An Interview with Tristan Taormino
For me, the best erotic stories closely resemble the people who make my skin flush hot pink and send my head into overdrive. They’re fiercely intelligent, confident and intricate. They can sweep me off my feet or catch me off guard. They are tender and nasty and just a bit dangerous. They are not always what you expect them to be—Tristan Taormino, series editor, Best Lesbian Erotica
Tristan Taormino is an award-winning editor and writer. The Best Lesbian Erotica series was nominated in 1997 for a Lambda Literary Award and in 1999 for a Firecracker Alternative Book Award, and The Ultimate Guide to Anal Sex for Women won the 1998 Firecracker Award. She is also a columnist, a producer, a director, and an actor. Taormino teaches sex workshops and lectures on sex throughout America. Most importantly, she is an advocate for the equal treatment of all LGBT folks, especially FtMs, MtFs, and trans folks who, sadly, often face discrimination within the queer community. Before Taormino left on her latest tour (consisting of book-signings and readings, lectures, and workshops), I was able to exchange emails with her about the 2001 edition of Best Lesbian Erotica, queer politics, and her life in the limelight.
K. Iudicello: As Series Editor of Best Lesbian Erotica, what delights you the most about Best Lesbian Erotica 2001?
T. Taormino: Definitely it was having the opportunity to work with Patrick Califia. Califia’s work was so influential to me—I dedicated my first collection, Best Lesbian Erotica 1996, to him and my college professor Claire Potter. Patrick’s erotica and writing about sex is in a class by itself; it’s thoughtful, so smart, always makes me think. I loved being able to collaborate on a book with him.
Iudicello: In the Foreword to Best Lesbian Erotica 20/01, you write that “radical sex in and of itself is not the hot-button issue for lesbian feminism. The battleground has shifted from sex to gender” (viii). Have the weapons changed? Is the enemy different?
Taormino: First of all, I do not like to think about things in terms of enemies, especially people within in the GLBT [Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender] community. I think the true enemies are people who hate queers for their sexual and gender identities. As far as weapons go, I think that writing about trangressing gender—in whatever ways they do—is a powerful weapon against ignorance and fear.
Iudicello: A significant number of female queers are publicly and powerfully representing themselves through surgery (mastectomies and/or genital reassignment) and testosterone. The less than inclusive approach of Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival toward FtMs [Female-to-Male men] has been hotly debated. Cohen’s smart article “Tricks or Traitors: Should Lesbians Stand by Their Men?” in the August/September 2001 edition of On Our Backs examines FtMs and their lovers. What sort of political struggles do you see members of our female queer community facing as FtMs come out in numbers?
Taormino: Well, there are so many issues surrounding the growing visibility of FtMs. The Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival’s policy against admitting people who are not “womyn-born, womyn-identified, living as womyn” is an example of how women and lesbians are struggling with what to do with women-only or dyke-only spaces. I personally have vowed never to attend the Festival until Lisa Vogel changes her policy, except I would go to Camp Trans, just across from the land, and teach workshops, and go to the Festival for a visible protest. The Festival is just one place where the debate is hotly contested, but there are plenty more local groups—- women’s BDSM groups, women’s sex and play parties, women’s workshops—- faced with the same issues. People are talking about how to define admission to an event or an organization based on gender, which is no longer a one-or-the-other, cut and dry issue at all. My partner and I run a women’s party called Throb, and we have a trans-inclusive policy (both FtMs and MtFs [Male-to-Female women] and those who identify as trans), but I know others who do not. It’s so complicated. I mean there are FtMs who strongly identify as men or male, and should they be allowed in women’s space? But it seems like there are lots of trans [transgender or transsexual] folks who had roots in the queer community, have queer friends and lovers, maybe identify as queer themselves, and want to still be a part of LGBT stuff. I say, if you are an ally with queers, then come on in.
Iudicello: I imagine you answering these questions in a Wonder Woman bustier. You are truly amazing: your recent book Pucker Up: A Hands-on Guide to Ecstatic Sex; “Pucker Up”, your regular column in The Village Voice; The Ultimate Guide to Anal Sex for Women, the video you directed, produced, and starred in, which is based upon your bestselling book of the same title; puckerup.com, your Internet site; lectures on the Ivy League circuit; media appearances; and, workshops (and I am barely skimming the surface here). Tell me the secret to your stamina.
Taormino: Gosh, well, I don’t drink or smoke or do drugs, except for the occasional glass of champagne, which puts me right to sleep! And speaking of sleep, I run around so much during the day, I need a lot of sleep at night to decompress. I am both driven and extremely passionate about all the work I do, and so my passion is my fuel. It keeps me going. That and my amazing girlfriend who cooks fabulous organic food for me, and my boy who takes care of me while I am on the road.
Iudicello: Are there any political or performance passions that you have yet to fulfill?
Taormino: Oh so many! Well, I definitely have my eye on television right now. I have a development deal with MTV to host my own show on sex and relationships, and I am super excited about it. But, as you know, a development deal doesn’t always mean I’ll make it on the air. I would also love to run my own dyke porno empire. I think what Shar Rednour and Jackie Strano are doing with S.I.R. video just kicks ass. They have definitely lit a fire under the asses of all aspiring dyke pornographers to say, “Hey, we can do this!” I just need there to be more time in the day and more money in the bank to actually make queer porno.
Iudicello: What does the future hold for Adventure Girl, your alter ego?
Taormino: Well, I passed the cape on to brilliant writer Michelle Tea, whose adventures have appeared in On Our Backs for the last year, and have been awesome. I still write about my adventures in my column for the Village Voice.
Iudicello: What does the future hold for you?
Taormino: More TV, more videos, bigger web site, more books, more writing. I want to be the Martha Stewart of sexuality!!
Iudicello: If you could go back in time, who and where would you be? What would you do?
Taormino: You know what? I am pretty fucking happy exactly where I am right now. I have a charmed life.
Iudicello: What is the best piece of advice that you ever gave?
Taormino: That’s a tough one because I give people advice every day through email, letters, lectures, workshops, and my writing. When I was working at Toys in Babeland, a woman came in looking for a few things to spice up her sex life with her boyfriend. They were just about to take a romantic vacation. About 9 months later, she came to one of my workshops, with the boyfriend, and they both told me that her trip to the store that day, and meeting me, changed their sex lives. When I have experiences like that, it means so much to me, and it lets me know that the advice I give really can have an important effect on people.
Iudicello: Thank you, Tristan. It has been an honor.