Daily RFT recently caught up with the author and icon between tour stops for the book, which details her coming of age and radicalization during the labor, anti-war and feminist movements; through founding "On Our Backs," the country's first lesbian erotica magazine; up to parenthood and onward.
Daily RFT: How's the tour been? You've been to Detroit, Ann Arbor and New York.
SB: In Detroit and Ann Arbor we discussed labor and sex interchangeably -- there's no having to break people into a little taste of class consciousness. If you're living in Detroit, you're a hardcore homesteader who has to fight to get water and electricity.
In New York, you know where all the money went. You can start to understand that there's people who don't realize parts of this country are falling apart. The questions about feminism and sexuality there were much more like luxury items than the down-to-earth questions I had.
Do you struggle for legitimacy as a writer because people want to box you off as "the sex lady?"
SB: The pet peeve of the tour is when even positive reviews of the book -- and this has happened to other women who write about sexuality -- they'll say, "surprisingly well-written." Oh my God, we were so surprised and in shock! If you had been reviewing a man who's published 31 books and had significant impact on his genre, would anyone say it was surprisingly well-written? No one would say this about Dan Savage, Norman Mailer, Roth, Updike. It's a tangent of the dumb-blonde thing.
It's gender. Men do it all the time. There's autobiographies every day where people are forthright and they delve into quite a wide range of experiences. When it is a man author and he talks about sex, sometimes he gets teased, but it's considered literary. With a woman, it's more scrutinized and fetishized. Certainly being "the sex lady" adds to my dilemma. But the thing is, I have a lot to say!
It's something I do to try to break through the portrayal of sex as just some sort of titillation and fakery and a tease to get you to buy something. It's very consumerism-oriented: If you buy this, you will be sexy and get laid, but here's one more thing you have to buy. It's just all Madison Avenue jibber-jabber and false titillation. When people ask me, "Do you think our culture is saturated in sex?" I say, "Really? Really? Tell me the last authentic sexual experience you've seen portrayed." It wasn't in a Top-40 song or a Hollywood movie, that's for sure.
How has the Internet changed sexuality -- with more access to different facets of it, are people better off?
SB: Because the Internet emerged in a place that wasn't constrained, it was like, anything goes. That's the cradle of it. It still influences what we see and hear on the 'net. You do get some amazingly highbrow in-depth researched discussions you wouldn't see anywhere else.
But you also get rubbernecking porn -- that little kid who thinks it's hilarious to examine the contents of his diaper. "Oh my God, there's someone with a corn cob up their orifice, everyone come look!" That doesn't have anything to do with being aroused.
What I believe is, if you can get through the diaper period, everyone gets to grow up. You're ready to be grown up and sophisticated about everything that turns on your sexual imagination.
If you're going to create barriers and elitism [on the Internet], you are never going to have a massive developmental shift up in terms of developing consciousness about sexuality: We'll keep playing the same poopy record.
I'm not immune to the charms of basic sexual pleasure. It's not that I like to sit around and read post-modern essays on sex, and everyone is is such a boor. I wish there were more basic pleasures represented in mainstream culture. It's just that sex is being used to drive consumerism -- it's the least sexy thing of all.
You're running a workshop on parenting. What's it like being a sex-positive parent in a puritanical society?
SB: The first time I wanted to write a book on this very subject -- it became Mommy's Little Girl, -- I approached a long-time editor who said "Susie, you cannot be a mother and a sex goddess at the same time." Really? That's so ironic -- guess how I got to be a mother?
I am doing a workshop and discussion. I call it the "Mom Sex Diary: How Raising Kids Changes our Sex Lives and Foretells Our Childrens' Future." Whether you've been married twenty years to the person you met in sixth grade or you are poly[amorous], everyone who becomes a parent deals with their sex lives changing and watching their kids grow up. How am I influencing them? Do I want to influence them? Are they going to be sane about their sex lives? Can I have a voice in that? There's so many different pieces.