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Sexual Losses 2009

Sexual Icons and Pioneers Who Died in 2009

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Updated December 21, 2012

People are always dying, which is hard if you’re still alive. In 2009 we lost a lot of great thinkers, artists, and performers who were willing to make sex part of their life’s work. Making sex your work is never an easy path, and all of us who enjoy any sexual privilege would do well to take a few minutes to remember people who spoke so clearly, sang so loudly, wrote so thoughtfully, and danced so ferociously their experience of sex and gender in a world that often feels uninterested and unkind.

Dennis deLeon (July 16, 1948 – December 14, 2009)
Dennis deLeon was a founder of the Latino Commission on AIDS, a former human rights commissioner for New York City and one of the first city officials to come out as HIV positive (which he did in a 1993 Times Op-Ed column). From the foundation’s website: “a tireless advocate for social justice and one of the first openly HIV-positive Latino leaders in the country. He was a pioneer and a visionary, and in his lifetime he sought to curb and eliminate health disparities among marginalized communities. As a lawyer and later a non-profit executive, deLeon believed in bridging cultural differences to effect progressive social change. He pushed lawmakers to consider community-based approaches to public health, and stressed increased accountability and responsiveness on the parts of government agencies. Throughout his career he maintained a vibrant concern for all people of color, especially those communities ravaged by the HIV/AIDS epidemic. His loss is the cause of great grief and sadness, yet his legacy is worthy of celebration.”

RocknRoll Ramona (June 8, 1961 - April 22, 2009
Susie Bright contributes this entry:

"Ramona was one of the first handful of lesbian feminist strippers who came out as dykes in every part of their lives.

It was the early 1980s. She was star at both the Mitchell Brothers Theater and the first-ever lesbian "Burlezk" show, as it was called. She was the centerfold of one of the first issues of On Our Backs. She rode to Sturgis in a fringed leather g-string with her lover Bo— and all 5' of Ramona took charge at the Harley rally. It is not hard to imagine her leaving a biker gang speechless; she had that kind of charisma. She was a dancing, singing, acting, writing sensation.

Her work ethics— her deep feelings about mentoring and coming up as an erotic dancer— were profound. She knew her traditions and she epitomized "the Sisterhood."

When she was teenager, she ran away from a Christian missionary home in Ohio. Her adoptive father was a famous fire-and-brimstone preacher who died exactly one year to the day before she did. She never talked about her parents in public, but she wrote a novel about a superhero stripper who survives domestic abuse and rescues other women from the same fate.

Ramona was a leader in Narcotics Anonymous when she was in her 20s— she helped countless friends and fellow dancers in recovery.

She barely survived a near fatal accident a year and a half ago and it took a toll on her. This past April, the anniversary of her father's death, she wrote a suicide note and ate a fentanyl patch. My own personal impression was that she was royally pissed.

I'd like to toast Ramona, aka Rebecca Mast— one of the fiercest, ballsiest, sexually self-aware women I ever met. She's one of those people who wouldn't make the history books, but she did make history— there wouldn't have been a "lesbian sex revolution" without cadre like her."

Visit Susie Bright's site

Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick (May 2, 1950 - April 12, 2009)
A feminist scholar and key figure in the development of queer theory, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick passed away this year at the age of 58. In many ways her work legitimized something queer people had been doing for ages, finding bits of ourselves hidden in mainstream culture. In a 1998 New York Times interview Ms. Sedgwick explained that part of a critics job is to talk about what the author isn’t talking about, to see those things the author may be keeping hidden: “It’s about trying to understand different kinds of sexual desire and how the culture defines them…you can’t understand relations between men and women unless you understand the relationship between people of the same gender, including the possibility of a sexual relationship between them.”
Read more – About.com: Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick

David Aaron Clark (Sept. 5, 1960 - November 28, 2009)
Porn journalist Gram Ponante remembers how author, pornographer, and “full-time fringe thinker” David Aaron Clark’s “bald head, stoutness, preference for black attire, and stentorian delivery were often trumped by his whimsy and glee, which would show up whether he was (brilliantly) pointing out someone else’s foibles on an adult message board or giddily anticipating the next Wong Kar Wai film or Sci Fi Channel show.” Other friends remember Clark for his wit and voracious appetite for alternative culture.
Read more – Gram Ponante: Into the Realm with David Aaron Clark

Lux Interior (Oct. 21, 1946– February 4, 2009)
I was probably 14 or 15 when I first heard The Cramps and without the benefit of the web it was another while before I got to see video of lead singer Lux Interior perform. Once I did, I was hooked. There was something playful and chaotic about his gender performance, something that filled my queer teen heart with hope and possibility. I love what John Coulthart wrote in a post two days after Lux died “[he was] one of the few people who could successfully enthuse about the delights of female sexuality while wearing nothing more than a pair of high heels and a black G-string.”
Read More – LA Times: Lux Interior dies at 60; founder, front man of punk band the Cramps

