A Good News-Bad News Kind of Thing

In the middle of the night, I saw a PR wire thingy on my phone. Julie Strain is not dead, however she is still in advanced dementia. Apparently something her caregiver-partner had posted to Instagram and Facebook had been misunderstood. He pulled the posts and clarified that she is not dead. So I pulled my blog post about it around 5 this morning.

She is only 57, so it is still really sad to contemplate her waning physical state. It was nice, though, to spend some time last evening, re-visiting who she’s been, looking through her photo book and the stuff she sent to me and wrote to me.

She was effing gorgeous, gang. Incredibly sexy, and just as beautiful on the inside.

Oddly enough, last evening, as I was looking through Julie’s photos from 2001 and thinking about all the cool stuff that was going on in my own world when she first got in touch with me, I got an email from another long-time colleague from my Mammoth Book of Erotic Photography days — a well-known erotic photographer in San Francisco. He was trying to re-locate me after yet another change of street address (meaning my move here to the middle of nowhere). And he mentioned that he is now 77 and a half years old!

I thought that was very cute — to still be adding that “half.” But also a little astounding to think that he’s almost 80 now. And the two emails coming at the same time sent me on a little trip down Memory Lane, that’s for sure.

I met, worked with, or corresponded with some amazing people in my career — people who were my heroes in publishing and/or in the sex industry just generally. I guess it’s weird to think that I would have had heroes in an industry like that, but I sure did.  Meeting and/or working for Ralph Ginzburg, Barney Rosset, Richard Kasak — they were groundbreaking men and I learned so much about publishing from them.

But the women I got to meet were truly amazing.

Alice Khan Ladas came over to my apartment for lunch and brought me an autographed copy of her book. (I recall that she road her bicycle over to my place because she didn’t live that far from me.) She was one of the pioneering authors of The G Spot — the first book that proved the existence of the Gräfenberg spot (erectile tissue inside the vagina).

Nan Kinney and I became close colleagues and friends — she was one of the founders and publishers of On Our Backs magazine — the first magazine ever to feature genuine hardcore BDSM dyke porn. And she went on to found Fatale Media videos — the first commercial videos to do the same. Genuine hardcore dyke porn — up until then, lesbian sex was portrayed to be about flowers and butterflies and all things gentle with no penetration whatsoever.

Nan was most definitely one of my heroes.

And she also produced an instructional video about female ejaculating — the first video of its kind, ever, that proposed that the G-spot is actually part of the clitoris and that erectile tissue is all over the inside of the vagina, which is why women can ejaculate — a thing most women didn’t know their bodies could do back then, myself included. And she also produced the first commercial instructional video that taught women how to have strap-on sex with guys.

Back then, this stuff was revolutionary. And women were behind all this stuff. Nowadays, strap-on sex with guys is so common that it has its own stupid urban slang name that makes me a little nuts (pegging). But back then, it was all underground, and not what you’d consider socially acceptable in any way whatsoever.

In that realm, though, I met and worked with everyone. Men and women, both, but a heck of a lot of women sex pioneers. True trailblazers.

A highlight of my life was when Xaviera Hollander wrote to me. We corresponded for a while, about one project or another that I was doing, I don’t recall now which project it was, but she was/is a fucking legend, if you’ll excuse the pun. I mean, I was 13 when I would sort of hide in my bed with only a little nightlight to read by and I read The Happy Hooker. This was during that phase when I was trying like crazy to find out what sex was all about — and her memoir definitely explained a whole heck of a lot. Wow. When I got a letter from her, inquiring about a project I was doing all those years later, I was floored. I was so excited.

I really got to interact with some amazing women.  I was in conversations with the surrogate mother of one of Michael Jackson’s children — she had diaries of the whole thing and she let me read them. She was considering going public with a book and wanted me to help her write it. (She ended up not wanting to go public, which I thought was a good idea.) I was in on an erotic project Gail Zappa wanted to do (Frank Zappa’s wife/widow).  (She ended up not doing that, either, although I no longer recall why — but it was really cool at the time.)

Women from all over the world would seek me out. Erotic filmmakers, photographers, writers, painters.

Women and their erotic minds are just pretty darn awesome, and I just loved having an entire career that promoted that. Another highlight of my literary life — Dorothy Allison, twice a National Book Award finalist, specifically for that amazing novel Bastard Out of Carolina.  When Anjelica Houston directed a movie adaptation of it for HBO, I was initially so excited, because I couldn’t wait to see how they would bring that amazing book to the screen. But I was so bitterly disappointed with it. It became all about violence; all the eroticism was eviscerated from the story. I guess because no one was comfortable admitting that young girls could have obsessively erotic lives inside their heads, that might eventually spill out into their actual lives and that could force a rape to explode into reality. (Sounds like my whole life, right?)

They left that whole side of the story out of the movie and it really angered me. To me, it felt like censorship.

I knew that a lot of readers had problems with Dorothy Allison’s earlier works being too sexually graphic and they considered her earlier works offensive aberrations.  When I was in a position to include her work in one of my anthologies, I wrote and asked her if I could have permission to reprint a short explicit memoir she’d written years prior for On Our Backs, her memoir about anal fisting with butch dykes. And I guarantee you that when she handwrote me a letter, giving me permission to reprint that — even though she was at the height of her “traditional” literary career — wow; that letter arriving in my mailbox was another highlight of my whole life.

Well, anyway. The whole publishing industry eventually hemorrhaged and tanked and had to be completely streamlined to make as huge a profit as they could, while contending with the disruption brought on by the Internet. So it all changed. But it was awesome while it was happening. You know — meeting these women in person, or receiving handwritten letters in the mail that, you know, you can treasure for all time. (I have letter-exchanges with Margaret Atwood, Joyce Carol Oats. I would just pick up my pen and write to these women! Because I loved them and wanted to publish them. And they would write back and say yes! And Rosemary Daniell — in Savannah. Man, I adored her work. A Sexual Tour of the Deep South was a poetry collection that blew my mind. I wrote to her, too, and she not only wrote back, but when she came to NYC for a reading, she invited me out afterward for dinner and drinks! Jesus. I was so fucking excited. I eventually got to publish her, too.)

Anyway. Loyal readers of this lofty blog no doubt recall that one of my famous female forebears is Louisa May Alcott. Most people only remember her as the writer of Little Women. (She also wrote Little Men, which became a TV series in Canada for awhile in the mid-90s, and Sandra Caldwell, the actress I work with now on theater projects, had the recurring role of — the black maid.) Anyway, Louisa also wrote very racy men’s stories to help pay the bills — stories full of sex and hard drinking and smoking– under the androgynous pen name of A.M. Barnard. I like to think that what I’ve been able to do with my own writing career has helped maybe bring that whole side of Louisa — spiritually — out of the closet.

Okay, well, on that note. I need to get back to work here on the revision of Tell My Bones. Unfortunately, it deals with the whole Jim Crow era stuff, which of course is some ugly, ugly stuff. The screenplay version I wrote dealt with it much more than the theatrical adaptation has up until now, so I know it’s necessary. So that’s what I’m doing here.

Have a terrific Tuesday, though, wherever it takes you and wherever you are in the world!! Thanks for visiting. I love you guys. See ya.

From Julie Strain, 2001

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