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  • Bruce Benderson: The Magic of Choosing Sides

    August 31, 2011
    Bruce Benderson: The Magic of Choosing Sides
    Controversy follows international award-winning writer Bruce Benderson as the author continues raising hell on his freewheeling, dangerous literary journey into the dark worlds of self, identity, and sexuality.

    Controversy follows international award-winning writer Bruce Benderson as the author continues raising hell on his freewheeling, dangerous literary journey into the dark worlds of self, identity, and sexuality.

    Winner of the prestigious French literary prize, the Prix de Flore for his erotic memoir, The Romanian, Benderson brings a unique sensibility and stance to every subject he encounters, whether fiction or non-fiction. Currently, his provocative novel, Pacific Agony, published by Semiotext(e)/MIT, stirred the critics up with his prickly observations on society, place, race and class.

    Benderson loves creating outside the box, defying all convention and all expectation. “Benderson is a true heir of D.H. Lawrence, Henry Miller, and Paul Bowles, the Bohemian bourgeois,” wrote Catherine Texier, author of Panic Blood and Breakup.

    Born to Jewish parents of Russian descent, Benderson was always attracted to unorthodox and unusual things. “I even have a few memories from kindergarten in which my response to things wasn’t what it was supposed to be,” he says. “I always liked the colors I wasn’t supposed to like, the books that no one my age was supposed to be interested in, the people that others thought were uncool.”

    His liberal, progressive-minded father wanted his son to be a free thinker unfettered by societal restraints. “My father went out of his way to get Miller’s Tropic of Cancer when it was banned in our city, followed by Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Naked Lunch. I learned a lot about sex by reading Peyton Place before that.”

    Probably American readers were shocked by Benderson’s complete immersion into the shadowy Sodom of the old Times Square sex world, rubbing shoulders with hustlers, prostitutes, druggies, trannies and a sinister criminal element. “My interest in that world began in 1985, after a friend loaned me the novel Saul’s Book, which was about a middle-aged con artist of Jewish descent and his Puerto Rican hustler lover. I was mesmerized by the world it described and went in search of it in Times Square.”

    Most of the stories in Pretending to Say No (1990) and his breakthrough novel, User (1994) used the sex industry of that gritty location. Asked by a magazine scribe, he replied: “I’m a middle class person encountering the street of the street. The more I stay outside that world, the more I’m a voyeur. But the more I enter it, the more I participate. What I write about becomes more and more true.”

    Like John Rechy and Hubert Selby’s work on sexual outlaws, mainstream critics noted Benderson’s skill in finding the humanity in those attending hustler bars, peep shows and porn theaters. Others blasted his art being wasted on the “underclass” and the poor.

    “I would not describe myself as siding with the underclass,” Benderson says. “A lot of my writing is a comedy of manners that shows what happens when middle class people encounter people outside their class and the absurdity that results. I think people outside his own class can be incredible inspiring for a certain type of middle class artist, such as myself.”

    “I also learned a lot from the poor, from whom I had been protected as I grew in a white, middle class home,” he continued. “The media had always portrayed the world of the poor in a very narrow way. But actually, they were as various and as vital as the people of any world.”

    With Benderson’s award-winning memoir, The Romanian: Story of an Obsession, peers and pundits were astonished with the raw sexual fireworks of a writer in lust with a hustler.

    “Maybe it feels that way because of how frank and self-revealing I was, even when being so wasn’t so flattering to me,” Benderson notes. That’s what most critics, especially in France, mentioned: that they were amazed at the extent to which I was willing to reveal myself. The Romanian certainly isn’t a discreet work.”

    A first-rate journalist and essayist, Benderson has written on the plight of squatters in New York Times Magazine, the rigors of boxing for Village Voice, and other articles on film, book, and culture for American and international publications. He scored high marks for his remarkable book-length essays, Toward the New Degeneracy (1997) and Sex and Isolation (2007), with the themes of the sex consumers of rich and poor in a lustful environment and the Internet’s role in sexuality.