Chris Bell (1974 – 2009)
I can’t offer you the exact dates of Chris Bell’s birth and death, which is precisely why I write this column once a year. I didn’t know Chris personally, although I was at the Queer Disability Conference in 2002 where he gave a paper titled “To Act Is to Be Committed”. I read about his death on a listserv, and then went to read more about this activist and academic who brought together threads of disability, illness, HIV, race, class, and orientation as he experienced them in his own life and tried to make them accessible and relatable for others who were more unaware of them than necessarily unaffected by them. Chris was a former president of the Society for Disability Studies and at the time of his death lived in Syracuse, NY where he was a Fellow at the Center for Human Policy, Law and Disability Studies at Syracuse University. He was working on a PhD in the UK. In his relatively short life Chris contributed with both passion and compassion to public discussions and understandings of what it means to be disabled, to be sick, to be HIV+, to be gay, to be black, to be a man…what it means to be human. The comments online regarding the news of his death speak to the many ways Chris made a difference and touched people’s lives personally and professionally.
Read more – Media dis&dat: Obituary: Chris Bell, disability studies scholar on race, HIV/AIDS, dies

Alice Rossi (September 24, 1922 - November 3, 2009)
One of the founders of the National Organization for Women, sociologist Alice Rossi was attacked and called “a monster, an unnatural woman, and an unfit mother” for suggesting that the world would be a better place if women had the choice and option to work if they chose rather than stay home and raise children. Looking back Rossi wrote “My theme was simple enough. For the first time in known history, I wrote, motherhood had become a full-time occupation for adult women, and motherhood was not enough. For the psychological and physical health of mother and child, for the sake of the trembling family unit, and for the progress of society, equality between men and women was essential and inevitable. Older women, who were past career choices, resented my article; younger women felt reprieved. I know for certain that my essay lowered the birth rate by at least 12 children, and increased the number of Ph.D.’s accordingly.” She was also the author of the important 1994 text Sexuality Across the Life Course.
Read more - New York Times: Alice S. Rossi, Sociologist and Feminist Scholar, Dies at 87

Jack Wrangler (July 11, 1946 – April 7, 2009)
Known first as a gay porn performer, and later in life as a writer and theatre producer, Jack Wrangler embodied much of what is complicated and confusing about sexuality. While he started in gay porn he also performed in straight porn, and his thirty-three year romantic relationship with singer Margaret Whiting presented a challenge to anyone wanting to box in his emotions, identities and desires. I love this quote from a 2008 interview about why doing gay porn was important to him: "At the time we were all trying to find out who the hell we were as individuals, what we wanted specifically on our own terms, who we wanted to be, what our potentials were, what our differences were, what made us unique… And I think that's why the XXX-rated films were important, because it was like, Oh, my God, there are other people who like the same things as me, like leather, or being blown on a pool table. [Laughs] It was a start—literally stripping ourselves naked and trying to begin from there." I also love the story that he landed a part in a play as a bad go-go dancer after being discovered go-go dancing (badly) at a club.
Read more - SFGate.com: Porn star, theater producer Jack Wrangler dies

Marilyn French (November 21, 1929 - May 2, 2009)
I remember my mother’s copy of “The Women’s Room”. It was the white one that had the word “Women’s” written in pen over the word “ladies” in the title. I would have been eight or nine years old and feeling not particularly like a boy I thought both words sounded better than the ones I was being called. French was called “anti-male” (whatever that means) and was frequently associated with a quote from one of her characters who said “All men are rapists, and that’s all they are. They rape us with their eyes, their laws, and their codes.” But if you read her work or ever heard her speak (which I got to do once in Vancouver, BC) you understood that her own analysis was far more complicated that that of her characters. Writing in her 1992 book “The War on Women” French argued that “Men’s need to dominate women may be based in their own sense of marginality or emptiness; we do not know its root, and men are making no effort to discover it,” Whatever one thinks of her statements on gender and power in isolation, her willingness to speak directly to injustices she perceived, and not worry about the political consequences, is something that will be sorely missed.
Read more – Women’s Media Center: Carol Jenkins Remembers Marilyn French

Marilyn Chambers (April 22, 1952 – April 12, 2009)
Marilyn Chambers was best known for her work in “Golden Era” seminal porn films including Behind the Green Door and Insatiable. Chambers was also one of the first porn stars to attract significant mainstream media attention. At the time that Behind the Green Door came out a non-sex modeling job Chambers had done much earlier came to fruition when her face appeared on the box cover of Ivory Snow powdered detergent (advertised as "99 44/100% pure”). Chambers left porn but came back to it in the late 1990s performing in several films directed by Veronica Hart. Chambers always seemed honest and avoided simplifying her relationship to porn, something that isn’t easy to accomplish given the many pressures big name performers experience from the media, anti-porn activists, and the self-aggrandizing porn industry.
Read more – LA Times: Marilyn Chambers dies at 56; '70s porn star and Ivory Snow model

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