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Susie Bright

An interview with Susie Bright


Susie Bright

Photo credit:Jill Posener

In your introduction to Best American Erotica 2007, you label its theme “The Lolita Backlash” edition. With the seemingly endless news items about child porn rings and sexual abuse stories in the press, are you worried your theme may be misinterpreted?

Oh yeah. And I'm sure many people will find some of the stories too over-the-top. I always feel like I'm slapping everyone with a wet rag, like, "This IS what's going, people!" The so-called taboos are being screamed from the rooftops.

I'm careful in how I talk, but it's so easy to be misinterpreted by zealots and bigots. They have portrayed me as a Medusa before, eating children and vomiting blood and whatever. All I can do is write as articulately as I can.

Sexual education, justice, and compassion are the only way to stop the cycles of family abuse, the brutality of sexual violence, etc. We've seen how all the "stuff it into a box" techniques have failed. You have to shine a light to get anything done. You have to make empathy, knowledge, and respect your touchstones. Young people are given so little of any.

I think you could be credited with creating the first sex-positive sexpert personae with “Susie Sexpert” during your tenure at On Our Backs.

That terminology was created by Pat Califia I think, it certainly would be one of her many lasting influences in sexual politics and erotica. It was certainly a San Francisco scene expression, where everything was just a few years ahead of the curve!

But the Susie Sexpert column was thrown together so fast, so impulsively, like many wonderful things are! Yes, I'd been in on the ground floor of sex ed, talking to people since I was in high school and we made a birth control-abortion center in a janitor's closet. And I worked at Good Vibrations when maybe one person came in per day and I'd talk to them for hours about their sex life. I went through the highly combustible San Francisco Sex Information Training of the early 80s.

But the actual first Susie Sexpert column was written stoned out of my gourd, in a hot tub, with a pregnant stripper friend goading me on.

Susie Sexpert's writing always felt like a live action working through of your own experiences and your personal responses to those experiences. It was deeply human.

I always feel like I'm having a personal conversation when I write, it feels like a confidence, it's intimate for me.

These days when terms like sex-positive are used, I think it usually references ideas that came out of that time and place, San Francisco/Good Vibrations/On Our Backs. Do you remember feeling as if you were all working to make a bigger point? Or did you just like writing about sex?

Well, I was a rootin', tootin', revolutionary. But there were all sorts of dreams and aims in our milieu, some of which weren't obvious when we all began.

I had much bigger plans than plugging in a vibrator, or building a business. I still do. It's been a massive disappointment to me that the sex industry has latched onto the mainstream acceptance it won through radical feminist efforts, and basically turned paradise into a parking lot, once again.

You can buy all the lube and dildos in the world, be a porn expert, and still be lonely, alienated, gender-bound, prejudiced and lack any empathy or compassion. I hear from GOP conservatives all the time who want to discuss their S/M party but vote for a straight right wing ticket. As my dominatrix friend Elise said, "I refuse to spank Republicans anymore."

I feel tearfully misunderstood when people think I'm a cheerleader for toys or a fifth rate entertainment product. I couldn't care less about the material end of all this. I want to change consciousness, that's why I became a political activist, that's why I started writing. Nothing about that has changed. Sometimes I wish I didn't make my living doing this, because I hate some of the professional choices I'm presented with. I've been very lucky to have the few shreds of integrity or dignity I'm still holding onto.

As Marty Klein carefully documented in his recent book America’s War on Sex, these are dark days for sexual rights in the US. Are things worse for sex now than they were in the Regan years?

In terms of the federal government policy on sex education and international health, yes, it's MUCH WORSE. Trying to eradicate birth control? Who the f**k has done that in my lifetime except Bush? "Love Waits?" Don’t make me start puking.

On the other side, in culture, and on the Web in particular, there is much more diversity, honesty, democracy in play. It's just hard because we're not all doing this in the flesh as well.

In a recent blog post, you wrote that you can’t imagine life as a journalist or author without blogging. Can you talk a bit about what you mean by that?

Blogging allows me to editorialize about late-breaking news, or the issues that matter most to me, on the spot. I don't have to beg anyone for room; I don't compete with others except in the democracy of attracting traffic. I don't have to be one of the million women op-ed writers you NEVER see in the daily papers. All the sexism and "go away little girl" stuff that was a feature of my life in [mainstream media] newsrooms is a thing of the past when you're your own publisher. I have a tremendous audience and they probably wished I would blog twice as much as I do!

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