Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Amerika-Not Enuf Orgone Energy

Sex Expert Susie Bright Lets It All Out
By RU Sirius (from 10 Zen Moneyes --
February 22nd, 2007

The New York Times called Susie Bright “the avatar of American Erotica.” She was

co-founder and editor of the first Women’s sex magazine, On Our Backs:

Entertainment for the Adventurous Lesbian, from 1984-1991. Since then, she’s

written and edited about a zillion books, and taught many courses on sexuality.

Currently, she posts regularly on her own blog. Her audio show, In Bed With

Susie Bright, is distributed by She was a sex-scene choreographer

and consultant for the Wachowski Brothers’ first film, Bound, in which she also

had a cameo role.

Susie appeared on two consecutive episodes of The RU Sirius Show, primarily to

discuss the anthology, The Best American Erotica 2007, which includes stories by

Dennis Cooper and the late Octavia Butler, among many others. (She’s been

editing the Erotica series since 1993.) We did, of course, digress quite a bit

from the main topic.

As with the audio interview, we are running these text edits in two segments, so

stay tuned right here for the second half in about a week.

RU Sirius Show co-host Diana Brown joined me in interviewing Susie Bright about

her “Ted Haggard Betting Pool,” teen sex, and other illicit thoughts.

RU SIRIUS: The introduction to The Best American Erotica 2007 is quite an

intense little piece. Would you please read a segment from it?

SUSIE BRIGHT: Sure. I called it “The Lolita Backlash.” Every year, the stories

in the book tend to magnetize to a certain theme. And this year, it had to do

with a rather vicious generation gap.

When was the moment when our youth become self-aware of their charms, as

well as its desperation? It seems younger now, although that could just be my

mother talking. But look at our 21st century culture. Every teenager knows the

time to launch a career as a porn star is in the weeks following high school

graduation. Celebrity journalism shows us that Hercules and Aphrodite will both

be toppled in their early 20s without massive intervention. It’s no wonder the

commodification of good looks and muscles has wrought an erotic backlash.

Virginity. Authenticity. The natural pearl. This is what is idealized today,

as well as commercialized beyond all recognition. Fake sex—titillation— is for

sale; real sex is elusive and underground.

Take this state of affairs, and couple it with a pox of unprecedented

meddling in people’s personal lives by the religious right, and we have a toxic

brew. Privacy, freedom, and nature are gasping for breath. Hypocrites alone have

something to crow about.

In my fifteen years of editing BAE, I have never seen such a yowling,

lustful, spitting breach between young and old.

Of course, such observations are taboo. Lower your voice! Young people

aren’t supposed to have a sexual bone in their bodies, right? And their elders,

if they are immune to beauty, and make all the rules, should be able to keep it

in their pants. What a squawk.

There is so much guilt and fear about the obvious— that young people do have

hormones, and old people aren’t altogether blind—that helpful discussion in the

public sphere has shriveled. It is left to fiction for the truth to come out.

The truth looks like this: any conflict has the potential to become erotic.

That might get complicated, tragic, or unpredictable. Eros is kissing cousins

with aggravation. The conscience of our society drives us to protect our young,

to provide for them, to cheer and cherish their independence. But we wouldn’t

need any conscience if it wasn’t a challenge, if it didn’t demand sacrifice. The

temptations include neglect, exploitation, coercion, and dependence.

RU: So the introduction to your book – and much of the fiction in the book —

broaches the highly taboo subject of adolescent sex; and adolescent sex as it

relates to adults. We had Tim Cavanaugh on the show — he was the editor of

Reason magazine’s blog at the time. I asked him if they’d ever dealt with the

age of consent. And he admitted they hadn’t. It was clear that this is kind of

the third rail for some libertarians. Do you worry about Fox News noticing your

book? I think this is probably a bigger taboo than murder in America now.

SB: How interesting. When I was in my twenties, I was invited on the Phil

Donahue Show. He was sort of Oprah before Oprah.

So I was brought in with a bisexual male friend of mine to represent

bisexuality. We were told we’d talk about what we noticed sexually about the

differences between sleeping with men and sleeping with women. And they made it

sound like it was not pejorative or prejudiced or trying to start a fire — just,

you know, “What do you notice?” And we thought that would be a lot of fun. So we

got picked up in one of those big limos and taken to the studio. And inside the

limo was this very pink, perspiring couple from Florida. And I said, “You’re

going to be on the show too?” And they said, “Yes. We’re from Exodus.” Now

Exodus, at the time, was the premier gay conversion group. So it was one of

those “gotcha” shows.

