Mind Caviar

"I think being out of the closet,
if you can find a way to do it and survive economically,
brings you so much fresh air and room to live
that it opens your soul and blesses your whole life.Ē

~ Patrick Califia

Mind Caviar Issue 13, 2004-2005

Hijacked: An Interview 
with Patrick Califia

by Alexander Renault

Pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable to talk about, write down, or even think about, Califia has challenged our cultureís ideas of appropriate expression and self-exploration. He is truly a free spirit. Certain writers and advocates embed themselves into our culture, and into our collective mind. Some do so even to the point that they're used as a prototype against which all others are inevitably compared. Patrick Califia is one such person. Rather than drowning ourselves under a sea of repression, Califia urges us to speak the unspeakable, to join the sometimes sadomasochistic dance of the unconscious mind. This visionary sex writer and free speech advocate has produced work decades before its time.

Pat Califia
My favorite Califia story comes from his introduction to Forbidden Passages: Writings Banned in Canada, published by those fearless daredevils, Cleis Press, in 1995. Speaking before a Canadian Court and demanding to know why his literature had been banned and later confiscated by customs officials at the Canadian border, Califia railed against those who would censor his thoughts and writings because they may be found offensive by polite society. Califia wrote, ďAt least I had received a privilege that Radcliff Hall was never given, the right to appear on the witness stand and speak out on behalf of my own work.

One piece in particular called ďThe Birthday SurpriseĒ from Macho Sluts had been called into question as it was banned from Canadian shores for being obscene. Califia asked the court pointblank if they were inferring that he did not have the right to fantasize about police officers. Califia told me it got quiet after that question was posed. I wish I'd been there. 

Michael Rowe asked Califia about his popularity in his collection of interviews from 1995, Writing Below the Belt: Conversations with Erotic Authors.  When Rowe pointed out Califiaís frequent appearance on lists written by sex writers who named him as greatly influencing their work, Califia replied:

  [I]tís sort of nice to know that a few perks go with just being a bit older and not going away. I know there are certainly a lot of people who wish I would shut up and go away.  And thatís just too fucking bad.  They can just experience what it feels like to want.  Iím going to take a fucking word processor to the old folksí home with me.
Califia has tenaciously refused to go quietly.  Perhaps my favorite statement of his comes from M. Christianís 2001 anthology The Burning Pen: Sex Writers on Sex Writing:
 Asking why someone would write about sex is rather like asking why anyone would eat at a five-star French   restaurant. The inherent pleasure of the activity in question seems rather obvious to me.  As a pornographer, I  am in the same position as the restaurant critic.  I get to do something I love while being paid for it.  Why would I ever stop writing about sex?
I must admit it was difficult not to gush while interviewing Califia.  His work is astounding, consummately fresh, and always challenging.  He ups the ante with a relentless passion that at first I found intimidating when I was in college.  It took a few years to get used to reading his work and appreciating the sometimes ugly truths interspersed with incredible erotica. He tore the genre wide open. Califia warns his readership not to allow their lives and fantasies to be hijacked by popular ideas of morality, and all while teasing us with his wit.  He writes ďDoing Pan Proud,Ē the introduction to Ian Philipsís 2003 collection Satyriasis:
Given the fact that human mores are usually at odds with our covert pleasure-seeking behavior, any malcontent whoís lost patience with the status quo has a perfect target in Eros (And if we turn that dimple-bummed bratís arrows back on himself, nobody deserves it more, after all heís put us through!) 
Like Edward de Grazia asked in 1993ís Girls Lean Back Everywhere: The Law of Obscenity and the Assault on Genius, Califia demands to know what exactly everyone is so afraid of.  Like de Grazia, he perpetually asks why we are all so afraid of diverse sexuality, trapped in societyís rigid gender role expectations: ďClear and present danger of what?Ē Patrick Califia is our modern cultureís Dionysian dream manifest in flushed, quivering flesh and black leather.

A Brief Bio

Califia was born a biological female in the mid-1950s in Texas. After his father completed a term of service in the U.S. Navy, the family moved to Colorado. Like many of my Pennsylvania ancestors, Califiaís father then worked in the coal mines.  After age ten, the clan moved approximately every two years as his father found employment in construction and demolition using dynamite in mines and tunnels (a symbolic tendency passed onto Califia). 

