Is Susie Bright your real name?
Yes, it really is. No one ever asked me that question until Johnny Rotten and the Sex Pistols hit the United States in the 70's and punk-style name-changing became so popular. I was born in 1958, when "Susie" was a very popular name. The Bright part is a family name, my father's family, in this case.
How many books have you written?
I've written eight books, and edited fifteen anthologies.
What do your parents think of what you do? Were you raised with a religious faith?
My father is my biggest fan and best editor. He's edited every book of mine, and offered great ideas all along the way. My mother is very proud of me, but I think she wishes I would write or pursue something less controversial.
I was raised by my mother, in a lapsed Irish Catholic fashion. I went to parochial school for 4th and 5th grade, and stopped believing in "god" around 1968 -- a very big year for that sort of thing.
Do you like writing or editing better?
I would hate to give up either, I love them both. I haven't edited an original fiction series in a while, and I miss that. I originally wrote poetry and short fiction before I was a published writer, and I've always wanted do more of that. Non-fiction just accidentally ended up being the way I made my living.
How did you begin writing?
My very first publication was home-made. When I was 8, I was very upset about Ronald Reagan running for governor in California, and I wrote a pamphlet denouncing him in my orange-red crayolas and stuck copies of it all around the neighborhood. I signed them, "Concerned Citizens of California."
I always loved to write stories and poetry, it was my favorite part of school. I was a dedicated diarist and letter writer.
But in high school, I became a left wing activist, and I wrote for our campus underground newspaper, called "The Red Tide." I wrote about everything from narcs on campus to how to get free birth control. The principal regularly seized our newspaper, and in 1974, we sued the LA school board for the right to distribute our student paper without prior censorship or approval. We won in State Supreme Court, in 1977.
My first published writing was just the sort of communist, feminist, queer propaganda that has dubious literary merit. But I enjoyed it, it was a great way to learn about self publishing, and making your own waves.
When did you first write about sex?
Well, I thought those stories I wrote in high school about how to use saliva as a lubricant if you couldn't afford KY were pretty wild for the time.
But my first sophisticated sex writing came in San Francisco in the early 80's, when I wrote a play called Girls Gone Bad, and got involved in a group of queer artists called Mainstream Exiles. We put on a lot of great shows, and I began to write erotic poetry that was very popular.
A woman approached after one poetry reading and asked me if I'd like to contribute to a new magazine called On Our Backs -- Entertainment for the Adventurous Lesbian. I ended up becoming the editor of this new magazine, and our efforts became notorious.
In 1986, I was asked by Penthouse Forum if I would like to write a monthly erotic film review column, and I quit my day job to live on that check and subsidize my round the clock attention to On Our Backs, which was wildly influential but an enormous financial hole. I've been writing professionally as a freelancer ever since.
So are you a lesbian or not? Don't you have a kid and a man in your life?
I'm bisexual, I always have been. My first sexual experience of any kind was with both a man and woman, simultaneously. I always thought that was an omen! However, I have long term relationships with one lover at a time, sometimes a woman, sometimes a man. I've been with my current partner, Jon, for over a decade.
How did you become pregnant?
When I first started showing my belly, it was Christmas time, and I was attending a holiday party with some dyke friends. One of them asked, "Did you inseminate, or did you party?" I burst out laughing, and she nodded, "You partied."
Are you polyamourous, in an open marriage, or what?
I'm very faithful to my mate of the past 15 years in my own way, but it doesn't have anything to do with physical fidelity. We live together, I love him, and he's my family, and he's my trusted companion and closest lover; my daughter's father. That's that. I'm glad we both feel the same way about loyalty and sexuality. I've never been part of a conventional marriage or monogamous relationship.
What did you do in the movie Bound?
I had a cameo as a bar girl who says hello to Gina Gershon -- but the most important work I did in that movie was develop the sex scenes between the two female leads. I am very proud of my work as a sex consultant in this film! I think it's one of the hottest lesbian scenes ever made.
Are you going to do any more movies?
I'd love to write more, and direct. I'd love to work as a sexual consultant for other directors, because I think most sex scenes in movies get the shortest shrift and the most awful clichés.
I wrote a screen play with Lizzie Borden in the early 90s that got made into a movie called Erotique, which I also loved doing. Writing is so much more satisfying to me than acting. I like to see my words on a page come to life!
