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Voice: An Interview with Annabel Chong

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Annabel
Chong, whose real name is Grace Quek, began a trend in porn
videos four years ago by having sex with 251 men for a film called The World’s Biggest Gangbang. It is the best-selling porn video of all time. She graduated from the
University of Southern California with a G.P.A. of 3.7, and is now twenty-six years old. She
continues to star in porn movies and also directs her own. She first spoke with Amy Goodman at the
Sundance film festival, where the documentary Sex: The Annabel Chong Story premiered.





WHAT WAS THE ORIGIN OF THE WORLD’S BIGGEST GANGBANG? WHOSE IDEA WAS IT?



John Bowen, the owner of the company who used to direct my videos. I basically challenged him to come up with a crazy idea for me to do and he came up with The World’s Biggest Gangbang. I thought it was very amusing. When he first told me I just laughed. And I thought about it for a while and I’m like, you know, “Hey let’s do it.” During that time a friend of mine coincidentally mentioned to me something about the Roman empress Messelina, who apparently invited the entire town of Rome to have sex with her. It was a challenge to the top prostitute of Rome, and Messelina apparently won. So, I kind of had that idea in mind, and that’s why the entire video had this bizarre Roman theme that looked really cheesy.



WHAT DO YOU THINK MOTIVATED MESSELINA TO DO IT?



Raw ego, I guess, total abuse of power. Too much money. [Laughs]



ARE THOSE THE REASONS THAT MOTIVATED YOU?



I guess there is an element of that, but for me a lot of it’s humor, because there’s this stereotype of the stud who fucks anything that moves and this is a parody of what men are supposed to be like.



I’M CURIOUS HOW MANY GANGBANG VIDEOS THERE HAVE BEEN IN PORN HISTORY?



To my knowledge mine was the first on such a grand scale, though before that, ten years ago in the ’80s there was a madam working in Amsterdam who took 125 men. But to my knowledge that event was not captured on video.



WILL YOU EXPLAIN THE PROCESS OF YOUR GANGBANG? START WITH HOW MANY MEN YOU TOOK AT A TIME.



The plan was five at a time for ten minutes, but what eventually happened was that if the guys were good and strong, they’d let them go on for longer than ten minutes. If the guys were kind of limp and they weren’t able to get into it they would move them on.



WHAT COUNTED AS PENETRATION?



They didn’t have to penetrate me. It’s just five guys on the stage and when they go off the stage it counts as five.



OH, OKAY, SO WHAT WAS A TRADITIONAL FIVE GUY SET-UP?



Most of it would be them taking turns trying to get hard and the first person who gets hard would have sex with me and then I would see another guy getting hard and I’d point to him and say, “Your turn now.” And I was really surprised that the guys were very polite about taking turns; they didn’t fight on stage, things did not get unpleasant or pushy. That was one of my main concerns, that a fight would break out and things would get ugly.



SO ONE PERSON WOULD PENETRATE AT A TIME?



That’s right.



DID EACH MAN HAVE TO HAVE AN ORGASM TO COUNT?



No, there was a time limit. They did not have to finish at all.



HOW MANY DID FINISH?



Probably about 30 percent. We recycled the guys, actually, because some of them — the first time they went out they didn’t manage to do it because they were nervous, and maybe they managed to do it the second time.



SO, A LOT OF THEM TOOK TWO TURNS.



Yeah. Everybody got to go.



WERE THERE ACTUALLY 300 MEN THERE?



No, there wasn’t. Okay, at mine there was slightly less than 100 men.



HOW COME THE MEN ALL HAD TO BE NAKED WHILE THEY WERE WAITING IN LINE?



They were all naked because we wanted to prevent them from carrying concealed weapons. I wanted to prevent the situation of having an anti-porn guy who thinks this is really depraved coming out with a pistol and, like, blowing my brains out. Yeah, that wouldn’t be good. And also we had this idea that the man should be naked because the girl is naked.



WHEN BOWEN FIRST SUGGESTED TO YOU THE IDEA OF HAVING SEX WITH 300 MEN, WHAT WERE YOUR CONCERNS?



Well, safety to begin with. I was concerned that it should be, you know, a calculated risk. I mean, there is of course a risk involved, but I wanted to minimize that risk and I want to know exactly what my risks are. So we discussed security. At some point he did mention to me that in order to sell this video to Europe I’d have to do it without condoms and I said, “No way, it’s condoms only.”



HE TRIED THAT?



He did try. And I basically said “No,” and he’s like, “All right, all right, that’s fine.”



DID EVERYONE WEAR CONDOMS?



No, we had some professionals there and those were the bad old days of porn when they never wore condoms. People were tested but they never wore condoms, whereas now it’s mainly condoms only, ever since that whole incident with Mark Wallace giving HIV to a couple of girls.



THE PROS DIDN’T WEAR THEM BUT EVERYONE ELSE WORE THEM THE WHOLE TIME?



Yeah.



EVEN DURING ORGASM?



