To Write or Not to Write About Sex Clowns?

Wherein our writer contemplates entering someone else’s world and stealing their greasepaint covered soul -- just for a byline.

Part of the writer’s art is knowing which subjects to choose to write about. Sometimes the choice is right in front of one’s face. Sometimes it’s a little more difficult. Such was the case when I heard an old friend had become a “sex clown” in San Francisco, and another writer I know wanted to do a story on the turf battles that take place within the belly dancing community of the Bay Area.

Of course, when I hear anyone has become a sex clown I’m interested as a writer and, well, a potential consumer. However, I don’t take anything at face value so I decided to do what any good writer would do and follow up with this old friend who had seemed to have found a new vocation in the city by the Bay.

My e-mail to him was simple: “I’ve heard you’ve become a sex clown. If this is true I want to write about it.”

A bit later I received a response telling me that he had never heard himself referred to as a “sex clown or sex klown.” The K, I learned, is preferred by the clowning or klowning community. What he then described to me seemed more like an exotic form of performance art with an erotic aspect to it. Though, he did admit that he would be lying if he said his “grease paint” has not touched some “breasts and booties”.

I like it, I told him. I like it a lot. So I thought about it for a bit. This is where the belly dancers come in.

I was having drinks with another writer and his girlfriend who, among other things, is a belly dancer and my favorite vegan smoker. I was told a mutual friend of ours wanted to write about the turf wars of belly dancers at different Indian restaurants in the Bay Area. However, my dancing friend said she would only talk about it if it was completely off the record and her name wasn’t used in the article. That’s when I came to a great realization about the core of feature writing that I’ve known for quite some time but could finally verbalize:

Feature writing, to be non-exploitative, needs to be of as much benefit to the subject of the article as it is to the reader and the writer. Otherwise, the only purpose it serves is to give the readers “content” – to enter into someone else’s world and steal their souls for a byline without knowing what the repercussions might be.

Which brought me back to the subject of sex C(k)lowns.

“This is the thing about the sex clowns,” I told them. “I need to gain their trust. I absolutely need the trust of the sex clowns for this to work. Otherwise, it’s just going to come out as an exploitation piece by some outsider to their world. It has to be to some benefit to them – some authentic look at them in the same way if being a part of the article on belly dancer turf wars doesn’t work for you, doesn’t benefit you in some way there’s no point in taking part in the article no matter how good of an idea it is.”

Your subjects should not be injured by a feature about them – like it’s some kind of smash and grab scenario.

This brought me back to the sex c(k)lowns again.

Did I really want to do what I had to do in order to bring true justice to this story? Did I want to do what I had to do to earn the trust of these klowns? I knew my old friend would probably vouch for me as a standup guy. But it had been awhile since we talked, and I didn’t exactly know what I was getting myself into. And more than likely it was going to require many trips into San Francisco at night to become a part of the scene. I might even have to become transformed into a klown to report on this phenomenon from the inside.

Would it be worth it? Would I lose myself in this “klowning”? I wasn’t sure. I wasn’t even sure if I had the emotional stamina for it; the, as Dr. Hunter S. Thompson would say, true grit necessary for the assignment. This was, as he might have offered, pure gonzo journalism or, in this case, pure clown shoes journalism.

Does one even go into this kind of assignment sober, I wondered? Should I hire a driver? Should I try to infiltrate or remain an interested outsider? What happened if sex really was involved and this wasn’t just some quasi-innocent form of performance? What if, as someone asked me at a recent party, it was really prostitution? What’s the difference, I was asked, between a stripper coming over in a costume and doing a dance before doing the whole room? About 25 clown noses, I thought.

Was it really for me to judge? Did I care whether it was technically prostitution or not? What did it concern me if clowns danced around and then had sex with each other and members of a private party? I’m not the law.

And then I remembered the eight year recurring nightmare I had as a child. In the dream I was trapped with a clown who would ask me a question as a giant, comical clock loudly ticked down. I would have the dream for years, staring into this huge eyes, his exaggerated eyelashes fluttering, his springy orange hair quivering with impatience -- and run out of time, every time. Finally, I answered the question.

No, I can’t remember what the question was. But, come to think of it, maybe these clowns do need policing. The psychic trauma police, perhaps.

Indeed, I don’t like clowns. I think they’re freakish. I once had a dental hygienist who was a Clown for Christ – one of these people who dresses as a circus clown to spread the Gospel of the Lord with grease-paint, rubber noses, giant ruffles and good intent. She even told me that I could use the power of my mind to straighten out my wisdom teeth so that I would not need surgery. This, of course, did not work.

It seems that to go in with the clowns – whatever kind of clowns they may be -- is to go deep into a different world; a place somewhere between sane, delighted laughter and hysterical giggles. Maybe the world’s just not ready to hear about this story.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less

Ahead of Offa Rex's Newport Folk Festival set, Olivia Chaney talked about the collaboration with the Decemberists.

I was lucky enough to catch two of Offa Rex's performances this past summer, having been instantaneously won over by the lead single and title track from the record, The Queen of Hearts. The melodious harmonium intro on the track is so entrancing, I didn't want to miss their brief tour. The band had only scheduled a few dates due in part to other commitments and perhaps limited by their already busy schedules, the Decemberists are actively touring and had their own festival in the summer while and their friend, "sublime English vocalist" Olivia Chaney, had arrived from across the pond.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.