Dear Sue –
It took me a few days to get to this, but I wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed your reading at Bluestockings in New York.
A letter to Susie from Tony Siacotos
When I read your memoir, the one thing I couldn’t get over was that you are only three years older than me and yet that story of your life sounds like it came from a completely different chapter of modern history than the one I lived in.
I lived on the San Francisco Peninsula until I turned twenty-one. The world and the people you describe only entered my life through news stories and arguments at the dinner table.
I grew up in cities, where we only "read" about your bizarre life in the suburbs! ;-)
After a life spent campaigning for compassion and justice in so many different venues, what happens to you when you settle down and write your memoirs? Do you keep fighting? Do you take satisfaction in having put in your time and let others fight the fight after you?
I get a kick out of this image of me you have of me wrapped in a shawl, knitting and browsing seed catalogs, picking up my fountain pen to write a story about a kitten I once adopted, dropping the pen on the floor while I take a nap, smoking a doobie, wondering if I should bother to get all the way up out of my chair to see if the Postman brought another catalog.
I actually would like to be more like "that" gal. I am by nature strung too tight.
I am older, yes, and I've had a place to come home to for awhile. But I think of writing as swordfighting. When you saw me in NY, it was because I drove, flew, railroaded and walked all over the United States after I wrote my book, to talk about it, argue about it, see what is going on in this country that never gets reported. I will always do that.
Maybe you should ask me this question again when I am truly invalid!
Sadly, it occurs to me to wonder if your critics won’t read this memoir and conclude that, after everything you did and experienced, you finally learned that what was most important in life was a straight relationship and motherhood. Wouldn’t that suck?
The "critics" don't read my memoir. They really don't. The people who tried to bomb me, stab me, the ones who stunned, shunned and censored, here's what they're up to now:
1. Their whole career/identity is based on bogeyman stories of my comrades and I as Satan. They can't afford to read anything that would disturb the martyred narrative.
2. They are deeply ashamed and guilty about all that "sex war" nonsense but they don't want to talk about it, think about it, or be reminded. It was like they were part of a cult that they no longer quite admit being part of.
3. They embraced the pink-shazam-commercial version of "girl-power"(TM). Keeping people me out of their country club was just one more episode in their continuing season of "Heathers." Being puritanical in public while privately debauched really paid off for them.
I've always been close to my family, chosen and otherwise. I love mothering and being mothered, very very much. It's mentoring, my favorite! I frequently stop in my tracks to smell the roses, too. I hope that's how the book's ending feels... as if the struggle doesn't end, but neither do the sweet spots. You just never know what's going to happen next.
When reading about your sexual experiences and social negotiations around sex, I kept coming back to the issues/frustrations that I carried with me into my first experience having actual “sex." Vaginal penetration was the only milestone that mattered when I was a teenager! Why is this so difficult and so complicated?
Well, I think kissing with braces on is actually more "difficult" that p/v intercourse, but maybe that's just me.
The "complicated" part is all the religious and family messages we have in our heads about sex, about breaking away from mom and dad and peers. When you start to have sex, you're taking a leap. I mean, if it was a total snooze, who would bother?
Is there really any more or less to it than what two (or more) people want to consent to do with one another that brings them joy?
I see what you're saying, of course.
For me, I sought out adventure and sensation, conquest and submission, the eye-opening part of getting inside people's heads... I wasn't always thinking, "joy!" It was more driven than that. Sometimes people cry in bed, they sob. Hard stuff comes up— anger, insanity, dream-like states. But I got a lot out of that, too. The theatrical masks of tragedy and comedy are a metaphor of sex to me.
While I have seen sex politicized, I have never understood how sex could be political. I remember a socially-active lesbian friend arguing with me that sex was a political act, but after several days of extended conversation she gave up hope of my understanding. Maybe it's because nobody has ever “had a go” at my sexual choices - nobody with any political power, anyway.
You should've had a sex act together so she could have demonstrated what she meant!
Who knows what people mean by these kind of rhetorical flourishes. Does it mean fucking on the steps of City Hall? Or does it mean that even the most discreet sexual acts have social consequences that cannot be winked away?
If you use a vibrator in Alabama, is it a political act of civil disobedience? Or is the more lasting poltical signficance the relationship you have to your own orgasm? Well, yes to both. It's a layer cake.
I have looked up a lot of Red Tiders and IS vets to lovingly badger them into telling their story, their version. I am hardly the only writer in the bunch.
There is a lot of pain there, and quite a few leftover McCarthyist fears.
We were instructed, from Day 1, not to tell anyone anything, to keep our names secret, destroy all traces of past, to put everyone on a "need to know" basis. We never admitted problems or aired dirty laundry because when the FBI had their sights on us. Who needed the extra grief and danger, we thought!
This kind of fear eats away at you. It wasn't daft because the paranoia was justified. But it screwed us all the same. There's a lot of shame about what we didn't do right, and the damage done.
We didn't "win," after all, we lost our battle with State.
I think most of the people writing memoirs are the bloody victors. The whole frickin' Cheney clan has written memoirs at this point.
I wanted the full chronicle of On Our Backs and not just the synopsis and highlights.
In that case, I have good news!
First, read "Susie Sexpert's Lesbian Sex World," which I wrote right in the middle of being at "On Our Backs." It makes you feel like YOU ARE THERE.
Another book from that period is a book of all the great "On Our Backs" photography with interviews with all the photographers: "Nothing But the Girl."
Finally, this year I am scanning every single issue of "On Our Backs" I was a part of and working with other members of the tribe to make it a free online indexed database.
You asked us at Bluestockings if there were any chapters from your memoir we would suggest for a public reading. You were starting out your tour and had a hard time picking one bit out of the others.
The suicide legacy chapter, "Runs Through It," was a great pick. You might also read the “Greyhound Bus to Detroit” or “Swim Banquet”— the touching the Bunny-tail finish is perfect for a short reading.
I am not a parent, still I admit to being impressed with your three "rules" for raising children in your chapter, "Motherhood"— portable and exhaustive, I think.
Thanks for your take on that. I might make those into Kindle Singles.
I have been meaning to take the "suicide in the family" material out and bringing it to the attention of some of my psychology-journalism friends.
Every interviewer, I'm not kidding, EVERY single interviewer I've had, has dropped their voice and talked to me about how that chapter really hit home. I don't know anyone anymore who hasn't been affected by family suicide.
I was at WonderCon in San Francisco this past Saturday, and Richard Hatch was there signing autographs. Since you saw fit to protect his identity in the book, I opted not to pass on your regards.
It's not a big secret I lost my technical virginity to Hatch (via the threesome-- the whole thing wouldn't have happened if my girlfriend Christine hadn't been there).
But I decided not to put his name in the book because the gossip-press would focus on it, to the detriment of the memoir. It's such a goofy little detail—and I knew Richard so briefly— that it would've been dumb to shine a laser on it.
However, I got more of an insight into Hatch as I was writing my memoir than I ever did when I was his next-door neighbor. Remember how I said that at the time, Christine and I would tease him for being so neurotic about his age?
We thought it was hilarious that he was so defensive about being in his "late 20s"-- as if that was over the hill.
Well, all these decades later, as I read Hatch's Internet bio, it revealed that just before he met Christine and I, he'd lost his longtime job playing a young teen in a soap opera.
His career was based on playing the ingenue— he'd been infantilized as an actor, like all so-called child performers. It's the Hollywood death blow when they tell you you're "too old." He is so lucky that he got to move onto adult roles like "Streets of SF" and "Battlestar—" I'm glad things worked out for him.
photo: Joel Levine, 1974, at MacArthur Park demo.