Times Square Was My Beat

To correspond with my appearance in Crime Scene: The Time Square Killer (streaming now on Netflix), I publish this article from my archives. It is a far less gruesome tale and more representative of my own experience and that of the people whom I encountered and interviewed. This story and much more will be included in my forthcoming memoir of the 1980’s.

In October 1982, I met Jared Rutter who was the editor of Adam, an adult magazine published in California. I had just begun my career in the world of pornography and I regaled him with stories of my adventures thus far. Jared interviewed me for Adam and advertised me on the cover as “The Sexiest Woman in New York.” I was so pleased with the intelligent yet outrageous tone of his interview that I proposed I be Adam magazine’s East Coast correspondent. Thus began “Veronica Vera’s New York”–my license to explore the sex life of the City for a dozen years. The column not only documented the demimonde, it was a chronicle of my life. 

I reported on the people, places and events involved in adult entertainment and erotic art. I usually made myself part of the story, not an outsider. I was the star of a continuing movie in which I wrote all my own lines. Often, and especially at first, I found different photographers to illustrate my articles, or I took the photos myself. But the most fun and the best photos happened when Annie Sprinkle and I worked together. My best friend, Annie, had a great eye that complemented my take on the scene.

Me and Annie Sprinkle up to our usual sexy shenanigans as High-Heeled Journalists. (photo: JM Guyaux)

On one occasion, we went on the road to document an adult video trade show in New Jersey, and were accompanied by rock performer and memoirist Jennifer Blowdryer, author of The Laziest Secretary in the World, who served as Annie’s photo assistant. Taking a page from the gonzo school, we decided to refer to ourselves as “High-Heeled Journalists.” Afterward, Jennifer went off to pursue her multiple careers while Annie and I exploited the High-Heel Journalist identity and had business cards and postcards made up with that name.

I liked to say, “Times Square was my beat.” Times Square was the heart of New York’s commercial sex district. 42nd Street was its main artery, so the area was sometimes called “The Deuce.” In the first half of the 1980’s across 42nd Street near Eighth Avenue, marquee after marquee advertised the latest XXX flicks and performers like Marilyn Chambers in Insatiable, Blonde Heat, Kinky Thrill, Frisky Nymph, or Nympho Hookers, French Desires, and Hot Pink. They shared space on the block with Kung Fu movies such as Deadly Venom, Slice of Death, Savage Men Savage Beast…sex and violence reigned supreme. Times Square had the worst reputation in the City. First time visitors were warned not to go there. But it was the center of the porn world and I was drawn to it—especially to Show World Sex Emporium.

“Emporium” was a quaint word to describe this market of raunch, but it was quite accurate. Show World offered strip shows and live sex shows on stage, as well as opportunities to interact one-on-one with a performer in a peep show booth on the other side of a glass wall; private screening booths where film snippets could be paid for in three minute segments; a shop to purchase dildoes, platform stilettos, whips and handcuffs, plastic blow-up dolls and more.

Show World was part of a whole circuit of theaters in cities across the country where porn stars could perform solo acts on stage, usually as strippers. I referred to the circuit as the “Bumpy Burlesque Trail.” Show World was the most elaborate of all of these theaters, the jewel in the crown. I’d visited Show World on a few occasions to interview headline performers. Annie and I liked to brag that we could enter with a tape recorder and camera, get our interviews and photos complete with model releases, and leave “mission accomplished” in little over an hour. But I also liked to stay longer and cover the place more with more depth, interviewing not just one headliner, but the people who worked there on a regular or semi-regular basis. Sometimes I felt like an outsider, afraid that my questions would seem impertinent or, at worst, judgemental. I felt like I was different, not a real sex worker. 

But I was very real and I decided to prove it, especially to myself.

Heading down to the peep show wearing black lace and rose colored lenses. (photo: A. Sprinkle)

Inside the Peep Show

The Walrus carried a brown paper bag into the glass booth. I call him “The Walrus” because his face was covered with long shaggy hair, sideburns, and a scraggly beard. The Walrus was not very attractive and he showed it by dressing like a slob. But armed with his brown paper bag and a pocket full of tokens, he was about to treat himself to a fantasy fuck.

He took his jar of Vaseline out of the brown paper bag and dropped a coin in the slot. The window shade rose very, very slowly to reveal me grinning at him from the other side of the glass. My body was covered in stretchy black lace that displayed every curve.

A come-hither pose in high heels meant for perching. (photo: A. Sprinkle)

The Walrus unzipped his baggy pants and pulled his big red cock through his fly. He spread the Vaseline over his penis and worked his hand up and down, up and down, over a familiar path. I leaned back in a high chair and planted a shiny stiletto pump on either side of the window. The Walrus extended his left hand to pick up the telephone. 

“Hello,” he purred, sounding much better than he looked.

I cradled the phone under my chin, reached into my blouse and displayed my breasts. He stared at me from behind his thick glasses. I stared at The Walrus from behind my hard, dark nipples. 

It was 1985, four years since the publication of my first explicit story in Variations, three years since I popped my porn cherry in a fuck film. I enjoyed the sex biz but there’d been this little gnawing fear, this left over Catholic guilt, that one day I’d wind up a side-show attraction, a girl in a peep show. About five years earlier when I was spending time in Paris I had taken myself to a classic film called Lola Montez in which a notorious beauty looks back on her life and loves. She had many adventures and was even mistress to a king, but she is finally reduced to performing before rubes in a circus. It was based on the life of a real person and was a morality tale of what can happen when a woman lives outside the lines of propriety.

Would I be like Lola Montez? Would I have a sad fate and be punished for not following the rules laid out for me? When I decided to write about Show World–the 42nd Street sex emporium–I knew that I would put myself inside this cage, a tiny glass booth, where men drop their pants and their tokens to pay for the pleasure of seeing me naked. I guess what I wanted more than anything was to jump through this ring of fire to see if I could survive. The story was just an excuse. 

Getting close with a colleague from an adjoining booth. (photo: A. Sprinkle)

The peep show was a seductive, rock & roll, neon cave that promised to all who entered some longed-for satisfaction. The customers sought an end to their frustrations. Most of these men walked around like zombies, their hands in their pockets, while through the disco dazzle the hawkers blasted promises through microphones: 

“Hard core action upstairs in ten minutes! Girls! Girls! Girls! Wall-to-wall pussy!”

The people who work there were attracted, at first, by the money. It was a job, a way to pay the rent and put food and sometimes drugs on the table. But there were other hungers. Yes, each action was determined by the dollar. But there was also desire for affection and the need for a basic one-to-one human connection that motivated every person who walked through the door. 

I learned a lot about The Walrus before he entered my booth. I interviewed him upstairs after we watched a strip show in the Triple Treat Theater. He was a bridge player. He read alot–one of those unwashed intellectuals. He even told me about his preference for Vaseline as an aid to jerking off. When he heard that I planned to spend a few hours working a booth, he ran across the street to Walgreen’s to purchase a king-sized jar of petroleum jelly. 

The Walrus spent fifty dollars in my booth, pumping in one two-dollar token after another. He wagged his big tongue in circles up near the glass and pretended that we were kissing. His hairy mouth gobbled desperately at the phantom kisses. I was sorry for him, just for an instant, but then I felt a surge of power as I licked my lips and watched his tongue perform tricks in the air. He seemed to relish the kisses even more than the creamy explosion he left on the glass. 

Show World’s neon lit cave. One of my favorite of Annie Sprinkle’s photos.

 I interviewed Damian who came to work in a three-piece suit. He looked like he could have been a cocky young clerk on the floor of the [New York] Stock Exchange or a bright guy from a tough neighborhood who had decided to work his way up in a bank. Like any guy just starting out, he didn’t quite have his look together. A Brooklyn accent, patchy mustache, and the curls that crept over his collar gave him away. What Damian did have was plenty of ambition. His body jumped with it. Damian hoped to be a porn star. You might say he was perfecting his craft, tightening his act while he fucked on stage in the Triple Treat Theater, for twenty five minutes, six times a day, sometimes six days a week.   

His onstage partner was Baby Doll, a slim Haitian girl with a boyish quality. Her stiff black hair was cropped real short and her body was lithe, like a bow. 

“We have some show stoppers, “ Damian told me. “There’s the sixty-nine we do with me standing up eating her and holding her upside down while she sucks my cock. We also have the ‘wheelbarrow’ – she bends over and puts her hands down on the floor, I stick my cock in her and wheel her around the room.”   

“Don’t call them ‘teams,’” warned Ron Martin, the part-time poet and manager of the Triple Treat.   

“You don’t hitch them to a wagon. These are performers.”

These performers, these teams, these women and men were engaged in a very unusual and controversial occupation–the Love Act. They did it for money.  

Ivory and Major Motion had been working together for two years. Ivory called herself that because she wasn’t quite black and she wasn’t quite white. She was very beautiful, the color of strong coffee with cream. Ivory hoped one day to live on the island of Jamaica. When Ivory met Major Motion she was a virgin. They went out together for four months before they made love. Major Motion took his time with Ivory. He knew that she would be worth the wait. He wasn’t starved for sex because he had followed the family traditions established by his brother and got a job fucking on stage. Job opportunities for black men, especially those from impoverished neighborhoods, were in short supply. The men realized they had a better chance of making a living if they teamed up with a woman or women. The women understood a man could offer protection. Not long after Major Motion and Ivory became lovers, they began performing the Love Act on stage. 