Have you always been so open about sex?
I think ever since I was in high school, and got introduced to radical politics about most everything, I have been very frank about sexuality. I was appalled when I found out that masturbation was not some secret hold that the Devil had over me. I couldn't believe all the lying about sin and sexuality that I had been taught as a child. Once I wised up, I became quite intolerant of sexual hypocrisy.
From there, I became interested in the way the erotic mind works, and how sexuality, politics, and culture feed off each other.
What does your daughter think of what you do? Is she embarrassed?
Well, she's thirteen as I write this, so who knows what tomorrow may bring. We're very close, and I marvel that she has grown up without a sense of sin or sexual shame in the manner that my generation was. This is not to say that she doesn't have plenty of disputes with me! At this moment, she is embarrassed by the way I open the door, brush my hair, eat a meal -- but that's puberty, right?
How do you handle sex questions with your kid?
I don't lie, and I don't do the lies of omission that were so popular in my growing up. Sometimes I don't know the answer, but I usually have an idea about how to find out, and I'm very willing to help her. I try to DO the right thing instead of just SAYING it, which is a lot harder, of course.
Is your sex life as wild and crazy as it seems from reading your books?
I haven't lied about any of my experiment of adventures that you read about in books. But I've done a lot of things once without ever repeating them! I don't think I've ever done something just to be audacious. My motives are curiosity and desire, just like everyone else. I think everyone's imagination is "wild and crazy," and mine is just one modest entry in a crowded field.
The first years I was sexual, I did want to try everything, I was so curious, and I don't really know what made me tick, or what there was to feel. Now I'm more discriminating, because I really do know a lot about my sexual philosophy.
Yes, I've slept alone, had bad sex, boring sex, lying, stupid, regretful sex. I've thought I would never have a lover again. I've been out of mind my orgasmic over the simplest kind of touches as well as the kinkiest. I don't think about it as a competition any more, thank goodness. "If it feels good, do it," -- that seems like the most gentle advice of all to me now.
Are you a feminist?
Yeah, I am, but that probably says more about my age, and how I came into my teenage womanhood more than anything else. When I was going through puberty, feminists were the most exciting women around, it felt like a real revolution. It was pro-sexual, pro-body, and absolutely brazen. I never would have dreamed that feminism would one day become associated with dour political correctness or protectionism.
I heard that you used to be a socialist and a union organizer... What's up with that?
Yes, the underground newspaper I was part of as a teenager, "The Red Tide," was a combination of socialists, anarchists and stoners. Eventually I dropped out of high school and joined a group of American socialists who were dedicated to rank and file organizing in several major labor unions. I worked as an organizer in Teamsters, and was one of the founding members Teamsters for a Democratic Union. I was first arrested, actually, on a UPS picket line, for telling a supervisor that he was a little prick. I was charged with disorderly conduct and condemned by a Michigan judge who called me a "menace to society." I hope I've done him proud.
When did you start writing about porn? Are you the first woman to do that?
I was the first person to write about the porn business, and porn movies, for the mainstream press. I was the first woman in the sex business to do so publicly.
When I started reviewing porn cinema, the only "reviews" at all were pretty much sensational hype written pseudonymously by a couple guys in the porn industry. Even the best critics were basically trying to evaluate everything on a "peter-meter" -- does it get the average Joe off or not? That's a decent question to ask, but I think there's lots of interesting ways to look at porn movies, and a lot of emotions that come up watching them.
I was the first critic to look at porn as if there was something to learn from it besides how to give a blow job. In a way, I was just doing what Andrea Dworkin was doing -- taking porn seriously -- except I came to different conclusions.
Do you ever get sick of talking and writing about sex?
No, that's different from porn movies, per se. Sex is like language or science, it's an infinite topic of possibilities and interpretations. I love to think and talk about humanity, and sex is always going to be in the center of that.
Does sex work ruin your own personal sex life?
I don't think it's the "sex" in sex work that is the big bummer, I think it's the stigma, the often criminalized nature of it, the prejudices you put up with, the secrecy you may live in, the closet case nature of many sex workers lives. I've always had a lot of privacy, despite my public persona, and I've rarely been asked to do more than I was comfortable with. My family all know what I do, and I've never been seriously rejected by anyone I love. I've been depressed about sex, certainly, and heartbroken like anyone else, but I don't think it's been any more or less because of my writing or career.