As one of the founders of On Our Backs (dubbed the "Magazine for the Adventurous Lesbian") and Fatale Media (the first "authentic" lesbian porn company), you've survived identity politics, the "Porn Wars," and two Presidents Bush.
How has the lesbian porn business changed over the 23 years you've been in it?
"Well for one thing, there actually is a lesbian porn business now! When we started, it was like missionary work. There was no lesbian porn in the early 80s -- none. Now there are at least a handful of companies creating dyke porn. And, more importantly, dykes are recognized as a market for porn to be produced for, and there are marketing and selling resources for lesbian porn. That's huge. Basically, when we were making our first porn, we were limited to selling directly to lesbians via mail order.
Now, you have many sex-positive retail stores and a multitude of websites for lesbians to find lesbian porn. The lesbian porn market has definitely evolved in the last 20 years."
What got you into the sex business in the first place?
"It all started in the late 70s. Back then, the lesbian culture was dominated by the anti-porn, politically correct faction. I met my lover, Debi Sundahl, cofounder of On Our Backs, working on the committee which put on the Take Back the Night Rally in Minneapolis! I was teaching street-fighting self-defense courses while Debi worked at the Harriet Tubman Shelter for Battered Women. We were radicalized about women's control of their bodies and their safety.
However, once Debi and I became more than just friends, we discovered we both had always enjoyed pornography -- Penthouse, Playboy & such. We disagreed with the Violence-Against-Women movement's increasing focus on pornography as the cause of the violence. Plus, the anti-porn attitude was influencing lesbians in a very negative way around their own sexuality. For example, penetration by any means was perceived as a violent, male-identified, dominant act, and was therefore not to be done. Lesbians were having very limited, politically-correct, side-by-side sex.
It was at this juncture that we split from this anti-porn, anti-sex culture in Minneapolis and moved to San Francisco in the hopes of finding a more open attitude toward sexuality. However, even in San Francisco, only the S/M lesbians were open to and exploring their sexuality, and we joined Samois, the lesbian S/M club.
What started as a very personal sexual exploration soon became political. We'd go to the women's bookstore in search of anything about lesbian sexuality and found nothing. It was as if lesbians weren't sexual. But, we knew there were plenty of lesbians [who were] into exploring sexuality. The problem was that the anti-porn lesbians controlled the general lesbian culture, including the press.
In response, Debi and I decided to make our own porn. On Our Backs started from a very personal need and expression. We got together with our friends, took some photos, solicited erotica, and scraped together money to print the first issue in 1984. We were a bunch of sex radicals expressing ourselves and having a great time. At that point, we weren't thinking about the magazine as a business or money-making lesbian porn endeavor. It was the lesbian sex wars, and we were on the front line."
In the 80s and early 90s, lesbian sexuality was still something largely ignored by the mainstream media. These days it seems ubiquitous. What do you think of the representation of lesbian sexuality you see in the mainstream media?
"These days I think it's very trendy and somewhat racy. Plenty of straight men love to look at lesbians, and that's the intended market -- straight men. The images of lesbian sexuality embraced by mainstream media are still very narrow, basically femme on femme. I enjoy femme on femme, too, but there are many more variations of lesbian sexuality that aren't represented by mainstream media. You only see women who fit the mainstream idea of beautiful, for example. You don't see butch women or trans-women -- women who may be threatening to men. It's all very fluffy and not very real."