Deeply Leisured, a one-woman show by local Melbourne talent Queenie Bon Bon that details the joys and battles of being a sex worker, played during this season’s 2014 Fringe Festival. I was fortunate enough to see one of the six nights of Queenie’s show—her final performance was last weekend. It’s always fun supporting a fellow sex worker (or a “co-ho,” as Queenie would say) with whatever they’re doing outside of their work, but I didn’t think it would be this much fun. Queenie narrated her short stories on her experiences as a stripper, brothel worker, and all-around fantasy maker. The performance took place in Melbourne’s historically queer Hares & Hyenas bookshop in trendy Fitzroy. She sat, illuminated in symbolic red light, on a desk decorated by books and miscellaneous items. She looked like a modern-day Aphrodite, with her beehive and dangling condom-pack earrings.
It was enthralling and relieving to listen to her hilarious diary-entry style recollections. Her portrayal of sex work, while still being personal to her, seemed to encompass every thought and feeling I’ve ever had about the profession. She managed to put a comedic spin on even the smallest details; from having worlds collide when your butt plug tumbles over your toothbrush in your bag while you’re on the phone with mum to stringing out a service to savor the opportunity to pick the brain of a knowledgeable client. Navigating the simplest things, like choosing which song you’re going to jerk your client off to, are skills specific to sex work, requiring a thought process non-sex workers are unaware of. All sorts of situations require sex worker troubleshooting, like suddenly having stage fright during a golden shower upon finding yourself gazing down at your client’s expectant eyes and ajar mouth.
But the show wasn’t just about the little details of sex worker experience. Queenie touched on some of the bigger issues she faced in her occupation, like being extra careful walking on a loosened floor board at the brothel to ensure she didn’t break a limb. If she did, the brothel wouldn’t provide any sort of accident coverage like other industries in Australia do, and she would be out of work. She talked about using her body as a means of production in a capitalist society and how blow jobs are real jobs. She discussed the hypocrisy of academia and feminism attempting to understand sex work and how these institutions steal sex worker identities and sell them back to us via incomprehensible jargon. Or, as Queenie might say: “So, you’re basically saying I’m a slut?”
Queenie shed light on the social and political issues faced by sex workers in a comic manner that audiences could easily absorb. She was able to make light of her content without neglecting the more serious elements of her subject matter.
Another thing the show brought home to me is how important it is to have sex workers active in the arts. Queenie’s experiences were similar to my own. But I could never say these things in the way she could to some of the people who needed to hear it the most—the family members of sex workers, especially my own family members. I attended the show with my brother. He is aware of my work, but we don’t discuss it in detail—I’m not comfortable enough to have those two worlds collide. Seeing him laugh and be entertained by the sometimes trivial, sometimes complex problems sex workers face, was a way of having him hear the things I couldn’t say to him directly. And during Queenie’s fantastic performance, I knew my brother understood my work and appreciated what I did, and that meant the world to me.