    Wearing another hat as an excellent translator of controversial French work, Benderson has made the cream of Gallic sensuality available for American markets, such as Viriginie Despentes’ Baise Moi (2003), Nelly Arcan’s Whore (2004), Tony Duvert’s Diary of an Innocent (2010), and volumes by Robbe-Grillet, Gregoire Bouillier, Martin Page, and Benoit Duteurtre.

    It was Benderson, who revealed the maker of the 1971 cult film, Pink Narcissus, a landmark in erotic male images. His book, James Bidgood (1999) was deemed an instant classic. “I made up my mind to find out and researching leads until I discovered Bidgood, who was living in a small apartment in Greenwich Village with his cats, and all the slides from his marvelous photography work were sitting in a rumpled paper bag at the back of his closet. I was overjoyed.”

    All writers, worth their salt, have style, courage and a flair for unpredictability. Benderson can be very unpredictable. A high point in his career was ghost-writing Celine Dion: My Story, My Dream (2000), which was a surprise to most of the writer’s followers. “I forgot which contact hooked me up with the gig,” he confesses. “But it paid well, and I was living in Romania with my obsession, very much in need of money, so I took the job.”

    Known for his sexual prowess, Benderson is reputed to have racked many conquests during his time as a “super-stud.” He jokes: “I wish someone would spread the word at this point. You may be alluding to the fact I’ve cited numbers in the four-figure range when I talked about my sex life. That really isn’t so unusual for my generation of gay men. A lot of us went to the baths more than once a week, and had a dozen or so contacts each visit. Just do the math.”

    Who do you read when you want an erotic thrill, locally or internationally? “Does anyone read for an erotic thrill these days, when erotic thrills are so much more easily available in the visual media, like film? But I can’t think of any films I’ve used for that purpose, either.”

    Currently, Benderson writes a monthly column in French for the magazine, “Tetu.” He’s also written an upcoming book about the future where biology and technology intersects for a French publisher. He divides his time between New York and Paris.

    What are you working on now? “Just stuff that will get me paid,” Benderson says. “Nothing too creative.”

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  • Simone Corday: Sex and Scandal Behind The Green Door

    July 28, 2011
    Simone Corday: Sex and Scandal Behind The Green Door
    Mitchell Brothers stripper Simone Corday remembers her lover, Artie Mitchell, Hunter S. Thompson, and the killing that rocked San Francisco.

    For Simone Corday, a former stripper and lover of the late Artie Mitchell, it is as if time had rolled back, returning her to tragedy’s dark grip.

    While SexIs talked to Simone about her recent memoir, 9 1/2 Years Behind The Green Door, about the golden era of the flesh business in San Francisco and the brutal murder of Artie, she felt an eerie connection between Jim Mitchell’s son, James, and his current legal woes. Calling it “an odd deja-vu,” James, 29, was convicted a few days ago for killing the mother of his child with a baseball bat. He faces a possible sentence of life in prison.

    The Mitchell brothers are porn royalty. They were porn’s true pioneers with their 1972 blockbuster film, Behind The Green Door, which grossed over $72 million. The movie, which was produced for $60,000, starred actress Marilyn Chambers, of Ivory Snow fame, in her debut.

    Now, the son’s murder case parallels that of his father, Jim, who founded the O’Farrell Theater in 1969, with his brother, Artie. Jim shot his brother to death in 1991. He served three years in prison after a well-publicized trial and later died of a heart attack in 2007. Simone was Artie’s lover for almost a decade.

    In her book, she, as a sexual libertine, writes she knew that Artie loved sex and women. “Artie was hot, ever-changing,” she says. “Sex was one of Artie’s major obsessions in life. He was also unpredictable. Times we were apart kept the sex hotter when we were together. It stayed erotic for the nearly ten years I was involved with him.”

    Looking back, Simone, an Army brat, remembers her teen years in Sacramento, California, getting married briefly, doing a string of odd jobs before settling in San Francisco and falling under the spell of the famed O’Farrell Theater in its heyday. In her memoir, she describes working as a stripper and the attraction of the venue with its red hot live shows which lured Hollywood celebrities, sports personalities, politicians, and perverts.

