2016 Sexual Freedom Awards
Originally titled The Erotic Oscars until the Hollywood proprietors of the eponymous statue objected and forced a change to The Erotic Awards, this annual recognition of libidinous creative talent is now in its twenty second year. It was conceived by the extraordinary Dr ‘Tuppy’ Owens, ‘onlie begetter’ of The Sex Maniac’s Diary and The Sex Maniac’s Ball. Both productions fell victim to political correctness (the well-researched and informative diary died), although the Ball survived for over twenty five years including a name change to Night of the Senses.
Another survival has been the gilded ‘flying penis’ trophy awarded to winners in the various categories of erotic accomplishment. Dr Owens devotes the ticket sale proceeds to her beloved Outsiders Club – a charity devoted to support of the relationship needs of disabled people.
Also retained has been the determinedly artisan character of all the Balls and awards events. It was never clear who were the audience. But they were and are definitely not ‘hipsters’ or poseurs. Rather, they present as a random and comprehensive cross-section of sexual predilections. At the Balls, leather, rubber, babies, slaves, submissives and doms were distributed throughout the often bizarre locations at ease with themselves and each other. Above all the people there were fans of the Ball and what it represented as a counter to both the repression and commercial exploitation of sex.
This year the producers took over the Hackney Downs Studios’ Showroom venue. Outstandingly led by MC Alix Fox an eclectic troupe of performers – professional and amateur strutted their stuff. From a disabled woman in suspended bondage through hula hoop virtuosity to a volunteer enacted recreation of The Full Monty climax artistes and audience thoroughly enjoyed and entertained each other.
While the equally excellent Sex Workers Opera had a focused polemic message the Awards on offer covered a wide range of sex related activities albeit in the ‘big tent’ of sexual freedom. Campaigns on behalf of and services to sex workers were well represented as were performance artists and educators. This meant that the whoops and whistles of the audience were expressions of appreciation for effort and skill shown by Award winners as well as performers; rather than being supportive of a specific political cause. But not entirely so: in the collegiate atmosphere the audience expressed solidarity in their shared resistances to sexual stereotyping and censorship.
Live performance whether theatre or music depends on a tacit conspiracy of understanding. The performer is both needy of applause and condescending in preservation of their status. The audience is self-congratulatory in its presence and desperate for recognition. With dramatic theatre this conflict is most often resolved by murmurs of approval, light clapping and intake of breath as and when the actor of preference delivers the line. Recognition comes only at the curtain – if then. But is compensated by all the conversations at subsequent dinners in which the ‘did you see?’ and ‘how marvellous/dreadful’ conversations reward the audience and make or shred the performer.
In popular music, there is a full array of chants, rhythmic claps, whoops and called out messages. The audience is there mainly because they are followers of the musician and the music. Delays and mistakes can be forgiven. Except that the bigger the star and the higher the ticket price, the lower will be the tolerance levels. The Audience is a dangerous animal when disappointed. Opera singers in Italy know the feeling.
But in the world of the Sex Workers Opera and Sexual Freedom Awards ‘A’ is always for simply being there. So non-judgemental is this community – and they are – that the phallocentricity of the Award trophy does not seem to have been questioned. As Mae West said ‘what is a man but a cock?’ And inevitably there is a dramatic and humorous quality involved in its symbolism. Whatever feminism and pornography have done to bring female genitalia to our attention, understanding and appreciation of the vulva (and the Awards narrative was rich with mentions of the vagina) that organ remains elusive in dramatic realisation dissociated from the corporeal presence of the woman to whom it belongs. This is what makes sex dolls and vaginal substitutes for men so depressing and dildos or vibrators or ‘rabbits’ so innocuous and accepted. So if a feminised version of the Award is required, it will have to be a pretty subtle creation. My guess is it will look a bit like a raunchy version of a Lalique style table lamp-stand.