Burlesque

She's an erotic cottage industry, a one-woman costume caper, an impresario of unusual adult entertainment. Meet Thomasina Kundalini: A riddle wrapped in a web site inside a cable-access show.

Indeed, hidden among the more banal adult-themed articles ("What Those Men Advertising in Personals Really Mean When They Say...") are small personal essays and short poems, such as an impassioned autobiographical article on transgenderism. "I know there are not many women today that would date or even marry a man that crossdresses, but my wife did," the author, Billie Ashton, writes. "We even took that one extra step further and were both brides. Yes, and we even have pictures to prove it!" Hardly the sort of fare you would expect a businessman to thumb through on a lonely weekend in Minneapolis. L.A. Xpress, by comparison, publishes interviews with porn stars and short pornographic stories.

(Full disclosure: Metropolitan Forum has intermittently published my own light verse. While I've received no payment, I find the venue irresistible. After all, precious few respectable poetry magazines would print an original selection like the following, which ran in the Forum last spring: "Our founding father, Benjamin Franklin/Was celebrated for his love of spanklin'.")

Thomasina's connection to publisher Dennis Buchanan predates her position as editor of the Forum. She worked at various odd jobs at Sexworld, such as designing strippers' costumes for retail at the store, before Buchanan asked her to manage the short-lived Sex Art Gallery in 1997. Thomasina discusses Buchanan in glowing terms: "He's a genius," she will occasionally exclaim, or "He's like a father to me." While his multi-story, neon-lit, self-declared "adult superstore" is a fixture of Minneapolis's Warehouse District, Buchanan's aspirations for the venture have occasionally seemed ill-considered. A few years back, a newspaper reported that he wanted to build a coffee shop inside the structure. While there are undoubtedly fetishists who would not mind sipping foamy beverages while glancing through the pages of Kinky Nun magazine, they must be small in number. I imagine had Buchanan actually opened a café, it would have been the emptiest spot in Minneapolis.

But the Sex Art Gallery seems like a more noble failure, lasting just over a year. Thomasina designed the space, which ended up cluttered with little penis-shaped, Groucho Marx-mustachioed figures and framed pictures fashioned by painting women's breasts and then pressing them against a canvas. "There's something remarkably healing in this place," John Townsend wrote in Lavender on the opening of the Sex Art Gallery, vocally impressed by the unapologetic homoeroticism of some of the work. In an interview, Thomasina explained that "lots of respected artists have erotic art that goes unseen and unbought. Our gallery is a venue for work that other galleries are afraid to touch."

Thomasina found artists and she programmed weekly performances, which often consisted of a self-declared erotic artist named Brad Calhoon splashing paint onto women in various stages of undress, usually assisted by Thomasina in a lab coat. Having studied video production in college, Thomasina was not able to resist taping each of these performances, even though she appeared in most of them. "I would give the video camera to whoever was around," she explains, "and just tell them to start taping."

These video shorts wound up forming the basis for the Thomasina.com television show. One afternoon a man named Jim O'Connell wandered into the erotic-art gallery and saw Thomasina modeling clothes for a photo shoot. O'Connell hosted a public-access cable television show called Search Party, which featured local bands, and O'Connell had a video camera with him. He handed a microphone to Thomasina and asked her to record an intro for his show, requesting that she say, "Hi. I'm Thomasina down at Sexworld--c'mon down and see me some time. You're watching Search Party."

Thomasina, who has a degree in Speech/Communication from the University of Minnesota, could not get the words out of her mouth. She stared blankly at the camera and fumbled repeatedly. Footage of Thomasina's bungled Search Party intro appears at the end of one episode of Thomasina.com, and then fades to a title card reading, "In memory of Jim O'Connell. Rest in peace big guy." Shortly after Thomasina became friends with O'Connell, appearing on his show and enlisting his help in editing video footage into the first few episodes of Thomasina.com, he suddenly died.

Thomasina was devastated and briefly considered abandoning the cable-access show, which MTN was playing only grudgingly, worried that callers would complain about the show's mild nudity. "But one night I heard Jim's voice," Thomasina explains. "He said, 'Thomasina, what are you doing?' He kicked my ass, so I decided to continue with the show."

 

With O'Connell's death, some of the original footage for Thomasina.com disappeared, leaving Thomasina somewhat blurry VHS copies and one episode that could not be played on television because its tracking was ruined. That episode promised to be among the show's most sexually charged, featuring material from the bacchanal-like XXX Ball that Sexworld cosponsored at the Gay 90's in 1997. Among Thomasina's seemingly endless series of ventures has been the production of adult-themed club shows at venues such as the Lounge and First Avenue. The XXX Ball was, by all accounts, outrageous. Held in honor of National Coming Out Day and cosponsored by local businesses such as the Lava Lounge and XTC Leather, it was hosted by Chi-Chi LaRue. Formerly a shy, heavyset boy from rural Minnesota, LaRue moved to Minneapolis in the Eighties and reinvented himself as an oversize, wickedly funny drag queen. He then further reinvented himself by moving to Los Angeles and becoming a successful director of (and occasional comical character in) both gay and straight porn.

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