by David Wraith
I have a confession to make. I’m in love with Susie Bright. It’s cool, my girlfriend already knows.
My love affair with Susie has gone on for almost twenty years and Susie has been vaguely aware of it herself for at least the last seven. I’m not sure who introduced me to her, but I’m pretty sure it was either Lisa Palac’s “Future Sex” magazine or HBO’s “Real Sex.”
As a teenager, I felt like writers Naomi Wolf and Camille Paglia were battling for my young, feminist soul, like Sergeant Elias and Sergeant Barnes in the movie “Platoon.” Then, as an undergraduate, I devoured Susie Bright’s books “Susie Sexpert’s Lesbian Sex World” and “Susie Bright’s Sexual Reality.” Her sex-positive feminism changed my life and turned me into the heterosexual, male lesbian you see before you today.
After years of trying to stitch together her autobiography by parcel and piecemeal through her books, articles and blog posts, the news that she was writing an according to Hoyle memoir was like catnip. I inhaled her latest book, “Big Sex, Little Death.” The book is divided into three sections, the first details her upbringing by her divorced, intellectual parents. The second covers her intensely fascinating experience as a teen-aged labor organizer (when I was reading comic books and skipping the prom, Susie was getting beaten up by Hell’s Angels for marching on picket lines). The final section is about the Susie Bright we know and love, the employee at the famous, feminist sex toy shop, Good Vibrations and the founding editor of the pioneering lesbian sex magazine, “On Our Backs”.
The publication of the memoir gave me a new excuse to perv on -cough- I mean, interview Susie:
David Wraith: What do you think will be the biggest surprise in “Big Sex, Little Death,” even for long time Susie Bright watchers?
Susie Bright: People always wondered if I was brought up in a convent, a wolf den, or a beatnik cult. Now they’ll find out it’s all three, and more. My families of origin are a bit surprising, I guess. It’s funny when it’s your own life, you don’t realize how unusual it might sound to someone else.
So much of your writing has been autobiographical in one way or another, why was now the right time for a proper memoir?
You’re right. I started with “Susie Sexpert’s Lesbian Sex World,” and haven’t stopped. This is the first look back at my young life, a multi-generational view of how someone like me came tumbling out of the civil rights movement, a search for connection and family, a weird combo of brutality and innocence. I am finally old enough to have a clue.
Do you think you could have written this book when your parents were still alive?
No. Not only because I would have been afraid to hurt their feelings, but also because it’s not until your parents die… this is a universal rule, I’ve learned… that you find out things you could have never, ever, ever found out when they were still on the planet. It’s like you finally get the key in the mail.
Do you think that “On Our Backs” has gotten the credit it deserves?[Laughs] Are you handing me that one on a tray? No, David, it has not received the unabashed admiration and awestruck reverence that those artists and pioneers deserve. If only Gertrude [Stein] and Alice [B. Toklas] were alive today to point at us, and say, “Take note.” I think academics are finally getting there. We’re starting to get phone calls, “Oh, you broke so many rules, did so many things first, wow!” There never was a women’s sex magazine like it, there has never been one since, and in terms of its revolutionary sensibility, I think the only thing that ever came close to it was Evergreen Review, in the 1960s.
Oh wow…now I’m wondering what kind of key I’ll get in the mail when my parents die, and what it will open. My parents accept me for who I am – my dad is sex-positive and my mom is nuts. My life is an open book, we all know how we fucked up and we’ve apologized and moved on. Do I already have the key, or are there more locked doors?