Like many children in families that are often uprooted multiple times and relocated for economic reasons, it is likely that Califia was affected by these transitions.  In the world of the child it is terribly difficult to make new friends.  Circumstances such as Califiaís tend to create adults who are actually more independent but prone to bouts of depression. However, they also make writers who are introverted, empathic, and wildly imaginative. The young adult who is for any reason somewhat removed from the jelled mainstream can become an exceptional writer later in life.  Those who do not fit in become those who observe. Those who observe are the people with the most insight because as a matter of survival they delve into the psyches of their captors, like the old saying: the slave will always understand the master one-thousand times better than the master will ever comprehend the slave. 

Califia did not divulge details regarding his siblings because, ďIíve got brothers and sisters but feel that I should respect what little privacy they have and not discuss their lives in this interview.Ē  I certainly appreciate his discretion but he was highly direct when discussing parental influences. His mother was a ďfanatically religious MormonĒ which dropped Califia directly into ďfundamentalist hell.Ē  Once again we see how many of our rigid social and religious systems can bang someoneís head against the wall for years but sometimes the true personality in all its glory, in the end, emerges nonetheless.  It is fortuitous for us all that Califiaís understanding of human nature never drowned and his efforts have been far reaching.  In addition to liberating our minds through words, he was also the keynote speaker several years ago for an affirmation conference for gay Mormons and is a trained therapist.

The Interview

Alexander Renault: What was it like growing up in your family of origin?

Patrick Califia:  It is especially painful to grow up in a subculture that is racist, sexist, homophobic, and of course anti-transgendered people as well when those prejudices are based on a belief that God reifies this hatred. You canít argue with God. The only way to educate people in these situations is to go up against a faith that organizes their whole lives and colors every aspect of their world view. I chose to leave, partly because I think Mormon theology is ridiculous and partly because I hate the churchís politics. I donít think it can be reformed.  Right-wing Christianity has done as much damage in this country as Americans imagine Islamic fundamentalists have done in the Middle East. 

AR: Organized religion can really do a number on children.

PC: I feel pretty strongly that inculcating children with hellfire-and-brimstone, donít-sin-or-God-will-damn-you-to-hell religions is a form of child abuse. We donít talk enough in the queer community about how to heal from this damage.  And itís not as if it rains down upon LGBT people only; any heterosexual person who wants to be sexually active and inventive is also roundly condemned and cast out.  There is no sin involved between two adults (or more) who want to touch one another.  The body is good.  Pleasure is a gift of the spirit, and I think our creator wants us to enjoy the beautiful world we live in and one another.  My spirituality is about kindness, compassion, and joy, whether that comes from things material or immaterial. 

AR: Tell us a little about your nightmare growing up.

PC: It was a puritanical atmosphere where children were told, when they were told about sex at all, that masturbation was as bad as murder.

AR: I was taught from the age of five that itís a mortal sin.

PC:  My motherís solution to everything was to work harder. I was both pressured to excel at everything, then criticized for it. So there wasnít any way to win.  She was raising a large family on a blue-collar salary, and her husband was an alcoholic who could not control his own rage. There was not a day that went by when he didnít hit his children or lay somebody open to the bone with his scorn. I know my parents were both under a lot of stress, they married very young, and they were just trying to do the right thing, do what everybody told them they should do. And thatís what got them into trouble.  First lesson.

AR: When was your break-though moment?  I mean when did you realize you were going to become a famous writer?  Okay, thatís actually two questions:  When did you first think you wanted to become a writer and when did you realize people were extremely interested in what you had to say?

PC: I decided I wanted to be a writer in first grade when I wrote a poem that went ďWhirling, twirling, down they go, little children of the snow,Ē and my teacher had me copy it out and draw a special border around it so she could put it on the bulletin board.  I dealt with the miserable atmosphere at home by disappearing into books, especially fantasy and science fiction and historical fiction.  I also wrote a lot of plays to put on at home, organized other kids into large-scale games based on fantasy role-playing, and told huge whopping lies to entertain myself and impress other people.  I think I realized that writers have a lot of power when I was about sixteen and another girl at school pressured me to go have pizza with her and her older brother. He was quite a bad boy, a drug dealer, he had tattoos and drank beer, and he was very nervous about talking to, of all people, me, because he wanted me to write his life story. 