    “I truly was not cut out for the 9-to-5 world,” she says. At the O’Farrell, it was a constantly changing world with a lot of artistic freedom. I loved creating theme shows, planning the music, putting the costumes and props and performing, even though it was a strip club and the audience was there to be titillated. I was hooked on the place.”

    This was not the tamed movie version of the strippers’ world in Gypsy. “I was working long before the O’Farrell had private booths where dancers could be alone with guys,” she recalls. “For the first several months in 1979/1980, the dancers were naked in the audience, and the place was pretty open. Soon there was a series of police busts, so girls had to wear lingerie or bikinis. I started working in 1981. The guys sat in the theater seats facing the stage but the lighting was dim. Dancers didn’t discuss what they were doing in the audience. You would hear if somebody got fired, although you wouldn’t know exactly why.”

    Police records from that time say hand-jobs, blow-jobs, and other sexual acts were commonplace, but everything was hush-hush. “There was subtle encouragement to keep the shows and audience hot because it was good for business.”

    In the 1980s, the San Francisco vice squad, under the mandate of Mayor Dianne Feinstein, was determined to crack down on the antics of the theater. “In 1982, the vice squad was coming in with infrared cameras and photographing girls with the customers,” Simone says. “They sent the photos to the Mitchells and began prosecuting them. I heard a lot of the photos were of the same girl who was particularly flagrant.

    “I was working the night Marilyn Chambers was busted. She had been doing shows for several days where she was walking through the aisles and guys were touching her. Artie and Jim had the spotlight on her. The cops waited until Friday night to arrest her. Somehow Artie and Jim turned the situation around and it became a publicity coup for the theater. The legal pressure lightened up.”

    But the real attraction of the San Francisco porn scene was the Mitchell brothers, a pair of creative firebrands who didn’t care if they rubbed the authorities the wrong way. “Artie had this fun-loving, sexy charisma what was very engaging,” Simone says. “Jim was reserved, harder, not so approachable. Both used the fact that they were the owners of the place and pioneers to impress and influence people.”

    Right: Simone Corday, Middle: Hunter Thompson, Left: Dancer Unknown © Michael Nichols / National Geographic Image Collection

    One of the landmarks in porn’s golden era, was the Mitchells’ film, Behind The Green Door. “The movie was notable because of its treatment of interracial sex, the very taboo issue of a black man with a white woman. Johnny Keyes, the co-star, said in a magazine interview that he made love to Marilyn for about an hour and 43 minutes, all filmed. “She came about nine times and fainted,” he added.

    “Marilyn is drop-dead gorgeous in that film and you witness her opening up sexually during the movie,” Simone recalls. “Every one of her scenes is amazing. It was groundbreaking with a black actor, to have interracial sex be such a crucial part of the film. There is also a scene with Marilyn in a sling engaged in sex with several men. The movie is still a classic.”

    The brothers, now inducted into the AVN Hall of Fame, used profits to produce elaborate hardcore classics including Resurrection of Eve (1973) and Sodom & Gomorrah (1975). One of their last films was The Grafenberg Spot (1985), featured an underage Traci Lords. They were the first to pioneer the transfer of film to videotape while marketing in national magazines.

    Hunter Thompson, the outlaw journalist and O’Farrell’s ‘honorary night manager,” often came to the theater. “He had such a brilliant mind beyond all the substance ingestion,” she says. “A truly good guy. He was around the club a lot for about three years. He was fond of my shows. In 1987, the Mitchells started filming their first ever documentary on Hunter, The Crazy Never Die. It was never released.”

    The parties, sex, and drugs there were legendary. The drug binges intensified the mood at the theater and the brothers saw it as a fiefdom where they controlled the women with money and political clout. As the mayhem escalated, they fought as they always had throughout their lives.

    “Their personalities were so different and the contrast between them grew stronger over the years,” she remembers. “Art’s alcoholism was escalating and Jim wanted to end their relationship. But he would have never left and couldn’t afford to because both brothers had big families to support. They had also signed up for a million dollar business insurance policy, payable to the surviving brother. I think that the atmosphere of entitlement and arrogance contributed to Jim’s sense of invulnerability, thinking he was likely to get away with killing Artie.”