They took them off when they were coming. But they didn’t come inside me. The thing about porn is that they want everything to be visible so the internal cum shot is just sort of pointless. It’s this really bizarre idea of sex, where it’s not sex for the purpose of pleasure, but sex for the purposes of visibility.



IF I WERE TO JUST ASK YOU SIMPLY WHAT HAPPENED THAT DAY. . .



I guess the only word I could use to describe the event is that it was completely surreal. It was really bizarre watching so many naked men, nervous naked men in one place at the same time. In a very sick sort of way, it was kind of erotic, but I emphasize in a very sick sort of way. On the whole, I think I am glad I didn’t sleep through the entire event. Because I went into it for the experience and if I slept through it, it would be kind of a waste, wouldn’t it?



WAS THERE A DANGER OF SLEEPING THROUGH IT?



I heard stories about girls who did it after me — how some of them were on valium or just lying there looking bored. By falling asleep I mean just mentally switching off. But I personally believe that to do something like that you have to have your wits about you to make sure that everything’s going right. As opposed to just tuning out and spreading one’s legs. Yeah, that would be kind of dangerous.



DID YOU EVER GET ANNOYED OR TICKED OFF AT MEN WHO WERE DOING THINGS ALL WRONG OR . . . ?



No. Well, I saw these people as my guests and I wanted to keep the party atmosphere going, so when something happened I would tell them in a nice sort of way, or say, “Excuse me, I just need a little break,” you know, and have the security guards handle it. I prefer to avoid direct confrontation like that. I developed some hand signals with one of the security guards there to say, “This guy’s a bit rough,” or, “This guy right here is refusing to put on his condom.”




              

  






©1999 Amy Goodman and Nerve.com

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DID THAT HAPPEN A LOT? SOME GUYS DIDN’T WANT TO USE CONDOMS?



The security guards constantly had to remind the guys “condoms only.” [Laughs] Some of them did get carried away, yeah. They would forget to put them on.



HOW MANY OF THE TEN HOURS WOULD YOU ESTIMATE THAT YOU WERE ACTUALLY HAVING SEX?



[Sigh] Probably between six and seven hours.



COULD YOU NAME THE BEST OF ALL THE MEN? DOES ONE PERSON STICK IN YOUR MIND WHO KIND OF SYMBOLIZES THE WHOLE THING?



I couldn’t give you his name but I could give you a description. He was a middle aged, quite attractive Asian guy, you know, nice body and everything. I was just really glad to see Asians being represented because I specifically requested that all ethnic groups be there.



HOW COME?



Well, I was kind of basing it on Messalina, so I wanted, like, the townspeople; it was supposed to be a kind of cross-section, like the United Nations. [Laughs] And there were a few men who were very good.



WHAT QUALIFIES?



Well, they were enthusiastic, they weren’t nervous, they were at ease. You know, I tend to vibe into my partners and if they get nervous then I’m nervous too. So, they’d saunter up on the stage and if they were at ease, excited and aroused, then that immediately put me at ease and I was able to enjoy myself.



WAS MOST OF THE SEX VAGINAL OR WAS THERE ANAL?



Most of it was vaginal because, well, first of all, the guy only had a limited amount of time. I think only four guys did have anal sex with me. Because the guy has to be slightly more erect to be able to pull off anal sex and most of them weren’t because they weren’t given enough time and they were fairly nervous.



THE ONES WHO DID HAVE ANAL SEX WITH YOU — WAS IT THEIR PREFERENCE OR YOURS?



Well, the first one, he basically just came up to me and started singing, “I’m a back door maaaan,” you know, like The Doors. It was my concern that there was not enough anal going on, so with some of the guys I was like, “Hey, you know, you’re pretty hard, let’s try some anal.” My whole Annabel Chong thing was, like, she’s supposed to be the Anal Queen, so it’d be kind of weird if there was no anal. My second video — such a terrible title — was What’s a Girl Like You Doing in an Anal Movie?



DID YOU SPEAK TO ALL OF THEM OR WERE THERE SOME WHO YOU DIDN’T SPEAK TO AT ALL?



When they came on stage I’d say hi to them, but I don’t think that it’s a situation that encourages conversation because they only had ten minutes. They’d ask me little questions like, “Annabel, so are you having a good time?” and I’d ask them if they were enjoying themselves and I’d tell them to relax. It wasn’t a very chatty event.



DID YOU LOOK AT ALL OF THEM?



As far as I could. We had these really hot lights on stage and it’s really hard for me to see them and it’s really hard, I believe, for them to see me without squinting but I did have a look at their Polaroids before the event.



DO YOU THINK IT’S CONCEIVABLE THAT THERE ARE SOME MEN WHO YOU HAD SEX WITH WHOM YOU WOULDN’T RECOGNIZE NOW?



Yeah, I’m not very good at faces after a long time. I still recognize a few of them because they had a particular look about them that made them stand out from the crowd, but after a while the faces just blur.



HOW MANY MEN DO YOU THINK YOU’VE HAD SEX WITH IN YOUR LIFETIME?



