Susie Bright: Between the Ears

The first loud clapping and hooting of the night happens as Susie takes the stage. She starts with her interest in connecting with the audience. What are their psychological histories and sexual fantasies? What brought them here tonight? Can she know them? Her performance begins as a conversation with the audience, and launches into a tale about her daughter who graduated from first grade tonight. Susie relates the profundity of love letters from a child who has just learned to write. One of her own childhood wishes, Susie has told her daughter she can write and draw in her room. Anything she wants, anything at all. But the result has been some expression she didn’t necessarily hope for. Like “mommy is a pig” scrawled across a recent set of proud drawings after some difficult parental moment. Susie laughs her infectious, delighted laugh and continues.

The audience is hushed and focussed intently on her anecdotes, delivered so personally and openly. Nothing about sex has been uttered, but the intimacy in the room is tangible. The audience would be satisfied with an evening of Susie Bright just like this.

She then talks about beginning a column again, which starts tomorrow for Salon. Her last columnist days were as a porn reviewer for Penthouse “the job that liberated me from doing buttplug inventory at Good Vibrations,” she says. She then proceeds to give the audience a preview of her first Salon column: a crisp, well-written, humorous piece that was spurred by a call from the Tom Snyder show shopping her for an appearance. Susie analogizes the process of getting auditioned by the show to familiar sexual and dating dynamics. Has she revealed too much information in her pre-interview? Her erotic philanthropy left her feeling used by the screeners of Tom’ s show. Rejection is rejection.

Next is a piece that stems from a guest spot she did on the radio show hosted by her favourite sex advice columnist, Dan Savage (otherwise known as Hey Faggot). One fan dials up to speak for stunned political lesbians who want to call her on her shit: “how dare you call yourself a lesbian sex expert when you’ve really been a bisexual breeder for years.” Susie pops off a glib, sexually detailed on-air response that ends the call.

But the caller’s challenge haunted her for several weeks. Then it hits her, she realizes her attraction to the caller. “I don’t wanna argue with the bi-bashers…” her voice drops to a secuctive drawl: “I want my mouth all over their blasphemy.” This is but the first of the revelations in this essay. Part theory, part observation, part personal reckoning, Susie just dives in to the morass of feelings, theories and hang-ups around bisexuality and sexuality in general.

I won’t go into all of the details of her insights and feelings, but I will just say this. Intense. Mind-opening. One of the most important thinkers in the queer community and the most honest sexual commentator in America. Check out the audio file. This is stuff worth hearing. I found myself testifying out loud behind my laptop in the balcony. “Damn girl you are on it.”

The final piece goes more emotionally into her bisexuality and the hurt, anguish, lust and joy of past loves and beddings with women and men, and thoughtful commentary on all of these, including that timeless question: are bisexuals traitors to the gay community? In the final Susie Bright analysis, bisexuality confonts all prejudices. ” Don’t talk to me about pride. Love has no pride and that’s the real banner the world marches under.”

Her prose and her delivery feel genuine, and she’s holding the audience in her hand now. Susie Bright has the rare ability to make people’s heads, hearts and genetalia connect. You gotta give it up for the girl. She dives into the shit. I think of Catherine MacKinnon who’s been privately criticized by her own feminist academic followers for years for the discomforting gap between her theories and her marriage to womanizer Jeffrey Masson. Susie Bright doesn’t start from theory though. She shows us that her, and our sexual choices are “personal. Not necessarily made by principle.” She starts from herself and doesn’t pose. That’s the intimacy. That’s the real erotica.

I live in San Francisco, where sex talk and personal therapy parading as performance art are as ubiquitous as facial piercing. What is harder to find is honest personal experience woven with insightful observation. Smartness is the biggest turn on of all.

101 Ways to Save Wired

101 Ways to Save Wired

I contributed to this piece along with many other early web pundits. It’s a satirical response to an early issue Wired published titled 101 Ways to Save Apple, back when folks liked to hypothesize that the company was going to die. I can’t remember the exact date it was published, but if you check out contributor links, you’ll get some idea from the number of echonyc, well.com, and aol member pages.

Meeting Melvin Van Peebles

He’s streaming around this little reception like it was an informal cocktail party he threw himself. There’s only about 20 people in the room and he introduces himself to every one, even the semi-shy, dressed up girlfriends of legit guests who are just dying to meet him.