The men in the theater sat in quiet anticipation when Ivory entered the room. She danced on stage in a tight-fitting black dress. She was tall, very tall, at least 5 feet, ten inches, and most of it, legs–gorgeous long legs that came to perfect points at the tips of her toes. Her arms, legs and back showed a hint of muscle from workouts at the gym. Ivory wrapped her perfect body around the shabby back sofa on stage. Soon, she was completely naked. Her thick, curly hair formed a lush mane around her face. Her eyes were big dark almonds that looked out past the hypnotized stares of the audience. 

She poured herself like golden rum over the couch. She lifted her ass high in the air and her dark bush became the focus of every eye in the house. Her cunt seemed to loom larger than life. It was a gateway to paradise and Major Motion was about to slide in.

He sauntered from the side of the stage to join his partner. While he casually stripped, she laid on her back, twisted her long legs toward the ceiling and played with her nipples. The Major’s thick, black tool popped out of his shorts. It was swollen with excitement, filled with the Major’s spunk and with the horny desire of every man in the house. The Major fucked Ivory gently. He fucked her hard. He kissed her nipples, her belly, her thighs. The Major buried his face between her legs. Ivory, the serpent, coiled around her man. 

They were very careful to make sure the audience could see every move, could watch every inch of cock as it was swallowed by cunt. My pussy muscles twitched as if the Major’s cock was sliding in and out of my hole. A man a few seats to my left masturbated vigorously. 

“Touch it, please touch it,” he begged me. 

I admired his opportunism but ignored his request.

Two pimps on patrol. Some men labelled as pimps actually stayed home and took care of the children. (photo: A. Sprinkle)

Major Motion and Ivory held back on the orgasm. They still had four more shows to do that day. The Major, like every stage stud, had to conserve his strength. Like the nutritionist in the health food store up the street had advised Damian:

“You’ve got to replenish your seminal fluids. If you don’t take care now, by the time you’re sixty, you’ll have shot your load.” 

Ivory knew exactly how much money she could make from a full week of shows. She and the Major each made ten dollars for every twenty-five minute performance. They worked six days a week, six shows a day and sometimes double shifts. She said it was the money that kept her coming back. Her grandmother had left her a house and she had to pay off the mortgage. The men in her family all disappeared. But now there was Major Motion and he was daddy and lover and brother and lover. Ivory told me of her dream to open a body-building gym in Jamaica. I was rooting for her. 

“There’s so much I want to do,” she said, “but I just don’t know how to get started.” 

For Baby Doll, the money, too, was important. Baby Doll was twenty-one and the mother of a three-year-old daughter whom she raised alone. I asked her, somewhat timidly, if she ever regretted having a child without a husband. She told me:

“I used to feel bad when I had nothing to give my little girl. But I don’t feel bad anymore because now I earn the money to take care of her.”    

Another dancer passed through the dressing room overheard her and added, “Right on, sister.” 

I was so glad I asked. 

My sweater matches the video booths decor. Viewers pumped in tokens to get to the sex scenes. (photo: A. Sprinkle)

Zoila who was called “Z” worked for a year as a booth baby before she was promoted to manager on the first floor. She was proud of her position. When I told her that I wanted to spend a few hours working in a booth, she looked at me like I was crazy. She had seen me all week, dressed in a conservative skirt and blouse as I interviewed her and all the other people in the three-tiered emporium. She was delighted, dollar signs dancing in her eyeballs, when I came downstairs, ready to work, in my black lace lingerie.   

“The split is sixty-forty,” she told me. Sixty for the house, forty for the booth baby. Each two-dollar token bought ninety seconds of time. I mentally calculated that in one hour’s time, if the booth was never empty, the customers could deposit ninety dollars worth of tokens in the slot. That would be thirty-six dollars for every hour of taking off my clothes, playing with myself, talking to the customers, spreading my legs, sticking my fingers inside my pussy, spreading my cheeks…if the booth were never empty…

The men entered in a steady stream. Telephones on both sides of the glass partition made it possible for us to speak as well as to see each other. Terry was a blonde white college boy who wore a Princeton sweatshirt. Thomas was a young black man who spent twenty minutes dancing with me: by the time he left I felt ready to collapse. Clink, clink, clink. I loved the sound of those tokens hitting the slot. The money inspired a Pavlovian reaction. Up in the chair, out with the tits, hand in the panties, stand up, strip down, start all over again.

Annie photographs me chatting up the horny lingerie salesman. (photo: A. Sprinkle)

An eighty-year-old regular had a neat gimmick. He carried a big box of flimsy lingerie and offered to sell it to the performers real cheap. I had met him upstairs when he sold me a bra and then copped a feel when I tried it on. He entered my booth and pulled out his nearly one-hundred-year-old dick. It had a few hairs growing out of it that probably weren’t there when he was forty, but the thing still worked and he left a happy customer. As he made his exit, he pressed a buck tip into my palm. It felt nice to be appreciated. I later learned five bucks was a more common tip. Another man with a gruff voice and gold chains around his neck barked orders at me through the glass. He was the only one of a dozen who chose not to use the two way telephone. He only wanted to see my asshole.

“Turn around. Spread your cheeks, Wider. Wider!”

He didn’t understand that I was a fucking goddess. I couldn’t wait for him to get off and get out. I thought,“You want to see an asshole, mister? Look in the mirror.”

A feature dancer on stage at the Triple Treat theater mesmerizes her audience. (photo: A. Sprinkle)

Lines like that were made for guys like him. He was one of the few who didn’t ejaculate, but he was the one who could have used it most. He made me sorry I’d gotten into the booth and that was a good wake-up call. It made me realize that this could be a very, very hard job.

I got along well with the other women in the row of cubicles. Only one was pissed because until I showed up she was the only white woman on the downstairs block. The other white women all worked upstairs on the main level. The angry woman walked off the floor, an offense that rated a fine from Z. Z ran a tight ship. She was protective of the women who worked with her, but she believed in nipping trouble in the bud. When there were not enough women on duty in the booths, Z had to fill in herself and this manager had no desire to rejoin the labor force. 

During my two hour stay in the booth, I took in one hundred twelve dollars out of a possible one hundred eighty if the book had been full, non-stop. My end was just under forty-five dollars. With minimum wage per hour in 1985 at three dollars, thirty-five cents, my twenty-two, fifty per hour looked pretty good for a couple of hours work. But could I do it for six or eight hours a day, five or six days a week? A lip-licking windup doll. Not all of the women could. The most reliable workers had well-lit spots on the main floor in a place nicknamed “the hill.” The women who showed up only when they felt like it worked in a dark corner referred to charmingly as “death row.” 

When I returned a few days later to pick up my check, I stopped in to see Ron, the boss of the Triple Treat Theater. He told me that he had heard about my time in the booth and was sorry to have missed it. He offered me ten dollars to show him my tits. He laid a ten on the table. I unbuttoned my blouse, gave him a look at my naked breasts and scooped up the ten in my greedy fist. I had gotten the hang of this place. Ron saw the big smile on my face and decided he’d parted with his ten too easily. 

“How about paying me ten bucks to see my cock,” he said. 

I laughed in his face and said, “I’ve seen enough dicks this week to last me quite a while and every one of them got whipped out for free.” 

Beauty Cara Lott looks like an angel and now she is one. Bless all who brought pleasure and joy into this world. (photo: A. Sprinkle)

In the game of sex and money, it was men who came up with the cash. Men also created the venues and made the rules. At Show World sex was a commodity. Transactions were efficient and there were rules. The labor force, which consisted mostly of women, were not allowed to work outside the rules. If a worker did, they could be arrested for prostitution. The men who set the rules wanted to have it all. Men ruled over women’s bodies. It had been the same in the church and the finance market, but it was most clear on The Deuce, in the sexual marketplace. 

My allegiance was with women who broke the rules.

Parts originally published in ADAM Magazine [Oct 1985] “Veronica Vera’s New York: The Love Act: They Do It For Money,” and in Wild Women: Contemporary Short Stories by Women Celebrating Women [published 1994; edited by Sue Thomas]. Text lightly copyedited by Joy Essex.

Additional Resource: Enjoy Veronica Vera’s podcast interview on The Rialto Report.

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What’s in a Name?

I’ve added a phrase to the main title of my blog. Veronica Vera–Now & Then describes the schedule and the content of my posts. So far, I’ve published infrequently, i.e. “now and then.” I hope the more definitive “Now & Then” will stimulate me into publishing “more and more.”

Thens” are treasures from my days as a high-heeled journalist when Times Square was my beat. Archival stories date from “my formative years” in the 1980’s when I wrote a column in Adam, a skin magazine published in California. I had met Adam’s editor, Jared Rutter, in New York at a birthday party for a kinky bodybuilder. Though he helmed magazine for straight guys, Jared was gay (something not unusual for the adult entertainment business at that time). Jared was shy and soft-spoken, and I enjoyed regaling him with stories of my exploits as a budding porn star. He was so impressed that he wrote a cover story –“Veronica Vera Hottest Woman in New York — about moi! I seized the moment and convinced him that Adam needed an East Coast correspondent.