Probably ballpark of 150 to 200 men.



WOULD YOU BE ABLE TO NAME ALL OF THEM?



No.



RECOGNIZE THEM?



Some of them.



WOMEN?



About 25 to 50.



WOULD YOU BE ABLE TO NAME THEM? RECOGNIZE THEM?



Yes. Yes.



ON THE ISSUE OF SAFETY AND DISEASE, DID ALL THE MEN PASS AIDS AND STD TESTS? IN THE DOCUMENTARY, I THINK YOU WERE INITIALLY TOLD THEY ALL PASSED AIDS TESTS BUT FOUND OUT AFTERWARD THAT NOT ALL OF THEM BROUGHT PROOF.



Yeah, in retrospect I would be more careful. I guess some of them were checked and some weren’t and I was working under the assumption that all of them were. I shouldn’t have trusted the producers that much and I was really lucky to have missed the bullet, but that was the reason why we had condoms, too.



WERE THE MEN WHO WERE TESTED TESTED FOR EVERYTHING OR JUST FOR AIDS?



They were tested for AIDS, not for anything else.



HOW DID YOU FEEL ABOUT THAT?



I could have gotten Hep B. [Laughs] Scary thought, eh?



WAS THE EVENT PAINFUL AT ALL?



It’s very close to running a marathon. You get the down time, you get the up time. It’s very much the same physical process when you’re on a roll and it’s not painful, it’s actually really enjoyable. Then it gets to the down time when it’s not going at all and you just have to get yourself through that period and hit a good pace and then it’s up time again. Yeah, there was pain. It was definitely a physical strain, I mean, not like vaginal pain but just general strain: my knees, my shoulders. And it’s psychological too because I’m claustrophobic, so sometimes I would start to hyperventilate and we’d stop for me to take a breather, have some cold water.



DO YOU THINK THAT YOUR PAIN OR THE PAIN THAT THE MEN MIGHT HAVE IMAGINED YOU HAVING TURNED THEM ON?



Ummm, no, actually it got them kind of upset when they made the announcement that they shouldn’t use their fingers or else I’d be cut by fingernails. Then they would come up and they’d go, “Are you all right, Annabel? I’ll go gently.”



DO YOU THINK THAT AT LEAST INITIALLY IT WAS A SADISTIC ACT FOR THE MEN?



I didn’t think they were thinking about it in sadistic terms because they seemed to be very timid when they came up to me. They weren’t like “Yeeaah! I’m gonna fuck this bitch!” They were like, “Oh, Annabel!” I think they were too self-conscious to really be sadistic. There was this bizarre sort of homoeroticism in the whole event because there were all these naked men and they were all looking at each other, checking out the competition, and it’s almost cruisy. It’s almost as if the interest was in each other instead of me. Standing in line waiting, stroking their dicks, looking at each other’s dicks, you know hoping that they’d get their dick hard before the guy beside him.



DID YOU HAVE ANY ORGASMS DURING THIS?



Yeah, well there were times when the going was good and I was having a really good time. When they’re up and jumping and I’m up and jumping and we’re really getting to the flow of things — you know, that’s when it gets good. Female orgasms are not like male orgasms where they’re very defined, very clean cut. So I can’t really give you a ballpark number. It’s like a multiple orgasm: you can’t really count it. It just goes on and on and on and then stops.




  

              

  






©1999 Amy Goodman and Nerve.com

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DID IT FEEL AS GOOD EMOTIONALLY AND PHYSICALLY AS YOUR PUBLICIST AND PRODUCER INSISTED?



Well, it was not fun all the time and I never did claim that it was. Although the porn press always says that it’s really fun because that’s what they think will sell the article.



SOMEONE — A PRODUCER MAYBE — IN THE DOCUMENTARY SAYS THAT YOU’RE ONE OF THE PORN GIRLS WHO REALLY DOES LOVE SEX.



Well, I mean, I do. More than a lot of girls. I find this even more now that I’m directing my own shit and I have to hire talent. I interview the girl first and go to other people’s shoots to see what the girl does. It never ceases to amaze me that so many of these girls, they just get into position and, you know, tune out. So many girls I spoke to said, “I’m just doing this for money. I really don’t think much of this job. I don’t hate it, I don’t like it, but it keeps me in money.”



WOULD YOU SAY MOST PORN ACTRESSES ARE LIKE THAT?



Yeah, I think most girls are in it for the money; they don’t mind the sex. Sometimes they might have a good time but the majority of the time it’s just what it is.



YOU’RE NOT IN IT FOR THE MONEY?



Well the money is always nice but I wouldn’t do it if I hated it. It’s kind of like getting laid and getting paid for it — why not? And that’s why I don’t work every day. I put myself on contract and I work every now and then so every time I do it it’s like going to a theme party, you know, theme sex. It’s something special.



HAVE YOU EVER PROSTITUTED?



No, I haven’t. I’ve had many opportunities to. There’s a time when someone offered me, like, a thousand-five to do it and I just didn’t think it was a safe, controlled situation, whereas having sex on a porn set is much more controlled.