A bunch of crazy stuff had happened to him: getting seduced by a married woman at a pretty young age, running away to the circus, getting hooked up in the drug business, doing some time in jail for stealing cars.  So I drank his beer and listened to his story and thought, wow, this is very weird. This adult is telling me all of his secrets because heís heard Iím a writer.  And he wants me to help him make sense of it all.  It was quite difficult wriggling out of becoming his authorized biographer, but I think by then I was already on the path of wanting to make an impact on other people by getting my thoughts down on paper. And also the seed was planted about becoming a therapist. 

AR:  People like writers because everyone has a tale to tell.  What other writing did you do?

PC:  I was writing articles for a daily newspaper in my early teens.  I had a lot of raw material.  Emphasis on ďraw.Ē  I think if I had not been able to get some of what was happening to me out on the page, I would have been cutting myself up a lot worse than I was. Thank heaven for typewriters and drugs.

AR: Youíve been dealing with some terrible health problems for the past several years.  How are you managing?

PC: Nothing is more boring than somebody elseís health problems.  I am bored with it.  I hurt every day.  Sometimes I hurt so much I donít want to live anymore.  But I have a cat.  And deadlines.  And friends and a son and therapy clients.  So I take my pills and make a phone call to somebody nice and funny or leave the house and ignore it as best as I can.  Fibromyalgia is a double whammy because nobody knows what causes it, a lot of doctors and civilians donít believe in it, and from the outside you look like youíre fine.  When I recently stopped using a cane everybody was congratulating me like I had suddenly gotten all better, and just didnít want to hear that I still needed some assistance because I canít feel the bottoms of my feet, but the tendonitis in my arms is so bad I canít stand to lean on a cane any more.  Need I say that my desire to hurt other people has only intensified?  But only in the nicest way, of course.  Usually.

AR: Tell us about your latest projects.  I know you have a new book coming out soon from Suspect Thoughts Press.  Isnít it a vampire novel?  When can we get our hands on it?

PC:  The book is called Mortal Companion, it is indeed a vampire novel, and Suspect Thoughts plans to have it out in May I believe.  Iím not sure of the exact release date.   Itís a story about love and vengeance, and thereís a ton of romance, S/M sex, and a scary villain who wants to separate the lovers.

Note: Mortal Companion can be ordered at Suspect Thoughts Press.

AR:  I recently completed a long essay on vampire sexuality spanning from the English Romantics through the works of Anne Rice.  What is it about the vampire archetype (if it is indeed an archetype) that intrigues people so much?  Why does the vampire have such staying power?  Is it the S/M factor?

PC:  Why would you question whether or not the vampire is an archetype?  Stories about blood-drinking demons can be found in just about every culture right up to the present day.  We are hunters.  We have a physical and metaphysical connection to killing animals and taking in their blood and flesh.  If you want somebody elseís power, the easiest way to get it is to eat him.  Or her. 

AR:  We donít like to be reminded of our animal nature.

PC:  Vampire stories still interest people in part because of this primeval experience thatís hardwired into us as a species.  I donít think human beings have ever stopped hunting one another.  And I donít think we ever will.  We also enjoy vampire fiction and other forms of horror because we donít get enough adrenaline in western civilization, and we like to get good and scared while we are also nice and safe.  Thereís also the fact that the vampire is a symbol of outsider status, so whether weíre talking about promiscuous heterosexuals, junkies, S/M people, sex workers, or gay people, the vampire speaks to that experience of being on the edge, stigmatized, feared, but also very powerful.  Fantasies about living forever are inexplicable to me, but the masses do have them, so what can you do. 

AR: I just finished a novella for Renaissance eBooks, Soul Kiss: The Intimate Journal of a Gay Vampire. My main character ends up questioning the value of immortality. 

PC:  To me, one of the questions Iíve always had about being a vampire is, what the hell would you do with all of that time?  Iíve come up with a world where vampirism has a place of honor in pagan Europe.  Thereís all the black clothes and long sharp teeth and kinky sex that gives me a great big stiffy, but thereís a few twists on the usual mythos, I hope.  This book was so much fun for me to write.  I hope readers will enjoy going on that trip with me.

