EV Interviews is a recurring featuring in Erotic Vancouver Magazine where we’ll sit down with the movers and shakers doing things of interest in the alt-sex scenes, burlesque, the erotic arts and more.
For this edition of EV Interviews recently had the opportunity to sit down with Velvet Steele, the founder of Vancouver’s original fetish night, The Bettie Page Social Club, later renamed The Body Perve Social Club, where so many folks on Vancouver’s fetish and BDSM scene today got their first taste of kink.
This EV Interview was conducted by recently returned magazine editor Reive Doig, who had such an amazing time talking to Velvet that they talked three times as long as EV’s longest interview to date – so we’ll be running this is three parts!
EV: First off let me say that it’s a pleasure to get to sit down and talk with you for Erotic Vancouver.
Your Twitter page describes you with the words Transsexual, Fetish Lady, Model, Hairdresser and Sexual Advocate. And that’s a lot of hats, but it still seems to be just the tip of the iceberg.
I know you bartended for awhile and developed a big following on Davie Street, you’re very much Sweet Boutique’s sex toy lady these days, you’re hosting the podcast “Transister,” and you of course organized Vancouver’s first fetish night, The BPSC, for years.
Is there anything you haven’t done that you still aspire to?
Velvet: Win the lottery.
I don’t know. Everybody asks me—all these different things I do—and you know the whole thing with “Jack of all trades, master of none.” Well I consider myself to be a Mistress of all that I’ve ever put my hands to, or my mind to doing.
I like people. I like getting out there. I will not turn down work. Depending on whether it’s good or bad, if it’s something I want to do then I will do it. It’s about making money, and I get bored really easy to be honest.
So everything I have been doing has been about sexual healing and health, and moving forward with that, because that interests me. Whether it’s erotic, or it’s fetish, or it’s BDSM—and I do say them in different categories like that because I believe them to be separate entities—it’s important to me for people to be self expressive, to enjoy their lives and to have a good time. So if anything that I do can all be interlinked with that, that’s what I want to do.
Currently I’m working with the city of Vancouver. I’m an advisor as well as a sensitivity facilitator for them, that’s under Living In Community, a subgroup of City of Vancouver, City Hall, and we go out to various service providers, E.I., non-profits, the VPD, that sort of thing.
We haven’t had the opportunity to talk to the VPD yet but we’re hoping too soon. We have to figure out how to do that because dealing with the VPD is a very touchy, sensitive subject. They have their own way of doing things.
We go in and talk to healthcare providers, the non-profits and E.I. as I said before, licensing and permitting and all sorts of different things, and [that talk] all surrounds sex work. We’re trying to break down stereotypes and stigmas that people still have and hold towards sex workers, and this is all in light of what’s going on in the Supreme Court of Canada right now with the Terri-Jean Bedford case. That was heard on June 13th, so we’re expecting a decision to come down soon.
Vancouver still wants to maintain itself as a progressive city, so I want to be onboard for that because I think it’s going to be very positive. And when I talk about sex work I don’t say prostitution because I’m talking about every facet of sex work. That can be whether you’re a porn actor or actress, a phone sex operator, or working in a sex shop, for example, whether you are doing prostitution, or whether you are doing erotic writing, erotic photography or modeling, all those different aspects are sex work as well.
And we also touch on the idea of third parties as well, who are also associated with the sex work industry. I’m very honoured to be asked to come and be a part of that. I’m drawing on my own experience of having done sex work for twenty-five years.
So it’s exciting.
EV: Wow. I know a little bit about Living in Community from my work with PACE [note: a charity doing work with sex workers, primarily on Vancouver’s DTES] and I know that’s a huge undertaking you’ve got right there.
So continuing on the subject of sex work, what do you think about when you hear about the Nordic Model being proposed [which criminalizes the buyers of sex, while keeping the sellers of sex, the actual sex workers, from being held criminally liable or responsible] as a solution here.
Velvet: I think it’s absolutely misguided and I think it’s asinine, to be honest with you.
The reason I believe that is that we all have coursing through our veins that lovely little chemical called testosterone that dictates our sex drives. What are we going to do? Are we going to cut that off? Are we going to chemically castrate ourselves throughout the planet, and suddenly sex work is gone? Sex sells. We know that. Sexual desire in human beings, as well as all the animal kingdom, is what drives us. Sometimes people are so driven that they aren’t conscious of it, of what it is they’re needing to do, and basically that’s getting off. And what’s wrong with getting off?
And when I’m talking about that, when I’m talking about orgasm, I’m not necessarily talking about the physical aspect of orgasm, through your genitals and genital release; I’m talking about your brain, through your body, through stimulation. Emotionally, physically, mentally, all those different aspects are really required, really necessary [for people.] And if you’ve got to spend a little money to achieve that, then why not? Who cares?
I don’t need people in my bedroom telling me what to do, and I certainly hope they won’t be in the bedrooms of others telling them what to do. We had Pierre Trudeau who said that so eloquently, that the government has no place in the bedrooms of the nation. That’s what I believe.
I want that idea to move forward, and there are a lot of people in that same boat with me, feeling exactly the same. We can’t cut off sexuality, we can’t deny. And so what? So sex is a business. Work is work, first and foremost, and people need to get the idea that it’s not out of their heads.
When the average person is thinking about sex they’re thinking about SEX, but when a sex worker is thinking about sex work they’re thinking about the work. It’s work, that’s what it is. And they’re able to turn on and off, and have a different life and a different understanding of what it’s all about. And not everyone has the ability to do that, and for those who don’t, don’t go there. Do something else.