SO, IS CONTROL THE ONLY THING THAT SETS PORN-SEX-FOR-MONEY APART FROM HAVING SEX FOR MONEY IN YOUR ROOM?



Having sex on a porn set is sex as performance, it’s sex for the purposes of video. Although you’re still having sex for money it’s under very, very controlled circumstances, where you can say, “STOP. STOP, I need to have a drink. STOP, this asshole is hurting me.” You know, most of the time, the girls request the guys they work with, so the male actors have to kiss a lot of ass so the girls will request him the next time. So when I get to set, the guys are very civilized. And they might like grab my ass a bit, but if I tell them not to, say I’m not going to request them next time, they stop. And now, because I’m their boss, they’re even more scared of me; I can just slap them on the butt and say, “Shut up, I’m the boss.”



SO, IN REAL LIFE AS OPPOSED TO PORN LIFE, DO YOU LOVE SEX?



Well, I enjoy having sex. People have this impression that I have sex a lot. But I don’t actually because most of the time I’m either too stressed to do it or my friends are too stressed to do it.



WHEN’S THE LAST TIME YOU HAD SEX?



Um, let’s see, the last time I had sex was a very long time ago — before Sundance when I was completing my movie. I last had sex in January and now it’s April.



WHAT’S THE BEST SEX YOU’VE EVER HAD?



I guess I’m being nostalgic, but for a certain period before I became Annabel Chong I went through the student party thing at USC. I eventually got really, really bored with it and the sex really sucked but in the beginning the sex was very, very good. It was just fun, kind of responsibility-free. Here I am at a university, away from home, let’s have some fun, let’s party, let’s drink lots of beer, let’s dance to very loud music and let’s, you know, play punk rock and have sex.



WHAT WAS IT THAT MADE IT GOOD?



I felt young and invincible.



WHAT ABOUT NOW?



Now I definitely feel my mortality. Every day.



HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT HAVING STARTED THIS TREND?



Ambivalent. I really didn’t do it to set a world record. I just wanted to do it. But it’s turning into this massive female one-upmanship contest. All these women coming out and doing the whole bravado thing, it really plays into the whole reversal of gender roles. It’s usually the men who are bragging, “I can fuck more women than you and I’m more macho and I’ve got a bigger cock,” and now women are doing it and that in itself is kind of funny. It’s kind of slightly subversive.



ARE YOU SURE THAT THE GENERAL POPULATION WOULD CONSIDER A MAN WHO HAS SEX WITH THAT MANY PEOPLE WORTHY OF RESPECT?



He wouldn’t be considered respectable but he’d be considered a stud and secretly admired. I mean, there was this article in Playboy about this guy who had sex with a total of 20,000 women and he was being portrayed as a stud.



WHAT ABOUT YOU AND ALL OF THESE WOMEN — HOW ARE YOU BEING PORTRAYED?



As supersluts, ultrasluts. And of course, there are jokes about extensively probed orifices. Some of the press — and it really depends on what paper is covering it — some of them profess a kind of admiration. Some of them profess extreme disgust. I’m really interested in how it’s being perceived in the gay community, where it’s very much a generational thing. The younger men, the gay men from my generation — and I’m not trying to generalize — but some of them find it really cool. They’re part of the post-AIDS generation, and they’re like, “Yeah! Orgies!” For a lot of the guys in the post-AIDS generation, the good old days of the ’70s when men were having orgies was a kind of golden age.



YOU THINK THAT NOW WE’RE IN THE “POST-AIDS GENERATION”?



Not post-AIDS as in AIDS is over as a crisis. After the crisis became the big issue we had to grow up dealing with it, whereas the gay men who went through the ’70s and the loss of their friends to AIDS in the ’80s — they were very upset by my event. They were very, very upset. But I don’t think people are going around having gangbangs and orgies because of my video. Instead the video represents what couldn’t take place in reality. It’s a cartoon. In some ways most porns are cartoons, especially ’80s and ’90s porn. If you look at the narrative, the conventions have changed. The sex has become more mechanical. All these performers have become more and more like cutouts. If you watch some of the porn films from the ’70s — I’m thinking of Behind the Green Door and, say, The Devil and Mrs. Jones, the golden age of porn or whatever, there’s a focus on the specificity of the performers — male and female, especially female.



WHAT DO YOU MEAN “SPECIFICITY”?



A lot of ’70s porn focuses on the little nuances of their interactions when they’re having sex, and every woman is made to seem different than the last one. Whereas now, every single girl seems to be the same. They’re all surgically enhanced boobsy bimbos with blond hair that’s styled with too much gel, the guys are just these throbbing penises and they fuck the same way.



WHY DO YOU THINK THAT IS?



It happened in the ’80s when porn moved from film to video and suddenly it became more marketable and easier to distribute because of it’s video format, which encourages a lot of people to start churning them out. So, now they’re producing a lot of porns through quotas. And the second thing is — I don’t want to go so far as to say “the dumbing down of America” — I think that’s too extreme — but it’s almost like directors are beginning to feel that the audience has a shorter and shorter attention span, that they have to cut out all the dialogue and all the extra stuff and go straight to the fucking because their audience is not going to have enough time or patience. People have a million things to do, so it’s almost like porn with a McDonald’s mentality.



