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Meet Me at the Pussy Palace! Queer Women & Public Sex Spaces

LadiesOnlyA co-worker shared an article with me today on Toronto’s Pussy Palace bathhouse event, and it got me thinking: could such a saucy event be successful here? If so, what might that mean for queer women in Chicago?

If you’re unfamiliar with Pussy Palace, let me school you: Pussy Palace (I’m going to repeat the name as often as possible) is an event for queer & transgender women that has been operating since 1999, and is held in a men’s bathhouse in Toronto’s Gayborhood. One night each month or two, the bathhouse is designated for queer, female-identified folk to come, have a soak, and well…have sex. The event explicitly welcomes casual sexual encounters between women, as the space does for men year-round.

I am intrigued, titillated in fact, by the idea of a safe public space in which women can connect and shamelessly enjoy their sexuality. Beyond being super-sexy, I think that such a space could be valuable and transformative, moving queer women’s sex out of the private sphere – the perceived domain of women – and into the public sphere – the perceived domain of men. A Pussy Palace-style event would also serve to shed light on queer women’s sexual desire, which is often diminished in popular discourse that overemphasizes the emotional component of Sapphic love and ignores sex as an integral part of our relationships.

Women have long been characterized as innately demure, safety-seeking, and importantly, as objects of sexual desire, instead of as possessors of such desire. Despite the fact that women’s sexuality has been alternately studied, commodified, regulated and vilified throughout history, in most meaningful ways, queer women’s sexual practices have remained largely unaddressed, shrouded in mystery. As a result, a profound lack of knowledge persists around queer women’s sexual behaviors.

I have even encountered this lack of awareness with healthcare providers. When I told my last nurse practitioner that I was queer, she made the assumption that she didn’t need to address safer sex practices with me since I didn’t (she presumed) have receptive sex. Yikes! Beyond these more clinical interactions, I can’t count how many times I’ve been asked, even by well-meaning cis-male gay friends, “What do women do in bed?’  We hold hands and talk about puppies, buddy. What do men do in bed?

Actually, we know a lot about what men do in bed, thanks to the celebration of male sexuality in media, film, etc. Men are presented as seekers of sex, and are given a level of social permission to explore their ‘natural’ desires. Within the G(LBTQ) community, trysts between men are encouraged and facilitated. Spaces like Chicago’s bathhouses function to connect sex-seekers with partners, and Steamworks even labels their monthly members ‘frequent fuckers.’ Additionally, sites like Grindr, Adam for Adam, Jacked and Scruff allow men to find other men interested in hooking up, and even identify exactly where these folks are located.

These services and spaces do not exist in the same way for women. Of course, dykes are getting busy on the regular, engaging in all manner of sexual encounters, despite sexist expectations and public pressure for the ‘management’ of women’s sexuality. What we don’t have are women-centric public sex spaces and a convenient means for connecting to other ladies who are down to get down!

I’ve had many conversations with fellow scissor sisters about why there aren’t queer women’s sex sites (I think Cunt-Hunt would be a perfect name for such a site) or bathhouses, and why some feel they wouldn’t be successful.  It seems that one obstacle is the pervading idea that if you are interested in casual or anonymous sex, you are that kind of girl, (i.e. slutty, nasty or other labels almost exclusively applied to women).  This particular brand of desire is met with judgment, instead of recognition that a person’s choice to engage in a quick and uncomplicated affair could be valid, even healthy. Why would we judge these saucy queers, or give a goat’s twat about what others think of our sexual decisions? Well…it’s complicated.

I would LIVE to see a lady-bathhouse happen in Chicago. However, I think it would be difficult to establish – not because of a public outcry, but because of our own internalized normative ideas about gender and sexuality. Many women are socialized to view their sexual desire (and bodies) as negative or dangerous, and are instructed to keep their longing private, suppressed. We are not allowed space to unapologetically explore our needs and claim sexual liberty, and many of us have internalized a degree of shame about our sexuality and our bodies.

How powerful, then, could it be to throw into question all the flawed thinking about queer women’s sexuality and to brazenly engage in a public, body-positive sexual experience organized by women, for women? I’m swooning just thinking about it! So ladies – what do you think? Are you aching to throw propriety to the wind, along with your clothes, for a queer grrrl bathhouse night? Are you yearning to embrace your ravenous desire and create a radical public space? If so, I’ll get down to the business of figuring out what I can do to help make such a sexy and powerful event happen.

Let’s build a beautiful, affirming community together – naked!

About the Guest Blogger
CassandraCassandra is a radical social worker, grassroots activist, and performer. She works with LGBTQ and court-involved youth as a clinician and advocate, and is an Executive Board member for the Sex Worker’s Outreach Project. Her primary areas of professional interest are LGBTQ health, reproductive justice, anti-oppressive sexuality education, sex worker’s rights and youth development. Cassandra earned her Master of Social Work from Jane Addams College at UIC.  Cassandra has an affinity for adventuring, and has lived in five countries and been lost in many more. She hosts a queer feminist book club in her home, and is a member of a fabulous dyke choir (or quoir). She is interested in creating intergenerational queer spaces, and in facilitating  discussions that challenge popular discourse related to sexuality, gender, class and race.