I came to New York to be a writer. It wasn’t making hardcore movies that interested me; throughout my brilliant career I have performed in only a few skin flicks. But fate intervened when I sold my very first story to Variations, an erotic journal published by Penthouse. That sale introduced me to a vibrant and varied New York City porn community with whom I bonded. I had grown up a good Catholic girl, sexually repressed and uninformed. My new friends were outlaws on a mission to continue the 60’s liberation movement. Not only did I fill in the gaps to my education, I found plenty of stories.

Veronica Vera at Leslie Lohman Museum, 2019. I'm standing in front of my portrait by Robert Mapplethorpe (1982); Club 90 Porn Star Support Group (Sue Nero, Kelly Nichols, Gloria Leonard, Annie Sprinkle, Jane Hamilton, Veronica Vera, Candida Royalle) by Dona McAdams (1984), and testifying for freedom of expression with Seka in Washington D.C. by Annie Sprinkle (1984).

Veronica Vera at Leslie Lohman Museum, 2019. I’m standing in front of my portrait by Robert Mapplethorpe (1982); Club 90 Porn Star Support Group (Sue Nero, Kelly Nichols, Gloria Leonard, Annie Sprinkle, Jane Hamilton, Veronica Vera, Candida Royalle) by Dona McAdams (1984), and testifying for freedom of expression with Seka in Washington D.C. by Annie Sprinkle (1984).

In my Adam column “Veronica Vera’s New York,” Jared gave me free rein to choose my topics. I covered the sex life of the City every month for a dozen years. For that I’m forever grateful and for our friendship that endures to this day. Crazy as it sounds, that column became a sort of personal diary. Far from secret, it was a book of revelations born of sometimes exhaustive (though always pleasurable) research. The average piece was approximately 2500 words, ten pages long, and usually written under a looming deadline. I was living in the moment and I related each encounter with a person, place or event in linear fashion just as it happened. Each experience was a world unto itself, the opening of a new door. What I discovered while exploring my own sexuality and that of everyone else imbued me with confidence and understanding. I decided there was much I could share that would be helpful to others.

In 1989 I began a memoir about what I learned through my own sexual evolution. Coincidentally, I had the opportunity to help those raised as men get in touch with the woman they felt themselves to be. When I recognized a great need to take their desires seriously, I created the world’s first transgender academy: Miss Vera’s Finishing School for Boys Who Want to Be Girls. My school took off and that memoir went on the back burner. It’s been nearly 30 years of educating adult students from across the country and around the world, and shedding much-needed light on crossdressing and its place in the vast transgender community.

I work with a faculty of experts. These Academy deans have changed a bit over the years, but usually after each has achieved tenure and earned the gratitude and admiration of the students. I’ve written three books based on my school, and I am so proud of our pioneering efforts. We’ve helped shape a movement.

At the start of 2020, the deans and I met to discuss moving the Academy online. Covid-19 has given us more incentive to create internet lessons. As we continue to work in that direction, I also feel the need to focus on my writing. What better impetus to finish life projects than a plague? It’s time to get back to that memoir–better yet, make it an autobiography, and stake my claim to history.

Which brings us to the “Now.”

Nows” are my current thoughts. I have packed so much experience under my garter belt that writing is now much more challenging. Each new essay is the entrance to a maze. Memories take twists and turns. No character exists without another demanding to be acknowledged. If I am going to write about B, you need to know about A’s influence, or so my mind tells me. Many have called this “The Wisdom of Age,” but I find it to be a pain in the ass.

I am wrestling with words, tangled in a shibari of sentences. You see, I’ve always been a creature who loves instant gratification. That’s why being a porn star was such fun! I don’t like to work too hard. However, I do have plenty to say and you are here to help. This blog and you the reader support my goal to write every day. You are my workout and I’m pumping prose. The “now” which I offer you will be short thoughts, even sound bytes…at least that’s where I will start. Who knows what will happen from there. Sometimes the Nows and Thens will complement each other–sometimes, not. They won’t necessarily be published together. The goal is the journey, and I hope you stay on it with me.

Here are some ideas that I could expand. I’d love to know your preference from the following teasers:

See you, now and then,
Veronica

* Shibari = Japanese word for rope bondage.

 

 

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COVID-19 and The Space In-Between

For some time now, I have felt that I am living in the space in-between. I am at the age to have experienced the death of loved ones whom I think of often with growing awareness of my own mortality. So I inhabit both the physical world and a spiritual world filled with ghosts. I doubt I am alone with these thoughts.

Today, we are all asked to pay attention to yet more spaces in-between. Two are most pronounced. There is the six-foot space we need to respect, human to human. There is the space between the concerns of our personal lives and the needs of the human community.

A force called COVID-19 has hit the refresh button and made each of us look at what works and what needs change–personally, nationally, globally. Time, money, family, and home are all personal priorities. But this pandemic is a great equalizer and makes me look at these issues in the bigger picture. It’s not just about my survival, it’s how can my survival most benefit others? How can I be of service? I ask these questions of myself, my community and my country. My thoughts reside in the space in-between.

After worrying about money for most of my life, I feel secure about that for now and am grateful I can use some to help others. The commodity that seems in short supply is time; time management is the challenge. With so much time available each day, how do I make the most of it? Perhaps I’ll break it down hour by hour. As I age, the bigger picture is where do I want to spend the rest of my life, and with whom? Is my home really my home? Where is my home? Is it this apartment where I live with an aloof feline who sleeps next to my thigh? Or is home the place where our  families reside–blood family or chosen family or both? Can home be virtual–on Zoom or Google? Does home need to involve touching (touching is definitely preferable)? If my life had to continue in this isolation without the ability to actually reach out and touch someone or even be within six feet of them, then this place where I reside could only feel like a prison. What kind of home do I want my country to be? How does that influence this physical planet where I make my home?

I’m using more apps than ever. Video calls turn the faces of friends into sacred icons. Like stained glass windows they break through my walls to let in the sun and bury deep into the chambers of my heart. Watching someone’s lips move can be an intimate, even erotic experience. Except for lipstick, I’ve stopped wearing make-up. I wear lipstick that lasts for hours, and I wear it all the time. Happily, like many women, I’m not wearing a bra. I’ll leave that to cross-dressing gender explorers.

I live alone with my cat Piggy Stu. But I watch the news, so other people enter my home via the airwaves. Some are more welcome than others. I am grateful for the hard work of Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio. Their efforts show what it means to be public servants. I resent the  self-serving blasts from POTUS who is his own best cheerleader. No amount of pom-pom swinging can distract from his ineptitude or his desperation. He scrambles like just another guy trying to hold on to his job. I try to have compassion, a quality he may never possess. I don’t hate. I seek to understand and increase understanding. So I write and I teach. And I love because love is the answer. I will always believe that.

It’s a beautiful, sunny spring day. Spring is always the shortest season in New York. Soon I will go out for a walk to appreciate the birds and the flowers and the fresh air. I will pass locations that hold so many memories, some newer than others. Thoughts of happy and sad times with living friends and ghosts. The streets are now canyons in the land in-between. To protect myself and others, I’ll wear a mask. My favorite is a multi-colored bandanna I rediscovered. It’s a memento from my husband, a beloved now on the spiritual plane. I opened the bandana to fully admire its design and had to laugh at the cosmic joke. Within the kaleidoscope were the words “Grateful Dead.” Ah, dear Stu, he could always make me smile. In this space in-between, in this time of isolation, I am never alone. 

How are you staying connected?

#Coronavirus #Covid19 #StuartCottingham #GratefulDead #DonaldTrump

 

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Streetwalkers Manhattan 1980’s

Throughout the 1980’s I had a column in ADAM magazine called Veronica Vera’s New York. Here’s one of the treasures from my archives. I look forward to sharing more with you from my past as well as my present. Your comments are most welcome. I invite you to subscribe, and if you already have, thanks a lot!

ADAM Magazine January 1985                                              photos by Annie Sprinkle

Ed: Veronica prowls the city in search of sidewalk hookers, from the black women on the Lexington Avenue beat to the queens who work near the West Side highway. Adam_MissVeraStreetwalkers

The ladies are out in full force tonight. But then they are always out walking the streets. They stand on the corners in certain districts of Manhattan dressed in less than the bare minimum of clothing. Their short skirts just cover their asses, their spandex pants leave no room for air. Sometimes in the winter they wear jackets but these never go much below the waist. It’s important that the merchandise always be displayed. That’s an important rule of business and these ladies are in the business of selling their bodies.

It is midnight and Annie Sprinkle and I are driving through the area that surrounds Lexington Avenue between 25th and 30th Streets. Mr. Vera is also in the car. He will be our protection should we encounter any unfriendly reactions. We have been warned to watch out for the pimps.

Mr. Vera and his beloved Mark VII L.S.C will also serve as our bait. Time is money and these ladies are not going to waste their time walking over to a car in which they see only two women. Besides, he wants to be a part of this. The whole story was his idea. He is as fascinated as any other man by these legions of prostitutes who compete for his attention and his cash.