RU: (Mockingly) Woo-hoo! Gay conversion — it’s coming back!

SB: It’s coming back stronger than ever. They’ve got it down to three weeks now

— a three week spa.

DIANA BROWN: Does it come with a French manicure?

SB: So on Donahue’s show, he basically tried to get the bible couple to freak

out on us – about how we’re heathens — and vice versa. It was so humiliating. We

didn’t talk about anything that I had planned to talk about. And at one point, I

just opened my big mouth and said, “I came of age in the seventies, and I lost

my virginity shortly before my 16th birthday with an unemployed soap opera


DB: Like you were supposed to in America in the seventies!

SB: Yes! It’s a banal story. Exactly. Everybody did that.

RU: …Since the seventies.

DB: I think it’s in the handbook!

SB: So, all of the sudden Phil turns. He’s thrilled. And he says, “So you were a

victim of child abuse!”

DB: Did he cut to a commercial at that moment?

SB: I just thought, “You son of a bitch.” What a gratuitous dig. And, you know,

neither I nor anybody in my family feels any regrets or fears. It’s not like,

“Gee, Susie was in an awful lot of trouble or panic or danger.” I wasn’t.

Of course, this is a tricky subject and there has to be sensitivity to the

psychological and physical development of young people. And some people are such

old souls so young. And other people are just crawling out of their egg at age

twenty-five. You also have quite a noticeable difference in terms of adolescent

girls and boys. I see my daughter and her friends, and some kind of look ten and

some kind of look twenty-something – and they’re all around sixteen. They are so

different. The ones who suffer the most are the ones who look ten, but

emotionally and mentally they want to do everything. And then you’ll hear about

a girl who had breasts when she was ten, and everyone was sexualizing her. And

she just wanted to climb a tree and be left alone. There are so many

misunderstandings. And adults are constantly projecting their notions of what

they want on them. In my case — and in a lot of cases, I was the one who was

interested and curious and seeking sex.

RU: You hear that story all the time.

DB: Yeah.

SB: Problems come from older people who don’t have empathy and compassion and

respect. You get someone who decides; “Yeah! Girls want me!” (Laughter) “That

teenaged girl over there? She digs me.” That kind of narcissism is the problem.

We don’t even talk about whether the sex in these scenarios is consensual. Is

there coercion involved? What is the power relationship between these people? We

fixate on stereotypes and miss the big picture. And another thing that doesn’t

get brought up is that, overwhelmingly, sexual abuse and that type of violence

happens within families. If you could stop that, it would really be remarkable.

We have this idea, fostered by J. Edgar Hoover, that there are these monsters

out there — strangers are going to come up and offer your child a lollipop. We’

re seeing that replayed now around the internet. There’s a wonderful social

scientist, Michael Males, who just had an opinion article in the New York Times.

He’s proved that your kid is safer alone on MySpace than in any shopping mall in

America. I just loved reading his facts and figures, because it all makes sense

to me.

RU: It seems so obvious, if you think about it.

SB: Yeah, it sure does. And of course, the guy who was running the predator

arrest campaign for Homeland Security was exposing himself to 16-year-old girls

at the mall. I’m not making this shit up! With all the fuss about Scooter Libby

and Cheney, other things have been glossed over.

RU: Were they caught together?

SB: (Laughs) It fascinated me how it came out that officials who are supposedly

in charge of protecting children turn out to be really creepy, totally non-

consensual predators.

RU: Well, they’re the ones who are attracted to that. I mean, just like a

certain percentage of criminal sadists are attracted to law enforcement.

DB: The mice are guarding the cheese.

SB: That’s a good way of putting it. So when people ask me about public policy,

I think about the big picture. If this country had more active democracy; if we

had decent health care and universal sex education, things would be better for

young people. Anything you can do to give them power is going to work out.

Anything you can do to foster good family relationships and support education is

going to help. None of this is on the agenda for the United States right now.

DB: Well, you’re doing something for young people on your web site – the Ted

Haggard Betting Pool. And it’s not just a snarky little jab at this fool Ted

Haggard, who is all over the media. Proceeds of this Betting Pool are going to

benefit a San Francisco youth group called LYRIC.

SB: Yes. LYRIC is a youth group. They do community support and activism for

young people who realize that they’re sexually different, whatever that might

mean to them. And nobody makes you fill out a form to explain yourself. If you

know that you’re sexually different and you want a place where you don’t have to

be alone — and where you don’t have to be stigmatized and shamed — you can go to

them. And you might get support in terms of work and family that you won’t get

elsewhere. They’re role models for young people getting together and doing it

for themselves, while having adult advocates who have a lot of integrity. So I

love them.

