Susie, I want to interview you about your bisexuality.
In your memoir, you mention a little girl in day care whom you had a crush on when you were two. Your romantic fantasy was that she was Rose Red and you were Snow White. You were already queering fairy tales, in daycare. What do you make of that?
Interview by Sheela Lambert
Snow White and Rose Red seem like an iconic coupling: twins, lovers, best friends, opposites. Jungian soul mates. I also always got the feeling Snow was the virgin and Rose was the wise whore.
Your girl-crushes obviously started early. When was the first time you had a crush on a boy?
Hmm… good question. I became aware that it was “cool” to have crushes on boys by sixth grade— as opposed to hating their guts, the previous playground protocol.
The boys I truly adored were The Beatles. I broke with the Church over them. I wouldn't burn my albums.
Kids were so segregated by gender in my day. I never went to birthday parties or events that weren’t “girls only.”
In 6th grade, Tony Bauer (how on earth do I remember these names?) asked me to dance at a school event. The song was "Venus" by the Shocking Blue. He told me I “danced good”— which thrilled me to death.
I didn’t have much feeling for him, but the compliment made me woozy.
Junior high school upped the ante on flirting. The boys would chase the girls on the ice, the frozen lakes— and I loved “the chase.” But again, I didn’t fix my hormones on them. I had fantasies about both men and women, older men and women, not kids my own age. I was like the girl in the "Sound of Music," Looking for Someone Older and Wiser.
Your question makes me realize I was a late bloomer. I didn't appreciate pure masculinity, sexually, in men or women, until after I'd had more sophisticated lesbian life in my 20s.
When did you realize that not everyone has such wide-ranging attractions and that bisexuality was frowned on by many? What was your reaction to that?
I came of age in a political, “start the revolution”-type atmosphere. I thought that if everyone would just relax and liberate their minds, they would realize they were truly bisexual and non-monogamous... LOL.
I’m poking fun at myself saying this. But I also viewed society with critical eyes, as any puberty-struck individual does. I knew most people weren’t anywhere close to living their sexual potential, and that’s still the truth!
My family and best friends at school-- we were on the same page. My parents knew a lot more gay and bi people than I did; they’d been in gay intellectual milieus (Berkeley, Venice, Hollywood etc) since the 1940s. No one I loved was going to condemn me for bisexuality, far from it.
My bisexual higher education came from becoming familiar with the Kinsey scale. I realized that liberated or not, people would always have their druthers. Sexual life is a lot more complicated than it looks on the surface.
In your book, you don’t describe any coming out process and it appears that you always accepted yourself. Was it because of the era of free love and the sexual revolution?
Or are you just braver or more matter-of-fact than most people?
The feminist and gay liberation movement made me even braver and blunter, but those are probably typical characteristics of mine.
Bisexual people are often assumed to be gay or straight, depending on the gender of our partner. Have you experienced this? How has it affected you?
Oh sure. A little less than most people, because my reputation precedes me.
Now that I’m in my fifties, sexual invisibility is the greater issue, rather than everyone imagining what a hot chick I am in either direction.
Fretting over people getting my label right seems dewy and fresh-faced to me from my older vantage point.
As one ages and fucks around, you and your peers realize that anything, at any time, could be possible with the right social lubricant. You have been around the block... no other label needed.
The peculiar thing I see as a public figure— and many activists know it well— is that when you take an aggressive stand for gay rights, if you champion dyke culture and politics, journalists and scholars will call you “that lesbian So-n-So” for years to come.
One is happy to be associated with dyke-identity. I don’t want to "correct" them if they think I am “shying away” from lesbianism… quite the opposite!
The journalists and scholars who make this error tend to be conservative in their thinking. I’d secretly pleaesd they assume everyone different from them is homosexual and let them stay awake at night, trembling with latent sweat.
But then, LATER, a critic who’s touchy about the INTEGRITY of my bisexuality will come up to me and say, “Who are you to be calling yourself Miss Lesbian in this article?”
They think I am trying to “wear the crown” without earning it.
Well, lesbian activists all over can tell you the “crown” is no ring of gold. We get used for target practice, mostly. I’m happy to be thought of as “dyke” for any and all waving banners and political agendas. I am one. In my personal life, though, like everyone else’s, things are more unexpected and un-label-able.
Having a child was a turning point in your life. You say it forced you to take better care of yourself, because of your motivation to protect your child. What things in your life did you change as a result?
Number One: I stopped parenting "surrogate adult-children." Who has the time when you have a real baby?
Suddenly Real Grown-Ups seemed SO sexually attractive to me-- a first. This was a bigger deal than being bi-sexual. I got out of the Peter Pan playground.
I was shocked to read that, when you made the decision to leave On Our Backs, which you co-founded; you were sued by your partners, who were also your close friends.
Yes, I was shocked too. I hope I conveyed that disbelief in Big Sex Little Death. It was shattering.
Obviously, they thought you were irreplaceable and were afraid the magazine would go under without you.
No… that’s not true. That wasn’t the language or the feeling of it.
