It's been a roller-coaster year for Siouxsie Q, the prolific performer, singer, sex worker, and activist whose new play, Fish Girl, premieres at the San Francisco Fringe Festival this week. Last fall, she and her partner founded a podcast called This American Whore. They intended to create a safe space for sex workers to tell their stories and debut their artwork — but they quickly caught the attention of This American Life producers, who threatened them with a trademark infringement suit.
Despite the bitterness that could easily have ensued, Q maintains that the legal struggle was "one of the best things that could have happened" to the podcast, which now is known simply as The WhoreCast. It launched her work to the top of the sexuality charts for iTunes podcasts and connected her with notables like Ira Glass and Dan Savage, who both took interest in the unique stories voiced on her show.
Q, a self-described "performance adrenaline junkie," has been in the theater world since — well, since conception. "I was conceived at a cast party," she says. From childhood, she chased opportunities to push boundaries on stage — and found herself exploring acting, songwriting, and spoken word in the process. When these pursuits no longer gave her a rush, Q says, "The next logical step was dancing with my clothes off." A tenure at the recently shuttered Lusty Lady — the unionized, worker-owned peep show — served as Q's gateway into sex work; she now regularly performs in porn.
But lately, she's circled back to more traditional expressive outlets, launching the podcast and returning to theater with Fish Girl. "Once I did knife play and double penetration on stage in front of people, I kind of had a come-to-Jesus moment with myself where I was like, 'That's it, sweetie. You're not going to get more extreme than that,'" she laughs. "It feels really cool to have gone almost full-circle and be back in a proper theater."
Fish Girl stars Q in the role of a mermaid, who performs at a dive bar in a fictional boardwalk town — and turns tricks after the curtain falls. Q is joined on stage by her co-writer Sean Andries, who alternately plays a lovesick Midwestern tourist and the mermaid's manipulative manager. Q's character serves as an allegory for her experiences in sex work, she says. "It was this filter through which I felt like a lot of things made sense, about — not to get too emo — but how I felt inside about being highly eroticized, but also being treated like I'm worthless or a freak of nature in some capacity as sex worker."
She and Andries drafted the play as she began her journey into sex work, working out their feelings about her new career along the way. "We had this cute Postal Service long-distance creative relationship," she explains. "I would send him songs, and he would send me scenes."
The songs, which Q performs on ukelele, are quirky, seafaring ditties that would almost suit Zooey Deschanel — if the wide-eyed, girl-next-door actress donned clamshells and a tail to sing about the trials and rewards of sex work. But despite the sequined veneer of her mermaid costume (which she made out of a discarded prom dress and a mermaid tail that famed sex educator Annie Sprinkle pointed out to her at a thrift store), Q hasn't lost her edge. In one cautionary tune, she sings, "You can't make love to a mermaid, boy; mermaids only know how to fuck."
So do the mermaid and the tourist end up falling for each other? Without revealing the story's ending — you'll have to catch Fringe Fest to find out — Q says Andries' half of the story "is about how to love a sex worker, essentially, and not necessarily want to save her."
Fish Girl solidifies Q as a quintessentially San Francisco artist — sexy, dirty, DIY — working in highbrow art spaces like theater and radio and threading them with lowbrow undertones. The play, like The WhoreCast, is a platform for Q's activism as much as it is for her whimsy. "It's so important that we as sex workers have the opportunity to share our own stories, to tell them in the way we want to tell them, because sex workers have had their stories robbed from them," Q says. "I'm hoping that we can continue to provide platforms for not only myself but other sex workers to tell their stories in their own words."
Q's next project also involves telling the stories of sex work in a fantastical way — she's at work on a radio play about superhero sex workers, set in a magical, Gotham-esque San Francisco. She hopes the project will someday evolve into a comic book.
"I will find someone who knows how to draw eventually, but this is what I know how to do now," she says. "So much of The WhoreCast is about that, too. Not waiting for anybody to give you permission to do something — because as a sex worker, nobody fucking is — but just doing it with the resources you have."
As for The WhoreCast, Q will celebrate its one-year anniversary this October. "We want it to grow and build," she says, "similar to This American Life, dare I say."