SO THEN HOW DO YOU, BEING A SINGAPOREAN WOMAN WITH VERY SPECIFIC PREDILECTIONS AND IDIOSYNCRACIES FIT INTO THIS NEW WORLD OF HOMOGENIZED WOMEN AND HOMOGENIZED SEX?



First of all, when I went into the industry one of the reasons I sold is that I was not a big, blond-haired bimbo. I looked fairly natural [Laughs], although makeup artists wanted to make me up like a drag queen. Also, in my films that I’m directing right now I personally believe that while the distributors want certain money shots, I can still spin a jolly good yarn within these conventions.



HAVE YOU EVER APPEARED IN THE MAINSTREAM PRESS AS GRACE QUEK — MINUS ALL THE “MALE BRAGGADACIO” — INSTEAD OF AS ANNABEL CHONG?



Jerry Springer, for example — that show was heavily edited so a lot of the things I said were cut out because it didn’t fit into the talk show format. The press tries to cover their sensational angle. Over time, I’ve learned to steer them away from the gangbang. It’s kind of me being very firm and going, “It’s fine that we talk about this but it’s not all I want to talk about.”




  

              

  






©1999 Amy Goodman and Nerve.com

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WHAT DO YOU WANT TO TALK ABOUT?



Not just, How did it feel? Who has the biggest cock? That sort of thing. To move to my motivations and the implications of the event. What it could mean and what it meant in a wider social context. Talk about these things and maintain a certain distance from it.



LET’S TALK ABOUT MOTIVATIONS AND IMPLICATIONS. YOU SAID IN THE DOCUMENTARY THAT YOU THINK SEX IS WORTH DYING FOR BUT YOU WERE CRYING WHEN YOU SAID IT AS IF YOU WEREN’T REALLY SURE.



I think that statement was taken grossly out of context. I meant, in the context of that gangbang event, I went in knowing what the risks were. If I died I was responsible for my own body. Basically, I was saying that I deserved to die, right, because I knew what the risks were. But then again, I really wanted to have that experience. It was such a unique experience for me — to really push my boundaries that far and see how far I could go — as a female, who is supposed to be somebody in that whole stereotype who likes vanilla sex, likes to be seduced, kissed and cuddled, and is basically biologically monogamous. [Laughs]



SO IS IT THE SEX THAT’S WORTH DYING FOR IN THIS CONTEXT OR IS IT SOMETHING ELSE?



The sexual experience, I would say, in this specific event. I mean, I wouldn’t die for a five minute fuck in the toilet. I really wouldn’t.



THERE ARE TWO EVENTS IN YOUR LIFE THAT WE SPOKE ABOUT WHEN WE FIRST MET AT SUNDANCE — I’M SPEAKING ABOUT THE EXORCISM AND THE GANG RAPE — THAT HAVE TO DO WITH PAIN BEING INFLICTED ON YOU. IN BOTH CASES, THE PAIN WAS INITIALLY INVITED. YOU WENT WILLINGLY TO THE EXORCISM AND THE PRIEST ENDED UP BEATING YOU UP; WHAT ENDED UP BEING A GANG RAPE STARTED WITH A CONSENSUAL DECISION TO HAVE SEX. DO YOU FEEL LIKE THIS IS A PATTERN IN YOUR LIFE — YOU’RE UP FOR SOMETHING, YOU INVITE IT, AND THEN IT TURNS INTO SOMETHING THAT YOU END UP REGRETTING?



Well, in a philosophical sort of sense I do not regret the exorcism because otherwise I would have never been able to detach myself from my religion, and make a clean break from Singapore.



WILL YOU EXPLAIN WHAT HAPPENED?



I think there’s still a part of my brain that’s in complete denial of the event so I can’t remember everything. But it started off with me joining this group of friends and we were doing the whole Bible study thing and sharing our problems so we could pray about them.



CHRISTIANITY IS VERY POPULAR AMONG SINGAPOREAN YOUTH, ISN’T IT? WHAT KIND OF CHRISTIANITY WAS IT?



Yes. Middle-class, born-again Christianity. Yeah, it’s very popular, very middle-class. A lot of people become Christians to upgrade their social status. It’s specifically very Singaporean, very Chinese. During one of the sessions, I was like, “Does anybody masturbate?” and they were like, “Oh God, no! That’s disgusting!” I was like, “Well I masturbate every day.” They said, “Oh that’s terrible. That’s so terrible. We have to pray about Grace and her masturbation.” And so I was made to feel really, really bad about it. At some point they said, “You’re, like, possessed by demons, Satan’s doing this, so you have to go for an exorcism.” So they took me to this exorcist woman. I was feeling, you know, touchy about it. I didn’t completely go willingly but I didn’t see any harm in it. I was like, “If it works it works. If it doesn’t work, I’ll just continue praying.” And there was some part of me that didn’t want to let go of that sexual side of me that went in completely skeptical. And that was the part of me that reacted strongly to the exorcism, causing her to beat me up. I’m not sure if I started the fight first, is what I’m trying to say. She made me confess to everything and . . .