I am fascinated, too, because like these women and all women I have a body and that body has an economic value. Whether I choose to sell it or not makes no difference. The fact that I can trade on my body effects me every day of my life.

We drive slowly through the area making a reconnaissance run.  Twenty-Seventh Street between Fifth Avenue and Broadway has the most activity. There are a lot of black men in suits standing outside an elegant bistro called Mr. Leo’s Southern Cuisine and a dozen fair-skinned bleach-blonde hookers who solicit business from the traffic that passes by.

Mr. Vera calls on of the black men over to the car. He makes introductions all the way ‘round. The man’s name is Maurice. He wears a double-breasted navy blazer with gold buttons. Mr. Vera explains that we would like to interview some of the ladies and photograph them for ADAM. I show him the column. Maurice is interested in only one thing. Are we paying dollars?

“Not if we can help it,” fires back Mr. Vera. “These ladies are all very busy,” responds Maurice as he bid us good night and drifts back to his look-out spot with the other men near the club.

A block later, at the corner of Park Avenue and 28th street, we meet Queen Bee and Kitty. They are friends. They share the same corner. But in many ways they are opposites. Queen Bee is big-big dark eyes, a wide full mouth, long legs with big solid thighs. She is flamboyant. She wears white short shorts to show off her ass and a white top that bares her midriff and fits real tight over her big round breasts.

Kitty’s outfit is more demure. A blue cocktail dress trimmed with blue sequins that comes down to her knees. Her manner like her dress is more cautious. She is hesitant about being photographed.

Queen Bee is very open. She has a lot to say. When I ask if this is their particular corner, she tells me, “yeah, we like this corner. But it’s not our corner, baby. Anybody can work right here. There’s enough for everybody.” As we spend more time on the streets, we notice that everybody keeps moving. No one spends more than a few minutes at a time in one spot. Its part of what hustlin’s all about.

The sky is threatening rain but Queen Bee is unperturbed. “They come out when it rains.” She says. “Everybody gets horny when it rains. We take ‘em to the Senton Hotel off 27th between Broadway and Sixth where the room costs $12.” Its one of the many small old transient hotels scattered throughout the area that owes is continued existence to the hooker traffic. “We have a good time.” Queen Bee adds. “Whatever turns you on, we’ll do it…”

“Who is this guy here?” Kitty wants to know. Mr. Vera makes it really easy for her to understand: “I’m her man.” Kitty asks him for a stick of gum.

“What’s the approach?” I want to know. Queen Bee explains. “I say to the guy, ‘Hi, Darlin! You want to go out for a date?’ They say whether its yes or no. Then I ask, ‘Okay. What you want to do?’ And they tell me what they want to do. And I say, ‘How much you got?’ And they tell me. Some guys, they’ll beat around the bush and when I say. ‘How much you got?’ They’ll ask (she says in a whining voice), ‘How much you w-a-ant?’ Then I’ll say, ‘Forget it, baby, because we ain’t going through all this. Just tell me what you want to do and how much you’re gonna spend or were gonna take our business somewhere else… a lot of guys want different things. It’s not all sex all the time. It’s a lot of fantasy. You know what I’m sayin’…?

Though I’m already sure of the answer, I ask what is the biggest seller. “Blow jobs,” they answer in unison. “Everyody wants their dick sucked,” adds Queen Bee as we all laugh.

Adam_MissVeraStreetwalkers 1

Annie starts taking photographs. Kitty is no longer shy. They are both really into it — getting off under the bright lights. “I’m gonna be in a movie that’s coming out in November” announces Queen Bee. “It’s called Cooky with Julie Newmar.” Queen Bee likes the idea behind Cooky because she thinks that the film may show that all hookers are not bad.

“People on the other side, square people,” she explains, “they don’t understand. They think we’re all mean and evil people, and that we’re all junkies. It’s not always like that. We do this because it something that we gotta do. It’s like a job. Its just something’ we gotta do.”

Queen Bee and Kitty are having a good time but they’ve got to get back to work. “Look for me in November,” Queen Bee reminds us. “I’m the girl that falls out the car with her titties hangin’ out and goes runnin’ up to the street from the poh-leeese!”

The classiest ladies we see are not ladies at all but two queens, Francine and Marcy. The queens  undergo hormone injections, which help their tits to grow and their beards to disappear. The queens hang out near the West Side highway. The ones who are into drugs are usually near 42nd street. Francine and Marcy work in the Village. Sometimes they travel up to Adam’s Apple, a singles bar on the upper East Side. “ I love to terrorize those straight men,” laughs Francine.

I comment on her beautiful necklace. She lifts her soft blonde hair to reveal matching earrings. “You have to do it right or you can’t do it at all,” she declares.

Francine and Marcy are roommates. They work a few nights a week for about an hour at a time and take home about “a bill to a bill and a half” a piece. They are very choosy about who they go with. They avoid anyone who is into a heavy drug trip. “We are not into that hostile type of individual,” says Marcy. “Even though I am out here,” explains Francine, “it doesn’t mean I go around the world in 20 minutes… my body is my temple.”

They tell us that 69 is the most popular sport, and that often a guy will give them a “windex shine” with his tongue over their high heels. The area is well known as a spot to find queens and if a guy is unsure, he usually finds out soon enough. Marcy explains, “ A lot of the straight men are just amazed by the fact that you have breasts. And if you’re the type of queen — transvestite — who takes care of yourself and live your life like a normal woman… they’re more turned on by the fact that you are living your life as a woman that by anything else. To them that is the ultimate kinkiness.”

Adam_MissVerastreetwalkers4

“Do the cops bother you?” I ask. “Not really” answers Francine. “They usually say something like, ‘you look good, honey, but just keep it movin’.’ So,” she adds with a cover girl smile, “we just keep trippin’ along.”

It’s two a.m. We drive around the block and see a pile of egg cartons that look like they just slipped off a truck. Four enterprising young men attempt to sell them for $1 a dozen to the drivers that pass by. Behind the egg peddlers are three more transsexuals. On the next corner we photograph the two queens, Melissa and Yvette, then we head uptown.

Adam_MissVeraStreetwalkers 3

These trans women plied their trade in what is now the chichi Highline district just next to Chelsea market.

Thirty-ninth Street between 11th and 12th Avenues is the most bizarre scene yet. It’s also the scariest. The street is so crowded with cars that we are forced to move very slowly as we follow the line of traffic. One side of the block is a barren lot. The other side is lined with loading garages. The garage doors are open and we can see the shadows of hookers in the darkness. There may be some johns back there, but I have my doubts. The wise man would do best to stay in the safety of his car on this little stretch. There are lot of guys on bicycles just hanging out and more just walking along the block. Not all of the hookers are in the garages. Most are out on 39th Street approaching cars in little more than their lingerie. There are so many prostitutes here that the block cannot contain them all and they spill out onto Eleventh Avenue. Soon a police van circles the area and the voice of the cop warns over the loudspeaker: “Get off the corner and into the block. You can work easy or you cannot work. Get into the block.”

Business goes on undisturbed. The hookers walk into 39th where the air is so thick with carburetor fumes that it looks as if we are driving in a dream. But this is all real. In New York this is about as real as it gets.

Forsythe Park off Delancey Street is where the baby hookers stay. The babies are about twelve years old. Some are turning tricks before they have their periods. The Park is quiet when we get there. Maybe they’ve recently cleaned it up. There seems to have been a general clean-up on the Lower East Side, probably as a result of the war on drugs. But the babies have to be somewhere, the runaways whose families are looking for them, the throwaways that nobody wants. What we’ve seen on a few nights of prowling the city only scratches the surface. The streetwalkers are part of  The Life that stretches like a spider web and ensnares many people, from the cops, to the pimps, even to, as Queen Bee might call them, the people on the other side, the square people.

A woman walks home from the office and gets propositioned because her skirt’s a little short. One man sees the hookers as detriment to his neighborhood. He is so crazy with anger that he bombards them with beer cans from his twelfth floor window. And every night there are the carloads of young boys who discover their first sex between a hooker’s experienced thighs.

There are many more stories to tell, and we will find them out on the streets. I feel myself being let by my curiosity, getting sucked down deeper. You’re welcome to come along for the ride. Just follow me.

 

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Candice/Candida, One Year Later

IMG_4239.JPG

Like her ashes that were distributed to loved ones, cherished and planted far and wide, one year after her death on September 7, 2015, the legacy of Candice Vadala aka Candida Royalle continues to grow and pay homage to her life and her art. Her papers have been acquired by the Schlesinger Library of Women’s Lives, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.The Schlesinger has also acquired the papers of Candice’s Club 90 sister, adult performer and free speech champion Gloria Leonard.

Candice left a meticulously documented archive which she entrusted to me. Her papers are both personal and professional and from them we learn not only of Candice’s life, but of her early women’s activism, the colorful 70’s trippy San Francisco performance scene, the  growth of adult media, the sexology movement, and the inception of the feminist erotic/porn genre which Candida Royalle pioneered. This archive will be used at Harvard in classes beginning  this fall and by early 2018 the Vadala/Royalle archive will be digitized and available online and in person to researchers and scholars.