EV: I agree. I’ve heard some people argue that sex is a necessity of life. It’s something we take a lot of pleasure in, but also comfort, and without it we’re somehow lesser. And there seems to be this idea that if people lack the social skills, or the ability to connect, or they’ve got a physical disability, something that might make it harder for them to establish sexual relationships, that we should be denying this [outlet of sex work] to them. And that seems dramatically unfair to me, and I guess to…
Velvet: Absolutely dramatically unfair! We all hold in our own view a certain aesthetic or an ideal, and for each and every person on this planet, and for handicapped individuals why should they be denied the rights for sex, for sexuality, and everything to do with that. They’re just as sexual, perhaps as virile, as anyone else out there. So they need to have the right to that support. We shouldn’t be denying someone who might be sitting in a wheelchair anything sexual. That’s ridiculous. It’s nonsense. And people need sex to keep on going.
It’s a big stress relief. It heals, it’s healthy. You know it’s part of our physiology, it’s part of our makeup. As we stand here in the middle of a sex shop with all of these different implements and toys and lotions, potions and lubes, around us, you know what, not everything always works the way we hope it would when we’re born. So we need a little bit of engine oil to get that engine going. A little stimuli or something. I don’t believe there’s anything wrong with that whatsoever.
Velvet: Exactly. The human touch, that human companionship at that time, whether it’s paid for or not, it’s just a matter of validating people and making them feel good.
Sex workers spend so much of their time being invalidated by society as a whole. Meanwhile the sex worker is the one validating the individuals coming to them. It’s kind of like an oxymoron. So you’ve got all these caring, compassionate, loving people in a lot of instances, yet society towards them is not. You’ve got to think about that.
EV: Getting back to where we were before we got sidetracked, but very well sidetracked. Of all the different roles you’ve had, is anyone a particular favourite of yours? And if so why?
Velvet: Roles? Role models, you mean?
EV: Jobs, roles you’ve filled, of all the different things you’ve done. Is there any particular favourite? Or is it hard to name a favourite child in this case?
Velvet: It’s hard to name something, because you planted a seed and you watched it grow, and then you’ve moved on from it. And you can only hope that whatever you’ve planted can grow into something beautiful that everybody else can benefit from, and move on with and enjoy, and take the fruits from the seeds that you’ve planted.
I guess one of the things I’m particularly proud of is paving the way for the fetish industry and the fetish parties to happen here in this city. I did a lot of fighting with City Hall, I did a lot of fighting with all the civic authorities, the city fire marshal. Even the provincial fire marshal. I dealt with politicians, on the civic, federal and provincial level. They all knew about me. Eventually they were all doing stuff for me and I was doing stuff for them. And when things weren’t happening I was having meetings with them.
I was meeting with the newspapers. I was meeting with all forms of media to present my case, while fighting with city inspectors to make this a cultural thing. I didn’t expect it to be as big of a fight as it was, but it ended up being that way.
And, you know, the door is now open. It’s a culturally viable, sound part of our humanity and part of our life and our social scene for those who indulge in that for pleasure.
EV: Certainly. You’re talking about The BPSC which I and a lot of others most associate you with. Initially The Bettie Page Social Club and then The Body Perve Social Club, and obviously the battle you mentioned getting those things happening.
Can you tell me a little bit about how it started, what drove you to start?
Velvet: I was part of The Bettie Page Social Club in Toronto, and that was with George Giaouris from Northbound Leather and his wife Anna. They were doing stuff there, and initially I was called on to be a model in one of their fashion shows, and then from there it just exploded into this whole big thing where I was organizing the shows at the parties in Toronto. Then when I decided to move to Vancouver I came here thinking that there might have been a vibrant scene at that time.
But I was warned, and when I got here there was nothing. So I contacted George back in Toronto and said “What do you think about bringing a chapter of The Bettie Page Social Club to Vancouver?” And he was all over it. They had actually had a store here, Northbound Leather, and that was during Expo 86 and they thought they’d make a go of it, but it didn’t work out. And I don’t know if it was because Vancouver wasn’t actually ready for it, because it was really bringing it that much more into the forefront, into the mainstream, the way they had paved the way in Toronto very successfully.
So we did it, and we were doing the pins, the T-shirts, the membership cards, all the different thing too. And then if people wanted to travel they’d still get all the same benefits, if they wanted to go to Toronto, or when Torontonians came to Vancouver.
Then we were hit with a lawsuit by Jack Page, Bettie Page’s brother.
EV: Tell me about that.
Velvet: That was really interesting. Basically he was a bum, a freeloader, riding off her notoriety. She couldn’t have given a damn. She did what she did, and she thought it was kind of humorous that people kept coming back. And she was able to support herself off all these residuals. But he wanted in on a piece of the pie. So rather than give him anything, because he also went off to the major comic book companies, DC, and what was the other one there, I can’t remember…
Velvet: Marvel. Marvel Comics. Well anyway they had all these images, these characters and stuff, and he was trying to say they had all these images and they were using her likeness. But no, Varga girls and a lot of other models that were being drawn, they’d been drawn on World War II planes, and they’d been being drawn long before Bettie Page came onto the scene.
So these companies basically slapped him with a lawsuit as well, saying if he was suing them then they’d be going after him, their employees would be suing him for all these different things. This name and likeness—well how many women on the planet look like that?
So he basically lost his battle and decided to go after the small fry, and continue that, which was us.
So we changed the name to The Body Perve Social Club, to keep the whole BPSC thing, and people were already associating that with us. And “Body” and “Pervert” just kind of worked, kept the “Social Club” part, and it stuck, and we just kept going from there.
Look for part two of of our interview series with Velvet Steele on New Year’s Day. Erotic Vancouver can’t think of anyone we’d rather ring in 2014 with!