FETISH KING: A Conversation Between Rick Castro and Rick Owens


The unedited version of this interview can be found in Autre’s Spring 2019 Print Issue. Preorder here.

Rick Castro is a legend in the queer underground scene of 1980s and 1990s Los Angeles. It was a time when Santa Monica Boulevard was rich with male hustlers, shirtless in the California sun, and the nightclubs were liminal landscapes of desire and liberation. To those who know him, he is "The Fetish King." Alongside artists like Ron Athey, Catherine Opie, Sheree Rose and Bob Flanagan, Vaginal Davis, Kembra Pfahler, and Bruce LaBruce, Castro utilizes queer identity and the physicality of the body to express themes of marginalization and oppression. A one-time fashion stylist for the likes of Bette Midler, David Bowie, Herb Ritts, and Joel-Peter Witkin—the latter of which helped him buy his first camera—Castro’s fantasies, fetishes, and fascination with the demi-monde manifested into imagery involving extreme leather bondage and rope play. From his factory in Italy, fashion and furniture designer, Rick Owens chats with Rick Castro over the phone. They discuss fetish as an idée fixe, their former love life, the subcultures of Los Angeles and Castro’s upcoming retrospective, Fetish King: Seminal Photographs 1986–2019, curated by Rubén Esparza, opening at Tom House in April.

CASTRO: Hi, Rick! I haven’t talked to you on the phone since the ‘80s.

OWENS: (laughs) Yeah, but I’ve seen you in person since then, don’t make it sound so tragic. So, let’s talk about when we first met. We met because you had seen the nipple ring I lent to you for a shoot?

CASTRO: I didn’t know who made it at the time, so I asked the storeowner if she had any more, and she gave me your number. So, I gave you a call the following day. I used those on the saxophone player for Tina Turner.

OWENS: I remember! It was an amazing picture. That might have been my very first credit!

CASTRO: It was your first credit! Those were the days, Rick Owens. I remember like it was yesterday…

OWENS: How do you do your contemporary B&D imagery? I feel silly saying B&D, is that what I call it?

Castro: Just call it fetish. I always like that term, fetish.

Owens: Fetish.


Castro: You know Rick Owens: our connection has always been fetish, whether we understood it or not.

Owens: I agree with you, we both have a love of fetish. But I always thought the leather bar aesthetic was about ritual, and about men who were oppressed and brutalized for being gay, taking control and going up against their oppressor. They were creating that cycle under their own terms. The new generation is more liberated. It doesn’t have that darkness anymore. Because men don't have as much oppression as they used to. This is just my interpretation, which could be all wrong. There was real triumph in becoming the master after being submissive for so long. In that small arena, in those dark rooms, you became the master… Are there more questions you want me to ask?

Castro: I’m more comfortable asking questions than answering questions...

Owens: Oh, god, you always have to be a top.

Castro: (laughs)

Owens: Although, you were kind of a bottom...

Castro: (laughs) I don’t see it in those terms...

Owens: Oh, okay. (laughs)

Castro: (laughs) To me, your aesthetic is very much like the dark side of Los Angeles.

Owens: Yeah, I agree.

Castro: Well, we romanticized it, for sure, and the idea of it being so esoteric. There was that whole cult side of Los Angeles. There were more cults in Los Angeles during the silent era, even to this day. But in Los Angeles, you can do anything. I've always thought in my mind that I can do whatever the fuck I want, even when I was a young kid. I used to just rebel for any reason.

Owens: I think we both were interested in the whole mythology of the movies, and the whole corruption behind it.

Castro: Well, we would definitely take the way we were seeing it. I remember when you had your studio on Las Palmas, and when I came to visit you, you had Veronika Voss on, and that had been on for a week, right? You just watched it over, and over, and over, like a backdrop.

Owens: Yeah.

Castro: And then, you would switch to Death in Venice and you would have that on for another few weeks. That's fetish my dear, that's fetish. (laughs)

Owens: (laughs) Well, I’m glad everything is coming full circle. Congratulations on everything.

Rick Castro’s retrospective, Fetish King, opens on April 6, with a reception that runs from 6pm to 8pm, and runs until April 27 by appointment. Click here to learn more. Preorder Autre’s Spring 2019 issue to read the unedited version of this interview.


Agency, Anal and Attitude: An Interview with Aiden Starr

Aiden Starr has the most magnificent rack I’ve ever come in contact with. Aside from her undeniably pronounced assets, Aiden is articulate and knowledgeable about what she does and has nothing to hide because of it. She is one of the most accomplished women in porn, exposed and giving no apologies. Straight forward and cutting; she tells it like it is and that is what I cherish about her as a friend and a colleague. She calls bullshit, she celebrates the good, she treats sex work with care and consideration. For her, porn is a humanist pursuit as she acts as a matchmaker between client and provider on all levels of the industry. I caught up with the 4’11” blonde bombshell and her sweet porn chum, Daisy Ducati, at the Beverly Center in mid-January after an Evil Angel shoot. I hung around while they shopped for their dresses for the 2016 AVNs and XBIZ awards while asking questions about her career and the porn industry at large, and learned more about her impressive roster of porn films, both as a performer and a director, past and upcoming and other untouchable arenas: agency, anal, and attitude. Some men seemed to recognize both of the girls as we walked through the mall, but I remained the invisible pervert.

Audra Wist: My interest in you has always been about you being super professional and somebody who has successfully crossed over hardcore porn and femdom and also somebody is who both a performer and a director. I am not so involved in the porn industry to know how common that is, but it doesn’t seem—

Aiden Starr: It’s not. Male performers and directors are way more common than female performer/directors.

Wist: So, was that a part of your trajectory when you started out… like you said, okay, I’m going to perform and I definitely want to get to directing eventually, this is something I’m interested in technically... or was it more or less I’m going to get into this and see how I do and play it by ear?

Starr: My first sex worker job was a phone girl in a dungeon. What a phone girl means is the girl who picks up the phone, who books the sessions for the other girls and who preps the equipment in the room and who keeps the time. And working on the magazine that the dungeon put out at the time cause this was the 90s.

Wist: And this was in New York?

Starr: Yeah, New York. And also working on the website, updating. But most of what I did and what I was really good at was managing the clients. I really liked submissive girls - that’s why I started working there. My buddy was a bottom and we played together and she started working there and she asked me to work there with her because she wanted me to work on her shifts, be the phone girl, and book all of her sessions. Get her guys that she liked and make good matches for her. So, my initial interest in the adult industry was making good matches between clients and providers to make the job enjoyable - to make the experience enjoyable for not only the clients, but also for the providers. Not only was a monetary exchange, but an exchange of a good time and a good energy.

Wist: Right, that’s what it’s about.

Starr: I didn’t start working in that kind of adult film until I was working in the dungeon for a couple of years and then I only did it with women who were my lovers in real life. Before I graduated high school, I thought about applying to Tisch [School of the Arts, at NYU] and had prepared an application, so I was familiar with video medium and had directed stuff before. In fact, the very first thing I directed, I was a twelve-year old and I directed a mockumentary on date rape.

Wist: Really? That’s great! Wait, so did you-

Starr: It was a dramatization. It was a girl and a guy going back and forth, talking about their experiences, like a he said/she said reenactment of it with a party scene: people drinking too much and the concept of date rape. She didn’t know why they were going into the bedroom because she’s young and didn’t have the experience... and he didn’t understand that she didn’t know why they were going into the bedroom because why would she go into the bedroom if she didn’t want to be there? That kind of scene. I wrote these scripts out for my friends, who were twelve, and I made them do it.

Wist: [laughs] Oh, you “made” them do it - that is your career in a nutshell.