How many of you know of Candice and her Tomato Song? It didn’t take much coaxing for her to sing this little ditty a capella. Candice wrote her Tomato Song in the 70’s during the time she performed with members of the Cockettes and the The Angels of Light. She made her own tomato outfit and used the song in her very  first solo performance. This was a turning point in her life because she realized how much she loved to perform. Now, the Tomato Song as well as her collaborations with composer Patrick Cowley collectively titled “Candida Cosmica” will be released by Josh Cheon and others of Honey Sound System and Dark Entries Records. A release party will take place in San Francisco at The Magazine, 920 Larkin Street, on October 15, 2016, Candice’s birthday. Candice’s sister Cinthea and friends Theresa McGinley and Jorge Socarras, all of whom were participants in that era, will be there to celebrate. The New York party will be held on October 19. (location tba). A recent article in the New York Times referred to Patrick Cowley as a “disco innovator” and made special mention of Candida and the Tomato Song which was described as “tellingly absurd.”

Thanks to the diligence of Candice’s dear friend and attorney, Mary D. Dorman her affairs were left in order, her final wishes are being followed. As Candice’s executor, I am so grateful for Mary’s wise counsel. Candice named a “cat committee” that consisted of dear friends Barbara Carrellas and Suzanne Delauney, who was also her former assistant.Her beloved cats: Jack, Baxter and Niles have new homes. Jack and Niles are with Candice’s cousins Alana and Char, respectively. Baxter lives in North Carolina with Larry Trepel’s brother Jeff and Larry visits often. The original Femme movies are entrusted to our Club 90 sister Jane Hamilton aka Veronica Hart and Club 90 sister Annie Sprinkle is entrusted with Candice’s book, How To Tell A Naked Man What To Do.

In 2006 Candice purchased her beautiful home in Mattituck, on the North Shore of Long Island. The area has become famous for its many vineyards, and also for the farm stands that offer the most delicious  vegetables, fruits, pies, eggs. Fresh fish abound. I referred to Candice’s home as her “garden of eden.” It is where we all ate well, where she tended her rich, wild garden, fed the birds and wrote letters to the editor in support of the wildlife.It is where “the little tomato” flourished. That house is now for sale, supervised by realtor JoAnn Wind who originally found the house for Candice. Michele Capozzi Candice’s “little Italian bro”  and I just returned from that house. Candice filled my thoughts as I swam in the Long Island Sound, remembering our many beach outings, missing her so much, but grateful to that house which made her final days so peaceful and I think even extended her life. Candice had confided to me and others how she envisioned herself, silver haired, at the end of her life, sitting alone  in the middle of a lush forest, until she simply disappeared. Candice’s physical life ended in her garden of eden, but hers was a big life and only one part was physical. The spirit of Candice Vadala/Candida Royalle, her art and her vision live on to influence and inspire.

Candice’s Ashes

made a soft crunching sound
as I sprinkled them
on the frozen December leaves
at the base of the Japanese maple
that blazed bright red
in the autumn.
(Red was Candice’s favorite color.)
They’re not as coarse
as you might imagine,
the essence of a human being,
the grains that remain
after cremation,
somewhere between
the texture of sand
and talcum powder,
dove gray in color.

Strange,
how a person
is reduced to this—
specks of matter
in a glass vial,
with no indication
of the spark
that was always in their eyes,
of the grace
they carried themselves with
through this world,
even at the very end
when cancer had left
almost nothing behind,
just the shell of a body
and pain.

A chorus of birds
sang
as I carefully fitted the cork cap
back onto the vial.
Candice loved the birds—
she fed them, left water for them,
every day at her home that was perched
on the North Fork of Long Island.
And although she’d never been
to this special blue house
nestled among tall evergreens
in the foothills of the Catskill Mountains,
I think she would have liked it here.

It seemed a fitting place
to leave her essence,
the same stuff that the stars are made of.
It seemed right
and good
that the birds
sang farewell to Candice
today
and mourned her loss
with me
as I sprinkled her ashes
in the cool, damp earth.

Cathy Brown

Posted in Candida Royalle, Club 90, Feminist Porn | 6 Comments

The Lost Mapplethorpe

One picture is worth a thousand words, but some are worth many thousand and sometimes thousands of dollars. This story is of such a picture, a photograph by the artist Robert Mapplethorpe. When you look, you will see me, the model. What you cannot see is the story behind the image, its provenance.

VV by Mapplethorpe

On the night I met Robert Mapplethorpe he presented a slide show of black male nudes in a men’s center located in the basement of a West Village Church. It seems incongruous in light of how renowned an artist he has become to think of him in such lowly surroundings. Next week, I will travel to Los Angeles to celebrate at both the Getty Museum and the L.A. County Museum of Art, major exhibitions of Robert Mapplethorpe’s work.

I was about to become a porn star, but in 1982 that had not yet happened. I had just begun explorations into human sexuality, the field that would become my life’s work. A better description would have been swinging bachelorette, uninhibited playgirl, Catholic school survivor. I was spreading my sexual favors around the town like jam on toast, blazing a trail from Studio 54 disco to the swing club Plato’s Retreat. Sex was my preoccupation not my profession. My professional life, thus far, had been in the world of high finance. And I had a neat little nest egg when I began to dabble in the world of erotic art. My adventures were helped along by a new circle of friends: the porn star Annie Sprinkle, tattooist Spider Webb…photographer Charles Gatewood. I began to write stories for Penthouse Variations edited by another friend, V.K. McCarty. I enjoyed writing about sex, but I was still uncomfortable with most of the visuals. The “split beavers” winking from glossy centerfolds, the graphic and gritty newsprint pages of SCREW were a shock, not a turn-on. It hurt to look at them. More than I wanted to see – I wanted to make – beautiful images of sex.

That need for a connection to my own body is what made me snap up the copy of the Village Voice that had a nude black man prominently and beautifully displayed on its cover. In the centerfold were more photos of this man, named Ajito. I saw skin, smooth and taut, stretched over muscle and bone, a human sculpture bending, bowing, testifying to his own magnificence. In my mind, I heard church bells ring. “Who has treated the body with such reverence?” The photographer was Robert Mapplethorpe. His star was just beginning to rise. I identified with Mapplethorpe’s intense curiosity, his capacity to turn bodies into unapologetic sensual objects. I knew this man could take beautiful pictures of sex and I knew I wanted to be in them. The person to whom I most wanted to expose myself was me.

Not long after, a tiny classified notice appeared, again in the Voice: “Robert Mapplethorpe will present a slide show of his ‘Black Male Nudes’…” The show would take place in a gay men’s center in the Village. It seemed like a good opportunity to meet the artist, so I called my friend Denis Florio. Denis, in his 30’s was an art world entrepreneur. He’d been dubbed “the picture framer to the stars” when the National Enquirer wrote about a consultation he’d had with Jackie O. Denis had framed everyone who was anyone in modern art: Andy Warhol, Cindy Sherman, Sandy Skoglund, Tom Wesselman. Diane Keaton visited him regularly for advice. Alice Neel painted his portrait. Chase Manhattan entrusted their collection to him. Denis, who had accrued a great eye and a stellar reputation, also appreciated the aesthetics of an uncut penis, which I told him could be abundant in the slide show presentation. Ten years earlier Denis had come to New York, a hopeful young dancer, and hung out at the legendary Max’s Kansas City along with Robert Mapplethorpe and Patti Smith. I suggested we go to the show. “I’ll introduce you to Robert, ” he said. Perfect.

I made sure to dress for the occasion, a turquoise silk dress with a feather print. The goal was womanly and glamorous in an Ava Gardner sort of way. I was out to seduce, to inspire, to have my way with the artist, but subtly, so he would think it was all his idea.

Besides me and Denis there was just a handful of men in the church auditorium watching as Robert Mapplethorpe presented his work. Some may have been art lovers, others prospective models, some were definitely cruising. All of us were horny, needy, in some way. Afterward, Denis, Robert and I relaxed at the Pink Tea Cup Cafe, then Robert invited us back to his apartment at 77 Bleecker. The furnishings were minimalist- lots of clean lines, lots of black walls and plenty of crucifixes. I could tell by the religious content, he was my kind of guy. “And here is a sample of my work,” I said. I had not had needed to dress like a sexpot, because my offering spoke for itself. It was a magazine entitled Post Art Art in America made by me and Annie Sprinkle with our mentor, the Dutch Fluxus artist Willem De Ridder. Willem encouraged me and Annie to think of everything we did as art, so it was a sexy art magazine or an arty sex magazine, depending on how you looked at it. In one article I described the Catholic influence in my life. Another was illustrated with a photo of me wearing a corset and thigh high leather boots, while strung up in the California backyard of my friend Mistress Antoinette. The title asked, “Is There An Academy For My Kind Of Art.”

“Would you model for me, sometime?” Robert asked. Would I! It took a few months before Robert telephoned and said, “I’m photographing a black man and he would like to do some sex shots with a woman, would you…ah…be…ah…interested? He sounded so timid, almost as if he was afraid I might think he was pimping me.

“I can pay you, ” he added, “though I can’t pay much, or I could give you prints.” What would he offer me, I thought, fifty bucks? I knew I would much rather have the prints. And good little Catholic that I was, I felt much better fucking for art than for cash.