    Following the murder and trial of Jim Mitchell, Simone says she was in shock for some time, followed by sadness and rage. The trial became fodder for scandal sheets, the international press and even several books. The political connections came through for Jim, who served only three years for manslaughter.

    Simone waited to write her memoir until Jim died, because she was nervous about what he could do. “I knew Jim had a lot of influence and I didn’t think my book would be well-received because of what I was revealing,” she admits, now writing a follow-up volume. “It’s a better book than it would have been if it had come out soon after the events.”

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  • Bailey Jay: Not That Easy To Forget

    June 23, 2011
    Bailey Jay: Not That Easy To Forget © Matthew Terhune ©2010
    Awarded the 2011 AVN honor for transsexual performer of the year and its XBIZ counterpart as well, Bailey Jay, Virginian lass in her early twenties, understands she is a role model. “I’m one of the most celebrated transsexual porn stars by mainstream porn media but I was not allowed to accept my award on stage,” she says to SexIs. “I often joke that sometimes I feel like a black man in 1960.”

    One of the porn industry’s hottest commodities, Bailey Jay knows she has got to be a tough cookie to survive in a rough-and-tumble business. Even in a business that prides itself on a respectable measure of tolerance and acceptance, she knows that certain doors are closed to her. “Most mainstream porn actresses won’t work with TS models for fear of being stigmatized as a higher HIV risk, even though we all take the same industry standard test. The world is changing, but never fast enough for me.”

    Bailey Jay has always known she was different from the rest of the boys. “When I was four years old, I told my mom: ‘I’m mad at God,’” she says. “She asked why are you mad at God? I answered because He made me a boy instead of a girl. Needless to say, my mother was concerned. I imagine that is why I was on the soccer team for five years after that incident, against my will.”

    Her voice carries a sparkle when she speaks of her mother’s love today. “My mother is my biggest supporter now,” she adds. “She gets it, and tells me how beautiful I am every day.”
    Shrinks and those who study the phenomena of transgendered youth constantly point to childhood trauma or some such thing. They view the transgendered as “the other.” American culture is suspicious and deathly afraid of those who are transgendered among us.

    Matthew Terhune ©2010

    Being transgendered is not a choice. “My father died when I was young, but my mother was worried that his absence warped my perception on gender,” she says. I guess in her mind, it seemed realistic that if a boy is raised by women he may identify as a woman one day. I’d like to think it’s more complicated than that.”

    Surrounded by her new fame, Bailey Jay ponders that essential question. “Why is it that I have the strong urge to be a woman and naturally look so much like one? Some people say luck, I think I manifested it.”

    She started to transition around age 15, but the sensual persona of Bailey Jay emerged at Otakon in 2007, when she flashed her chest for the first time. Afterwards, she kept a low profile until she experienced an eureka moment about how she could support herself in the adult film industry.
    “Well, my rent was due at this shitty apartment where I was living with four college guys,” Bailey Jay notes. “I needed $300 that next week or my ass was out on the street. A she-male porn company contacted me about doing a solo for $500. I said no at first, but ultimately gave in. I’m glad I took my career by the balls and made it work for me.”

    Called “America’s Sweetheart,” the pony-tailed transsexual is delighted how fast her star has risen in the industry. “I turned that $500 into an entire website and I’m now one of the biggest names in the game. I’m very proud of that fact.”

    The fans of the she-male videos adore Bailey Jay’s porcelain skin, pixie pigtails, cheerleaders, and girlish giggles. They can’t get enough of the girl’s Gidget-like antics, buying the two earlier flicks such as Transsexual Superstars – Bailey Jay and Bailey Jay Is Line Trap and the seriously hardcore later items on Evil Angel including She Male Idol: Auditions 2, The Next She Male Idol 2, the Next She Male Idol 3, and She Male Police.

    Working with veteran porn director Joey Silvera at Evil Angel is a dream come true for her. “He’s my world,” she says. “That man is everything making porn should be. He’s from a different time in porn before it was mass-produced and all over all over tube sites, before everyone ‘accidentally’ leaked a sex tape. That man is a legend. I was not a true star until I met him. I owe him my career.”