After Bo the organizer does his thing, welcoming the media and saying some very nice things about Mr. Van Peebles, the man himself takes center stage and graciously offers up a joke for our time.

“There’s a man who tells a Freudian slip when he’s having dinner with his mother. . .He meant to ask her to pass the butter but instead he says, “You really messed up my life’.” Melvin says the last bit sheepishly, and hangs his head. It’s not that funny written down, but it’s hilarious when he tells it and the room laughs uproariously. Some a little too hard, some letting him know that the brothers are on his wavelength even if they have got their media passes now.

When Bo explains that this group had seats reserved for them, and would have to enter the screening from a special backway, Melvin is up to the shit, playing it it out for every moment of fun that occurs to him. As with Yiddish humor, much of his comes with a bittersweet edge. You laugh now because you used to cry about it, or because you want to have a time when you can look back and say you used to cry about it.

I walk over to the pile of sodas to pour myself a ginger ale, and Melvin is standing there by himself. I am a trifle surpried at the comfortable alone-ness that he emanates throughout the evening, quite satisfied without the entourage that usually comes with his territory and circumstances. Trying to think of something to say, his feet caught my eye:

“I really dig your shoes” I said staring down at the spat-like, wing tips covering his red socks, “where did you get them?”

A story commenced:

“I saw these shoes on Hollywood Boulevard, and said to myself Hmm! (an expression of approval comes over his face) Then I saw that the price tag was $340 and I thought shit that’s a lot of money for a pair of shoes but”. . . he trails off, giving the impression that he is a man of some impulse, and if he liked ’em he was gonna have ’em.

“But then I looked again and they were $34” another pause “Then I looked again and they were 2 pair for $34, so I bought a load of ’em.”

“Do you like shoes? Where are they on the scale of things that you love?” I ask, half expecting a commentary on the ecstasies of consumerism.

“Seriously?”

“Yeah. What are the four things at the top of the list of the things that you love?” I am still too uncertain to call him by his first name, though I want to, and he wouldn’t mind.

We’re about the same height (5′ 7″) so he doen’t have to crane his neck to look me straight in the eye. His immediate response is “Pussy, pussy, pussy.”

“That’s only 3, what’s number 4?”

“More pussy.”

“Shoes aren’t on the list?”

“Shoes! shit they’re way the hell down there, maybe 34”

“Well, at least you’re honest. Where’s honesty?”

He stares at me incredulously “Honesty doesn’t even make the list. Would you like some ice?”

I say no thanks but he puts some in my glass anyway and tops it off with ginger ale.

“You know if I’d really thought about it, about honesty, I wouldn’t have done the things I did. I don’t like to think too much.”

As Peter and I are exiting the reception half an hour later, Melvin taps me on the shoulder and says, “Number 5: cinematography”

I smile and ask him if he wants to reconsider honesty, but he can’t believe I would ask him again, like I didn’t take him seriously the first time. (Fun and seriousness are not incompatable for this man)

“I told you, honesty does’t even come near it, not on the list not anywhere, it doesn’t matter”

A passerby chimed in, “It’s like, what’s love got to do with it.”

Melvin agrees, “Exactly.”

So everyone at the reception files out and walks into the auditorium to watch his cinematic magnum opus: Sweet Sweetback’s Badasssssss Song. Hundereds of us first hear a few words from Melvin. He gets up to the microphone and claims his place: “Somebody said that property is 9/10 of the law, and surviving is 10/10, so I’m up here now, and you can forget it.”

This man was still appreciative that all of these people wanted to see his work, stuff he did 20 years ago, that was light years ahead of its time. He let us know, with real honesty, that he thought that this was a terrific film and in an aside said he’d be lying if it didn’t mean anything to him because it was 12 years of his life.

He told the story of making STORY OF A 3 DAY PASS –peppered with sonourous anecdotes, and the sweetly measured timing of a true storyteller. In order to get the crew he needed to make a film with so many black actors in it, and not get into serious shit with the union people, he made use of a union exemption for pornographic filmmakers. He made sure, he candidly notifies us, that he shot plenty of sex scenes the first few weeks, and when the powers-that-be came into view the rushes, they were assured that this film was about “just a bunch of crazy niggers”, and then left Melvin well enough alone.