Starr: And it was also kind of a porn, a soft-core porn. Now, my version of this was them getting under the covers and moving under the sheets because when you’re twelve you think that’s what sex is. You just pull the sheets over your head and move around.

Wist: That is so funny.

Starr: But that, theoretically, is a soft core porn. So, I guess if you look back early enough, I was always going to end up where I ended up but that’s not what initially sparked my wanting to be a sex worker. It’s like a spa, going to see a provider. It’s beautiful and it’s fantasy and it’s like watching one of those movies from the 80s like Legend or Labyrinth where everybody is amazing and is in a castle and there’s a princess. And to me, it was helping people with their castle fantasy.

Wist: You see a smattering of people in the adult industry, or maybe this is any industry, but you have people who are the real deal and people who are eh, what are you doing here.

Starr: Tourists.

Wist: Right, tourists. And I feel so much of what’s going on, all this shit about sex positivity and feminism, it’s all just internet chatter and no real showing up. Show up and do something. For you, it’s like here I am: a director for a huge porn company. Here I am: performing in porn. Here I am: a mainstay in porn and have been for a long time. What do you think about all the stuff that’s being thrown around on the internet online… I’m trying to think of an example…

Starr: Oh, you can think of an example. Just try real hard.

Wist: What are you thinking of?

Starr: The James Deen thing.

Wist: Oh, yes! Of course. I honestly did not even think of that when I was thinking of these questions but that is perfect. We should talk about that.

Starr: That’s a great example of sex workers espousing feminism in social media. The fact that, to these women, you always take the side of a woman whenever she claims to have been raped, that is part of their perceived definition of feminism. Which is interesting, because for me rape is not a gender-based issue. I know just as many men, or trans, or otherwise gendered people, who are sexually assaulted as I do women. So, I don’t see rape culture as a feminist issue. I see it as a humanist issue. And it’s interesting because it’s being ascribed to a feminist issue. People claiming “women get raped, women get raped, women get raped.” People get raped. Human beings get raped. And I think that’s kind of getting lost while people are espousing the idea of rape culture and the knowledge that this does exist. A man was trying to convince me the other day that rape culture doesn’t exist and I said “God bless you that you don’t know that that exists.”

Wist: Damn.

Starr: Seriously, bless your existence and that you don’t act that way towards people. Bless your parents for not fucking you up the way that a lot of other people are fucked up. It’s a thing, it’s a real thing. But I don’t think that it has to be under the feminist banner and I think that it is being ascribed to the feminist banner by sex workers or sex positive people in social media. It’s interesting to see the dynamic of where feminism was in the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, and today. Today it’s all about preventing victimization and I feel like many many years ago it was about empowerment and equality. I’m not sure how that happened.

Wist: Preventing of victimization. So, do you think that there’s an alternative to that view? Not that this is a say-all-end-all my-little-constitution of feminism or whatever, but is there anything we can do? Or is it just being somebody who is doing the work and not being “I’m gonna go on the internet and say what I think about this thing that I have no first-hand knowledge of whatsoever!”

Starr: I think for me feminism, at it’s core, is about equality. It’s about people being equal to people. You obviously could go into the history of it and it’s present-day application and the issue, be they American, Central American, South American, African, European, Australian, Asian, whatever pocket of the world, and how feminism plays out in certain area, but for me, it’s about everybody being equal to each other.

Wist: Straight forward, straight up.

Starr: That’s kind of how I’ve always seen it. Everybody deserves common human rights.

Wist: Yeah, there was a gal [Laurie Penny] who wrote a piece for TIME and it was this call to arms, like we have to do something about this, isn’t this horrible and I thought yes, of course rape is horrible—

Starr: Yes! No one is arguing that! No one has ever been like this is totally fucking fine. Only the idiots are saying “she asked for it” and no one listens to them. They’re idiots and we all know they are idiots. Feminism has definitely become more anti-male. Feminism looks closer to female supremacy than it does feminism.

Wist: Right, it does! I wrote down one time “I am a female supremacist but I don’t devalue men,” and I could not for the life of me figure out what that meant. But now, hearing you say that, maybe I was trying to ascribe to a particular brand of contemporary feminism while wanting to break away or find some alternative that felt right. I looked at that sentence a lot. Do you think that that’s why there’s been a rise in femdom porn? I don’t know the numbers, but do you think there’s been a significant spike?

Starr: Why there’s been a rise in femdom porn is such an interesting fucking question. It’s one of my favorite subjects to talk about. When I talk to clients about porn and why they watch it, I always pick their brains and it’s so interesting to see that side where subs have no control and they like having no control. Whereas, if you play with a girl and it’s a girl/girl situation, the girls like “you can do this to me, you can do that to me, but I don’t like that and I don’t like this, period.” Whereas, guys just want to be this rock bottom. It’s so different between the two genders and their perception of being submissive. It’s fascinating! I have no fucking idea why except that money is so important in today’s society that I’m sure it has something to do with the burden that men are supposed to be the primary breadwinners.

Wist: Yes, I was thinking the same thing. It has something to do with money as it’s so closely related to power.

Starr: Yeah, findom [financial domination] is huge.

Wist: I think it’s also that because of money, people acquiring large sums of it, people are too comfortable and they really seriously do not know what to do with all of it. And then it gets mixed in with desire or their dick or—

Starr: It’s burning a hole in their pocket.

Wist: Right.

Starr: I think men also feel like the pressure is on them in social situations to engage women and do they like the sexually aggressive archetype because it takes the pressure off of them. So, why I think that any kind of porn rises, any kind of art rises, any kind of entertainment rises, at all in any medium, is culture. The pervasive language of the culture directly affects femdom. What that language is is debatable but definitely male responsibility and that they feel burdened by society in some way, shape, or form to still be the sexual aggressor or monetary provider affects femdom. And going back to feminism, maybe that’s why all these girls are angry on the internet because their realities are not pleasing to them.


Wist: Yeah, this is the whole put a ribbon on your car situation, right? Support our troops? Did that. I bought my ribbon and put it on my car. Done. It’s a whitewashing culture. Maybe something that folds into that too… I was really into your Marshmallow Girls series for Evil Angel. I remember thinking damn, this is in the fucking mainstream! This is so crazy and why not? And to put it out there under those circumstances and to really capitalize on a previously thought of as “niche” market is bold! With that and femdom porn too, I think we really have to acknowledge and reckon with the fact that people want different things and have different needs. And look - you put it out there and people buy it. That’s the best part.

Starr: They buy it! People buy the shit out of my porn. I make money and I can pay you. Yeah, people buy the shit out of my weird crap.

Wist: I’m wondering about the back end of that, too. Does porn still dictate what’s on the cusp of happening in technology? Is the porn industry experiencing the same thing that magazines and the print media are right now then?

Starr: Yeah, obsolescence. Our medium is experiencing a trend towards obsolescence because of the drop in capital because of all of the free porn on the internet. It’s fucking us super badly.

Wist: What do you do to counteract that?

Starr: What you have to do is make something that they would pay for even if they could get it for free. You have to make the air smell so good that people will come over to your post to sniff the air even though there’s air everywhere for free. It’s really fucking hard. Selling something for free is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It is possible, but you just have to think about it. When I make movies, all of my cast is hand-picked. The movie we just shot Lesbian Anal Sex Slaves Volume 2—

Wist: Repeat the name for me?

Starr: Lesbian Anal Sex Slaves Volume 2. Daisy [Ducati] and I were doing a shot together, fleshing out ideas of how we were already interacting and then figured out as other characters, figuring out our dynamics, props. It’s a more complicated process now. You can’t just put anal porn on the internet now and expect to make money.