    Also, Bailey Jay got a chance to work with Belladonna, one of the true outlaw goddesses of porn, and leaped at the opportunity to appear in Cvrbongirl. “What an honor! I don’t really like genetic girls in a sexy way, but when she looks at me I just melt like a popsicle on the 4th of July. I use to jerk off to her videos when I was a little boy. And now she thinks I’m hot enough to be in her film. I will never forget that. Life is so funny sometimes.”

    Matthew Terhune ©2010

    The transformation from male to female is not an easy one, wrapping the mind around an image of the proper gender and then complementing that inner image with an external one which often involves saline implants and various hormonal treatments.

    For a while now, Bailey Jay has been taking hormone treatments, often waking to new, unexpected developments. “My areolas!” she exclaims about her perky breasts. “They’re so much bigger than I’d imagined. They’re one of the most feminine features I have. It’s all thanks to the hormone pellet implants I get inserted in my skin every four months.”

    What insights has she gained into the feminine mystique? “Relationships make some women insane. When I use the women’s restroom at strip clubs and overhear girls talking about their boyfriends, it’s like the guys are an accessory rather than a person. It’s no wonder girls need a fashion magazine quiz to communicate with their significant other. Women and men are just so different from each other.”

    “I’ve always had guys figured out,” she says. “That’s why I feel safer around them. Most of my friends are guys. I’m very male-minded although I feel female. I don’t need a lot of attention and I hate others that do.”

    Talking about the gender differences, she speaks about the male perspective like a sleeper spy. “Guys are easy,” she notes. “I’ve never been in trouble with a boyfriend like I have with past girlfriends. Men are my people. I get them and they get me. I have simple needs: I enjoy giving oral, getting anal, making food and watching Netflix. I have no need for drama and most men don’t either.”

    Some transsexuals get sex realignment surgery and later regret it. “I don’t believe that would make me totally female,” she says. “If you can ever say the phrase ‘when I was a guy,’ you’re transgendered. That surgery wouldn’t make me any more of a woman than a nose job would. However, I respect every TS who decides to get SRS. It’s just not for me at this point in my life. I’m not keeping my penis for porn; I’m keeping my penis for my personal comfort.”

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  • John Waters: The Old Rules Are No Longer In Effect

    June 02, 2011
    John Waters: The Old Rules Are No Longer In Effect
    To be perfectly honest, John Waters never conceals the best parts of himself. Most celebrities permit you to gawk at them for a price. Waters’ latest book, Role Models, allows his readers to examine his essential life lessons through a series of quirky portraits which exposes his inner corrupted core.

    At turns both catty and brilliant, his book features some mavericks and outlaws including playwright Tennessee Williams, convicted Manson follower Leslie Van Houten, singer Johnny Mathis, actress Tallulah Bankhead, singer Little Richard, Zorro the stripper, designer Rei Kawakubo, atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair, bar owner Esther Martin, and porn filmmaker Bobby Garcia.

    A Baltimore native, Waters rose to fame with several stunning films such as Pink Flamingos (1972), Female Trouble (1974), Desperate Living (1977), Hairspray (1988), and Cry-Baby (1990). He has written several books including Shock Value and Crackpot, all featuring misfits and mayhem.

    “They had more extreme lives than I ever had,” Waters says of his choices in this new book. “They gave me courage to be what I wanted to be. Some of them had some bad stuff happen to them and I didn’t have much bad stuff in my life. My career is going well. I’m not surviving any horror stories here.”

    Leading off the book is the boyish, still popular crooner Johnny Mathis, which Waters describes as “the polar opposite of him.” He is quite in awe of the intensely private man, who never gets his business splashed in the tabloid headlines.

    “He was instantly popular, had no prejudice about being black, although he sang love songs to white women,” Waters adds. “He never did trash, he never walked the red carpet. He had mass popularity from the beginning, kept his personal life to himself, and without turning into an asshole. That’s amazing.”

    Given the trend to air dirty laundry in the media, Waters further explains why Mathis is so special. “I think there were articles about his sexuality. Old school people never revealed their personal lives. I don’t think everyone has to bare their secrets to anyone.”