WHAT DID YOU CONFESS TO?



To having sexual desires, to masturbating and to wanting to have sex with people, and to having had sex with women and so on and so forth. The full nine yards.



HOW OLD WERE YOU?



I was sixteen going on seventeen.



WHEN DID YOU LEAVE FOR LONDON?



When I was eighteen, after I graduated from junior college.



AND WHAT DID YOU DO WHEN YOU WENT TO LONDON?



I did law. Law school at London’s King’s College. I did that for a year and then I decided, well, fuck that. Yeah, because it was one of those things where my future seemed to be so mapped out. Before I even went to law school I was guaranteed a job in the top law firm in Singapore. It was just so mapped out, but I was attracted to the idea of risk.



I WANT TO TALK A LITTLE ABOUT WHAT HAPPENED WHEN YOU WENT TO LONDON. THE GANG RAPE.



Can we not go into this in too much depth because it’s kind of painful?



WHATEVER YOU WANT TO SAY ABOUT IT.



I was slightly drunk to begin with. I caught the drinking bug in London. I went for a drink with a bunch of my friends and I was supposed to meet up with my cousin. I was just completely and disgustingly drunk so that things were kind of blurry and I ended up in a rubbish chute getting gang raped by these guys. Well they weren’t all fucking me. It was more like I was being forced to give them blow jobs because they ran out of condoms. I had sex with two of them and the rest of them wanted blow jobs.



HOW MANY OF THEM WERE THERE?



I don’t know. At the trial there were four defendants, meaning to say that four of them were caught and, you know, the only detail I remember clearly was that there was a twelve-year-old boy standing next to it watching. Isn’t that so fucked up? And they were, like, encouraging the young boy to join in. And he was just freaked out. I wasn’t crying. I think I was in shock. I was crying when suddenly, for some reason, it just clicked that I should try to get away at the first opportunity and I did. I started yelling at them and they started running away and I got up and was half-naked running down the corridor screaming and this nice family opened the door and took me in and called the cops.



HOW DID YOU FIRST ENCOUNTER THE MEN?



I met one of them on the tube and we decided that we wanted to have sex. I was really drunk and it was just, like, a lapse of judgement. It’s like being drunk and randy. Not even completely randy, but drunk and looking for trouble. We just got off the tube at some point, I didn’t know where, I only found out where after the fact, and I just followed him drunkenly to the rubbish chute and I think I was so drunk that I blacked out at certain parts of it. It was truly bizarre.



WHAT HAPPENED AFTER THE FACT?



I was taken to the station where I was given various tests and I had to give my statement, which was very painful for me. And then after that I was sent to counseling . . .



HOW WAS THAT?



[Sigh] That . . . that sucked. That was bad. They had this middle-aged lady who would talk to me and she was just very cold, you know. You could tell that she was putting on an act, very fake, trying to perform compassion. It’s almost like that part — being processed — was worse than the gang rape. Having read quite a lot before going to counseling and even before all this happened, I knew the lingo and she was using the lingo on me; it was the language of recovery.



TELL ME ABOUT THE FEELING OF BEING PROCESSED.



The entire language of recovery really denies people their individuality, their personhood. Totally going off on a tangent right here, I recently read part of Andrew Morton’s Monica’s Story and that entire book was written in the language of recovery; you find out nothing about Monica whatsoever. You don’t get a sense of her as a person at all. It’s all this talk about self-esteem. That’s the whole language of recovery. It’s got all these really bland little platitudes that reduce the complexity of human experience into all these pat phrases. Ironically, when I was reading that, it reminded me of the rape, and of being raped by language, being depersonalized by language, because rape is really, the way I see it, about depersonalization. You stop seeing the person as a person, and instead as a hole or whatever. I was reading through the book thinking, Andrew Morton really raped her in some bizarre literary sort of way.



CAN YOU ADDRESS THE CONNECTION BETWEEN THE GANG RAPE AND THE GANGBANG?



I think on a subconscious level, in retrospect, maybe there is an element of trying to take back control in the gangbang, but it’s not something I was thinking about before the event. It was only after that. Looking back at my life, I realized that a lot of things I’ve done seemed to be totally out of control. All that trying to get away from my coddled life was because I was trying to take back control by being out of control, which is kind of a paradox.



DO YOU FEEL ANY OF THE SHAME THAT YOUR PARENTS EXPRESSED IN THE DOCUMENTARY?



Well, you know, nobody is invincible and there were times when after somebody’d given me a particularly hard time about something, I would feel bad, depressed. But I look back and it really is much preferable for me to be doing this. I’d rather have control over what I do than be like most of my classmates, who are now working as paper pushers and being abused by their superiors and having to deal with office politics.




