If Gone with the Wind were set in the 21st century, would Scarlett be into bondage play? And what about Rhett? After a night of courting Miss O'Hara, would he sneak off with Mr. Ashley for a night of passionate love on the "down-low"? These are questions that come to mind while reading Arkansas journalist Suzi Parker's new book, Sex in the South: Unbuckling the Bible Belt (Justin, Charles & Co.).
Parker's book, which is in stores now, dishes out the scoop on what's really going on behind closed doors in Dixie. From housewives selling sex toys to Bubbas shooting underwater porn in their backyard swimming pools, Sex in the South gives readers a look at what goes on when church lets out and the Bibles are safely tucked away.
Parker will be in town for a booksigning at Davis-Kidd Booksellers on November 11th. She took a few moments to talk with the Flyer about sex in the land of preachers and tent revivals.
Flyer: Why did you write a book on sexuality in the South?
Suzi Parker: In 2001, I wrote about this love potion, Niagra, which really jump-started the idea for a book. A woman in Arkansas had started selling it out of this little coffee store. What I found when I went to the store was all these society women coming in and buying a dozen of these bottles but wanting them in brown paper bags. After I wrote the story, I got in trouble for writing about sex and was banned from public television here in Arkansas. That's when I started writing this book.
Why did you choose to write about sex through other people's stories?
I'm a journalist so I'm always curious about other people, and I figured that there had to be so much more to the South than what I knew. There had to be this underworld of sexual activity going on. That's why I decided to interview people from all over the South and find out exactly what was going on on Saturday nights before people go to church on Sunday.
Why did you feel qualified to write about sex?
I cover Bill Clinton and covered all of his sex scandals, so of course I'm qualified to write a book about sex.
How is sex in the Bible Belt affected by the religious convictions of the majority?
Obviously, sex is sex, and it happens all over the globe. Some of this stuff is not unique to the South, but if this was New York or L.A., a bondage club would not be a big deal because you'd see people in latex and leather with riding crops walking down the street. In the South, I find that everyone wants to look pious and prim and proper on the outside and to kind of conform to society's expectations. But then there's this rebellion brewing in them that has to get out and it fosters itself in different fetishes and sexual acts. It breeds this crazy creativity that you would never think was in the South because everyone's acting like they're going to church potlucks all the time.
How did you find some of this stuff, like the swinger scene in North Carolina and the down-low scene -- gay sex among straight men -- in Natchez, Mississippi?
There were some things that I knew were out there, like the Miss Gay America pageant. I did a lot of research on the Internet, just massive searches on all sorts of different stuff. Then I found after I'd interviewed a few people, other people knew people in various scenes. It's like a network. Even though someone may not be into bondage they might know someone who is. Strippers know dominatrixes and dominatrixes know porn stars.
When you tried to contact the Impact Institute, the BDSM (bondage, dominance, sadism, and masochism) group in Memphis, they flat-out refused you. Did you have any trouble getting consent from any other groups?
The Impact Institute is probably going to come after me now. At first, they were okay with it, but then all of a sudden something changed. They apparently had some sort of meeting where they decided to change their response. I don't remember anyone else just flat-out saying no. I did have to work with some people on changing names. I had to reassure a lot of people that I'd protect them and their location.
In Alabama, you went undercover at a BDSM convention. Did you feel like you were violating journalistic ethics?
I had never gone undercover because I always try to be very straightforward, but I knew this wasn't your typical kind of journalism news story. I knew to experience the real scene, I would have to go undercover. I felt a little weird about it at first, but after I got there and realized these were some of the nicest people I'd ever met, I felt a little guilty. I made sure not to name the place in Alabama, and I've changed names and occupations.
When you visited Platinum Plus in Memphis, you saw some pretty wild, probably illegal girl-on-girl action going down. Do you think your book will have an influence on the way strip clubs in the South do business in the future?
Honestly, I had never even gone to a strip club until I started doing research for this book, so what I saw at Platinum Plus was shocking. I actually thought that some of what I was seeing had to be a violation of some sort of city code. I've wondered if somebody will read something in this book and wonder if it's illegal and pursue it. I got the feeling when I was there that some of the guys were regulars and this was not all that uncommon. I later went to a strip club in Atlanta and it wasn't near as crazy. Platinum Plus was more than I ever expected.
Have you received any flak yet from religious groups?
There was a letter in Little Rock to the Arkansas Baptist newspaper kind of going after me about the book. They said it was racy and should not be sold at Christmas. I just heard yesterday that some radio station in a small town here was upset about the book because a story went out about it on the Arkansas radio network. I'm expecting someone somewhere to be upset about it.
Parts of the book are a little racy. Do you think some readers may read the book for comfort on those cold, lonely nights like they would a Jackie Collins novel?
Maybe so, because I know a couple people who've read it and got halfway through it and had to put it down because they were at work. I figure if that happens, then that's a good sign that maybe I should be a sex writer.
What sex topic did you have the most fun covering?
The most fun writing was definitely the chapter on "pony play" and Trigger the man-horse. The most fascinating thing was probably the Alabama bondage convention. That was just so shocking that I couldn't believe what I was seeing. I had been to a fetish club in San Francisco and I was expecting to see something similar to that. I totally wasn't expecting what I found in Alabama. I think that's really the scene, as opposed to a nightclub where people are most likely poseurs.
What made you the most uncomfortable?
I would have to say it'd be the Alabama Southern Charms amateur porn chapter. It was so surreal that I was in this small town in Alabama in a chain hotel seeing this. I'll never look at a hotel the same way again. It's like, what's going on behind door number three?
What do you hope to accomplish with the book?
I would like to say my mission is to open minds and eyes to what's really going on in the South, but my ultimate mission is for people to read this book and never look at their neighbors, teachers, or co-workers the same way again. After that bondage chapter, it became really hard for me to look at people the same, because you just don't expect a 60-year-old woman to be into bondage.
Do you think there's any chance of the South becoming more open-minded about sex?
I think it's opening a little bit, but I still think we have a really long way to go. You have your larger cities like Memphis or New Orleans or Atlanta, but there are still so many rural areas where it's harder to open up. Part of me would like for it to open up, but then again, if it does, that would ruin some of its mystique.