Wist: Do you guys storyboard?

Starr: I don’t storyboard… we were talking about it during sex. We were inspired by each other. I talked to her, proposed an idea afterward. She’s in a lot of my stuff anyway and I like picking performers who like to be involved in the creative process or are blank canvases. Typically, I like to pair those types together in a scene. Daisy has been in a lot of my stuff and she is a part of the creative process and then I pick a blank canvas, or two, and give them to her and it goes from there. Does that make sense? I just compared it to painting.

Wist: Makes sense to me.

Starr: I have active participants in a scene and passive participants. And I participate only if the passive participants are unable to complete the tasks at hands. So, today for example, the girl was having trouble with anal. I saw her having trouble with anal so I told her to get on her back and have the other gal lick her butthole. I had to change the situation because she was not comfortable. Otherwise, I would’ve just let them do what they were going to do. I only interject if I feel like I need to as a director.

Wist: Does that happen that often that people [directors] step in and say okay, you are clearly having trouble with your butthole today—

Starr: You just do something else. It’s okay! For me, it’s about the happiness and safety of all the performers. No one has to die. I don’t make snuff movies.

Wist: What’s that like for you to work with fresh eighteen year-olds in the industry? Do you feel like you’re mama bear?

Starr: I don’t usually hire young girls.

Wist: You don’t?

Starr: I don’t. I’m 36 and I’m not really attracted to people half my age. It’s just not a thing for me. This girl was special. She has a special energy and I wanted her to have good experiences with us doing rough stuff. She had fun today. And because of it, she’s going to be a more comfortable sex worker because of it.

Wist: Right, she didn’t feel bad about it and that’s so important! So many people have bad one-off experiences.

Starr: You can really give yourself serious psychological damage with bad experiences.

Wist: Yeah, I think about this with clients. They have these bad first experiences with dommes, and these are grown men, and they are traumatized. And I feel bad. That fucking blows. They paid to have a traumatic experience.

Starr: It’s intense. A lot of pro dommes are really bad. Really bad where I’m like what the fuck am I looking at right now?

Wist: Well, I have my own are-you-for-real bullshit detector thing that I do or observe, but do you have that too?

Starr: Yes, absolutely. If you are a pro domme and I see you do a scene with no aftercare, you suck. Period. If you are too fucking cool to get them a glass of water… if you are too fucking good to realize that you’re playing with a human being, I don’t like you. We’re not cut from the same fabric.

Wist: Yep. And it’s all too common.

Starr: And you know what it is? It stems from insecurity because cruelty stems from insecurity and that’s what that is. That’s not BDSM, that’s cruelty. It’s true, man. And girls think it makes them look like a badass.

Wist: It’s a bummer. So, you guys are preparing for the awards show this week?

Starr: Yeah, I’ve been working my balls off. XBIZ awards are this week and then the AVNs are the following week.

Wist : Did you ever read David Foster Wallace’s essay on his experience at the AVNs?

Starr: No.

Wist: He opens it up with this horrendous story about men jerking off so much, so furiously, that they just can’t handle it anymore and they chop that shit right off.

Starr: Sweet, wow. Wait a minute… first of all, the AVNs are not that much fun. Okay, if Satan were involved, I would be much more excited about not being able to work the entire time while being there. I would be much more excited if anybody even just masturbated until their dick fell off much less cut off! If there was any masturbation at all, that would be amazing. There’s really nothing. We get dressed up, sign shit, talk to people, they stare at us, we do radio shows—

Wist: What’s that like, getting the mesmerizing stare? What are their faces like?

Starr: Here’s the weirdest shit the world: everybody knows your name and you don’t know any of their names. And you don’t know who they are… or if you do. I just try to be nice to everybody. That’s my plan for AVNs.

Wist: Do they say weird shit to you during a meet and greet?

Starr: Sometimes. Like, “Every time I masturbate, I cry,” and shit like that. I love that though. I want people to scare the other girls standing around — that’s how weird I want it to be. If it’s not weird, it’s just like, “Hi, nice to meet you, goodbye.” I like weird shit. One dude during an independent signing at a store, he came in and said, “You have really big breasts.” and I’m like, “yeeeeep!” and he goes, “I bet your mother had really big breasts, too.” and I said, “She does.” and then he comes back with, “I bet your grandmother has big breasts.” and I’m like, “As a matter of fact, she does.” And he was older; he started asking what my grandmother looked like...

Wist: Oh, god.

Starr: And at the end of the conversation he asked me if I would tell my grandmother that he said hello and I was like, “Sure will, buddy.”

Wist: Shit. [laughs] By the way, I do have to say, your tits are amazing. That was one of the things I had wrote down to say. It’s not a question, but I needed to say it.

Starr: Then you’re going to love the dress I’m wearing to AVN. It’s red latex over the boobies, over the cleavage and it’s really not my size, total smashville.

Wist: Another question I had for you because I still haven’t figured this out for myself, was about negotiating yourself into your work. I struggle with this. So, you have your government self and then you have this performer you’ve created, another part of you, which is still very much you and not something false. I was also thinking about David Bowie since he passed the other day, and I thought wow, porn is like David Bowie. Is there a relationship there?

Starr: Porn is like David Bowie but porn is more like football.

Wist: Porn is like football? Explain.

Starr: So, you’re a football player, right? You eat well, you’re in shape, you work out and train, you look good, you’re a football player. But then, when you put on your uniform, you tackle people. You wouldn’t tackle people in real life, but you do when you’re in uniform because it’s your job and it’s okay. So, porn is like football.

Wist: Ohhhh, I see. So, porn is like football and not like David Bowie?

Starr: Porn is like David Bowie because David Bowie was majestic and sexual and fantastic. And tight shiny clothing and shoes you can’t really walk in. David Bowie is like porn because of the sexuality that is so raw and potent that it makes people nervous. The most popular comment on all of the stories on my Facebook feed about David Bowie on Facebook were “speechless.” He renders people speechless. Porn renders people speechless. When guys come up to us at AVN, they often cannot articulate themselves. You’re activating the part of your brain that does not recognize language as a form of communication, the animal or primal part of your brain that is activated by symbolism, colors, tarot cards, crosses, shit like that. That is how porn is like David Bowie.

Wist: You knocked it out of the park.

You can follow Aiden Starr on Twitter here. Text and interview by Audra Wist. Photographs by . Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE

Sex As Power, Black Identity and The True Meaning of Love: A Unique Conversation with Artist, Performer and Writer Lex Brown Who Just Released Her First Erotic Novel

Text by Audra Wist

Lex Brown is an artist, performer and the author of My Wet Hot Drone Summer, recently published by Paul Chan’s Badlands Unlimited as part of the New Lovers erotica series. Lex and I met in the summer of 2011, keeping in touch and crossing paths in LA. She is now pursuing an MFA in Sculpture at Yale University. It’s hard for me to write about Lex as I see her as a close friend who I love, someone who I think is accomplished just as a person, aside from her remarkable work. She seems to have an casual but intimate knowledge of a pulse that goes unnoticed by most. Our interest in sex crosses over where we think in terms of experimentation or the idea of sex as power - where are there glitches and what is happening when we have a sexual encounter? In her new book, she takes on sci-fi erotica full throttle with a cloaked critique. She is electric and the book reflects that spirit with equal parts hilarity and sincerity. We sat down in Pittsburgh, PA after performing together the night before to discuss her new book, views on sex, the fluctuating temperature of our time, and how to appropriately experiment with love.

Below is an excerpt from our conversation.


Lex Brown: Audience praise in general is a weird dynamic.