  

              

  






©1999 Amy Goodman and Nerve.com

 DISPATCHES




WHAT WAS IT LIKE CONFRONTING YOUR PARENTS ABOUT WHAT YOU DO?



It was a very sticky situation. Having to explain all that in Mandarin, when my Mandarin was not very fluent. There are a lot of words in English that do not have a Chinese equivalent.



LIKE WHAT?



Like “feminism,” for example. Try explaining feminism to a Chinese person from that generation. We don’t have a term for it.



WHEN YOU TOLD YOUR PARENTS ABOUT IT DID YOU TALK ABOUT FEMINISM?



Yeah, I did. And my mom kind of understood it in those terms, because, you know, in my mom’s generation, women are not supposed to go to school and are supposed to get into arranged marriages. My mom really resisted that whole thing. She did not want to get into an arranged marriage with this rich guy, so when the matchmaker came to the house she took a broom and chased him out. I’ve got an even better story about my grandmother; she’s a tough cookie. She was really young during the time when women were supposed to bind their feet. And she belonged to this filthy rich Teocheouu family and was the only female in the family and had all these brothers who believed that if women didn’t bind their feet they wouldn’t marry into good families. Well, she put up a really big fight, like really major, like grand mal seizure. It’s becoming like family legend now, you know, Grandma’s Big Fight. So, she was the first female of her generation from that social status in Singapore not to get her feet bound. From what they told me she kind of started the ball rolling and then other families, their daughters would go, “Well you know, so-and-so from the Lee family did not get her feet bound, so we’re not going to get our feet bound either.”



SO YOU COME FROM A LONG LINE OF STRONG WOMEN.



Uh-huh. It was something I was brought up with.



DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU’RE CONTINUING THAT LINE?



Well I would certainly hope that I am. I would like to.



DOES YOUR MOTHER THINK YOU ARE?



After talking for a long time she’s beginning to see that what I’m doing is trying to forge a different path than the paths that are commonly taken. And although she may not agree with the exact path that I’m on, she respects the fact that I’ve decided to do something different. She said so suddenly one day, out of the blue. We were cooking, preparing the chicken and everything, and she just suddenly turned to me and said, “Grace, you know, I am beginning to see the fact that you’re trying to do something on your own and I think that’s very good.” Suddenly out of the blue while I’m, like, cutting up the chicken.



WHAT DID YOU DO?



I didn’t know what to say. I was speechless. I just told her, “Yeah Mom, that’s cool. Just make sure the soup doesn’t boil over,” you know? [Laughs] When something really dramatic happens the knee jerk Chinese reaction is to focus on something really banal. But we understand it.



WHAT DID YOU DO WHEN YOU WENT HOME FROM THE GANGBANG?



Of course I took a shower, sat around for a while, had a few cigarettes, a glass of wine and it was back to the computer.



WHAT WERE YOU WORKING ON?



Writing a paper on bisexuality. I had to do a review of . . . what book? I think it’s called The Politics of Bisexuality.



COULD YOU CONCENTRATE?



It wasn’t my best effort at concentration, but it wasn’t as if I was completely scatty. I was writing better than if I was on two lines of speed at four in the morning.



HAVE YOU EVER REGRETTED THE GANGBANG?



No, I haven’t. Well, the only thing I regret is that I end up getting asked about it all the time, as if that’s the one defining event of my life. It seems to be terribly unfair. I’ve done a lot of things and they’re hopefully equally interesting, but that’s the only thing I ever get asked about.



DID YOU DO THIS THING FOR A CAUSE OR IN THE NAME OF SEXUAL LIBERATION?



Well, it started out as this idea of exploration, of exploring my sexuality and what women are supposed to be like sexually. So I did the gangbang partly in response to the stereotype that women are compassionate and loving and they only like vanilla sex. It just seemed so condescending — that women couldn’t go for the rough and tumble, that women are like these really precious wilting violets or vessels of purity. That stereotype really annoyed me when I was growing up and it continues to annoy me now, so in that sense it is sort of a feminist statement insofar as it is targeting stereotypes of women. Whether or not the stereotype is promulgated by men or by certain schools of feminism . . .



DO YOU THINK IT’S PROMULGATED BY CERTAIN SCHOOLS OF FEMINISM?



Yeah, well, ecofeminists, for example, who have that whole thing that women are these earth goddesses and into love and community as opposed to hate and aggression. It seems to be such a constricted idea of women. Also, I was sick and tired of all these stereotypes that are being taught in feminism classes. The books I would read really annoyed me. I’m thinking about, say, Catherine MacKinnon. On one hand I can understand the impetus of her argument — it’s about the welfare of women — and it’s cool to be concerned about that and I’m all for it, but at some point it made me think of a certain school of political theory. Rousseauian paternalism, you know, and that makes me very uncomfortable because it’s moving women out of a set of rules into a new set of rules and restrictions that is based on all these generalizations that may or may not be truthful. Another thing that annoys me is that a lot of these feminist attacks on pornography, they usually pick up the worst case scenario when pornography itself is actually very diverse. It covers a lot of ground but they always pick on certain subgenres within the genre itself and use them to generalize about the entire form.