And when this whole mess with Reverend Ted Haggard happened… I mean, there you

have the evangelical minister to end all evangelical ministers – the guy who

could tell George Bush what to do – and he gets caught sucking cock on a regular


RU: On crank.

SB: On crank.

RU: It’s the only way to do it.

SB: No one wants to do it without meth anymore, apparently.

DB: “Cock on crank.” I like the alliteration of it.

SB: And instead of copping to it, he said, “Hey. I was always heterosexual. It

was just stress” — or whatever it was. And his church gave him a huge check,

since they’re hemorrhaging money. He signed a confidentiality agreement and was

given a plane ticket to get out of town. And, of course, now the headlines are

“Ted Haggard says he’s 100% heterosexual.”

DB: Didn’t he go to a three-week spa?

SB: He went to a three-week spa to get over his homosexuality (which he wasn’t

really anyway.) I mean, the contradictions are endless.

RU: I love that. I mean, who’s going into rehab today? It’s become a daily thing


SB: So everyone I know was saying, “When do you think he’ll slip?” So I said,

“Let’s do a betting pool.” So some of us have started Bet on Ted.” You just pick

your date. We’re going to give it a year. Any time this year. And to win,

something has to happen with Ted that gets into the news or into the courts.

We’ve come up with a list of things – all of them involve Ted cracking, and it

hitting a news report. If you have the lucky date, then you win half the pot and

the other half goes to our worthy cause: LYRIC. If nobody gets the right date —

or Ted sneaks by all year and nothing comes out — then the whole pot will go to

LYRIC too. So bet on Ted! I’m hoping we get somewhere with it.

One of my friends who wanted to bet said, “Can we send in a ringer?” And I said,

“Yeah! Make it happen!”

DB: A hooker with a heart of gold that will bring him across.

SB: Exactly!

RU: I bet a lot of people are trying to reel him in, at this point. It’s his

lucky year, now!

DB: We’re Ted fishing, now!

RU: Ted’s going to get a lot of action this year… thanks to Susie Bright.

DB: (Makes a fly-casting sound.) What are we using for bait?

SB: One thing that’s interesting: remember I told you about those founders of

Exodus that I met at the “Donahue Show.” The founders of Exodus finally did do

the right thing. They fled Exodus, so to speak. They exited Exodus and said, “We

are gay, God damn it! We’re sorry we just did this to everybody.” Virtually all

the founders of all these horrible conversion therapies have recanted after a

certain amount of time.

RU: It seems, in the thesis and antithesis of sexual revolution and then

backlash; we’ve ended up in an incredibly tangled state of how we – as a culture

— think about sexuality. We almost embrace the most intense kinds of sexual

sophistication, and there’s all this pornography around, and then there’s the

most intense kinds of Puritanism. And it’s like it’s all converged into one

confused human being.

SB: Well, a lot of that porn is really about titillation and guilt. There’s

this, “Taste me! Taste me!” factor where you never really get to taste me. You

know? “Come closer! I’ll give you this little bit.” But then once you get there,

you’re going to need to get a little bit more… and a little bit more. And you’re

always going to have to shell out. That’s how they sell it. And it’s also how

they inspire political fear. It’s a come-on! It’s a con job. What you don’t get

is sexual honesty and real candor, where you really come through.

RU: They’re creating people who behave that way! The relationship between the

stripper and the paying customer – a lot of people relate to each other that


SB: I suppose so, except with real strippers, real love lives — it doesn’t work

like that. Even if you try to live in a fake persona, you can’t maintain it all

the time. It’s impossible.

RU: There is a lovely story towards the end of the book — “The Wish Girls” —

that gets underneath the emptiness behind those images.

SB: Yeah, that was a great story by a new author – Matthew Addison. His

character is about thirty. When he was a teenager, he had an “I Dream of

Jeannie” moment where he wished there were two hot, bouncy, magazine-y babes who

would appear and be his love slaves. And he got his wish! They’re the wish

girls! Now, they’ve been around for fifteen years, and they do the same exact

positions. And he was naive when he ordered them. And now he thinks, “Why did I

make them identical except for their hair color? I wish one was 5′2″ and one was

5′9”!” It drives him nuts that they’re so limited. He yearns for more, but on

the other hand — they bend over and get in position #19 and position #32 just

like clockwork. And he feels guilty for his boredom and ennui with them. So

what’s in store for him next? Read the story.