My partner’s name was Marty. I immediately conjured politically incorrect fantasies… Marty as the huge Mandingo glistening with sweat at he plundered the depths of the lily white virgin (me). The real Marty was small, but he was big where it counts. His cock was exquisitely shaped and his body definitely up to Mapplethorpian standards. Instead of the primitive cave man I imagined, he was a young corporal home on leave. He’d been reared by his religious mom to be god-fearing, proper and polite. He wore a cowboy shirt and pressed jeans. But not for long. This was actually Marty’s second modelling experience. He’d already posed for a gay magazine. That made him “A professional,” as he announced. He said the word several times, each time with a crisp, military ring. He liked the sound of it. In no time at all, corporal Marty was at attention.

It was like playing doctor. Me, Marty, Robert and Robert’s lover Jack. Jack was the photo assistant who jumped in to remove a curl from my eyes. Such sweet, gentle, fun. Robert under the dark veil of the camera, a peeping Tom who peered through the keyhole and interpreted what he saw. I was a creature under the microscope. Robert scrutinized, Jack primped, Marty fingered and stroked. I loved the attention.

We were all pretty inexperienced as pornographers. I had never had sex on camera. Robert had never photographed a man and a woman in the act. Even Marty, with his claims to “professionalism” had appeared only solo. So we were blissfully ignorant of formula poses. We did whatever popped into our heads. Mindful of Robert’s penchant for dissecting the body, I asked him to be sure one photograph showed my face.

Marty&Veronica

I brought home the prints he gave me and propped them against the wall to make a closer inspection. They seemed to be three dimensional. Marty and I came alive, little creatures in a sex dance on my glass dinner table. That is when I understood what it meant to paint with light.

Some months later, a second modelling session was inspired by my romance with Officer Benson a visiting policeman with an attractive buttocks. “Hello, Robert. My lover is a policeman with a butt that deserves to be immortalized.”

Once again, I visited Robert to pick out a print. There was no image of Officer Benson’s butt, however there was a lovely one of mine and I choose it over the vulva shot. It would be much easier to hang on the wall, less intimidating to prospective dates. Why, I could even leave it up when my Dad came to visit, an anonymous buttocks and foot…who could tell?

The photos from this second session were very different from those of the first. They were much lighter, more like drawings. “I have a surprise for you,” said Robert. He presented me with my portrait, a profile from the shoulders up, taken during the shoot, but when I was unaware, an unseen Officer Benson lies beneath me. I stared at my eyes, my nose, my mouth and felt more naked in this portrait than in any photo Robert took of my genitals. I saw myself not just as a woman, but as a girl. This was not simply Veronica, this was me, Mary, having sex. “Thank you, Robert.” Little did I know how meaningful that gift would become.

From the moment of their creation, the photos took on lives of their own, like children they were off on their own adventures. Every show of Robert’s work was accompanied by excitement and controversy. An exhibition of the artist’s work was held in the city that Officer Benson called home, so  arrangements were made for him to pick up his print at the gallery. He showed up in full police uniform and strode purposefully past the tulips and calla lilies to inquire where the sex photos were displayed. The nervous gallery assistant directed him to the back room, in fear that he had come to bust the show. Instead she found out that the cop was a collaborator.

In 1988 AIDS took my friend Denis Florio “picture framer to the stars. It also took Robert Mapplethorpe. A show of Mapplethorpe’s work was presented at the Whitney Museum in summer, 1989.(?) “Marty and Veronica” hung in the show and for this I was so proud–to have accomplished what I set out to do those years before, to take sex from the pages of the porn mags and class up its image, be a sort of spin doctor of sex, take it from Times Square where it was hidden, to the art museum where it could be examined and appreciated in full view.

An article by the art critic Hilton Kramer, now deceased, appeared in the New York Times on July 2, 1989. It was entitled “Is Art Above The Laws Of Decency?” In his article Hilton Kramer completely negated the idea of an artist’s “intention” as a criterion for art. For him it seemed to be all about following the accepted rules of art. Dead art. A woman possessed, I immediately sat down to write. My letter appeared in the Times under the heading “Unique Perspective.”

“By putting these images on paper, Robert accepted them as a valid part of his evolution as a human being. I think it took courage to do that. Mr. Kramer may choose to see these photos as pornography, I see them as debunking the whole idea of pornography-helping society to get rid of that self-hating concept which ghettoizes sex, which implies that some parts of our sexuality are too unspeakable to mention, too private to be public- and this is all part of some law that decent people do not question..”.

Hilton Kramer had written “What we are being asked to support and embrace in the name of art is an attitude toward life.” I countered “What we are being asked to support and embrace in the name of life is an attitude toward art. Is there any difference?”

The recognition of Robert’s vision, his skill and talent combined with so much controversy and publicity made prices soar. I decided to try to sell some of my prints. I knew very little about dealing art, but I knew a great art dealer. My friend Patrick Roger Binet of Galerie Coligny in Paris was an expert in 19th Century French drawings, not exactly modern photography, but I figured a dealer knows how to deal. He was coming to town for “Works On Paper” show of 1989 (?). One evening I met him at the show. Again, I dressed for the occasion in a high necked black lace blouse, a skirt puffy with crinolines and my waist squeezed tight in a lace-up corset. We prowled the stalls until we saw some Mapplethorpe flowers prominently displayed at the Weston Gallery booth. There were two photographs and one had sold for $18,000, that also caught our attention. I let Patrick do all the talking. He chatted up the dealers Maggie Weston and Russ Anderson, introducing me as the model, letting them know the photographs came directly to me from the artist. “Every dealer loves a great story,” said Patrick. The dealers Russ, Maggie and Maggie’s son Matt Weston were eager to come to my apartment and take a look at the prints. Russ said the photographs could sell anywhere from $8000 up. Again, I heard bells, but this time it was the tingle of the cash register. We made an appointment with them for the very next morning.

On our way downtown that night, Patrick ordered the taxi driver to halt. Leaving me in the cab, he dashed into a brand new open-all-night Korean deli and bought up every red tulip in the place. “It’s important for the dealer to treat you like a rich person, someone who is not impressed with a little money, that way he will likely offer you more. One look around your studio apartment and he might guess that you are not rich, so we must make him think you are eccentric, that way he cannot be sure.” Before we went to sleep, we filled all of the vases with tulips and when we ran out of vases we filled the pots and pans. Two dozen red tulips sat in a spaghetti pot on my Chinese red dresser next to a benevolent Balinese goddess.

As we scurried about, my dear friend and house guest porn star Gloria Leonard snoozed on the pull-out sofa. We surrounded her with so many flowers, I thought she might wake up and think she was dead. Sure enough, in the a.m. she said all that was missing was the big horseshoe that said “Good-by Guido.”

Maybe it was the flowers, in any case, the dealers wasted no time dickering about the price: 10,000, 12,000, 18,000, 20,000. My retail value seemed to be worth its weight in tulips, the kind by Mapplethorpe. He loved the erotic content of the photos and did not talk it down like it was a liability. “Don’t sell them all,” advised Maggie Weston, “Keep your portrait.”

“If you want to sell your portrait, let me know, said Russ, “I think I would like it for my private collection. Patrick’s hand shot up in the air as if he were at auction. “Me first. If anyone is going to get that portrait, I am.”

Already there was a bidding war going on. Now I really felt like a rich girl. Gloria who is as famous for what comes out of her mouth as for what went into it, had the last word. “Veronica,” she said, “you give new meaning to the phrase, ‘some day my prints will come.”

Two of the smaller prints from “Marty & Veronica” went off to the Weston Gallery, a few years later, my buttocks followed. In 1999, the large photo of “Marty and Veronica”, the one that shows my face, sold at Christie’s. I hated to part with that one, but I told myself I was not in a position to be an art collector.

Though I no longer owned the physical images, they endured in my writing and other work. I had included them in my video docu-diary “Portrait of A Sexual Evolutionary” which was the center of a censorship controversy at the University of Michigan Law School in 1993. Another connection to Robert Mapplethorpe was my friendship with Thomas Williams, the model in some of the most famous images. When Thomas and I became lovers, I felt that Robert had sent me another gift, the big, strong, black man I had imagined I would meet at that first shoot. Maybe he was still taking pictures.

As to my portrait, Patrick and I made a deal to co-own it and he took it home to Paris. Though Patrick was gay, we had started off as lovers in the late 70’s, long before A.I.D.S. was in the public consciousness. I had lived with him for a short time in Paris. Our friendship continued when he visited New York once or twice a year on gallery business. Then Patrick, too, got very sick with A.I.D.S. and I was not able to go to Paris to see him. I made lots of rationalizations as to why – reminding myself of times we had argued – but these were just feeble attempts to assuage my guilt. Patrick died in 2007.

I wondered what had happened to the portrait but I could not bring myself to ask anyone who might know. Perhaps, it had gone to pay bills as he lay ill, perhaps some other of his art dealer friends took possession of it. So be it, I thought.

This past September, I received a phone call from a couple visiting from Mexico, who invited me to dinner. I had met Eric and Francoise LeDoux in Paris where they had lived for many years. They were Patrick’s chosen family. Their son Adrien was Patrick’s godson. I welcomed the opportunity to discover what it had been like for Patrick in those last years. Was he surrounded by friends? Did he have support?

