmodernist distortion, working with asymmetrical lines and deconstructed shapes, often incorporating multiple silhouettes in a single garment to create an effect that evades easy labeling in any genre. “The other day someone said it was like a marriage between Rick Owens and Jil Sander,” Hutchinson said. “That was sort of flattering. But I don’t think about fashion like that. I have an initial idea, and then it just takes on it’s own life. It’s art.” 269-fashiondoll2.jpg On Mari, clockwise from top: 1) Bias-cut raindrop dress by Sara Shepherd; 2) Rouched front dress with pockets by Jules Elin; 3) Bell sleeve wrap jacket by Jules Elin; 4) Corset skirt with teal detail by Shaye; 5) Kit leather button boots by Al’s Attire; 6) Brown leather hotpants by Shaye; 7) Black leather jacket with sleeve zippers by Mi; 8) Polka dot hat by Al’s Attire; 9) Zipper-front dress by Turk+Taylor. Underwear and socks by American Apparel.



Jules Elin’s designs for women are simple and casual, without sacrificing style. The ideal wearer seems to be someone who is practical and comfortable but can appreciate the occasional coquettish detail — like a bell sleeve or a floral lining — on an otherwise unembellished piece.

While Elin is conscious of seasonal trends, there is nothing overtly “fashion-y” about her classic silhouettes: a swing coat is spruced up with extra-large buttons, a zippered jacket is adorned with a ruffled Peter Pan collar, and both are stylish without coming across as self-consciously en vogue. Elin’s pieces are made with organic cotton and get bonus points for not having to be dry-cleaned. On being called an eco-designer, Elin reflects, “I never really thought of it as being progress; I thought it was the right thing to do.”

When it comes to the designs themselves, San Francisco is always an inspiration. “There’s a lot of movement and architecture to the pieces,” she says. “But they’re also really sweet in a way that matches the demographic of this city.” And it’s Bay Area weather that determines the length of Elin’s sleeves: always long enough to be worn over the hands when it’s cold. San Franciscans are responding positively in turn, and even the dire economy hasn’t slowed the growth of her brand. “It’s just made me realize I can always work harder.”



When examining Turk+Taylor‘s well-edited collections of sustainable, nouveau-preppy clothes, the aesthetic appears so cohesive you could never tell that they nearly always result from a disagreement between the designers, Andrew Soernsen and Mark Lee Morris. “We fight all the time,” Soernsen proclaims. “We end up yelling.” During our interview, Soernsen and Morris often contradicted one another while answering the same questions — even the straightforward ones. “But somehow,” says Morris, “it all comes together.”

Soernsen and Morris don’t have fashion degrees. “We can’t sew. We aren’t pattern-makers.” The two designers run their business out of Soernsen’s apartment in NoPa, where boxes of samples are stacked on the floor, racks of clothes clutter every room, and eco-friendly fabrics perilously overflow from shelves and surfaces. Somehow, amid the jumble, they’ve managed to create beautiful collections of casual daywear year after year.

This year was the brand’s fifth, but neither Soernsen nor Morris has quit their day-jobs. “I don’t know how we have time to do this,” Soernsen admits. “We’re so unorganized.” The self-deprecating posturing belies the fact that they’ve grown into an influential label synonymous with San Francisco style. A perfect example? Pop into the SFMOMA store, and you’ll notice the museum tees are all by Turk+Taylor.



Sara Shepherd is, at heart, a contradiction: edgy London meets cuddly San Francisco. Originally from England, Shepherd moved to San Francisco to attend the Academy of Art University and stayed on to teach at the academy and create a fashion line out of her SOMA studio.

Shepherd’s Victorian menswear-inspired clothing evokes images of urban dandies and Byronic heroes, but her work is consciously feminine and innately modern. With tailoring that emphasizes shape over ornament, Shepherd draws her inspiration from classic British icons, whether fictional, like Alice in Wonderland, or real, like Elizabeth I. Despite the distant historical comparisons, her vision remains practical and wearable for San Francisco women who “know their own mind, who feel strong and confident in what they wear and who they are.” Like Elin, she’s also careful to consider San Francisco weather when designing. “There needs to be the opportunity to layer the clothes. There’s always, always a layer to them.” More local design! See our Pixel Vision blog for 50 more of SF’s hot designers and an exclusive guide to reconstructing a boring button-down into something better, with designer Miranda Caroligne.


Al’s Attire

1314 Grant, SF; 415-693-9900. www.alsattire.com

Harputs Own

1525 Fillmore, SF; 415-923-9300. www.harputsown.com

Indie Industries and Joy O.

www.indieindustries.com and www.joyodesigns.com

Available at Studio 3579, 3579 17th St., SF; 415-626-2533

Jules Elin


Available at Ladita, 827 Cortland, SF; 415-648-4397

Muscovie Design


Available at Collage Gallery, 1345 18th St., SF; 415-282-4401


808 Sutter, SF; 415-567-8080. www.themiconcept.com

Sara Shepherd


Available at M.A.C. 387 Grove, SF; 415-863-3011


La Library, 380 Guerrero, SF; 415-558-9841



Available at ABfits 1519 Grant, SF; 415-982-5726