Afterwards Peter and I went downstairs to meet Lisa, and who should be in the back-office, alone again, but Melvin.

I extended my hand and said, “I don’t know what you can do with numbers one through four, but I sure like what you did with number 5.” Melvin smiles. Turns out he doesn’t have much of an entourage waiting, so we all went to a hotel for a drink.

First he talked to the two French women who had waited to speak with him, and were rather excited to address him in his own language.

At the hotel he did a bit of his new one man show for us, and the beginning of his one act version of a serious Hamlet. He lounged back, looking at the glass elevators and hotel-lit lobby and smiled: “this is nice. . .nice place, drinks, scintillating conversation.” Not in an excited way, but appreciating a moment for what it was, though he’s had many more exciting, with people more famous and powerful.

He talked about being worn down by producers, as an artist, and advisied Peter; “They tell you they really love your work, and they get you into it and then its a process of erosion. . .then they come in at the 15th round when you’re exhausted and say BOOM that’s it. Don’t let em get you in the 15th round, man.”

He spoke well of his son Mario’s directing debut at the Sundance Festival this past year.

Daughter Megan now sells advertising at a high-tech magazine. Max?

Was there anyone in his family who was a great storyteller, a grandparent? Are you kidding, all I ever heard was shut-up Melvin.”

With the first real money he made from film, he went and got himself a tatoo. A dotted blue line around his neck with the words “LYNCH HERE” “So I wouldn’t forget,” he said. “All of these conservative black guys said ‘oh, when you make it you’re going to get all mealymouthed and uptight, but I haven’t. ‘ No indeed.

He later confessed that he had another tatoo, this one “on my butt, it says ——– . Which means ‘If you can, motherfucker’ in a language of middle Africa.”

Re: his kids and the filming –Megan would get excited ’cause she could go out for a BLT and then we did the stuff with the hat and the bow tie. (sex with Big Sadie, motorcycle woman)

What else do I remember about my night with Melvin? A few questions, and a few responses…

“Was that you in the film?”

“Oh, someone else who doesn’t recognize me with my clothes on”

“Were the sex scenes real?”

“I got the clap from doing this film, and that’s the truth… I got a venereal disease and I applied for Workman’s Comp and got it.”

He knew what a mohel is. He used the word minyan casually in conversation.

Mostly I remember tha myy night with Melvin was a night to remember.

pain

i am so fucking mad and frustrated that I want to push my already throbbing head into the corner of the wall and see if squeezing the pain will push my hurt and depression so far in that it will reach oblivion. Caught up inbetween frustration with my present state of ridiculous affairs and a listlessness that is new to my brain and body, I mostly spend my time ready to yell or bitch. Construct rambling monologues in my head about the angry emotions I try to intellectually piece out. Even in my worst upset.

Now that I’ve been left here on this fucking island alone, with enough brain stories and money carpets to make me feel like the life I find myself in everyday has some connection to incentive.

What am I cramming myself into this law thing for? What do I want out the professional power/fantasy life I’ve poised myself toward? A bigger room and more organizing and phone call headaches and power pushers to provoke and tap dance around?

This headache never goes away. I am tired whenever I remember to think about my life. The list of “what I should be doing right now” is visible up there on my mental refrigerator-door. Doesn’t mean I actually get any of them done. Expense calculations? Outlines to write and articles to concoct? I don’t think I am much good to placate anyone, and I don’t feel like I’d get much out of it.

I keep wondering about the expression options that seem the most interesting though I doubt I’d actually engage in any of them. Breaking things. Breaking me in a few places. Doping up my brain to keep the teary-blurry eyed vision in blissful consistency. Curling up in fetal position in the softball field in front of the law school. Right on home plate. I find the mind picture of myself there rocking back and forth like an autistic child comforting for some strange reason. I know that actualizing that image wouldn’t help at all.

Then there’s the possibility of finding someone I have some trust for to come and hold me for a while. Thr image of being petted and soothed and kissed a little sounds nice but the impossibility of it just makes it all the more frustrating. It would end anyhow.

I don’t know why I think about drugs because I already have a brain state that can’t see or act properly. All of my images are about attention getting. I know that once I get it I’m not going to feel better any how.