AR: Tell us about sparring with Camille Paglia.  She mentions in one of her books that you and she seriously banged heads on a number of issues and she felt ďattacked.Ē  Of course the book is from 1993 and a decade has passed.  Was this in reaction to your story in the Philadelphia Inquirer on October 4, 1992, when you reviewed Sex, Art, and American Culture?  I was never able to track down a copy of that article anywhere. I know this is old news now, but Iím interested in where you believe Paglia failed.  I like her writing because it is so challenging and makes you think.  I donít agree with half of what she says, and she certainly pisses many people off.  My lesbian friends hate her guts, and she has been terribly insulting and dismissive toward our lesbian communities. 

PC: Oh, please. Camille Paglia went out of her way to attack, by name, virtually every other pro-sex feminist who had done anticensorship work. Then when she got her face slapped in print by some of the same people she had ragged on, she whined like a punkass prison bitch. She did have a few original thoughts, her writing was articulate and polished, and I think itís a terrible shame that sheís such a raging narcissist. She failed by trying to claim a unique status for herself as the only defender of sexual license for women.  But her dumb comments about date rape and the right-wing positions she frequently takes on issues like allowing children who donít speak English to be taught in their first language, are mean and stupid. To me, she began to sound like someone who wanted public attention so badly she would say anything, no matter how provocative, to generate controversy. She could probably tell you down to the inch how much copy sheís gotten in the press. I think itís time we all shouted a SAFE WORD!!!

Names & Visions

AR:  One obvious but highly personal question: When did you begin using ďPatrickĒ and what were the circumstances?  Do you still use ďRice?Ē  You donít have to answer.  Iím just being exceptionally nosey. 

PC: I began using the name "Patrick" about five years ago when I made a decision to take testosterone and begin to explore the question of a gender transition. I did that because I felt people were not taking my requests to use male pronouns very seriously. If they had to call me Patrick instead of Pat, that drew a clear line in the shifting sands of gender. 

For a while I hyphenated my last name because I was in a committed relationship with someone and our plan was to change our names so we had a family surname. Although I am still close to this person, and donít want to bad mouth him in any way, when we stopped being lovers it no longer made sense to have a common surname. Just think of me as a divorcee who went back to his maiden name.

AR: I love your ďPanĒ introduction to Ian Philipsís 2003 collection Satyriasis.  Your introductions are always readable and interesting.  You always have something fresh to write about-- as a writer how do you avoid feeling stale?  What is the secret to your passion?

AR: To avoid that stale feeling, I keep a box of baking soda in my brain.  Itís actually easy to feel inspired about Ianís work.  Heís the big daddy DJ of queer satire. I think the secret to my passion was an early exposure to bondage in comic books. 

AR:  Really?

PC:  I still get all tingly when I think about Superman being tied up, slowly dying because heís being exposed to kryptonite.  Muscles.  Restraint.  Pain and torture.  Yum.

AR: Where do your ancestors hale from?  I canít quite make out the ďCalifiaĒ origins.  Is it Italian?

PC:  I took the surname Califia in my early twenties. She was an Amazon who lived on an island full of gold and wine.  The state of California was named for her.  She appears on the Great Seal of the state, in fact.  And she also appears in some medieval literature.  My ancestors came from northern and western Europe.  I was born to wear a helmet with horns on it, get on a boat, sail through storms while eating moldy biscuits and beef jerky, burn other peopleís houses down, and steal their cattle and bracelets and women.  Oh, and did I mention skin cancer?

AR: You are certainly a sexual visionary and I believe people will be reading your works hundreds of years from now.  Where do you think sex writing is going from here?  Laurie Anderson once asked on her CD The Ugly One with the Jewels, ďAre things getting better / Or are they getting worse?Ē 

PC:  I donít know if this renaissance in sex writing is a permanent thing, or just a bubble of freedom that writers will later look back at and envy. I do think my colleagues in this genre are doing such good work, such high quality writing, that it will be studied in a hundred years. Weíre still reading Fanny Hill, and the Marquis de Sade is still in print. 

