To celebrate the upcoming release of “Last Call,” a story about an actress who has a steamy threesome with her friend and a cute bartender, we interviewed our muse for the story—sex icon, Erin Clark. Listen to the story this Sunday, 3/29, on the Dipsea app!
So, Erin, tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from? Where do you live currently?
I am from Canada and I am currently in Canada. It’s the first time in almost a decade I am living where I started. I tend to put my whole life into what I want to explore or create, which has found me living on an island in British Columbia, in New York City and a small Catalan town in Spain. I have been back in Canada for less than a year, and I am ready to discover something new. I’m not sure where or what that will be yet, so for now I am enjoying having all my books in one place and close by. And by close by, I mean next to me in bed. I curl up like a cat and wake up half reading. It’s been a gentle, restoring interlude between adventures.
What do you do for work? How do you spend your free time?
I am a writer and an aerialist and pole dancer. I write, train, make short films and take photos. I don’t have a traditional separation between work and not work. Performing, creating and adventuring blend together in a way that I find very pleasant and productive. I have to be conscious of my physical limits all the time, in every moment. A planned separation of resting time and working time will fall apart very quickly so I don’t organize them in different categories.
Based on your Instagram posts, it seems like you love to travel. Where is the most romantic place you’ve ever been?
It depends on the kind of romance we’re talking about. Of course, Paris. I love to shop for lingerie and eat french pastries and take selfies with parisian monuments and flirt. When I’m in Paris, Paris is my lover. It’s a glamorous, yet impersonal love. Paris is everyone’s lover.
The most personally romantic place I’ve been was Oranjemund, Namibia. I spent two months in the middle of the desert where I didn’t know anyone, in a very small mining town. I met my generous and entertaining neighbours, I made great friends, the balance between being left alone and being in company was perfect. I got to spend a night camping under the full moon, scrambling and swimming and driving and exploring one of the most compelling environments I’d ever known, four-wheeling up and down massive sand dunes, having barbeque and learning the styles of weather that happen in a desert that I have never felt before. And while all the adventure and connection was happening, I wrote the first draft of my memoir from beginning to end. A place that satisfies my adventure lust, fuels my creative energy so I can complete a massive project and then cradles me in a supportive balance between social and solitude is the height of romance for me.
You’re often referred to, by yourself and others, as a sex icon. How did you come to coin this term and what does it mean to you?
Sex Icon was born on a stage in New York City. My friend Laura von Holt and I started an aerial comedy duo called Flaming Mermaid Broken Star.
The hot issue of being a disabled aerialist is how to control the narrative of the spectacle. If you have a wheelchair on stage, the audience has a tendency to automatically experience whatever you do as ‘inspiring’. Partly, that’s the social script. Disabled people doing things is ‘inspiring’ and that’s…. it. I believe it’s also a defense against the taboo of judging disabled people. If I do a bad job on stage, the audience feels bad for noticing, not bad for being put through that experience. So, I sometimes get the impression that, when it comes to performance, ‘inspiring’ is used in place of ‘uncomfortable’ and a lot of potentially important dialogue is lost. I could go on for ages about standards and who sets them and how ableism ruins it for everyone, but that’s not what you asked.
Laura and I had to figure out how to let the audience feel whatever they were going to feel but also give us room to suggest that they feel what we, as the performers, intended them to feel as well. Somehow, we needed to acknowledge that we understood the interaction came with a prescription of inspiration and then suggest we ignore it and do our own thing together.
Thus, I became a sex icon. In the timing of the performance, there were moments we knew the audience would expect to be given an explanation of my chair - a curiosity I trusted they had the maturity to endure. The chair was not relevant to the skits we were performing and it wasn’t among the information they needed to trust me to tell those stories. We weren’t there for a symposium on disability. Our show was absurd and comedic. But if there’s a gun on stage… So instead, we’d lead them up to the edge of disclosure, a kind of seduction they knew we knew they wanted. Would we give it to them?
“Everyone can tell there is something different about me.” I say during our introduction. “And I don’t feel right going on with the show until I address it."
Laura turns to look at me. It’s like I’m the only person in the room.
“As you can see, I am using….”
Laura sucks in her breath. She is about to hear something she’s been dying to know. Something possibly wondrous. Maybe something disastrous.
I point to a completely invisible LAV mic. The audience laughs. Laura holds her astonishment.
“Go on.” Laura says.
“It’s because I’m a Sex Icon. And I have to do a lot of kegel exercises and smoldering.” I smolder at the audience, pant slightly so they can hear the effort of a kegel. “Which makes it hard to project my voice, so I require audio augmentation.”
“Wow, Thank you for sharing that with us.” Laura says with utter sincerity.