He had friends and support but it was Adrien who was steadfast – when Patrick was able taking him by wheelchair to the Louvre or to Patrick’s beloved Musee D’Orsay where he was known to be erudite. I was so grateful to know he had received such love and care.The LeDoux’s and I reminisced in the restaurant. It was a balmy night, so we moved to the sidewalk café for our coffee. “You know,” said Eric, “there is this photograph…”

“You mean the one by Robert Mapplethorpe?” I immediately unburdened myself, telling Eric and Francoise how sorry I have been not to have visited Patrick to say good-by. For years the portrait had remained over Patrick’s bed. Since his death, it had been in Adrien’s possession. It felt so good to know that though I had not made it to Paris, my portrait still had a place of honor in Patrick’s home. This news helped me to forgive myself. Not to do so would have dishonored the love of a cherished friend.

“So what do you say, you and Adrien sell the portrait and split the money?” Eric suggested. That felt so simple and so very right.

I’ve lived long enough to believe in magic and in messages from the beyond. The “lost Mapplethorpe” has now been found and at “The Perfect Moment.” It began its life as a gift from Robert Mapplethorpe, a way to say “thank you” for a collaboration. That significance has not been lost on me. What must never be lost is the spirit of self-determination that makes each of us defy rules that don’t seem to fit, to find a personal truth, and turn life into art. Whatever money comes from the sale of the original photograph will never exceed the value of its provenance. This rich history – the lives, creativity and experiences – are my treasures to share.

 

 

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Miss Vera’s Perspective: Why Bruce Jenner said, “Asexual” and more…

By Dr. Veronica Vera, DHS

The Bruce Jenner Interview conducted by Diane Sawyer which aired April 25, 2015 on ABC was smart and sensitive. I felt very uplifted. This next morning I am surprised at how I feel this much more emotionally. I feel grateful and connected and inspired. I’ve been remembering all of the people who have passed through Miss Vera’s Academy in the 23 years since I founded the world’s first male to female crossdressing academy and how this interview is so healing for them and helpful to so many, of any gender. I posted some thoughts on Facebook, but I thought I would gather those here, and add more.

Graduation Day

Early Days of Miss Vera’s Academy, circa 1995.

Graduation Day:msn

The show was “smart” because the producers (both those on air and off) had done their research, consulted many authorities and shared a lot of information. Much earlier that day, as a guest on ABC’s Good Morning America, Diane Sawyer promoted the show saying this would be a program about love. The focus of the show was love, more specifically the acceptance of transgender people, not simply by their own families, but by society. The producers were “smart and sensitive” because they were careful not to confuse the viewer. An example was in the choice to not use the female pronoun. My friend Topaz asked me why I referred to Bruce Jenner as “she” when in the interview BJ had chosen the use of “he.” I responded:

     I think Bruce Jenner has made it very clear she identifies as a woman, so referring to her as she comes much more easily to me. I recognize her. Jennifer Boylan who appeared and consulted on the interview also referred to BJ as “she” in her posts the next morning. I believe that the choice to use the male pronoun in the interview was to 1) to lessen viewer confusion and any negative feeling that might occur by using the female pronoun when Bruce was physically presenting as male; and 2) to save the she word for a big moment on BJ’s new show. We are definitely going to see an unveiling and big fanfare, for sure. And she’s gonna rock! So, I’ll stick to my use of she because, if not mainly for those two reasons above, that is how Bruce self identifies, she said so.

Throughout the interview Bruce emphasized time: time to make decisions about surgeries; time to “re-emerge as myself.” Bruce may also want to time to stand up to world scrutiny when she presents as female. I can understand that. Right now, I feel more honest, and feel I am supporting Bruce more by using “she”, but given different circumstances, I could change my mind….it’s a woman’s prerogative.

When Diane Sawyer asked Bruce Jenner about sexuality, BJ used the descriptive “asexual.” The interview emphasized the difference between sex and gender quoting: “Sex is who you go to bed with; gender is who you go to be as.” This was another area in which the producers chose not to confuse viewers with too much information. We learned that Bruce Jenner has been on hormones for the past 18 months; hormones inhibit the sex drive. Diane Sawyer mentions the hormones have lessened the “duel” inside. Since the word was spoken, we don’t know if she said “duel” or “dual,” both fit. Prior to female hormones, male to female trans persons can feel and be very sexually active, alone or partnered. Hormones can have a very tranquilizing effect, which can be quite a relief, especially initially. Also, let’s not forget that Bruce is still married and discussions of future partners are premature. Bruce is humble. She has so much to learn and admits she doesn’t know all the answers, so when Diane Sawyer repeats “asexual” and adds “….for now.” Bruce agrees, “…for now.”

The parts of the interview that touched me most were the small moments, like when BJ said she just wanted to wear nail polish long enough to let it chip. Actually, from the moment Bruce let loose that ponytail I thought we might be onto something good, and we were. Just before the show aired I received an email from a student who I knew would be watching with his wife. I said “Tell your wife that Miss Vera says, not every crossdresser wants to transition, many cherish their lives as men.” I thought of that couple and so many others of my students who have shared some of BJ’s history but want to live in both worlds. I was glad when a statement that flashed across the screen made a distinction between crossdressing and transgender. Crossdressers are definitely part of the transgender community, though some might better identify with the word “crossgender.” I was also happy to see so many different people in the trans community represented, even if briefly. Many of the students who enroll at Miss Vera’s Academy are professionals, but in 20+ years as dean of my academy and ten years prior as a writer in the field of human sexuality, I have been privileged to know and to learn from many trans people from all walks of life, all economic levels, all places in their personal evolutions. I am grateful to them all and proud of what we, and so many others have accomplished together. In the midst of writing my third book, suddenly my task feels lighter. I feel especially grateful to Bruce Jenner, Diane Sawyer, ABC. They have put the power of the media to good use and raised public consciousness with informed intelligence. It makes my job easier and this world a better place.

Graduation Day

Graduation Day

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Miss Vera On Bruce Jenner: A response to the New York Times

Transition or Fashion Statement?

Transition or Fashion Statement?

Bruce Jenner: Transition or Fashion Statement?
Is Bruce Jenner in the process of gender transition or could this be simply a bold fashion statement? I’m surprised that Jacob Bernstein writing in the Style Section of the New York Times on February 5, did not think to pose this question. What better place than the Style section to discuss how as a society we get our knickers in a twist when a man presents in ways we consider feminine? Kilts have remained a fad and,try as he might Gaultier has never been able to put men in skirts. David Beckham in a sarong, notwithstanding. Instead Bernstein’s  article mainly rehashed a bunch of quotes from other sources, some gossip blogs, some tabloid, some as he described them “mainstream.” The quotes he included from those working as trans advocates and helping professionals were carefully worded and politically correct. The entire article seemed to be simply a way for the “Grey Lady” to hop on board the gossip express without getting her pumps dirty. Don’t be surprised. In complicated issues, the lazy press chooses simplification, to clarity, much to our loss. Or shall we accept that Trans people just appeared fully formed, no personal histories; no mommies, no daddies;immaculate conceptions or maybe just landed from another planet?

I really do think that this is more than a fashion statement for Bruce Jenner, but in a way, I wish it were. As dean of the world’s first transgender academy, Miss Vera’s Finishing School for Boys Who Want to Be Girls, which I founded more than 20 years ago in NYC, I, a cis woman (not trans) have guided many adults who cross the gender border from male to female, sometimes for a day, sometimes for a lifetime. Of those who choose to live in both worlds, presenting sometimes as male, at other times as female, there are some who also use hormones, for a variety of reasons: to make physical changes, to calm libido…Like Bruce Jenner, many of my students are highly functioning adults, heroes in their own fields.

Rita and Misty take Wall Street.

Rita and Misty take Wall Street.

No matter what the gossips throw at him, Bruce Jenner exudes serenity, the kind of joy that comes from self-confidence, self-acceptance, self-love. Qualities  I see more and more in my students, especially those who come out to their nearest and dearest and in those who transition.

MVA alumna Patricia

MVA alumna Patricia

I could almost laugh at some of the quotes I’ve been reading about Bruce Jenner, except that the dissemination of ignorance is not funny. Mr. Bernstein quotes one source as saying “You don’t become a woman because your wife is pushy.” The truth is that feminine men often have a strong attraction to assertive women, and vice versa. Some cite Bruce Jenner’s three marriages to women as proof of his red-blooded maleness, when this fact could just as easily suggest the opposite. Secrets, even from oneself, can eat away at a relationsip. Overcompensation can lead to philandering. Some men when cross dressed identify as “male lesbians.” Others are sexually attracted to men, or other transgender people. We all have bodies with enough opening and appendages to experience sexual pleasure from any gender.

Amy & Wife Trish together for 40 years.

Amy & Wife Trish together for 40 years.