AR:  Carol Queen points out in ďSex Radical Politics, Sex-Positive Feminist Thought, and Whore Stigma,Ē from 1997ís Whores and Other Feminists, edited by Jill Nagle, that you were one of the early theorists who influenced mainstream feminism-- you spoke out when many others kept silent.  Is there more sex radicalism now?  It seems to be such a hot topic for debate in feminist circles and often feels like itís turning into a cat fight.  Frederique Delacoste also mentions your trailblazing career in the introduction to Sex Work: Writings by Women in the Sex Industry, edited with Priscilla Alexander, published by Cleis Press in 1998.  What writers/performers do you believe are our current new sexual visionaries and why?  I love Annie Sprinkle-- and sheís such a sweetheart.

PC:  Yes, there is more sex radicalism now.  But I think thereís also more complacency.  Sexual minority people and feminists tend to assume that weíve won the battle, but in fact there is still a pretty big fight going on about state repression of sexual conduct and representation.  The Sex Wars were indeed a big cat fight.  It would have been more fun if weíd all jumped in a big vat of Jell-O and wrestled it out, but I donít think anybody had that much of a sense of humor then.  There are so many new sexual visionaries that I hate to mention anybody because Iíll surely leave somebody out.  Annie Sprinkle, of course, Carol Queen, Tristan Taormino, those are my top three, I think.

AR:  Something Iíve always wanted to ask you about is public sex, which in a way is a form of sexual radicalism.  Iím a bit ignorant in this area because I fear exposing minors to public displays of sex.  But I always feel like Iím missing something with this topic and have mentioned to my partner on a few occasions, ďI wish I could ask Patrick Califia about this.Ē  Iím actually terribly unprepared for this question-- Iím embarrassed to say that the only book of yours I havenít yet read is Public Sex

PC:  Oh, crap. Why donít you just ask me about the meaning of life?  That would take less time to answer.  But before I launch into the topic of public sex, allow me to mention that the book by that title is actually a collection of essays, only one of which deals specifically with casual anonymous sex in public places.

For a scholarly discussion of how public sex works for men having sex with other men, you canít do better than Laud Humphreysí classic ethnography, Tearoom Trade.  Humphreys talks about the roles that men involved in restroom sex take on, and one of the most important tasks they take on is to make sure nobody comes into the sexual arena who will break it up or disapprove.  So thereís some attempt to reserve the activity for a group of players with a common goal, so that nobody is going to be offended.  Most of the time when someone is arrested for public sex itís because a cop actually violated the boundaries of such a group of men and entrapped somebody. 

The right-wing moralists lump a whole bunch of activities together under the heading of public sex: a threeway in your bedroom (because thereís a third party present, that used to be illegal in England), sex in the back room of a gay bar, sex in the common area of a club or bathhouse, a sex party held in a private home, group sex, cruising in adult bookstores, sex through glory holes in bathroom stalls, and also sex in bathrooms or parks.  So when somebody starts to rant about public sex you should check out exactly what they mean.  Because they often are trying to shut down establishments that are actually offering gay men a chance to cruise inside where no one will be offended. 

AR:  But donít we as a society love to interfere?  Sallie Tisdale wrote in 1994ís Talk Dirty to Me, ďThe fetishist and the prude have the same problem; sex is everywhere.Ē

PC:  If you are heterosexual, nobody calls what you are doing ďpublic sex.Ē  They call it making out or parking or spooning or courtship.  Itís seen as a risqué but usually harmless form of mating behavior.  Gay men who pick each other up out of doors are saying fuck that, we have a right to connect with one another.  Not everybody wants to go to a bar or a club; these environments donít work socially for everyone.  And some men who are cruising outside donít want to enter a space that is labeled gay; they donít think of themselves as gay-- just horny. 

AR: We also love our all-American black and white thinking.

PC:  What is public?  What is private?  Courts have actually ruled that if two men are having sex in a bathroom stall, that is a private space because there is a door on it, and people usually expect to have privacy in a bathroom.  So we have laws passed which require adult bookstores to take the doors off of the video cubicles, which destroys the privacy of the men who want to go there and have sex. 

Is it radical?  Sometimes.  Do I like it?  Well, I would rather have sex at an S/M play party than in the park.  But I think most of the time moral panics about public sex are just homophobic knicker-twisters.  I donít care if men are having sex in the bushes after dark in the park. I donít care if there are nude beaches where you can get a blowjob.  So what?  Sex is not toxic.  Nudity is not harmful.  Gay sex is healthy.  If you donít like it, donít participate. 