Fuck them all. Fuck M for having nothing better to say to me and N for wanting nothing to do with me. Fuck G and all of em for being as self-absorbed as I am. Fuck all of the men for not wanting me, for not granting me the power I deserve to have. Fuck them for not paying me the attention I feel owed, and not giving me a chance to pick and choose before I decide that I don’t want them anyway.

Fuck life for taking away my desire to find and follow something special in someone else. The beauty that used to be there in being alive and being alone and being a kind of weird little girl that appreciated moments so much that it paralysed her.

Who’s going to love me and take care of me? I don’t know if I can do it myself. I don’t now if I can do it for my family.

I want to be strange. I want to not give a fuck anymore and

My head feels so heavy, like one of those toys little kids have–weebles–with a heavy weight in the bottom. So that the thing bobs back up when you knock it over. Except I feel it in my head. It wants to fall over.

Why does my pain want an audience? Maybe that’s all I want. An audience.

Who will love me? Who will clean my grave?

Where will my ideas scatter? What could they feed? Could I nurture anything successfully beside my own absorbed, throbbing lack of motivation?

I want someone to kiss me. Without being asked. Softly and slowly like the process of thinking about it, preparing for it is deliciously enjoyable. I want my wet cheeks kissed and my eyes stared into with something besides a question.

I rack my memory for someone who has softness for me. Someone who I want to care. I can’t come up with any answers.

I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO AND IT MIGHT KILL ME.

I feel like a wounded puppy curled up with my paws over my eyes, breaking into crying whelps when I can focus enough to feel the pain. My hands bang and scratch at the keyboard in anger and frustration to talk, express, be heard. Dammit. Hear me. Listen to me. I want somone to listen!!!!! Isn’t my story good enough? Don’t I amuse you, interest you at all?

l’ve got to bury them. Part of myself. They’re gone. Deal with it.

subway ride

Who decided that we liked being called bitch?

How do you write out your anger
and your positive alternatives
and your understanding
and the vulnerability that comes from learning to be afraid to walk to the supermarket alone.
And the hurt that grows from feeling that that’s just the way it has to be?

How do you scream out the love you have for living your own life?
How do you articulate the subtle frustration that mounts
when you swallow someone else’s ignorance?
when you answer to girl and
flirt to get that advantage you’ll need to make a change.

Dear CEO of Playtex

Yo Playtex,

We would like to acknowledge the generous gift of your Chief Executive Officer, JOEL E. SMILOW ’54, to the Yale Community, of the sum of one million dollars to endow the JOEL E. SMILOW, chair of Head Football Coach.

As members of Yale’s women’s community we would like to draw your attention to the origins of the aforementioned sum. Given that Mr. Smilow holds the position of CEO at the Playtex Corporation, we can only assume that his charitable endowment was accrued by his work in the area of “feminine hygiene.” Basically, women supply his income.

In light of this evidence, we urge you to concider a fresh idea; one that will even further immortalize the name JOEL E. SMILOW in the hearts, minds, and bodies of the poeple/women that make up Yale University.

We hereby propose: the immediate installation of enough “JOEL E. SMILOW” Playtex dispensers to stock the University. These machines, including all the conveniences that technology brings, would hold both deodorized and non-deodorized tampons in every size (slender, medium, super, and super+), as well as sanitary napkins–and each would proudly bear the name of its philanthropic/generous donor-JOEL E. SMILOW.

Imagine a young girl’s/woman delight as she trips lightly into the Silliman Powder Room, passing through the delightful, mirrored decor (eyeing her bloated midsections) to select the feminine product of her choice.

Our current situation is a far cry from this utopian dream. None of the residential colleges’ women’s bathrooms have tampon machines though they all house the monolithic presence of condom dispensers, showing that Yale’s ivy-covered walls are not inhospitable to holding new bathroom fixtures. Speaking of handy places for stocked tampon machines, the women’s locker room at the gym would be nice, and the FIeld House–but then so would any of the classroom and administrative buildings: SSS, WLH, LC…..etc.

If you make our dream a reality, this gift would be a lovely compliment to your previous generosity. Envision:

The Yale Bowl on a crisp fall Saturday. In the stands you might see thousands of beaming, feminine faces, fresh as a daisy, unencumbered by the inconveniences of “that time of the month”. Secure and confident [young co-eds] anxiously anticipating the kickoff.

JOEL E. SMILOW– your name will forever be on the lips of Yale Women.

Boola Boola!

[Hugs and Kisses]