Audra Wist: Actually, Aaron [Kunin] and I were talking about this… there’s some poets that don’t even want white writers to talk about black writers. No names, no mention of their work, no praise, nothing. And I wonder is that constructive? Or how is that productive? Anyways, what is it like to do the performance you’re doing or write the book that you’ve written and have a primarily white audience watch or read it and go “Good job, wow, great work.” I have no idea what that’s like. I remember [in a group dynamics class] sitting in the William Pope.L show at MOCA and we were to discuss the show and a black student blurted out “What is white guilt? Tell me. I don’t know. Can a white person explain that to me?” And of course, all of us whiteys were stunned, panicked. We didn’t know how to approach that question but we all knew it very well. It felt like anything we said was wrong - and here, to congratulate feels like it’s patronizing in some way. There are so many intricacies to being a person of color and writing or making and looking at art that I simply do not have the experience to speak about… or I don’t know what is the right or supportive response to these complicated knots.

LB: I think what is so complicated about right now is that in addition to already living in the white patriarchy, within the last twenty or thirty years, there has emerged another normalized reaction—a standardized black reactionary identity, or criticality, which does not involve thinking critically. And also the same for feminism and other marginalized groups. There’s this component of people reacting in the way they think they’re supposed to and not really stopping to consider and engage with things. Though, as I’m saying this, I know I can only notice things because I’m in my own very specific place of privilege… my own self-awareness of being black in an upper-middle class situation gives me a special kind of privilege of hyper-articulateness. Anyways, the point I’m getting to is that there are so many blogs in which people are going off about x, y and z. A lot of people are angry about a lot of things because they do recognize their oppression, and that is good, but in a way it can be so counter-productive to the project. I can understand where they’re coming from, but as a writer, when you’re talking about systemic oppression, you cannot throw that phrase around without providing the facts and experiences that are evidence of that oppression. You need to back it up because the things you are saying are true and are important but if you don’t back it up the only reaction you’re going to get is that you’re just being emotional and then you can’t be mad when somebody only sees that emotion. You can’t get mad at some white male reader when he says “all you’re doing is reacting emotionally” when the way that you’re writing is with the expectation that people just automatically understand you. You need to write as a black woman as if nobody understands, explain everything, because people can be ignorant.

AW: And that goes for anyone making an argument about anything, right?

LB: Yeah, you really need to because if you’re in a position of marginalization, there’s nothing about systems that are organized that benefit you. You need to be like a razor blade if you’re going to cut through the bullshit. You have to be! It’s really important to understand the intricacies of what you’re talking about and the identity of the person with whom you’re talking to.

AW: Or the context perhaps, like who it’s being sent out to or where it’s being published.

LB: Yes, this is something I learned in the clowning workshop. If you really want to change someone’s mind, they need to feel like you see them and they need to feel like… or, they need to have the experience of seeing you saying “I’m marginalized, you’re not, can you understand this?” There is a certain amount or acquiescing or compromise that has to happen. Making things a little sweeter. Not everybody feels that way. But my perspective on this is that the little song and dance… you know, it helps because in order to-- I don’t know if this is coming out coherently.

AW: I’m totally following. This is making sense.

LB: Okay, so, for example, to be a woman and talking to men and trying to get them to see you, you have to be like “Don’t worry, man, I see you.” You know?

AW: Yeah, of course.

LB: And of course I see you because I live in your world! I understand-- well, no I don’t understand what it feels like to be white... but I also kind of can because I imagine it would be like if I turned off some things in my brain. For a long time, I have had a guilt that I had to get over that I imagine feels similar to white guilt because ultimately white guilt is a class guilt. It’s a privilege guilt. That’s what it has to do with and for me I felt guilty about privilege and a very complicated guilt about being black and I felt like I didn’t have anything valid to talk about because I was not suffering or something. And then, slowly I realized, oh, wait, I have this very unique position in combination with my disposition, which I also like thinking about those words: position in society versus a disposition, or personality, what does a disposition mean? Dispossessed?

AW: Or out of position?

LB: Yes, something to explore. Good title for a piece. But, I also relate that to the book in the sense--

AW: I was just going to say that. That’s perfect for the book: position and disposition.

LB: There’s the position of the book and the disposition of the book. There’s funny stuff in there, too. Erotica is something that people don’t take seriously but arousal is a serious and real thing. It’s a fun book. You know, I hope people even read it. That’s the whole question I have. Are people even going to read this book? And maybe that’s a larger question about books.

AW: Who reads ‘em?

LB: Who reads ‘em? Seriously! I’m reading books right now.

AW: What are you reading?

LB: Right now, I’m reading Taipei by Tao Lin, Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger, and Citizen by Claudia Rankine.

AW: That’s an interesting combination of books.

LB: I love when I can get into a book and I feel like I’m into all of them. Taipei because it’s just so... god, yes! That is how it feels to be a young person today. Have you read it?

AW: I haven’t read it yet.

LB: It’s really remarkable. I think someone on the back cover describes it as “relentless.” The intensity and specificity with which he describes an anxiety about vagueness that we experience now in the information age: a vague sentiment about being and existing. Especially because his character is a writer like him, everything that comes with existing as an artist that is existentially questionable and that is not present in the New York Times article where they’re talking about the “Creative Class” and asking “Do these doodles make you feel better?” That is the difference between this self-help doodling and being an artist - it’s confronting that existential vagueness that is the reality of life and being like, fuck!

AW: Disposition.

LB: Yeah, and Franny and Zooey is great because Franny’s character kind of talks about that, too. It’s actually very contemporary. Have you read it?

AW: Yes, I was always struck by that, too.

LB: Yeah. There’s this part with her talking to her boyfriend and then she runs to the bathroom crying and tries to pull herself together… there’s this affective nature with which she presents herself that I really identify with. Like you can’t help but have affectations and play with those when you are a conscious thinking intellectual person who is aware of that intellectualism as a marginalized person. You can’t help but be interested but also grappling with your own affect and what do I do with that? Citizen is great. I only just started, but she talks about Hennessy Youngman and him giving instructions to black artists on how to express feelings of rage, but Rankine is talking about the real rage that is the undercurrent of this rage, Hennessy Youngman’s rage, that is subdued. She has this brilliant line about making oneself visible to death. And I read it and was like, yep, that’s me. This craving for visibility. To be visible at all costs. Listen to me at all costs.

"...On the one hand, I’m like fuck, fuck these white dudes, I can’t keep having sex with them because I feel rejected and in pain and then on the other hand, I want to do it because it’s an experiment to push somebody. But it takes me so long to get over everyone. Through all of these relationships, I’ve learned and learned and learned to constantly try to get to a place of truth with love."

AW: Visibility at all costs, yeah, I feel that.

LB: I hope people read this book! Just look at me.

AW: Yeah, look at me.

LB: Like in your performance, you said “they never let you speak.”

AW: Yeah, they don’t. And when you do speak the whole thing is really dependent on the fact that they listen. That’s the hard part. You try to give them the opportunity to listen as best as you can but… you give it your best shot.

LB: Yeah, last night with our performances back to back and then Moor Mother Goddess - that was great!

AW: It was a great trifecta.

LB: I feel like when some people perform they ask “look at me” instead of saying “look at me.”

AW: Yeah, you don’t need to ask for permission and that’s actually the problem is that you shouldn’t have to ask for permission. I will take that.

LB: Or it’s something else to do while doing something else and saying look at me.

AW: Like I said last night, women are typically very good at being direct. Is everyone in the Badlands New Lovers Series female identified?

LB: Yeah.

AW: The ability to be direct is really specific to women, I think.