We don't give them what they thought they wanted. We give them what they don't know they can ask for. They trust us. Now we can tell more interesting stories than the dusty, medical-file version of my presence.
A wheelchair is as superficial as sex appeal. They carry the same amount of innate meaning. What you know about me through my wheelchair is the same amount of information you would know about someone you think of as sexy just by being attracted to them. Which is, nothing. They are both literally meaningless.
What I personally loved about superimposing the symbolism of sexiness with the wheelchair is how sex is considered a form of power and a wheelchair is considered a symbol of ultimate disempowerment. Overlapping them let us explore a lot of nuanced and interconnected elements of power and who has it and what is it for just by having my character on stage.
After I left New York, I started to post on Instagram as the character. I would take dramatic, high-contrast selfies all over the world and write vignettes in second person as a way of playing with the projections of what a disabled person’s life means. I wrote as if the things that were happening to me, that were entirely outside of typical disability narratives, were happening to the reader. But I got to define the meaning instead of disability-through-the-lens-of-society that was usually projected onto me.
Over time, that took on it’s own life. People started to refer to #sexicon moments when they felt a striking sense of self love or had a moment of particular intimacy they hadn’t noticed in that way before. When they were making choices to empower themselves or chose their own narrative. It was no longer just about sex or disability, it was about being. And how to nurture it. The audience created that as much as I did.
What are your thoughts on the representation of disability in the media?
It’s coming. I see disabled characters in television series that make me feel so excited to be a creator and writer and performer in this time. There are still pervasive stereotypes that limit what stories ‘the media’ will let disabled people tell. And I am passionate about telling the kind of stories in which we are not being observed like animals in a zoo, but we are the guides and ushers into experiences that allow the audience to see something new in themselves. Like all great storytelling, it’s not just that you see a character, it’s the potential that character holds, the world they inhabit and their ability to draw you into it for yourself. People with disabilities are also carriers of potential, of realms and wonderings and knowings. I’d like to see those stories honoured with the same sprawl as the non-disabled.
You recently collaborated with our staff writer, Emily, on the story, “Last Call.” What was that experience like? How did you approach fictionalizing your own experience for the story?
I loved working with Emily. When she first reached out to me, I confesed to her that I could come up with scenarios and character development all day, but when it came to the sex act... it wasn’t the part that excited me.
Seeing as how it’s kind of the key element for Dipsea, I expected that to be the end of it. But Emily suggested a collaboration that really worked to maximize my strengths and make the story the best it could be. Which, in a way, is what good sex does. It’s not focused on the payoff in the most mechanical terms, it’s focused on the process and drawing out the depth of pleasure for the parties involved, each one supporting the other to create something together each of them couldn’t create on their own.
It was one of the most sexually explicit conversations of my life, entirely without embarrasment, which is a gift I wish we gave to each other more often: talking about sex without shame. We’d go from where the head of one guy’s penis would be when the other guy was holding her up from behind and then dovetail into these philosophical and political tangents along the way. It was exhilarating on it’s own terms, and then I got paid. For my expertise, essentially, in pleasure. That’s pretty life affirming.
The other thing I loved was that Emily wrote the script. I was the source material. This was special to me because I don’t think representation of disabled people is bad because abled bodied people do it. I think it’s bad because they don’t listen. Emily listened. I sent her links to videos of me on a photo shoot where my lover (at the time) is stroking my wheelchair rims and lifting me out of my chair so she could see the choreography of romance with a wheelchair for herself. I sent her links to pieces I had written with elements of erotica in them. I answered questions she came up with as she worked on the script and together we brainstormed a sex act and then I described the mechanics and logistics that would get my body into those positions and what I might be feeling while it happened.
It was satisfying to me to provide the material in a way that is different than being the author directly. I have poured so much of myself into the things I have created. For the very conscious and deliberate purpose of expanding the imaginations of non-disabled people as well as feeding the souls of disabled people. The fact that Emily could take so much from them and render a story in which I could see myself reflected was very confirming.
In order for representation of disability to improve, we have to create — we have to generate material from inside our experiences — and we have to collaborate. Knowing my work had enough stability and substance to contribute to an able bodied writer rendering a sexual encounter that includes a disabled character vividly and erotically is profoundly rewarding.
What is your favorite part of the story and why?
My favourite part is when Liv goes “I want you to get each other warmed up. And then… make it all about me.” I laughed out loud at that part - that’s the most sex icon thing she could say. I could go on and on about what exactly I appreciate about the way Liv’s disability is woven into the scene, but what I truly love is that it doesn’t matter. It’s not instructional, it’s not a statement, the characters are hot for each other, so they fuck. It’s meant to be experienced. It’s meant to be hot. It’s meant to bring arousal to any kind of body that finds arousal in it. Including a body like mine.
Find Erin on Instagram at @erinunleashes <3