Certain — a small but significant number — San Franciscans are fond of calling themselves “sex nerds.” Surely other cities have these nerd-pervs, but there are a lot here. Given this fact, it follows that they’d eventually build a library, and given my propensity towards such situations, that I would find myself there one afternoon, taking pictures while a librarian pulls early furry comics (Omaha the Cat Dancer FTW) to cannibal erotica from a tightly-packed shelf.
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Said librarian, a passionate volunteer named Tess McCarthy, is just as, if not more, enthused by the fact that her team behind SoMa’s Center for Sex and Culture’s sexy zine catalogue has decided on a new metadata schema that will allow easy searchability of all this smut. Thanks to the labor of volunteers administering this system to CSC’s found and donated zines and comics, I am able to snap photos of early ’90s copies of The Penis Mightier newsletters from the erudite male masturbation club SF Jacks. A poem about gonorrhea in one of these nearly brings a tear to my eye, such is the author’s resolution to never have a dripping dick again.
Not all the zines are born of debaucherous tendencies. A small yellow booklet labeled Menopause: A Self Care Manual seems to have hailed from the eighties, and something called the Santa Fe Health Education Project. Ten Heavy Facts About Sex bears groovy, bellbottoms-and-vest-wearing cartoon characters and counsels in its pages to
“choose the sexual life you want. Ninety per cent of the population prefer heterosexuality. That’s their business. Ten per cent choose homosexuality or bisexuality. That’s their business. Letting yourself be bothered by fears of homosexuality is a waste of time.”
The unvarnished candor available in the zines says a lot about how our views of our own sexuality have changed over the years — especially in the radical community, which tends to publish less hardcovers, let’s be real.
It’s easy to see why CSC has managed to recruit a dedicated team of community cataloguers, from laypeople to recipients of degrees in library science, who spend their free time documenting each publication according to the precepts of xZINECOREx, a metadata system developed by co-founder of the Queer Zine Archive Project, Milo Miller. This stuff is important, and rarely preserved anywhere else. McCarthy tells me many zine projects toss out the X-rated stuff, or just don’t know what to do with it.
CSC librarian Anissa Malady emails me the details of their systemology later on. She says that the better the organization, the more chance to get this material seen on a wider scale, by more people interested in the way we talk about sex, and what we think is sexy.
Like a true sex nerd, she tells it like a passion project: “The artist in all of us fell in love with this collection and became instantly attached to getting this material cataloged and curated as a way to make them available to the community.”
I, for one, am glad. And am certain that you should pay the library a visit. I will let you know how my Omaha the Cat Dancer-inspired Folsom Street Fair look pans out, because I for one believe in both learning from history and repeating it.
Check out the CSC’s sexy zine catalogue on Tumblr and it’s rather beta online catalogue. The stacks are open to the public at the Center for Sex and Culture every Monday 11:30am-3:30pm, when volunteer librarians are usually around to answer questions and guide you through the collection