Sharing sex with a group of people can be exhilarating. Itís a powerful feeling of being intimate with your community.  For S/M people especially, we have almost no place where we can connect with each other and play.  The parties are an important way for us to find friends and partners, and often itís not safe for us to do S/M in our own homes.  At the best events Iíve attended, I feel that I get high from other peopleís ecstasy as well as my own.  We are doing an unstructured sort of ritual that takes lots of us to a place of bliss and solace.  Iíve learned so much about sex from watching other people do it.  My appreciation of the human body has broadened, and my imagination has been enriched.

The Gay Press

AR: This brings us to assimilation.  Some have said at gay pride marches itís the men dressed as bumblebees or the hunks in jockstraps on the leather floats that are holding back GLBT advances by presenting the community in a poor light. Others are completely against the assimilationism. What are we really talking about here-- attempting cultural acceptance or stifling our unique abilities to see the world in different, more radical ways?  Why is this an issue and what are plausible ways we can make positive change?

PC:  Men dressed as bumblebees?  Who is upset about that, and when did that become a trend?  I have been living under a rock and missed all the fun. 

AR:  Iíd love a bumblebee outfit, myself.  A nice set of jangling antennae . . . 

PC:  The right wing does have a nasty habit of videotaping gay pride events and using that footage to scare people about what will happen if they pass laws to protect our civil rights. 

AR:  Like, ďHereís the debauchery!Ē

PC:  So there is a public relations problem. But if we canít enact all of the aspects of our culture at a gay pride event, where else can we do it?  The ďgay communityĒ is really a network of several or more specialized subcultures; there are minorities within that umbrella group (like leathermen or drag queens).  Differently-gendered people and S/M folks have to educate the larger gay community as well as the entire society about who we are and why we have a right to exist.  Itís unrealistic to expect us to just go away so that ďnormalĒ gay men and lesbians can gain their rights more quickly.  If we could be suppressed, perhaps civil rights laws would be passed more quickly.  But is that really liberation?

AR: Excellent point. 

PC:  I prefer to think that controversial elements within the gay community (and alongside or outside of it) are furthering the cause of liberation by being visible, doing education, and standing up for diversity. 

AR:  Sometimes Iím criticized for delving into what some consider old news but this is an excellent time to assess sexual politics of the 1990s.  I loved when you wrote in 1993 that Andrea Dworkin is morally responsible for what has happened to womenís literature in Canada.  Your introduction to Forbidden Passages: Writings Banned in Canada is one of my absolute favorite pieces regarding censorship issues and Iíve referred to it about ten times over the years.  Did you really tell law enforcement officials in Canada that the cops were telling you, personally, that you couldnít have fantasies about police officers?  It made me sad I wasnít there.  Hereís my point and question:  I find it astounding that all these years later the Canadian censorship laws are STILL in full force damaging the GLBT and feminist communities, with bookstores closing left and right.  How long will this continue?

PC:  Yes, I really said that.  The court was rather quiet afterward.  And yes, despite a Supreme Court victory, Canadian customs is still trying to censor material at the border.  Little Sisters Bookstore is currently fighting a case that involves gay graphic novels and other material.  I was in Vancouver on February 28 [2004] to do a benefit for them.  I urge other people to go to their website and make a donation.

AR:  You wrote in The Burning Pen: Sex Writers On Sex Writing, edited by M. Christian in 2002, the general population seems to think that sex writing is easy and cheap.  Is that changing?  Where do you see sex writers in ten years?  A new trend has been writers staying away from the stigma of ďeroticaĒ and opting for a more ďromance novelistĒ spin, which strikes me as back-pedaling.  Is this a cop out?  I frequently use the term ďpornographerĒ to describe my work but it turns many people off. Is the best approach to think, ďFuck what they think?Ē  It would certainly feel liberating to me.