My business partner had been my best friend. I was the "little sister" to her. She didn’t think I was especially irreplaceable... it was more like, “What is Susie trying to pull?”
She didn’t believe my reasons for wanting to transition… my infant, the financial strain, my feeling that something “had to give.”
Debi Sundahl hired a new editor for OOB, sold it, it went on for years without me. A different creature, to be sure— but still meaningful to readers and contributors.
It was terrible that seemingly overnight, we felt estranged, as if we'd never known each other well. It made me doubt myself more than her!
That’s the kind of blindness I was eager to recover from. It was the beginning of real therapy for me. I never want to have a friendship again where the important things remain unsaid, forever. I didn't want to be afraid of my loved ones.
I was mystified by their demand you couldn’t write or be published anywhere else, when you had been freelancing the whole time you worked there.
You’re trying to be logical. None of it was rational. The lawsuit failed; it was a nuisance suit. Famously, anyone in America can sue anyone for anything.
After you had your daughter and left On Our Backs, you wound up partnering with a man. Reading the book, it seems as though you were lesbian-identified at the time….Did you surprise yourself? Was there any backlash from the lesbian community about that?
It’s funny you said “partnering…” like it was premeditated and constructive.
I was lovers with several people, as usual. I had friends and sweethearts, and I didn’t think of any of them as my “partner.” Oh no. Some were good friends, which seemed to be as much as one could ask for.
I still feel that way. I don't feel like I've "wound up" anywhere except what's happening today. The story ain't over yet!
As time went by in the early 90s, my friend Jon and I spent more and more time together… it happened slowly, without precision. I wish I could remember what day we first kissed, or went to bed, or decided to mostly live together, and then to “really” live together. It all happened in such an unfixed fashion, I don’t know any of those dates! We are sadly without an anniversary date.
I was not surprised to love or be in love with a man; I had been in love with men before.
I WAS surprised to get along with anyone in a house together, day after day, that’s what I was surprised at. To have love's endurance instead of love's drama.
I wrote a lot about the the backlash you speak of in astory called “BlindSexual.” That IS my Bisexual RANT TO END ALL RANTS.
I quote Roland Barthes:
"I am reduced to endurance.... I suffer without adjustment, I persist without intensity, always bewildered, never discouraged. I am a Daruma doll, a legless toy endlessly poked and pushed, but finally regaining its balance, assured by an inner balancing pin."
According to your book, there was a time that all your relationships were open. Now that you’re living with a long-term partner has that changed?
Nope. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
I know bi-sexuals are under some conformist pressure to proclaim that they can be "monogamous" lke anyone else... but that isn't me, nor does it speak to most sex lives looked at over the long haul.
My first sexual experiences were in groups, with more than "2" -- that's what felt normal to me. It still does. And it feels natural to be attracted to more than one person at a time, and to act upon that feeling.
It doesn't change my loyalty to my friends and family. I am bewildered how the two get confused.
Did you ever tell your father about your mother’s suicide attempts and abuse?
Later, to a certain extent. Once I moved in with him at 14, he realized I was afraid of her. It made him feel so bad to know the details, it was like torture to put him through it. We both were happier to focus on "making it better now." And for the most part, that was the right choice.
How did you recover from that emotionally?
a) I didn’t
b) Writing and the life of the mind
d) Raising kids and breaking the cycle
I noticed that in your section about your time with On Our Backs, you mostly used the word “lesbian” instead of “lesbian and bisexual.” Did you identify as lesbian at that point? I’m wondering, as a bi woman writer, why you didn’t try to integrate that more in your wording?
I know this isn’t going to answer your question, but I still feel like a dyke. Hasbian Pride.
Most of the lovers in my life are gay or bisexual, regardless of their gender. There really isn't a button big enough to explain the whole thing.
When I was editing OOB, it was no secret I was bi, or femme, or had varied sex with all kinds of people--- but what was the point of mentioning it like a social security number on every page?
I was publishing a bohemian lesbian magazine. That’s what was the center of my life. We didn’t have conventional sex lives. Most of the lesbians I worked with were whores and strippers and butches. It was beyond lesbian, bi, or any acronym you can think of.
There were squares, the “civilians,” and there was us.
OOB ran thoughtful stories about transsexuality, bisexuality, married lesbians, sex worker dykes, all sorts of things, and in those situations, we were detailed in our descriptions. But I wasn’t going to print "LGBTFXXXXX" every time I touched the keyboard. We were artists, not sloganeers.
It was a given, if you embraced our philosophy, that we were the worn-out sluts, the unapologetic freaks, the whore diaspora. For awhile, that’s why saying “queer” was a real relief. Then even that became politically correct.
What is your advice to bi writers who want to write bi-themed works and get published?
I think the best bisexual stories I read now are just honest deliverance, no agendas. They may not even use that word; they just tell the tale. Don't try to win the community's approval; it's impossible.
There's so many moments of bisexual life that no one talks about. It doesn't have to be Some Great Rant, although that's tempting. Take a day in the life and tell it well.
Your subject is not a liability, at all.
Read American's greatest authors. A majority of them, I'm sure you notice, were and are bisexual.
Photo: Jill Posener