RU: On the other hand, there’s another story in there involving some porn stars

and they’re having a pretty interesting time, and their sex is pretty hot and so

forth. Do you feel like there’s a clear dividing line? Can you say, “This is bad

porn; and this is good porn?” I’m suspicious of people judging what gets other

people off.

SB: Well, I never walk into a room and say “(gasp) What!? That turns you on?

You’re gross.” I mean, that would be the infantile…

RU: “Ewwwww.”

SB: When it comes to “good porn” and “bad porn,” you’ll frequently see something

that has obviously been made with the sloppiest intentions: “Fuck it. Let’s get

this done and get a quick buck.” But as you watch it, there will be one 10-

minute scene where the people in front of the camera actually had a moment. And

it’s caught there, because that’s what the camera lens does. Other times, you’ll

be watching something that has been made with such high ideals, and you’ll be,

like: “I can’t even keep my eyes open.”

RU: There is this kind of a superior attitude of people who are sort of into

underground sexuality…

DB: “More kinkier than thou.”

SB: Yeah, but you have the same kind of conversations in every part of the art

world — in music and painting and everything else. You have your little

factions. You have auteurs. You have people who put a signature on the work they

do and the moment you see it, you can tell it’s one of their films.

I’ll tell you an interesting story about this: one of the most important

pornographers in history died recently – Gary Graver. He worked on some of the

most influential films, including Bound. He inspired my choreography of the sex

scenes for Bound. And his obit was in the New York Times, Variety, and every

place else. But they didn’t mention that he was a pornographer! His porn name

was Robert McCallum. So they focused largely on the fact that he was Orson

Welles’ cameraman for thirty years. And he helped fund a lot of Orson’s projects

when Orson didn’t have a dime coming in. It was the porn that let him do that!

So I wrote a bunch of letters… “Why are you not saying… I mean, you talked about

all of his exploitation work, his horror flicks, his slasher films. None of

those are going to get any rave reviews.”

It’s laughable. He shot Steven Spielberg’s first movie — he worked with

everybody. His family certainly knows what he was doing. So why didn’t they

include that? And I got responses that showed the double standard that rules the

land. It was like, “Well, we wouldn’t do that. Why would we besmirch him?”

Besmirch? They’re the New York Times! If somebody murdered someone, but later

discovered the cure for cancer, they would still mention that they served time

for that murder. I mean, they dig up dirt! It’s not all: “He had a wonderful

life, and everything went swell!”

RU: Like Larry King interviewing Adolf Hilter… “You were a vegetarian, right?”

SB: Exactly! So why would they report on people’s immorality, gambling,

criminality, lawsuits — but they wouldn’t mention that Gary Gravers did some of

the most significant porn films of all time — films that are still for sale and

have sold in every format.

RU: Before we wrap up, has it been a good life, being a “sexpert” for thirty

years? Is it a big responsibility? Is it a lot of fun? Do you wish you were a

fucking fishermen — like John Lennon used to say about being in The Beatles?

SB: On a personal level, sometimes I wish to be unknown. Having some celebrity

around my sexuality can be weird. When it comes to sexual and personal

attention, you’re always afraid of people’s agendas. I locked myself in the

bathroom of the last sex party I went to, because somebody who I thought was

interested in me really wanted me to read their manuscript.

RU: Well, that’s scary for anybody — when somebody approaches you with a


SB: It’s like: “I don’t want to see a manuscript, I want to fuck!” But in terms

of having social influence — and I bet John Lennon would have said the same

thing — you never get sick of influencing a conversation.

RU: Do you ever think it would’ve been cool to become famous as a writer about a

different topic, like television or quantum physics or something like that?

SB: I do write about all kinds of subjects. And I have a few readers who know

that part of me. I wrote for political publications for many years before my

writing about sex started becoming commercially successful.

RU: Do you go off on many topics on your audio show?

SB: I certainly do. In fact…

RU: …You get complaints? People like their narrowcasting!

SB: Sometimes I get complaints. I’ve got this one Republican listener. He writes

me over and over again. He wants to discuss his marital situation at length. I

keep quoting my favorite dominatrix to him: “We’re not spanking Republicans any

more. We’re not servicing you with sex tips until you realize that this stuff

that you’re doing in bed, and your voting/political behavior are at odds. You’re

hurting people.” Ow!

RU: We can’t spank Ann Coulter?

SB: God, no! I wouldn’t touch her with a 10-foot pole!

RU: Michelle Malkin? I do have my fantasies.

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