YOU HAVEN’T BEEN PARTICULARLY IMPRESSED BY THE WRITING THAT’S BEEN DONE ON PORN, I TAKE IT.



It’s so waffly and generalized. Most people just talk about Porn, full stop. But porn changes, it’s just like art history, and I don’t think there’s really been a good book on porn history, you know, like on the changing aesthetics and the changing narrative structures within it. There is this totally condescending attitude where art deserves to be studied extensively and every single change is catalogued and we have pictures to prove it. There’s names for everything — cubism, symbolism — but with porn, you know, people think, “Oh it’s just porn. It’s kitsch so we can talk about it in general terms and nobody’s going to know shit.”



YOUR CONTENTION IS THAT GANGBANGS OFFER A NEW IDEA OF FEMALE SEXUALITY?



Once you put something out there people can interpret it any which way they like. Nothing contains a specific meaning; nothing is essentially degrading for anybody. It depends on how you want to read it, and how you read something depends on your values and your environment. Chances are people read it in accordance with what they call the dominant discourse. Corny term, but . . . My work starts when the gangbang ends — offering various ways of looking at the gangbang that counter the way it is commonly taken.



WHICH IS WHAT?



Which is that it’s all these men victimizing a woman.



YOU HAVE VERY RATIONAL, DIDACTIC REASONS WHY YOU DID THE GANGBANG. CAN YOU ARTICULATE A MORE SUBCONSCIOUS, PERSONAL REASON GIVEN THE PERSPECTIVE YOU HAVE NOW?



I guess it’s the idea of being totally out of control and wanting to take control, especially of my body. I don’t know if that’s too rational, but certainly there are a lot of emotional things going on there.



CAN YOU ARTICULATE THEM?



[Long pause] Yeah, I guess. Another emotional reason just occurred to me that might segue into that answer. All my life I’ve wanted to get out of Singapore and to be not a Singaporean. It’s the idea of how far I can run away from home. Not home as in my parents, but home as in Singapore and all it stands for and all the things about Singapore that upset me. And that segues into control, the idea of taking control, because running away from home is very much a form, no matter how misguided, of taking back control of the things that maybe felt out of control in the past.



WERE YOU MOTIVATED MORE BY THE DESIRE TO BE FAMOUS OR THE DESIRE TO CHANGE PERCEPTIONS OF FEMALE SEXUALITY?



It’s easier to change people’s perceptions if you’re famous. A lot of performance art, it takes place in these stupid little galleries in the middle of nowhere and the people who are there are just all these art people. You know, it makes no impact whatsoever because they’re preaching to the converted. We are the media generation, and it may be going too far to say if the press isn’t there then it doesn’t happen, but I think that to communicate to a lot of people you’ve got to work with the media instead of thinking of the media as an enemy.



AS A FEMINIST, DOES IT BOTHER YOU THAT YOU ARE SEEN FIRST AND FOREMOST AS A PORN STAR?



It’s interesting because it serves as a sort of foil. I think I can make it work. [Laughs] But I’m not sure yet. Because people usually think of porn stars as the exact opposite of feminists. I would say that I would like to be known as a porn star feminist. It’s like, either you’re a porn star or you’re a feminist, but you can’t be both. So, being a little punk I’d like to be both. [Laughs]



IS THERE ANY EMOTIONAL STRAIN IN YOUR WORK?



The biggest emotional strain I feel, being constantly on the road, is a feeling of homesickness. I’m always among strangers. I’m homesick, and I get that when I’m promoting the documentary, too. But not from stripping. I think it’s much easier to strip than it is to do Q&A’s, where my entire life is being opened and it’s almost as if I’m stripping away my emotions for the audience and having people say antagonistic things to me. When you’re stripping you’re not really taking off your clothes. You’re putting on a costume that’s called T&A. You’re never naked. People don’t go there to see a naked girl; they go there to see tits and ass and that’s a costume.



SO, YOUR WORK POSES NO THREAT TO YOUR SELF-ESTEEM. AS YOU KNOW, THAT’S THE COMMON ASSUMPTION.



My self esteem . . . it comes and goes. There are days when I’m not feeling too good and there are days when I’m feeling very confident, but I’m very glad to say that I’m feeling more and more confident about myself as years go by. Having gone through this much pain, say pain to the degree of seven out of ten, when five out of ten hits, it’s not so bad. I deal with it on a day to day basis and sometimes I get affected when I read bad reviews, where they say everything I say is bullshit and I’m completely crazy and have no self-esteem. Of course I feel bad for a couple of hours [Laughs] and I think that maybe I’ve got no self-esteem after all and I call up my friend Alan and say, Alan, do you think I’ve got no self-esteem?” And he usually will say, “Whoever wrote that can just go fuck off and die.” And then I feel, like, much happier. And then I have self-esteem again. [Laughs]

  

              





©1999 Amy Goodman and Nerve.com