Sexual State of the Union. – book reviews

Guy Kettelhack

“Lust,” Susie Bright writes in her terrific opening sentence, “brings out the liar in everyone.” Well, everyone except Susie Bright. Sex educator, amateur pornographer, frequent speaker on college campuses across the country, and author of earlier iconoclastic sex-positive titles such as Susie Bright’s Sexwise, Nothing But the Girl: The Blatant Lesbian Image, and the Herotica series of erotic women’s fiction, Bright is a woman with a mission. Lust brings out the truth in her (or, to ape one of her stylistic tics, TRUTH; she frequently hammers home IMPORTANT WORDS with capitalization). Mounting the podium like Joan of Arc brandishing sex toys instead of a sword, she’s gonna give us the real deal about sex in her Sexual State of the Union–and launch a frontal assault on the sexual hypocrisy with which so many Americans continue to cover their burning lusts and fears.

Sex is damnably difficult to write about. You can’t get at it merely by describing sexual acts (mechanics are almost always banal or alienating to anyone not turned on by them); and political ranting about sexist and sexual inequities quickly numbs. But Bright (wonderfully apt name; her quippy prose burns like a Roman candle) does not shrink from the challenge. In a series of 24 short riffs of chapters, with such catchy heads as “My First Dirty Picture,” “Cooties.” “Spankful,” “The Vibrator Clerk Chronicles,” “Is There Good Sex After Vassar?…And Other Student Sex Questions,” and “Totally Offensive,” she attempts to take on the whole shebang of sex in America today, puncturing balloons of sanctimony as she goes. In her chapter “I Love Being a Gender,” she defends–among other stands unpopular with the PC police–her love of femme/butch dyke sex. Talking about the sexual dichotomy of a drag queen, Bright declares her mantra: “You can not only have it both ways, you can have it ALL ways, which is many more than two and looks a lot like infinity.” Bright rejoices in the polymorphous perverse: She wants us to revel in every bit of who we are as sexual beings.

Growing up Catholic seems to have been terrific preparation for her; it gives her so much to rail against. In a grade-school religion claw, she listened as one female teacher sternly lectured a roomful of tittering girls: “As you grow older and become a woman, you are going to grow hair under your arms…and also in other places. Hair under the arms is a sign of woman’s original sin, and we do not let this shame be seen.” Little did the teacher know the defiant flames she was stoking in the tall, thin girl sitting in the third raw: The admonition made Bright want to lick an armpit, not shave it.

Bright questions erotophobia wherever she finds it, and she finds it nearly everywhere. In addition to excoriating the church, she batters away at the antiporn forces of both Right and Left, at AIDS as an excuse for homophobia, and at proscriptions against S/M and gay marriage and transsexualism.

Susie Bright tells us that sex is an unpredictable circus–a dizzying arena of potentiality that we’d all do well to explore. She is also the mother of a 5-year-old daughter and is currently involved with a male lover she calls “Jon.” Bright’s lesbianism turns out to be only one of many facets of her sexual, social self. This was the source of my primary (though minor) discomfort with the book: As truthful as she seems hell-bent on being about the rest of us, she does no more than scratch the surface of her own polymorphous perversity. What does bisexuality mean to her? For all her candor, her sexual identity remains elusive.

However, her elusiveness may be part of the point. Our sexual selves are, finally, uncategorizable. Susie Bright’s Sexual State of the Union proclaims that we don’t have to be afraid of our internal sexual universes, however inexplicable they may strike us or anyone else. While Bright does seem to be preaching to the converted (Jerry Falwell is not likely to be first in line to buy a copy of the book), in fact no one is completely “converted.” We all suffer from secret sexual fears and hidden bigotries. Bright wages the good fight against those fears and sexual hypocrisy. We can all benefit from hearing a little more about that.

COPYRIGHT 1997 Liberation Publications, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group

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