LB: That’s something Michaela asked me on the panel about being a woman, or writing as a woman, and she made a point—and I’m glad she made this point and it was pretty bold—she said, “We got submissions from men but they just weren’t as good - they just weren’t.” And the way she said it was very straight up, no apologies, and I appreciated that. I think she was asking why do you think, as a woman, you’re a better writer? And my response was…

AW: Women are better.

LB: [laughs] Yeah, women are better. But as a woman, you experience sexuality beyond the bedroom.

AW: You do!

LB: In a way that most men do not.

AW: You put your finger in the fucking wound. Men don’t even see the wound, they don’t even know. Women are in there, feeling around, touching it.

LB: Or the wound is wounding you, just walking down the street, whatever. There are so many infinitesimal interactions of sexuality that women live and breathe. For me, I constantly feel like I’m living and breathing identity as a woman, as a black woman. And because I’m black, I’m so sensitive to other aspects of class that might be harder to feel if you were white. But people of color, when you’re in this weird position… somehow my ancestors made it here and I’m so aware of here.

AW: Of course, that lineage and the time.

LB: I’m so aware of my ancestors all the time. I really visualize myself almost with a cape trailing behind me—my parents, grandparents. Who are mostly black, but some white and Native American. My mom knows a lot more about it than I do. I need some money to do some research. You know some issues are too big or complex for me to take on right now because I don’t have the money or can’t devote the time.

AW: Something else I thought of while reading the book was sex as transactional.

LB: I think I need to peg somebody. I think I need to have that experience.

AW: Oh, yeah. That’s an absolute. I think men have this fantasy about it. They think women are so turned on or are getting so sexually aroused by it, and that’s a part of it, but I think it’s mostly… I mean, I’ve said this before: sex is not that interesting, power is and pegging is about power. Power is in that wound.

LB: Yeah, I was having sex with this guy and afterwards, I was explaining to him what I was thinking about the whole time and he said, “Wow, you think a lot.” The instinct I feel when he makes that comment is I’m going to push this. You’re obviously fascinated by me thinking a lot or you’re trying to destroy it. That’s hyperbolic but, there’s an attraction in sexual attraction, at least this is the way it works for me… is that there’s something that you want in a person and at the same time there is something you want to erase or destroy, even if the thing you want to erase is your own desire for wanting something that isn't you. Does that make sense?

AW: Yeah.

LB: So, when he says something like you think so much, I’m thinking yeah, I do, but I don’t know if you realize what it sounds like you saying that me… but also I don’t know what I sound like to you telling you this. That aspect of sex is very interesting to me as a transaction between people.

AW: It’s almost as if sex can be an intellectual transaction.

LB: Oh, sure! When we were having sex, I was thinking about so much stuff! I always do when I’m having sex. And I really feel that also has to do with when you’re in the receiving position. Physically, you are equally engaged in making it happen but you could, in the receiving position, you could ostensibly just be completely flat and have all this time to think which I often do.

AW: [laughs]

LB: You don’t have to do anything to make intercourse happen. I think it’s true too that you could be a passive top. Sort of.

AW: But putting them in that position, the importance of pegging, is putting them in the position of receiving so that their mind has that time to do what we usually do.

LB: Yeah, totally. I really fight that impulse and what this guy and I talked about on the train, it was a difficult discussion. I  have this impulse to go towards things that are difficult. I want to change your mind. Bottom line, I really do. When you’re attracted to somebody and you feel like they have something that you don’t, that’s what makes the attraction.

AW: It does.

LB: Projection.

AW: Absolutely.

LB: Projection is attraction. And so I know what it is that these white guys have that I don’t. But, what is it that I have? I feel like they don’t know, but it’s there and it’s an interesting mystery. What is it that I have that they don’t know that they want? And so on the one hand, I’m like fuck, fuck these white dudes, I can’t keep having sex with them because I feel rejected and in pain and then on the other hand, I want to do it because it’s an experiment to push somebody. But it takes me so long to get over everyone. Through all of these relationships, I’ve learned and learned and learned to constantly try to get to a place of truth with love.

AW: I think that’s a really good outlook though. I’ve been thinking about the same thing.

LB: I don’t know if I’ve ever even had sex with somebody who loved me and I loved them.

AW: And even when you do, sometimes it can’t work. I have so much love for [my ex], but I’m not sure if we can ever fuck again, there’s too much love between us.

LB: In a sense that sex diminishes that or is superfluous?

AW: It diminished the unconditional nature of our love. Sex can introduce a possessiveness and necessitates something else, something more. Whereas when we’re just friends, it’s an unconditional love.

LB: I don’t know if they can go together.

AW: Neither do I. I’m very skeptical. But I’ve also had weird sexual situations work in all types of ways, good and bad.

LB: At this point I think love is really grappling with your inner shit and being challenged to throw some stuff away. But also own some stuff—own your shit in a way that’s uncomfortable. Within the act of loving someone, you have to come to terms with how you construct yourself, as well as how you construct the other person. I’ve had to come to understand love as a non-possessiveness.

AW: I see what you mean. There are also some types of love can be play pretend or a security blanket to shield you from your own cracks. I wonder sometimes if I am really looking at love for what it really is.

LB: I imagine love as the essence of the universe, which is beautiful, but not peaceful. Each person is a universe, and you have to come to an understanding. Maybe real love is unexpectedly coming to the same definition of what love is.

You can purchase Lex Brown's book, "My Wet Hot Drone Summer," here. See the trailer below. Text and interview by Audra Wist. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE

The year is 2056. Hotshot lawyer Mia Garner needs a fresh start after dumping her cheating boyfriend. So she goes on a cross-country drive with Derek, her handsome tech stepbrother, to meet Xavier Céron, a mysterious CEO who wants to acquire the game-changing nanochip Derek invented.

Femdom and Supermasochism In the Modern Age: An Interview With Sheree Rose

text and interview by Audra Wist

Sheree Rose is the kinky grandmother I never had but always wanted. Featured in the groundbreaking 1997 documentary SICK alongside her late partner, supermasochist Bob Flanagan, Sheree was the woman behind the curtain acting as Bob’s Domme and a massive force in helping him achieve greatness through performance, poetry, and promiscuity. All smiles and as candid as it gets, she gleefully divulged the breadth of her sexual awakening and the hardships in getting there. She is a punk, a pervert, and a pioneer — a true libertine — warm hearted yet strict and opinionated, which is why I was initially drawn to her. She is most written about in the context of Bob (“an exotic endangered species,” as she calls him), and while that relationship was undoubtedly important to her and performance history, Sheree stands alone as a remarkable and fascinating woman who waxes poetic on the state of femdom, feminist practice, and sex in the contemporary time — “out of the bedroom and into real life — explicit not just implicit.” On September 11th, we met at the ONE Archives at USC to discuss her role in the BDSM and D/s scene in Los Angeles during the 70s and 80s, the importance of choice, questions about male sexuality, and our shared love for guiding slave boys into the matriarchy.

AUDRA WIST: I am primarily interested in you as a dominant woman. Obviously a lot of your work involves Bob. How did you come to understand your relationship? Especially when you were coming of age?

ROSE: I was one of those 50's teenagers who, I think I missed the sexual revolution by a year or two.  And back then abortions were illegal, and in my middle-class Jewish family you were expected to be a virgin until you got married, not necessarily because it was the moral thing to do, but because we didn't want to get pregnant. And we tended to get married right out of high school--many of my friends married right out of high school. I was really worried I was gonna be an old maid. So, I married the first man that I slept with. Did I know about sex? No. I lived at home; I had never had my own apartment, you know I was very sheltered. I was immersed in this culture that was very conservative. Did I know about sex education? Did I know about pornography? Did I know about gay people? Nothing. I don't think I was that unusual; that's just the way it was.