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Discussion

19 Responses to “Meet Me at the Pussy Palace! Queer Women & Public Sex Spaces”

  1. This is so very intriguing to me, but because I have body image issues because of my weight, I would be way too scared to attend anything like this.

    Posted by Lynne L. | April 3, 2013, 3:08 pm
  2. I have wondered the same thing myself! There is a women’s-only play pasty called Vespertine that happens. Not exactly the same thing.. but kinda close!

    https://www.facebook.com/pages/Vespertine-Chicago/117970811645116

    Posted by searah | April 3, 2013, 3:17 pm
  3. Can I tell you just how fucking amazing it was to see trans women so casually included, without additional comment. If you find or create a lady-bathhouse event, I will be there. My relationship status precludes me from participating with anyone other than my partner, and I’m not sure of her feelings on attending, but god damn it, I would attend for the mingling and the interaction and because I think this is a thing which needs to exist and I must support such a thing.

    Posted by Brin Convenient | April 3, 2013, 3:49 pm
  4. Finally, someone’s brought it up! I’m game.

    Posted by Sam | April 3, 2013, 4:35 pm
  5. I’ve always been curious if Steamworks would consider having a ladies night… even just once a year. lol

    Posted by Lisa | April 4, 2013, 4:13 pm
  6. Awesome idea! Also, Lynne L. You sound super cool! I’d love to hang out!

    Posted by Alex | April 4, 2013, 4:43 pm
  7. I would really be interested in seeing if Steamworks would go for it.. why not?!

    Posted by Jessie | April 4, 2013, 7:59 pm
  8. Thanks for your thoughts ladies! I’ve been getting a positive response from folks, perhaps I’ll get in touch with Steamworks to see what is possible! If they are down, I’ll need your help in getting ladies into the steam! 🙂

    Posted by Cassandra | April 4, 2013, 8:14 pm
  9. I would love this. I’m only in Chicago for the weekend but this would be a fabulous idea. There was an event in Vancouver that was similar. Go Canada.

    Posted by Nala | April 5, 2013, 6:26 pm
  10. I’m down; you name the place and the time, and I will be there!
    I just hope a lot of other queer women of color are there too-I don’t want to be one of a few brown bodies in the room.

    Posted by Courtney | April 6, 2013, 8:05 pm
  11. Hahaa, Alex! Are you a certain, awesome Alex who I already know and with whom I am long overdue for a friend date? Or is this an entirely new-to-me Alex? 🙂

    Posted by Lynne | April 7, 2013, 8:26 pm
  12. Courtney – Fabulous! If I can figure out a way to make this happen, I want to be sure that all kinds of identities, backgrounds, shapes & sizes, etc represented! I would definitely need help in promoting to MANY communities!

    Posted by Cassandra Avenatti | April 8, 2013, 11:40 am
  13. I love this idea and I’m so glad people are talking about it! I had a partner (trans-boi) who would talk about male bathhouses and I’m like, “what about for girls?!?”
    I’ll be new to the Chicago area and looking to get into some new thangs!

    Posted by Rene | April 14, 2013, 7:57 pm
  14. I am interested and will help recruit. I feel a pull in my nether, though I think a “code of conduct” is in order. Even if it’s an ‘anything goes’ kind of thing, I think a safety precaucious preface is important. Perhaps I am getting ahead of myself. Cassandra, I’m intrigued by your mission statement & hope to casually meet your mind in person some day.

    Posted by Gable | April 16, 2013, 10:59 pm
  15. Gable, hit me up! I’ve gotten a fairly enthusiastic response of Facebook, and am interested in potentially taking the initial steps to put this together! Also, I absolutely agree that there should be respectful ground rules for the space.

    Posted by Cassandra | April 17, 2013, 9:25 pm
  16. I’m DOWN! I’m from LA/SF where there are sexy events not often but fairly regularly. I miss that. I’m dying to cruise in an open atmosphere. Please, please, pretty please. I’ll even help if I can. I’m kinda hot.

    Posted by Jet | April 25, 2013, 4:22 pm
  17. Jet – I’m sold! 🙂 I’ll post an update as soon as I have one. I could use some help in organizing, so if folks are interested, I can be contacted at Cassandra.avenatti@gmail.com. Thanks!

    Posted by Cassandra Avenatti | April 29, 2013, 1:40 pm
  18. Ladies, it’s great you have a place to your selves. Please don’t take the few bath houses away from the boys. As in Steamworks……it’s our place, ok ? Thank you.

    Posted by tony | June 25, 2016, 11:23 am

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