Although British by birth, Polly Superstar is 100% San Francisco. Since her debut at the Folsom Street Fair in 1999, where she wowed the queens with her handmade latex fashion, Polly has been changing the way San Franciscans think about — and have — sex. Her recent memoir, , chronicles her three major reinventions: from little teenage Polly Whittaker in the BDSM clubs of ‘90s London to Polly Pandemonium strutting the streets of Folsom and setting up legendary sex club Mission Control to a more reflective (but still revolutionary) Polly Superstar.
I was lucky enough to chat with Polly about Sex Culture Revolutionary, the gentrification of San Francisco and what it means for her sexual revolution, and what’s next for Mission Control and Kinky Salon. Polly is out to change the world and she’s going to do it through sex, art, and excellent costumes. Won’t you join us?
This is kind of funny because I feel like I totally know you after reading your book and I obviously don’t.
It’s really weird because you basically know all of my secrets and all of my stories and all of the things that normally I’d only tell my best friends.
I thought the book was great. You gave us an insight into a scene that a lot of people think is disappearing from San Francisco. You hear that a lot, right — latest tech takeover, San Francisco is getting too “normal.” What do you think of that discussion?
Well, in the very end of the book, in the epilogue, we got evicted. So we’ve also fallen victim to that gentrification of San Francisco. It was political. The city attorney called the landlord and told him that we needed to leave, that what we were doing was illegal — even though it wasn’t. He shook up the landlord enough to just have him kick us out.
We’re in a situation now where we’re kind of free-floating. We’re in a temporary space that’s a private warehouse space that’s also being evicted. It’s one of the last cool spaces in San Francisco.
The sexual revolution doesn’t live in Oakland. The sexual revolution lives in San Francisco. From being the first place that allowed topless dancing to being the first city that allowed the distribution of pornography, San Francisco has always been a city of firsts when it comes to sex culture.
You started doing what you do back in the first tech boom in ’99, right?
Exactly. And San Francisco culture is still here. But it is harder and harder to try and stay here and everyone is going to the East Bay. The thing is, I love Oakland. Oakland’s amazing! It’s great, it’s vibrant, there’s lots of amazing stuff happening over there. But the sexual revolution doesn’t live in Oakland. The sexual revolution lives in San Francisco. From being the first place that allowed topless dancing to being the first city that allowed the distribution of pornography, San Francisco has always been a city of firsts when it comes to sex culture.
If we were to have to move, if we were to be forced out of San Francisco? It would be a really telling story for San Francisco culture. We’re not just chasing cheaper rents; we believe really strongly in the San Francisco dream.
Let’s back up a little to London when you were a teenager and frequenting BDSM clubs. Teenage sexuality is really scary for most people but it sounds like, from your description, that this was actually a pretty safe place for you to explore.
The irony of sex culture is that sex clubs are way safer than the rest of the world. Sex culture understands consent, communication, and safety in a way that normal culture does not. Even though I was very young to be doing all of that, it was really safe. Much safer than a bar. I think that’s one thing that people who have never been to a sex party or anything like that really don’t get: how much safer it is, especially for women. One of my editors was really blown away by that. She was like, “Wow, it seems like this is paradoxical.” But it’s not. It’s not paradoxical because going into sex culture is going into a place where sexuality is respected and understood. In our culture there’s this massive ball of confusion around sexuality, particularly for women. There are such conflicting ideas and for teenage girls it’s just incredibly confusing.
I don’t know that the clubs are clear and safe like that now. I know that it’s like that at Kinky Salon because I’m of a generation now where I have friends who have children who are in their early 20s. I’ve had conversations with parents who are my friends whose kids come to my parties who say, “I’m so glad that they come to Kinky Salon because I know they’re safe.”
The irony of sex culture is that sex clubs are way safer than the rest of the world. Sex culture understands consent, communication, and safety in a way that normal culture does not. Even though I was very young to be doing all of that, it was really safe. Much safer than a bar.
You spoke about some very personal things during the time right after your father died, including an instance of incest with your brother. How did you decide to go public about that?
Oh my god! Um… You’re the first person to ask about this.
Yes. It’s a funny thing. This is a very intense, intensely personal story. I’m not quite sure how to talk about it publicly, even though I put it in the book. Putting it in the book was a very last minute decision, actually. I had written the story and I had decided not to put it in because I wanted to preserve my relationship with my brother and because it just felt … Like a line that I didn’t want to cross. In the end I decided to put it in because I felt like the story needed to be told. I feel like too many people in our world are told to not tell those stories.
And I think that I wrote it very sympathetically towards my brother. I love my brother and I think that was portrayed in the story. I don’t think I was portrayed as a victim and that he was an abuser. I think it was very much one of those crazy, fucked up things that happen when someone’s parents die and they’re grieving and they don’t know how to deal with it. That was the way that we dealt with it. I don’t really have any judgement about whether it was right or wrong. It’s just what it is, you know?
And have you spoken with him about it?
Yeah, I have. He told me to put it in [the book] but he wasn’t particularly happy about it. He said, “If you want to do it, then do it. Whatever.”
But he doesn’t want to read the book or the story. He doesn’t really want to, you know, acknowledge that that’s happened. Which I understand! I totally get it.
So what’s your next step?
Next is the global Kinky Salons. We have events happening all over the world now, in cities across Europe and America. I get new inquiries for new events to be opened on a regular basis. They have a quite a strict set of hoops they have to jump through but I’m really wanting to create the experience in more cities.
Kinky Salon really works [best] when it’s in small parties, so I can’t really reach more people just by having bigger parties. That doesn’t work. I need to have more parties in order to have more people have this experience.
If you’re interested in celebrating the release of Polly’s memoir, Sex Culture Revolutionary, join her and the other pervs of Kinky Salon for the