AW: Was that frustrating?

ROSE:  No because I didn't know about sex. I mean I really didn't know. I couldn't say it was bad sex. I knew I was bored with it; I knew I didn't like it. I started going to UCLA at night, and we would go out drinking after class. Only once a week before class. We would go out and have fun, just talk. This was something I had never done before, and these were all single people. My social life before then was couples going out to dinner on Saturday night, going to each other's houses for little dinner parties. It was very boring, but this was exciting. And one night we were out late.

AW: And what year was this?

ROSE: This was '77, and my husband said--I came back a little drunk; I had been drinking-- he yelled at me: "No wife of mine is gonna go out drinking in bars! I won't allow this!" And he threw something at me; I think a bottle of perfume or something; I don't know, and that was my moment. That was this is not the life I want to live. I don't want anybody telling me what I can and cannot do, especially for what I felt was relatively innocent. I mean I wasn't having orgies. But remember, you have to remember the context: my husband was a lot older than me, so he was even more conservative than I was. And that was it, that moment. And soon after that I started having an affair with one of my fellow students, a Colombian. And he played the classical guitar. He started my love affair with guitar players.

AW: So, you did it the exact way you do this kind of thing: you exited the conventional life and did the whole passionate Latin lover thing?

ROSE: I did the whole thing. And I realized that I didn't want to lie to my husband. And my friends said to me: "Look, just have lovers, and don't tell him." That was the morality. Again this is a very small sub-group of people: Jewish, middle-class, upper-middle-class--married people with children. Very respectable people.

AW: This is funny. The reason I got into BDSM, or what peaked my curiosity is that I also grew up middle-class, and I worked at a drycleaner, and I always thought everything was just so, you know? Everyone was always so pleasant and so great. But I thought: "this is just bullshit, such bullshit". I remember I was working one night and this guy came in and told me, out of nowhere that he loved to wear women’s clothes. That was the same thing, it just shattered that illusion in an instant. 

ROSE: Well yeah, it is illusory. Unfortunately all the hypocrisy, especially around sexual matters, I mean big deal. But in the meantime, between the time I got married in the 60's and eventually divorced in the 70's, the whole sexual revolution had taken place. Birth control was out there, so I could have an affair and not worry about getting pregnant. And that was a big deal. I found that being being was wonderful, and he had a different take on life. You know, he was very romantic. He was like a rolling stone because he came from a very wealthy family in Colombia, and he just travelled around doing different things, doing whatever he wanted to do. So that was a good introduction because he wasn't really the typical married guy who you'd have an affair with. But after that break up I was single for about three years, and this was from '77 to '80. And this was not a happy time. In some ways it was great because I explored my sexuality; I said: “I need to know what sex is all about.” I explored my sexuality with different people, but never one that I felt like I really liked.

AW: So, you were cruising?

ROSE: I took a lot of chances. But this was the time. It was the time before AIDS; it was the time to do it. And I had my tubes tied after my two children, so I wasn't worried about getting pregnant. And most of the time I used condoms (luckily I didn't get any diseases) but this was before AIDS and we didn't think about sex as something you could die from. I was hanging out with X--the rock 'n roll group X. I became a groupie for X. I was older than everybody else! I was in my late thirties, but that's what got me off my boyfriend. We had been big Who fans, and I heard about this new group X, and decided I wanted to go see it, so we went to see our one of their first performances. And there were people throwing up on the floor, people with purple hair, people cutting themselves.

AW: At the show?

ROSE: Yes, if you were an X fan--and back then it was before there were plastic bottles, you had glass bottles--and you would cut their arms with X's. So the first time I saw stuff like that was not SM, it was the punk scene. And I was an older punk, but I was a punk. In that photograph of me and Billy Zoom, I was the punk queen and he was the punk king at a punk prom. It's a very famous photograph. But that was before Bob. This was all before Bob.

AW: And this was in LA?

ROSE: All in LA. It was '78-'79 was when I got totally wild that way.

AW: So did you run around with the same people, like Joanna Went?

ROSE: Yeah, of course I know Joanna Went. But that was later, once I got together more with Bob, and we got more into the art part of it. But at that point it was all music. I knew everybody in that scene, and it was really fun: those early days. It was innocent in a way that it isn't now. And then I went to a poetry party Halloween 1980; my other interest was in poetry, and it was Beyond Baroque which was a poetry art center. And all the poets came through there. I was dating a poet there, and he invited me to this Halloween party. I was dressed like Jane Mansfield. Bob wrote a poem about it, and he was a character from Night of the Living Dead. So I am in a blonde wig, and fake boobs, and a tiny dress. I knock on the door and he answers the door and he has hand in his mouth, and we looked at each other--two dead characters--and something happened. I don't know what it was, but it happened. He was 27, very young, but I just thought there was something interesting about him. He was thin and very punky looking, and I was impressed that he had a book. That was a big deal in those days, to have a book published. So we made a date, and like a day or two days later he came over and we went to dinner, and he told me he had cystic fibrosis which I had never heard of. He said to me: "you know it’s a gastric disease, and I have to take all these pills, and I have to cough." And I thought oh, okay, No big deal. I was exploring. Remember I was in an exploratory period; I am looking for a new kind of something.

Mockup of Bob Flanagan on the cover of Bimbox, No. 4. Bob Flanagan and Sheree Rose Collection. ONE Archives at the USC Libraries

AW: How did your relationship move into SM?

ROSE: So that first date at my house--I had this big house in Westwood--and he fell in love in my basement, which we did utilize. And he said to me: "I'm a submissive man," and I thought what does that mean? And he said "I have CF." And that meant nothing to me. But he said: "I want to belong to a woman. I want to do anything she says. I want to cook for her, clean for her: wash windows, wash clothes, clean up." And for me, I thought this is a great. I want a man to do all those horrible chores for me that I can't stand doing. Because when I was married, and we were both working, I had maids. So I knew what that was like.

AW: He came out swinging.

ROSE: Well, remember he was dying. He thought he was dying, and was looking for a good two-year relationship. Most people with CF didn't live past 30, and he was 27. So I thought to myself: this is interesting. I mean two years.

AW: Did he tell you straight out: "I could die"?

ROSE: Cystic Fibrosis was a deadly disease, and he started talking about the SM aspects: he liked to be whipped; he liked to have his penis tied up. And I had never heard any of that stuff, but all the light bulbs went off for me. The other thing that had happened to me is that I started going to feminist workshops, and I was a student. I had stopped archaeology and went into psychology. I have a Masters in psych. So at that time my assignment was the women's building on campus. Now, I am a straight woman, don't know anybody who's gay. Really, nobody. And I was thinking: I have to go in there with all those lesbians. I was petrified! I don't know what I was thinking. But this was my assignment, and I started meeting all of these wonderful women who weren't scary at all. They were women! They were cool women! And also from that came The Socialist Feminist Network, and this was a group of women who met once a week to talk about feminist literature, and the history of feminism, and women before the patriarchy. And all the texts that has been written--that I knew nothing about. Everything about women power and women taking control, and I think most of these women were lesbians, but I was dating someone at the time and they said to me: "don't you realize you're sleeping with the enemy?" That was the attitude.

So that got me thinking. I had been very dissatisfied with these men I had been dating, so when Bob came into my life at this point it was like the perfect storm. As an identified straight woman I was looking for a man who would not dominate me. Who I could take the role, take over. So it was the political aspect of it as well as the sexual, and he was in a band, and he was a poet, and a lot younger than me. It all worked perfectly.

