In the anthology Live Through This, a collection of stories about the connection between creativity and self-destruction, bisexual sex educator Carol Queen recounts the unsatisfying experience of losing her virginity to one of her school’s “most popular guys.”
It was the early 1970s, and afterward, in a panic that she might be pregnant, the 15-year-old Queen considered her options: abortion, which was illegal; adoption, but then “that baby lived in the world with you to haunt you forever”; have her parents raise the child, which made her want to “perish the thought”; or suicide.
With that last option in mind, Queen sat down to write a suicide note, “but for once no words came.” The struggle to articulate herself in that desperate moment, Queen writes, ultimately inspired her to become a writer, feminist sex educator and advocate.
At the end of the essay, Queen thanks the boy for inadvertently showing her the importance of understanding one’s sexuality, and then her adolescent self for choosing writing over death: “The Carol who turned herself into a whole person through the little scratches of pen on paper, finally found a way to escape and make her long thoughts count for something.”
Queen, who has a Ph.D. in sexology and is the author or editor of 11 books, including Real Live Nude Girl: Chronicles of Sex-Positive Culture, recently told AfterEllen.com that she sees her role as a writer and feminist sex educator “to empower women with all the information their traditional education and upbringing keeps from them — at least, if they want it.”
Though Queen’s experiences influenced her to become a sex educator and writer, this was not necessarily the career path her family thought she’d follow. Her father died before she decided to get her doctorate in sexology, but she thinks eventually he would have offered his support.
“He was an eccentric guy in his way,” she said via email, “and handled my coming out as bisexual to him (in a pre-PFLAG world) very entertainingly: freaking out briefly then asking the blue-haired old ladies at the stationery shop to help him find a birthday card for me with ‘gay’ in the rhyme.”
Though she thinks her mother would also have come around, she was “never able to make friends with sex and her own body,” according to Queen. “She had been sexually abused as a girl, and never healed.”
Queen has written about her family in different anthologies, including an essay on her father in Male Lust, and on her mother in her collection Real Live Nude Girl. There is an unfinished documentary about Queen and her younger brother, a born-again Christian who, she wrote, “I am sure thinks I’m going to hell — where I intend to meet up with many friends I haven’t seen in years.”
Queen hopes the documentary will be finished soon because “in spite of our own odd situation, it will speak to other families split to one degree or another by the culture wars, with religious faith [is] made oppositional to sexual desire or libertarianism/liberalism/liberation.”
Queen came out as bisexual shortly after losing her virginity in high school. When she began college that same year as a young 16-year-old, she discovered there was no support system in place for LGBT youth. In 1975, with two young gay men she met on a gay youth panel, Queen helped found GAYouth, one of the first gay youth groups in the country.
“We really did it because the LGBT community (it wasn’t called that then, just the ‘gay’ community) was ageist, but more than that, because its main social networking place was the bar, and we couldn’t go there,” she recalled.
Participation in GAYouth stirred Queen’s activism, and with the help of the ACLU the group sued the school district in Eugene, Ore., for the right to place ads in high school newspapers.
“We got a good deal of press and attention, which of course all by itself is one signal your activism is a success: It gets people to learn about you, your issues, and to think.”
GAYouth eventually dropped the case because the school demanded all the names, addresses and ages of everyone in the group — many, Queen recalled, who had not even come out to their parents yet.