When performance artist and comedian Queenie Bon Bon started doing sex work in the late 90s, she would often encounter colleagues and clients who were compelling to her in some way.
Quickly compiling a trove of oral histories from other sex workers, Queenie eventually began documenting her own stories, which would serve as the basis for her Queenie Bon Bon persona. Since 2014, the persona has been developed further in a series of performances shown across Australia and North America, all of which have been received with acclaim.
Presenting stories detailing her deep love for her co-workers and clients, as well as humorous snippets on internet dating, whorephobia, and coming out, her shows are a good demonstration of the saying “the personal is political”.
Queenie's approach to performance stems from Do-It-Yourself roots: despite always having been involved in creative pursuits, she has had no prior arts training.
“When I wrote my first show it was very much this idea of ‘community theatre’,” she tells SBS Sexuality. “I didn't feel qualified to do it, and it felt fraudulent saying that I was a performer or writer. But I think storytelling is a really powerful way to share information. Creating art doesn't belong to anyone.”
Her oeuvre revolves around her lived experiences doing sex work. The performances are never one thing, but a hybrid that spans across different genres—by incorporating stand-up comedy, lecture and storytelling, Queenie Bon Bon hopes to not only demystify general perceptions surrounding sex work, but also to create feelings of solidarity among fellow sex workers.
“It's an achievement to be able to share my stories with people who have never thought deeply about sex work; to have these stories about the body, capitalism, and labour framed in a different way [to how it might have been seen before]. People think about our work as a total mystery, when actually lots of it can be like so many other work experiences,” Queenie muses.
“I really love it when other sex workers come to my show and are able hear sex work stories that don't use workers as the punchline, and that are joyous and celebrating about sex work community. And that they really normalise a lot of the things about our workplace,” she adds.
This year, Queenie will be back on stage for four shows during the Adelaide Fringe Festival. Welcome To The Mystic Hole: A Presentation About Being in Your Body and Other People's will tread familiar ground, but will also delve deeper into her life outside of sex work, touching on the ways her health and work life intersect. It will also look at how legal frameworks can affect sex workers.
When asked about the intersections between sex workers' rights and art, Queenie is quick to point out that there has been a long history of art activism as a cultural strategy within the community. Her involvement with sex workers' arts collective Debby Doesn't Do It For Free seeks to underscore this.
“[Art activism] can be so powerful because having these bodies of work can inspire us to own our lives and invest deeply in our communities. It’s also a good way to connect with much wider audiences and transfer ideas more profoundly than with just straight information,” she says.
While the content surrounding her work is still considered niche, Queenie is wary of being seen as telling a universal “sex worker story”. It's a common conundrum—many marginalised people often feel pressured to represent their entire community because the current social tapestry hasn't allowed for enough diversity.
“I write the world I want to see. I want to be able to talk about things that often make us uncomfortable, and for those things to be talked about with warmth or in really normalised ways.”
Catch Queenie Bon Bon at the Adelaide Fringe Festival opening weekend, Fri 16 Feb and Sat 17 Feb, Nexus Arts Gallery, Adelaide. She will be performing two more shows the following weekend. You can buy tickets here.
Photographs by Misha Couell, Deeply Leisured photo by Dady Steel