    On Tennessee Williams, there is the story of Waters, then 17 years old, going to a gay bar in Washington, D.C., a pitiful sight of ‘early-1960s gay men with fluffy sweaters.’ He says Williams saved his life, telling him that gay life doesn’t have to be so rigid.

    “Tennessee made me realize that gays didn’t have to be square,” he notes. “He taught me about bohemia. Bohemia was the most important thing he told me about. He told me about there was another world where people didn’t have to fit in and it was the fifties and people had to fit in. I wanted to be an outlaw. He was a good childhood friend, Tennessee.

    “Tennessee didn’t just write for gay men,” Waters says. “He realized relationships were, in many ways, the same and it didn’t matter who’s involved. You can be jealous of a tree if you’re in love with another tree. Trees can love porno. Trees can have vaginas and anuses. They can be really strange trees.”

    Waters says he included actress Tallulah Bankhead because she was in a Broadway play with Tab Hunter. “There’s not much about her that has not been exploited. She’s had several books written about her. I guess I included her because she was the first fag hag I knew.”

    There is a real sense of loyalty about him. If Waters is your friend, he sticks with you through a crisis, such as his bond with former Manson girl Leslie Van Houten.

    His voice becomes firm but urgent. “The Supreme Court said the state of California has to thin out the prison population but I don’t know that will affect her. She has been in prison for a long, long time and she’s not a danger to any community. She has real remorse. She doesn’t blame everything on Manson. She was a follower. The easy way out is to say ‘I found God. I got a telegram from God.’ I don’t think the state would go for that. Also, it takes away your responsibility.

    “She doesn’t even think about Manson,” Waters says. “He’s so far out of her life. I saw him at the trial. Manson was incredibly magnetic at the time. He was a pimp all his life. He knew how to control young girls. No one said Leslie should have not gone to prison but she has served over 40 years.”

    Another book subject, Little Richard was Waters’ role model “until he met him” for a disastrous 1987 Playboy interview. He claims he once shoplifted a copy of his song, “Lucille” in 1957. His fallen idol was the inspiration for his trademark mustache and the “turd” scene with Divine in Pink Flamingos based on a childhood anecdote of the singer.

    Of the atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair, Waters’ tone brightens with her mention. “I loved her when I was young because she took prayer out of schools. She became a monster. She loved to be hated. She was insane. She came on stage riding a broom. I believe in the separation of church and state. I went to Catholic high school in Baltimore.

    “She would say: ‘You can talk to me about Jesus as long as you’re fucking me while doing it,” he laughs. “She was horrible to gay people and horrible to everybody. I remember a bumper sticker: ‘Prayer is begging.’ I loved that.”

    On his chapter about outsider porn, Waters says, “Outsider porn is the only way these people watch themselves,” Waters says. “Usually porn is made to make money, to do business. These guys can’t jerk unless it’s to their porno. They have to do this; they’re not driven by money. It’s a passion.”

    Called “the Almodovar of Anuses, the Bunuel of Blow Jobs, the Jodorowski of Jerking Off,” Waters singles out porn filmmaker Bobby Garcia, who filmed himself giving oral sex to 2,000 straight Marines. “You could hear them lined up, waiting to get in. It was amazing.”

    When talk turns to the topic of gay marriage, Waters says, “I don’t mind if it’s called civil unions or domestic partners. I don’t want to do it. So what if it’s not called marriage? Then you hear this talk about the sanctity of marriage. Larry King has been married seven times. What sanctity? There is not any.”

    After revealing the dishonored California governor Arnold Schwartznegger wears orange pancake makeup, Waters takes on the folks on the TV show, Jersey Shore: “That show invites you to feel superior, which is not hard. I’m happy for their success. The Situation, I think his name is funny. And that little Snooki, I’m happy for her because she has a job.”

    Several reporters try to pin him down about his private life, his lovers, his fetishes, his solitary lifestyle, and even his beliefs about the afterlife. They want something juicy.

    “I don’t like rules of any kind,” Waters says, who is starting a European book tour. “I seek people who break rules with happiness. I’m a healthy neurotic. I know I am. You ask about an afterlife and all of that. I don’t believe in it. If they brought someone back, then I might change my mind. I’m open but I’m skeptical.”

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