The Sex Doll Diaries

Artist brings her silicone twin to town for one last romp.


The Sex Doll Diaries

Artist brings her silicone twin to town for one last romp.

Amber Hawk Swanson (right) with Amber Doll.
Amber Hawk Swanson (right) with Amber Doll.
See Natalie O'Neill's corresponding story, "To Not Catch a Thief," below.
Mike Gorman
See Natalie O'Neill's corresponding story, "To Not Catch a Thief," below.

By Janine Zeitlin

On May 15, Amber Hawk Swanson spent her final day on South Beach with her sex doll. The 27-year-old multimedia artist lounged near Collins Avenue and 20th Street for one final photo shoot with Amber Doll, the 115-pound silicone figure whose head was molded on Swanson's.

The sisterly pair sported matching white glam shades. The doll wore a bikini with the word love printed on one breast. Swanson donned a flirty red sundress. "We're done, a total wrap," the dark-haired Chicago artist said after Simon Hare snapped photos to document her Miami exhibition. It was a gorgeous sunny day with a postcard-ready blue sky. People stared as they passed by.

Swanson ordered the doll nearly two years ago from RealDoll — before the October 2007 release of Lars and the Real Girl, a movie in which a lonely man orders a sex doll he embraces as his girlfriend. "I was really attached to the idea of embodying victim and victimizer simultaneously," she explains. "She's actually just Body No. 8 with my face. Our bodies aren't identical. She has this perfect Barbie doll figure, and I certainly don't."

In the months before the doppelganger's arrival, Swanson began cruising sex doll websites. "There's a community of primarily men who are online and chatting about dolls, and it's really kind of innocent and friendly," she says. "I felt a real affinity to these men at the time." Swanson was single then, and her interest in the doll became personal. "I was imagining that she would fulfill these emotional needs of mine."

Swanson's adventures with her twin — roller-skating, getting married, sharing cake — are chronicled in "To Have, to Hold, and to Violate: Amber and Doll," an exhibition at Locust Projects in Wynwood.

Reactions to the doll were similar across geography and gender. Videos showed bundled-up Bears fans humping the figure and peeking at her crotch, while at the Exxxotica convention in Miami Beach, girls gone wild in hot pants lustily draped themselves over her. "There's usually groups of people who approach the doll," says Swanson. "Almost always, a leader of violation and a protector emerge. There's usually someone who is like, 'Check it out,' or 'Oh my gosh. Stop! You can't do that to her.'"

Perhaps the strangest response Swanson witnessed in Miami was aggression. At the opening of the show, a man whacked the doll as she was laid out in a casket, surrounded by fresh flowers. "People enjoy punching Amber Doll, but I've never seen anyone wind up and really go at it this way," the artist says. "Her jaw tore. It was a bit shocking to watch."

Swanson headed back to Chicago last week, leaving Amber in Miami. It will be the first time the pair has been separated. "I just left the gallery for the last time," she says of Locust, where the exhibition will be up through June 28. "I definitely have a little pull on the heart strings. My emotions really kind of vacillate between those leftover feelings over the expectations. She's this doll who's had a huge impact on my life."


Staph Breeding

How much MRSA is out there? No one knows.

By Isaiah Thompson

Sloan Bashinsky's got all kinds of ideas about all kinds of things. A former lawyer, failed mayoral candidate, and current contender for the Key West city commission, the island resident shares his thoughts daily on his blog, Among his theories: The hurricane shelter being built on a nearby island is a development scam; "No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service" signs are sucking the soul out of the Keys; and fish scraps make good fertilizer — if you bury them deep enough.

He also thinks methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) — the occasionally lethal strain of staph infection that is impervious to antibiotics, which has made recent headlines — is occurring in the Keys and throughout Florida in greater numbers than anybody is aware of. He might be right.

Bashinsky learned about staph the hard way — he caught it and developed recurring infections on his hand and abdomen, a picture of which he posted online. He wondered how many of his neighbors had contracted the disease, and in trying to answer that question, discovered a startling fact: Nobody knows.

"Currently MRSA is not reportable in the state of Florida," acknowledges Kate Goodin, a surveillance epidemiologist for the Florida Department of Health. "Hopefully that will change in October."

In that month, she says, the Florida Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control will make their annual revisions to the state's list of reportable diseases, which lacks of any mention of MRSA.

Until that happens, Goodin says, the state simply doesn't know how many people are catching it. But there are indications the problem is growing. A study conducted last July by Roger Sanderson, a regional epidemiologist and colleague of Goodin's, showed that where there has been data, cases of drug-resistant staph increased steadily between 2003 and 2005. He estimates more than half of all staph samples sent to Florida labs are drug-resistant, and his department is recommending that MRSA be added to the reportable disease list.

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