PC:  No, thereís still an assumption that if you write fiction that intends to turn people on, your work is low quality and not very important.  But when I see books like The World of Normal Boys, an excellent novel that has pretty frank adolescent gay sex in it, I feel hopeful that things can change.  Edmund White has always pushed the boundaries here, and heís revered.  I have no idea where sex writers will be in ten years.  I plan to be here.  Iím going to die with my keyboard on my lap.  Weíll continue to see new younger very talented writers like Lori Selke coming up with new and fabulous erotic fiction.  It can only get better, I think, because there are so many of us now, and we are more cooperative and collaborative with one another than bitchy or competitive.  At least in San Francisco we have a loose group I call the glamorous nerd pornographers.  These folks are my friends as well as colleagues, and I feel very lucky to be creating with them instead of from a jail cell in the Bastille or a mental institution.

Is romance writing a cop out?  I donít know.  Iím pretty romantic. I like to read a bodice ripper from time to time.  Whatís wrong with escapist fiction that turns women on and makes them feel happy and gives them some recreation?  I personally am jealous of anyone who can write a good romance.  Itís HARD to do. 

AR: Macho Sluts scared the shit out of me.  Iím being honest here.  A straight female friend loaned it to me when it first came out.  Being a gay guy it wasnít what I would usually be interested in, yet I was stunned by the imagery, the dialogue, and the unabashed ďsex-feelĒ of it.  It was raw and unapologetic and like all your writing it had a zesty energy rarely found anywhere else.  Have you ever been worried about public reaction to your work, any specific pieces or books?  You seem to have extraordinary resilience and self-confidence.  What is your secret and whatís your advice to writers? 

PC:  Every time I publish a book I want to throw up.  I get incredibly anxious about how it will be received.  Sapphistry and Macho Sluts got such ugly reviews in the feminist press, I am amazed I continued to write. 

AR:  I could see them really ripping into it.  Of course, on some level it mustíve scared them like it did me.

PC:  When I sit down at the keyboard I usually have to make a sneaky bargain with myself that Iíll just write something really dirty but I wonít have to publish it.  What has made me specifically the most anxious?  Well, I wasnít sure I should publish ďThe Surprise PartyĒ and the final scene in ďDoc and FluffĒ where Prez the evil biker gets hung up and sent to the goddess in a lesbian rite of human sacrifice was kind of over the top. 

AR:  So, like most writers you hold your breath until the reviews come out?

PC:  Youíd think I just wouldnít give a damn, but bad reviews are as upsetting to me as a death in the family.  I guess I am this weird combination of an uber-sadist and a big old mushie bear who likes to spoil my cat rotten with little dishes of ice cream and quilt and play in the sandbox with my son Blake.  In certain very specialized sexual contexts I can be as mean as hell, and if I have to fight an intellectual battle, I sigh and gird my loins and go take up the pen and dissect the opposition.  But Iíd rather be home baking cookies and oiling my whips.

AR:  You once wrote that you are left to ďbear witnessĒ for the people who are gone.  For some reason this reminds me of Marilyn Chambersís comment about loving the fact that her work will be turning people on long after her death.  Do you see people studying, say, late twentieth-century erotica as a political thesis in one-hundred years? 

PC:  Yes.

AR:  This has nothing to do with anything-- Iím just tossing it into the mix.  Have you seen the film Monster yet?  It wasnít at all what I expected.  When it was over I made it as far as the lobby and burst into tears, which shook up my partner because I never cry over movies.  I lost it in front of about a hundred people.  (Itís a 12-screen Cineplex).  I was so embarrassed.  Charlize Theron just slammed me with her portrayal of Aileen Wuornos.  Well, speaking of which, a friend in California told me he recalled when she was first arrested and that there was ďa strange embarrassment within the gay community since one of their own was a serial killer.Ē  Any thoughts?  I realize itís a strange question.

PC:  God, no, this is not a stupid question!  I am eager to talk about this.  I havenít seen the movie, Iím afraid to for exactly the reason you describe.  But I probably will go see it because the Aileen Wuornos case has been upsetting me for a long time.  I think the gay press TOTALLY missed the boat by the way they covered (or ignored) her case.  It was such a good opportunity to talk about; violence against women, the rights of sex workers, and the death penalty, and nobody wanted to touch it.  I am not saying that it was OK for her to murder the men she took out, but I do think she had a tortured life, and on some level I see what she did as self-defense.  She had so few options.

AR:  Theron really stressed that desperation in the film.  It just broke my heart.  And against my will.

