queenie bon bon’s sex work community theatre
“I picture myself dressed in a latex twinset with a headset on, sitting in an office, talking someone through the takedown of the cult of masculinity and the take-up of goddess worship.”
Photo by Dady Steel
Entrepreneurial sex worker and performance artist Queenie Bon Bon's shows invite audiences into a sex work landscape that ranges from a brothel in a New York Airbnb to a suburban strip club in Adelaide with a penchant for Nickelback. Her work examines how we talk sex work, and explores narratives that venture far beyond the binarized "empowered Happy Hooker" and "drugged-up victim" definitions.
In September she attracted attention and applause with her sold-out Melbourne Fringe show Power Up. The performance was an unlikely but wry mix of community theatre and motivational seminar, fuelled by PowerPoint presentations and housed in a penis castle.
i-D caught up with Queenie to talk about sex for money, mental health, drugs, being another cog in the labor market, and the most amazing spin-off show ideas we've ever heard.
For Power Up you transformed the venue (bookshop and performance space Hares and Hyenas) with a pretty impressive Penis Castle set. Before we start, I have to talk to you about that. What was the intention there?
The set was actually made by a co-ho (a sex work colleague), and I didn't see it until the night before the show. She made it after being on a three day bender. The brief was "make something that looks kind of fucked but also like it comes from a community theatre props cupboard, make me feel like a princess, and put some dicks in there." I think people feel like the brothel is such a mysterious place, and having a set that had a magical mystery vibe was keeping with that idea.
When I first wrote the show I thought it was gonna be a lot more like a lecture and I'd use the PowerPoint in a more traditional way—more akin to a Ted Talk. Three weeks before the show opened, I decided I hated what I had written and pretty much rewrote it from my diary entries from the six months previous. I actually have no interest in doing something where I lecture. I'm not an academic.
Yeah. I did notice that in last year's show (Deeply Leisured), you handed out sheets of paper with appropriate terminology to use when engaging in discussions on sex work, which felt a little lecture-like—in a good/necessary way. But this year's, Power Up, did away with that and saw the noticeable use of the word prostitute. What inspired this decision?
Sex worker actually wasn't in the handout, but it is still very much the industry preferred term. These last two years I have worked in the UK a lot, where even the peer body is called the English Prostitutes Collective. That's the term that is still used in legal stuff.
When I began to think about how I was being referred to in regards to my legal status, I began to use the word a lot more, especially around my peers. In the UK there is a lot more reclaiming or reappropriating of that word. It's a word that still has such pejorative connotations, but I really like how weird and outdated it sounds, and the way it gets used within the communities that experience oppression under that word.
Some workers really hate that word and some hate the words whore, hooker, and, co-ho. They're all pretty loaded words. In reclaiming or reappropriating the word prostitute, I really want people to be re-evaluating a term that is still used by a majority to oppress. There's still such stigma around most sex work labels.
Yeah, definitely. Do you think this year's show saw a more explicit divergence from the "Happy Hooker" narrative?
The first show was still very real, but it was the highlights of the previous five years. It was a curated look at my life. The more I thought about the narratives that we are given about sex workers they were either the worker that hates it—the last resort—or a life that is super high-class. I really wanted to be able to depict how 'normal' my life is.
It's really common that people want sex workers to be "empowered" for them to see it as "ok". It's so limiting. In no other job or other part of my life has anyone ever demanded that I be "empowered". I'm just going to work and I wanted to be able to talk about mental health, drug use, and the mundane elements of being part of the labor market.
A lot of your promotional material like the 1800-stopslutshame t-shirts struck me as being reminiscent of the 90s riot grrrl movement. Is that a time or community you identify with, or specifically wanted to evoke?
It's definitely pretty connected to DIY punk aesthetics. Also, when I was in the States recently, I bought all this 90s porn and got into the sex hotline numbers at the back. I also have a really deep love for psychic hotline ads and infomercials. The shirts are pretty much an amalgamation of all of these things.
I love the idea of a hotline where you rid yourself of negative downloads to allow yourself to be the best lover to yourself. It's so hot. I am really sad that phone sex is one of the areas in the adult industries that I have never worked in—I feel the age of that has really gone. I probably have an unrealistic, romanticised idea about what that would be like, but I picture myself dressed in a latex twinset with a headset on, sitting in an office, talking someone through the takedown of the cult of masculinity and the take-up of goddess worship.
I will pray for that call centre to manifest. Any other hooker goals and aspirations?
I want to tour this show for a while and I'm making a film about decriminalisation and what that would mean for sex workers. Aside from that, I'd love to find a private investor to back the making of She Ho's She Knows: The Mystery Show With a Happy Ending—the first hooker detective show. I'm also pretty despo to make a porno called Another One Bites the Pillow— a reality show about Australia's biggest bottom.
Text Audrey Schmidt