San Francisco’s Sex-Story Underground

Originally published on March 14th, 2018 for The Bold Italic. 

Should we share this bench and totally freak that girl out?” Dixie De La Tour motioned to a bench at Dolores Park. A woman in her mid-20s sat at one end, working on what looked like trig homework.

I met Dixie on a bright, warm January day—the type of January day you can have only in the Mission district of San Francisco. When I went to introduce myself and stuck out my hand, she instantly pulled me into a hug. She is warm and friendly and doesn’t look like the type who would freak out an unsuspecting grad student.

But Dixie has devoted her entire life to a subject that is usually talked about only in hushed tones: detailed sex stories. She is the founder and host of the show Bawdy Storytelling. For 10 years, stories of kink, sex positivity, and the sexual underground have been told on her stage.

“People are usually asking me to rein it in,” she said.

I assured her that that was the last thing I would want. Interviewing her was like talking to your favorite aunt, the one who will give you advice about your boy problems and answer the questions you are too embarrassed to ask your parents. She swears easily, even as children selling Girl Scout cookies in a red wagon walk by. She answered my questions with long, unfurling stories, and if something distracted her, she could pick up right where she left off. It’s obvious that years of storytelling had bled into her everyday life.

When Dixie was first introduced to San Francisco storytelling, she was working as a sex-party producer. She went to the now-retired Memoir Spool.

“The minute I walked into the storytelling event, I thought, ‘Oh, perverts could go to town with this.’”

But perverts couldn’t tell their stories at Memoir Spool. For weeks she listened, unable to voice her own. All her stories revolved around orgies and porn clowns.

“There were kids in there; there were moms in there,” she said. “There was no space that was specifically ours.”

So with lots of encouragement, she started her own show, which became Bawdy. The feel of the show is Dixie’s living room—perverts at a party. A place for the weirdos to go into the gritty details.

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“I recently got a furry to perform,” she said. “When I was first talking to him, I asked, ‘Why are you a furry?’ and he said, ‘Because I don’t like myself very much. And that’s just so relatable.’”

As I entered the Verdi Club on a chilly Thursday evening, I could easily spot Dixie milling about in the crowd. Her fiery red hair and ’50s-style Bettie Page dress stood out amid the hipster sweaters and skinny jeans. I was handed a small half sheet of paper with the words “Bang-Go” across the top.

Like the ice-breaker games in high school, you have to go around and find people who match the descriptions on your card. But at Bawdy, instead of it being “Has an older brother” or “Plays soccer,” the boxes are filled with “Has had a threesome,” “Has been to a sex party” or “Identifies as bisexual.”

My friend motioned to a pair of feet in gold platform sneakers with blinking lights around the soles. We decided it was a good bet that he would have done something listed on the card. Within minutes, he was telling us about his night at a bondage club in the Castro. Well, that checked off “Has been to a sex party.”

“Everything at Bawdy is designed to inspired conversations,” Dixie told me. “I don’t want the people onstage to be the only ones telling their stories.”

We grabbed a drink from the dimly lit bar and settled into the metal folding chairs. Across the aisle from us, a young couple in their 20s giggled nervously at each other. Behind them, two men in steampunk attire chatted about last month’s stories.

Dixie stepped onstage to introduce the show.

“When I told my friends — who I have gone to sex parties with and had orgies with — that we should all get together and tell our craziest sex stories, their response was ‘And then have sex, right?’” she said. “You can’t imagine how bummed they were when I said, ‘No, we are just going to do the stories.’”

Tonight, the stories included two Burning Man sex stories, one in a group and one between two strangers; a 40-year-old women’s experience of inserting her diaphragm, losing her grip and shooting it into a fungus colony at the bottom of a bathroom wall; and a second-generation Bawdy storyteller whose mom had told a story almost a decade previously.

Some of the performers were first-timers, and you could hear their voices shake due to nervousness. Others were veterans and jumped around the stage, acting out each sex position. But each would walk onstage with a drink in their hand and set it down on Dixie’s table behind the microphone. She had coached these storytellers. She wanted to help them “land it right.” And for moral support, she sat onstage with them while they told a room full of strangers their most intimate moments.

In the early days, Dixie would sometimes crop up as an extra in these stories. Performers would offhandedly mention that she had been in the orgy pile or at the sex party. It seems that Dixie has been prepping for Bawdy before she even knew about storytelling.

“I want to do everything before I died, and for me a lot of it was about creating stories,” she said. “I knew I wanted to have great stories—not for kids, not for anyone else.”

Even in at conservative high school in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, Dixie was collecting a unique sexual education. She had a knack for finding porn stashes in the woods and would take the bus across town to pay 25 cents to watch peep shows at an adult bookstore. So as a 15-year-old virgin, Dixie knew more about blowjobs and gay male anal sex than anyone else at her high school.

“Cheerleaders would ask me, ‘How do you give a blowjob?’” she said. “And I would say, ‘This is going to surprise you, but you actually suck; you do not blow.’”

But when the time came for school-sanctioned sex education, Dixie’s mother wouldn’t sign the permission slip. She had to sit in the library.

Nowadays, her family continues to disapprove of the work she does with Bawdy. They change the subject or avoid it altogether. When Dixie talked about her family’s attempts to connect with her, she started to tear up. She explained how she and her partner, who don’t care about getting married, decided that they would call their seventh anniversary a wedding just so her parents would make the trip out to California and meet the rest of her San Francisco community.

And the most unexpected result occurred. Her family fell in love with San Francisco subculture. They fell in love with the tantra teachers and Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.

“So it sounds like they don’t disapprove anymore?” I asked.

“They still disapprove, but what storytelling does really well is that it humanizes people,” she said. “Oh, look, a red Kia Soul!”

She cut herself off and pointed across the park to 18th Street.

“Those are good luck, at least to me,” she said. “If I see one before a show, I know it’s going to be a good one.”

Bawdy has become more than just a storytelling show. Dixie hopes that attending will inspire conversations that might otherwise never happen organically. Its unofficial tagline is “Bawdy gets you laid.” The goal is for audience members to connect, not just live vicariously through an adventure.

Walking back from the show, my friend and I were discussing which stories we liked the best, which sex acts intrigued us and which ones seemed too much out of our comfort zone. It was definitely not a typical Thursday-night chat for us. So Dixie succeeded, but no, we didn’t have sex.

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