Another similarity between Bruce Jenner and the students of Miss Vera’s Academy is that he comes from the world of “white male privilege.” The homogeneous nature of our student body is more reflective of income level and age, than anything else. The transgender umbrellas covers people of all ages, colors, incomes, sexual orientations, physiques, i.q.’s and on and on…Trans men and trans women. There are those who identify as gender fluid; for others crossgender is a more apt term. So many individuals, so many needs and experiences, so much to understand, but with a common refusal to be locked into two categories. It’s time we acknowledge the time of gender binary is over, there is a third gender and it is trans, and like male and female, this third gender could not exist without the others.

Young TransMen and their Girlfriends surround me at SCC, 2014.

Young Trans Men and their Girlfriends surround me at SCC, 2014.

If he comes out as trans, and does become a spokesperson as Nicholas Kristof suggests in his Op Ed column which also appeared in the NYT on February 5, then Bruce Jenner will stand along side many: Laverne Cox and Janet Mock, but even more closely with the brilliant “gender outlaw” Kate Bornstein. That is very heady company, particularly for someone so immersed in reality show’s commodification of life. Jill Soloway, creator of TRANSPARENT took a lot of heat for posting a visual parody she received called, The TransDashians. Many in the trans movement were offended. They labeled Ms. Soloway an enemy – a cis woman who like all cis (non-trans) people could not be trusted. Do trans people and cis people have no shared emotions, beliefs or experiences? Ms. Soloway is the daughter of a trans person, credentials which give her a unique perspective and, she has created a show that is honest and true. If a Bruce Jenner transition show does air, TransDashians would be an excellent name and Ms. Soloway’s seeming faux pas would be not be. What the trans movement and arbiters of political correctness would then confront is another commercialization of trans, perhaps the most challenging yet.

With Ginger in vendor area, Southern Comfort Convention 2014.

With Ginger in vendor area, Southern Comfort Convention 2014.

Note: For an unflinching and highly informative coming out story and photos see Chadwick Moore’s interview with me and student “Ginger” who comes out in OUT, March 2015 on news stands mid-February, 2015.

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Review: Miss Vera Gives TRANSPARENT an A+

In honor of TRANSPARENT’s Golden Globes wins, I’m reposting my review! Congratualations to all.

Veronica Vera — Now & Then

 

JILL SOLOWAY HAS DONE HER HOMEWORK

The beauty of the show TRANSPARENT, is that in telling the story of Mort who is Maura Pfefferman creator Jill Soloway has chosen to include sexuality as a theme, as equally important as gender. The show and all involved get an A+.

Rita Petite, Miss Vera, Misty Madison on Wall Street. Rita Petite, Miss Vera, Misty Madison on Wall Street.

TRANSPARENT Is sex positive which means that the sexuality of the characters is, first of all, included and second, presented without judgment. This is particularly important to me because over 20 years ago when I created Miss Vera’s Finishing School for Boys Who Want to be Girls, the world’s first transgender academy, I included sex ed as part of our curriculum. This went against the current thinking of the time, which was that trans people would be safer and more respected if sex were not part of the discussion. “It’s a gender…

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Review: Miss Vera Gives TRANSPARENT an A+

 

 

JILL SOLOWAY HAS DONE HER HOMEWORK

The beauty of the show TRANSPARENT, is that in telling the story of Mort who is Maura Pfefferman creator Jill Soloway has chosen to include sexuality as a theme, as equally important as gender. The show and all involved get an A+.

Rita Petite, Miss Vera, Misty Madison on Wall Street.

Rita Petite, Miss Vera, Misty Madison on Wall Street.

TRANSPARENT Is sex positive which means that the sexuality of the characters is, first of all, included and second, presented without judgment. This is particularly important to me because over 20 years ago when I created Miss Vera’s Finishing School for Boys Who Want to be Girls, the world’s first transgender academy, I included sex ed as part of our curriculum. This went against the current thinking of the time, which was that trans people would be safer and more respected if sex were not part of the discussion. “It’s a gender issue, not a sex issue,” became the operative phrase, and for some people, still is. It wasn’t so long ago that trans people were considered perverts and subject to arrest. Sex  as a subject, it was thought, had to go. But the people who arrive at my door wanting to find the woman inside have run the gamut of being total virgins to those who are very, very sexually active, and they confide their trans nature has definitely influenced their sexual identity and practice. So I was delighted when in the pilot episode Mort is described by his son as “a pussy hound.”” Oh, yes, I thought, we are going to go there.

Miss Vera's Academy students and friends pre-makeovers for Candy, the transversal style magazine, 10/2013.

Miss Vera’s Academy students and friends pre-makeovers for Candy, the transversal style magazine, 10/2013.

 

In TRANSPARENT Individual characters’ sexual orientations are  presented with clarity and complexity and a wide variety of sexual orientations are included. We learn in the pilot episode that of the three adult children of Mort (Jeffrey Tambor) and Shelly Pfefferman (Judith Light) first born Sarah (Amy Landecker) is bisexual; her brother Josh (Jay DuPlass) loves younger and older women; and the youngest sibling Ali (Gaby Hoffmann), well it’s hard to pin her down but she herself agrees she needs “discipline.” Their mother, Shelly must have liked sex enough with Mort to have given birth to three children, though how much, we can’t be sure because what is sex, but a dance, and Shelly states she doesn’t like music. She also mentions Mort’s money being spent on younger women.

We learn, however, that no character’s sexual orientation can be taken for granted. We may think we know one person’s story, but, not for long. For instance, I thought the woman Josh visited in episode one was a prostitute with whom he was very familiar… but stay tuned for a surprise.

Miss V and Ginger Liscious in vendor area, Southern Comfort Conference 2014.

Miss V and Ginger Liscious in vendor area, Southern Comfort Conference 2014.

The show is transgenerational. There are three generations of Pfeffermans and there are flashbacks to Mort’s life in 1989. This is particularly helpful because transgender as a movement has grown so rapidly in such a short time. Transgender as a word was not really in use until the 90’s. The T in the Los Angles LGBT center Maura visits was most likely not added until the late 90’s. The support group that Maura attends there would have existed years prior to today, but not with so many confident and diverse members, and certainly not with trans actors in the roles.

Young TransMen and their Girlfriends at SCC, 2014.

Young TransMen and their Girlfriends at SCC, 2014.

Dr. Ted and new DHS

Dr. Ted McIlvenna, founder Institute for the Advanced Study of Human Sexuality w Jane Hamilton, Candida Royalle, Veronica Vera, newly invested as Doctors of Human Sexuality (D.H.S), June 2014.

We learn not only how the lives of trans people have changed over the years, we are also presented with ways one generation’s life choices affect another’s. When my students tell me they are afraid to share their transness with their children, I suggest that they could be liberating their children from living in the same emotional strait jackets they’ve worn themselves. Maura’s children appreciate their dad’s “going for it” and it impacts their own lives and desire for sexual integrity. Remembering that “a little child shall lead them, how lovely to hear Poppa Mort’s grandchildren easily adapt to calling Maura, “Moppa”, a word the will now enter the language.

In later episodes, we are treated to gender and sex education, right along with our entertainment: Premarin pills and hormone injections, trans men, female ejaculation, erotic shaving and much more… This free flow of information, in fact the entire attitude of the show reflects the development of the field of sexology which emerged from the sexual revolution of the 60’s, as well as the formation of the transgender movement. Both fields of study have inspired professional degrees, support groups, associations and conferences across the country and around the world.

Club 90 on stage for Keynote, Catalyst Con, sexuality conference, 2014.

Jackie Strano and Club 90 (Veronica Vera, Jane Hamilton, Annie Sprinkle, Candida Royalle, Gloria Leonard (R.I.P.) on stage for Keynote, Catalyst Con, sexuality conference, 2014.

 

In episode 8, Maura and her friend Mark who is Marcy (Bradley Whitford) arrive on the site of Camp Camellia, they see crossdressers in all their feminine finery, casually strolling along the path. I was reminded of Fantasia Fair, a week long gathering where for 40 consecutive years the trans community has taken over Provincetown, Mass. One of my favorite scenes in #8, the most revelatory episode in terms of all the characters, is the dance party at Camp Camellia, the joy expressed was truly transcendant.

Amy & Wife Trish (student) Shot_05_1193

Amy & his wife Trish, together for 40 years, have 3 children and 3 grandchildren (so far). by Philippe Vogelenzang.10/2013.

 

Also at Camp Camellia, Connie, a crossdresser’s wife is presented as independent and strong. She will go after what she wants, though she may need a drink to relieve some inhibitions or simply put her in the party spirit. She is not presented as a sad martyr. She even mentions the “Crossdresser’s Wife’s Bill of Rights,” a real document. The way Mort’s wife Shelly laughs and later shrugs off her husband’s crossdressing resonates with truth. “She knows but doesn’t want to know.” I’ve heard this so often from my students. I’ve always said it’s better that at least she knows. Transparent makes us wonder if that is really enough.

To get TRANSPARENT on the air was a major accomplishment for all involved. To have it presented by Amazon, a company originally founded to distribute knowledge, seems particularly appropriate. I’d like to think that my own two books, and every book written on sex or transgender have helped just a bit. But the gold star goes to Jill Soloway and company. By creating a show with so many layers and opportunities for twists and turns, the story and the characters have room to grow and so does everyone who watches.

transparent pr picNote: Your first month of Amazon Prime is offered free, and all ten episodes of the first season are available now.

 

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