Had he told me he was a dominant man, and wanted to dominate me I wouldn't have been interested. My head was filled with rhetoric about women power, and all that.

AW: You came about it from almost a theoretical or intellectual standpoint, whereas now, I feel like there is so much merchandising of BDSM. There is so much imagery, and the amount of porn out there. Not that that's bad, but the difference in how you come to it.  Do you think that one is better or worse or it doesn’t matter?

ROSE: As far as sexuality is concerned, some people--male or female--enjoy getting a sexual thrill. SM to me is all about satisfaction. If you're not getting off on something you're doing, you're not doing it right, or you shouldn't be doing it. So, some people, really enjoy being submissive: it gives them a sexual thrill. And if they love their partner, it's fun. And that's why you do it, that's why you should do it anyway.  But for me, anyway, it wasn't fun for me to be submissive. It wasn't fun for me to be tied up, and we tried a little bit of that. I did not like following directions, and he had no interest in doing that. He loved to be submissive; he loved to be on his knees--whatever weird stuff I wanted him to do, he just got off on it. So I don't think it really matters what your theoretical thing is, it matters more what gets you wet, what gets you off. It's sexual. It can be theoretical, but if it’s not sexual--if you're not doing it for money. Then there are economic reasons for doing what you're doing, which I have no problem with at all.

AW: There was never any formal training?

ROSE: He taught me! He had been going to professional Mistresses for year, which many men would do. He would save up his money, go and pawn his camera, then go and get beat up. It was a lot of physical domination. He had a lot of bruises, a lot of welts. He liked very heavy SM; not as heavy as some guys, but that was what he was into. He loved being in bondage. So, it clicked. When I first got together with him, there wasn't any situation that I knew of where a couple could go in and do SM together. It was very private, very closeted. I wanted to get it out of the bedroom and into real life. It wasn't just that I tied him up, and we fucked, and nobody knew what we were doing. No, it was a political statement. I wanted him with a nose ring and a collar and people knowing that he was submissive to me, not just in the bedroom, but in real life.

"It was very private, very closeted. I wanted to get it out of the bedroom and into real life. It wasn't just that I tied him up, and we fucked, and nobody knew what we were doing. No, it was a political statement. I wanted him with a nose ring and a collar and people knowing that he was submissive to me, not just in the bedroom, but in real life."

AW: Did you have any inspirations?

ROSE: Our model was Leopold Von Sacher Masoch. He wrote a book called Venus in Furs (a very famous book) and masochism comes from him. And he was essentially Bob's role model. He looked for the woman of his dreams who would be cruel to him, who would be mean to him. And they started with contracts, so we started with contracts. Everything was written out: what we would do, and how we would do it, and it was renewable. He signed with a cut in his chest, to formalize it. He was my slave forever, or until I said you're not my slave anymore.

AW: Marriage is a contractual thing, but using the body as a symbol of that power exchange or bond is interesting.

ROSE: Right, absolutely. I wanted it to be explicit, not just implicit. And I like the idea of contracts. And later on, when we started different groups to bring SM into the mainstream, and we started a group called Society of Janus. There were quite a few women coming into it, and I wanted to get women into the SM scene. I didn't want it to just be under the table. Because it was "nasty", the only women in it were professional, but they weren't high on the social ladder, back in those days in the early 80’s. I mean they were not talked about. They were there, for sure, so I really wanted to make it more respectable. If a women wanted to be more submissive or dominant, it didn’t matter, to be able to be out about it, honest about it. So I started having female slaves. My main slave was Bob but I had other slaves as well, and with all of them we had contracts. That was a really big deal to have a contract, so that everybody knew what was expected. After three months, we would go over the contract again and decide are we going to keep it up or dissolve it. So it wasn’t like anyone was breaking up with anyone, you signed up for three months and at the end of those three months, you both decide, not just the Mistress.

AW: So, what’s this?

ROSE: Oh! These are some good pictures, this is rather famous, the incident is going to be in a book that just came out. This is the weird kind of stuff we did. Bob devised this whole thing, where he was down in the basement, and he had tubes attached to his penis and mouth so he could pee and be fed because he was down there for 24 hours.

AW: I remember Grace Marie [Professional Dominatrix] did something similar.

ROSE: Did she? Oh cool!

AW: Yeah we were at a play party and there was some ass-to-mouth tube system and it was pretty amazing.

ROSE: Pretty amazing. And also we were into things like enemas, I used to give people wine enemas, that was my big deal.

Mike Kelley and Bob Flanagan, MORE LOVE THAN CAN EVER BE REPAID

AW: How old did Bob live until?

ROSE: 43.

AW: He lived for a while then.

ROSE: Yeah, he did. And without a lung transplant either.

AW: Do you think that it was the fact that you were around?

ROSE: Definitely, no question about it. He wrote a song about it. CF would have killed him if it weren’t for SM.

AW: I always tell people, what we do is therapeutic, but it’s not therapy.

ROSE: Oh my god, yeah, men who need it, it’s like lifeblood for them.

AW: I feel like I’m so fascinated by the punk scene you were talking about, and the way you came out BDSM. I don’t know if it’s because I romanticize things that I don’t know about or things that I wasn’t there for. But it must have been so different and exciting, to have no rules or precedent.

ROSE: It was, and that’s what I loved about it. Remember when I was talking about my boring life before? I wanted to experience things that nobody had experienced, that women hadn’t experienced. By that time, I knew that men were doing wild things and I wanted women to be able to do them too.

AW: Right.

ROSE: So I don’t think if I had been as repressed, maybe if I had had a great sex life with a great husband, maybe none of this would ever have happened. I don’t know.

AW: That’s crazy. And I guess there still are women out there living those lives, maybe not you or I, but generally speaking there’s people who subscribe to it who maybe wouldn’t otherwise.

ROSE: I don’t know anymore, I’m not in touch with the world the way I used to be. I’m not nearly as active and I’m not nearly as plugged in. But I still do my things on the side here and there. One of the things we did before was crossing SM world with the poetry world with the art world. So we were always running to one thing or the other. Bob was the star, and I was coming from a place where I was the woman. I’m the mother and I still have that traditional role of wanting to see my children succeed. In many ways Bob was my pet, he was the best pet a person could have. He was an exotic, endangered species, and I thought he wasn’t going to live that long anyway so I wanted to exploit him in the best possible way so that he would make the best impact on the world.

AW: You facilitated that.

ROSE: Totally. I saw him as not as just a kinky guy, but as someone who was really talented, really funny, really sweet, as extraordinary. I thought he was going to die. I don’t want the world to forget about him. So of course it changed as years went on, and I became more active in it, but I didn’t want to be the star, to be on stage. That wasn’t really my thing. I very enjoyed being behind the scenes and making it happen. And getting almost a motherly thrill. I got a lot of satisfaction out of seeing him be so successful. That pleased me. It wasn’t like I was jealous of him and wanted to be up there.

AW: Right. That’s something I picked up on in reading about you and watching all the videos. That’s a really privileged position to be in. To have that responsibility, to feel like you had such a hand in making somebody fulfill whatever their higher purpose is. Putting something good into the world.

ROSE: Yeah, and I feel like that was the impetus of it. Now looking back, should I have done something different or been more assertive about some things? I never felt that I was that talented… my talent was recognizing other people who were talented. I could see something good, something that should be noted. 

In 2014, Sheree Rose donated her extensive archives of photographs, ephemera and other material to the One Archives at the USC Libraries. You can peer into Rose and Flanagan's intimate public life in the documentary Sick: The Life and Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist. text and interview by Audra Wist, Autre's sex editor-at-large. Below photographs of Rose and Wist at the One Archives by Sara Clarken. 