PC:  Sometimes I think the gay press is infatuated with this fantasy that weíre all making more than $50,000 a year and want to buy expensive sweaters and houses and vacation in the Bahamas and all of that crap.  Thereís no acknowledgement of the fact that most of us, LGBT people, are working-class, stuck in the same economic grind that our straight counterparts find soul-destroying.

AR: Welcome to the club.

PC:  Thereís no critique of capitalism, no class consciousness, and certainly no coverage of dirt poor white trash like Aileen Wuornos.  So many of us drop out of school because we canít take the harassment, we run away from home, we have problems with drugs and alcohol, our survival is always at risk.  She was on the lowest echelon of sex work, she was abused and injured by some of the men who picked her up, and eventually she did what any self-respecting person would do if they felt trapped in such an untenable situation: she turned on them.

Wishes & Confessions

AR:  What is the price you have paid for being who you are?  Would you change anything in your past?  What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were younger?

PC:  Hmmm. The price I have paid for being who I am.  Well, there have been so many rewards that itís hard to think about that. I have a loving network of people who really understand and support me.  I get to do things I really enjoy to make a living, even though itís not very financially rewarding.  A lot of antiporn feminists and law-and-order types hate me, but they were assholes to begin with, and there was never any way to make them like me to begin with.  I think being out of the closet, if you can find a way to do it and survive economically, brings you so much fresh air and room to live that it opens your soul and blesses your whole life.

Would I change anything in my past?  Yes.  I had a gray tomcat I really loved named Gemini.  And I was a stupid kid in my twenties who did not know that feeding cats tuna fish will make them sick.  He really loved to eat that stuff so I let him have it, and when he came down with fatal blockage of the bladder I had to have him put to sleep.  I would do anything to be able to go back and give him a normal life span.  He couldnít find his own food, he was dependent on me for his care, and I fucked it up.  Itís unforgivable.

When I was younger it really would have helped me to know that there were a lot of beautiful courageous and outrageous freaks in the world who would welcome me if I could just make it out of Utah.

AR: Who has been the love of your life?

PC:  I canít hand that tarnished and dented crown to any single individual.  Iíve been deeply in love with so many people, and a few of them never knew about it, and Iím sure thought of our liaisons as one-night stands.  I am in love with poetry, and my only inspiration for poetry is to drown in contemplation of a beautiful and dangerous Other who somehow personifies both the perilous mystery of divinity and the poignant fragility of mortal beauty.  I love to be enthralled, fascinated, in pursuit and the captive of sensual abandon, scarred intelligence, anger begat by integrity.  Iím never happier than when Iím in love.  And I hope with all my cowardly and unworthy heart that it never, ever happens to me again.

AR:  Last question: What might your fans find surprising or even shocking to learn about you? 

PC:  Iíve been celibate for as long as a year when I came out of a bad relationship and felt that I had to do some serious rethinking about how I went about picking people to love.

I have a huge collection of miniature symbolic objects for my sand play therapy, and I go gaga over Playmobile and other tiny toys.

I will remain in the same position for more than an hour if I can convince my cat to sit on my lap and let me scratch her face. 

I came to Earth from another existence in which I got to be in warm water all the time. There is something wrong about walking around in all of this air.

I could go on, but I think it would be better to stop here and give everybody a blessing of enjoying their unique peculiarities. 

You can visit Patrick Califia to read more at his Web site.
Read more Interviews from Alexander Renault.

Copyright © 2004 Alexander Renault . All Rights Reserved. Do not copy or post in whole or in part. 

alex renault
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Alexander Renault is the pen name for a writer who has published in multiple genres. He has worked in the mental health and drug and alcohol fields for the past fifteen years. Mr. Renault is the editor of the hardback, critically acclaimed, Lambda Literary award nominee, non-fiction anthology, Walking Higher: Gay Men Write About the Deaths of Their Mothers (Renault Publishing 2004) and the collection of his sexuality essays, Queerer than You Think: On Post-Millennial Sex, Bodies & Porn (Renaissance 2004). He writes a sexuality column for BeefyBoyz.com and is a regular contributor to Mind Caviar, and has published in other online ezines.

He invites you to visit him at http://www.AlexanderRenault.com.

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