21st Century Pin-Up: Under the Hood with Amy Hood

Sex kitten, sexpot, nymphette, Lolita – there are a lot of words that can be used to describe Amy Hood. However, this 21st century pin-up model proves that there may be more under the hood than meets the eye. Yes, blondes probably have more fun, but Amy Hood is proof positive that they can be smart and have a keen curatorial eye too. In Jonathan Leder’s photographs, she plays a recurring role – amidst a world that looks painted with grey cigarette smoke, a splash of floral curtains and an under layer of Lee Hazelwood on an old AM radio. This time around, Hood both opens her legs and her mind to both model and curate the second volume of Leder’s Fetishisms Manifesto, which is a brilliant pastiche of 60s pin-up magazine and the photographer’s own naughty fantasies. In this interview, Amy Hood talks about her favorite fetishes (hint: she likes being spanked) and her many roles besides being just another model.

AUTRE: What’s it like to be a 21st century pin-up model?

AMY HOOD: Simultaneously empowering and inspiring. It’s amazing to embody such a classic sense of femininity and style, and to pursue those ideals as graciously and loyally to the original Pin-Up’s and film starlettes as is possible within this modern day, technologically dependent society. The 21st century does allow one to have more quirks.

AUTRE: How did you meet or first start collaborating with Jonathan Leder?

HOOD: A couple years ago Jonathan cast me for a shoot for Flaunt Magazine, shortly after we shot some video work, our first, and before you know it we became this creative power duo, collaborating on print and film work alike.

AUTRE:What’s your favorite fetish?

HOOD: Hmm...bondage and spanking? Anything lightly Sado-Masochistic wherein I can be the submissive one ;) Voyeurism is always pleasant, maybe a little ‘Lolita Syndrome’.

AUTRE: Can you describe your part in A Study in Fetishisms: Manifesto. Volume 2?

HOOD: I am the curator and design director for the publication, which includes several job details. Primarily, I’m responsible for the design of the publication and the overall creative concept, as well as the theme and production of the individual photoshoots, and the selection of text. Also, I cast and style the girls, occasionally snap their photograph, and style the location if necessary – process, scan and choose the pictures which best befit the publication, etc. –work collaboratively with Mr. Leder – Oh, and a little modeling as well! Put it all together and you’ve got Fetishisms Manifesto.

AUTRE: Do blondes have more fun?

HOOD: After much thought and research... Absolutely! ;)

You can catch Amy Hood and other lovely ladies in A Study in Fetishisms: Manifesto. Volume 2, which is available to pre-order now. With photographs by Jonathan Leder, A Study In Fetishisms: Manifesto 2 embodies the idea of 'Blondes' - from dirty to platinum. It is a tribute to the spirit of America, it's fascinations with life, glamor, beauty and tragedy, and to the women that made, and continue to make, it possible.

Art with Benefits: 5 Questions for Betty Tompkins

It’s easy to have impure thoughts when looking at Betty Tompkins’ large-scale photorealistic renditions of pierced clitorises, double penetrating phalluses, macro coital embraces and all manner of twisting and sinuous tongues taking turns on the human anatomy. Indeed, this is art with benefits. Starting with her first Fuck Painting in 1969, Tompkins has been exploring and confronting a black-bar culture that censors any reminder that our most basic instincts are to inseminate and to be inseminated. Right now you can catch Betty Tompkins’Kiss Paintings at 55 Gansevoort until December 15th. In this short interview, Betty talks about smuggling porn, the inception of her Fuck Paintings, and some of the strange reactions people have had to her work.

Autre: Can you describe the moment when you discovered the inspiration for your Fuck Paintings?

Betty Tompkins: Yes, I can. My first husband came with a set of porn photos that he had imported from Hong Kong. He was 12 years older than I was. At that time, it was totally illegal to use the US mail to transport porn. He rented a postal box in Vancouver BC, drove there from Everett WA where he lived, hid them in his car and crossed the border back into the US hoping he looked like an all-American boy. It was a different time. In 1969, about a month or so after we moved to New York, I was looking at them and realized that if i removed the hands, the feet, the heads, everything but the money shot, that what was left was abstractly beautiful and had the great punch of an aggressive subject matter. I did Fuck Painting #1 in 1969.

Autre:Do you think the internet and the proliferation of pornography has made your art more "available.”

Tompkins: Certainly more people can see my work and the internet has helped make it more accessible. There was always a lot of porn. It is just easier to get now. And getting it is more private.

Autre: Has anyone had any bizarre or strange reactions to one of your works?

Tompkins: At my 2007 show with Mitchell Algus, the main exhibition room had a double penetration painting in the prime spot. A man walked into the gallery, had no problem with the front room, walked into the back room, looked at that painting, yelled at the top of his lungs and ran out. When I show in Zurich, the gallery gets serious hate mail. They sent me some of it. During my 2009 show at Mitchell Algus,Jerry Saltz made it the Show Of The Week feature in New York Magazine. The gallery told me a LOT of people were showing up so i thought I should see for myself. It was true. While I was there, a woman came in with a toddler in a stroller. she parked him near the desk and a painting that featured a breast. she put her hands over his eyes and said, “Don’t look.”"

Autre: Where do you recommend hanging one of your works in the house?

Tompkins:Anywhere the collector wants to hang my work is fine with me.

Autre: What can we expect at your new show at 55 Gansevoort?

Tompkins:Kisses. Smooch. 

Text by Oliver Maxwell Kupper for Autre. Photograph by Nancy Oliveri. Betty Tompkins Smooch will be on view until December 15 at 55 Gansevoort Gallery, 55 Gansevoort St, New York 


originally published in 2011

What is there to say about photographer Ren Hang? His images spill into an obscene wonderland where basic questions become irrelevant and a twisted sense climbs over your flesh like worms on rotted meat. You’re glad they’re just photographs – like looking at the world face first against a closed window on the thousandth floor of some skyscraper. Based in Beijing, Hang is a new breed of 21st century Chinese artists riding the wave of modernization and cultural reawakening in China. But thats not saying we’re not lucky to experience Hang’s work – China is still vastly censorial and harsh against any material it deems slightly immoral. Hang’s work plays with fire, albeit delicately and at times tongue in cheek and never does it seem to shock for the sheer purpose to shock. Hang’s work is evidence of a deeply creative soul who bends erotic concepts like impermeable alloy into immaculate imagery rife with crude and mysterious spirituality. Hang’s subjects are dancers in a dangerous dance of lust and desire. In the following interview, Hang talks about shooting his lovers and friends and Chinese censorship. 

AUTRE: What goes through your mind as you look through the view finder?

REN HANG: My eyes see only what is right in front of me. 

AUTRE: You are based in Beijing – do you get any resistance to your work because of the nature of the content? Can you give any specific examples of how or when they tried to censor your work?

HANG: A lot of difficulties, you know, nudity is not published in China. An exhibition was canceled, someone spat at my work, cameras getting confiscated by the police, and almost going to jail. Although there are so many difficulties, I still like the Chinese.I like to shoot the face of the Chinese people, the body of the Chinese people, and close to me, easier for them to trust me. When I take pictures, I will forget all the difficulties.

AUTRE: Who are some of the subjects in your photographs?

HANG: My lovers…..my friends.

AUTRE: Whats next?

HANG: I’m printing two of my new books, completed in September, called a Damp – the other is called Mom I Hate Myself, But I Cannot Tell You.

You can visit Ren Hang’s tumblr and flickr pages to see more. Text by Oliver Maxwell Kupper.