Tristan Taormino is an inspiration, and a sensation. She is literally all over the map, from a recent trip to teach sex ed in Germany, to appearances on HBO's Real Sex and Ricki Lake, a column in the Village Voice, authoring numerous books, most notably The Ultimate Guide to Anal Sex for Women, which landed her on Howard Stern. It's hard to even try to summarize her career, so I won't. Suffice it to say, she has her hands (and other body parts) in just about every area of the sex industry - from writing and editing books to designing buttplugs, film and television work, to hands-on sex education and college lecturing.
I will say that as a feminist and sex writer, I've learned so much from Tristan's honesty in writing about sex. She says things that often no one else will say, and fuses sex education with a political urgency that is absolutely vital. She makes the world a better, freer place for all of us to fuck, regardless of our sexual orientation, and does it all with style, passion and seemingly boundless energy.
You wear many hats, including writer, editor, sex educator, performer/director, film consultant. Which of these do you see as your primarily role? Which do you enjoy the most?
Of everything I do --- writing, editing, producing my web site, teaching, lecturing, consulting --- teaching is the most satisfying. When someone comes to me and says that something I wrote or a class I taught changed their sex life, then I know I am doing something good in the world.
Youve done everything from work as a technical consultant on Spike Lee's She Hate Me, been a frequent expert on Ricki Lake, made your own porn videos The Ultimate Guide to Anal Sex I and II, along with writing a book of the same name, to editing the Best Lesbian Erotica series and authoring Down and Dirty Sex Secrets and True Lust: Adventures in Sex, Porn and Perversion. How do you juggle all of these tasks?
Well, it probably comes as no shock to anyone that I am a complete workaholic. Although Paper magazine once called me a "workaholitrix" which sounds so much more glamorous. I really do work too much, but on top of that I am super organized, I multi-task well, and I get a lot done when I work. Geez, now I sound like I am at a job interview or something.
Do you plan out every new project, or do they find you? How do far in advance are you booked?
It's really a combination of me going after things that I want to do and people approaching me with interesting projects. It's a balancing act, for sure. I am trying to book less events and appearances in the next year than usual. This past year, I was booked about 10 months in advance. I want to decrease my events so I can concentrate on writing more in the next 12 months.
What would your ideal sex ed curriculum be like for students (from junior high to college). What area of sexuality do you think teenagers and adults are most ignorant about?
Images of sex are everywhere, but information is not, and that's a major problem, especially for young people who see and hear all this sexually explicit stuff, but have no clear education about their own bodies, safer sex, and birth control. You must be explicit with kids, it's that simple. You can't show them vague diagrams, you've got to get real. And you can't get up in a room full of people of any age and be dry and detached about the subject. You have to be funny, engaged, passionate, and honest. That's my credo when I teach and I think it works.
You're one of the organizers of this year's second annual Dark Odyssey: A Journey of Sexual Exploration, a weekend retreat filled with workshops and kinky play that mixes spirituality with sexuality, with workshops such as "Sexual Trancework" and "When Slap, Kick & Slam Meet Sex," and presenters such as Nina Hartley and Barbara Carrellas. Why was Dark Odyssey started? What makes it different from other such weekends? What do you see as the connection between BDSM and spirituality?
Dark Odyssey is a completely unique event like no other which combines sex, SM, and spirituality. There are lots of hands-on, interactive classes in the daytime and cool special events at night. It all happens at this camp, so it's like the kinky, clothing optional camp you never got to go to! Last year was our first year, and it was amazing - an unprecedented mix of leatherfolk, queers, straights, transfolk, sex-positive peeps, poly people, pagans, wiccans, tantric practitioners, and swingers. It really encourages openness and a kind of cross-polination of communities. We try to create an environment where people are free to explore their desires, try new things, and challenge assumptions, boundaries, and limits. That's what the event is all about.
You are partnered with a transgendered man, and write frequently, in your "In the Gender Blender" column in Velvetpark and in The Village Voice, about trans-related issues. I read that you identify as pansexual, but prefer queer and dyke for the sense of community they convey. Can you describe your own sexual identity at present and how that fits into the lesbian community and the larger queer community?
I identify strongly as queer and as a dyke, because, as I have said before, it's not just about who I fuck and love, being queer is also about my politics, my culture, my community, and the way I see the world. People want to call me bisexual or pansexual or whatever, but I believe in people's power to self-identity. I write about trans issues because it is an issue near and dear to my heart. Yes, my primary partner, Colten, is a genderqueer, tranny boy, and we have a non monogamous kinky relationship. So, when, for example trans people are excluded or not welcomed -- because I believe inclusion and going beyond that to being welcoming are two different things -- in certain queer spaces, I take that very personally. But on a bigger level, I also believe that the discussion that trans activists have inspired really is some of the most important stuff happening in the queer community. People's abilities to embody multiple genders and non-binary gender identities and bodies really does challenge the core of the two-gender system. To me, it's some of the most important work, both theoretically and practically, that we can be doing.
Your work is impressive because it really straddles a line between kind of fringe sexualities and topics and mainstream culture, and often brides the two, such as your HBO Real Sex performance about strap-ons, your porn videos, Howard Stern and Ricki Lake appearances. What are your goals in terms of mainstream media? How do you navigate having to talk about weighty topics such as bisexuality, transgenderism or anal sex within the confines of these kinds of media?
You're right, I do straddle the line between the fringe and the mainstream, and, honestly, sometimes it's a tricky place to be. But I believe I need to be there. Minority sexual communities --- whether queer, kinky, polyamourous, or some combination --- are my home base. They are where I come from, where my heart is, where my friends and heros and lovers are. But, sometimes I must move outside my comfort zone. When I do an appearance or teach a class in New York or San Francisco or at a place like Toys in Babeland, I am, to some extent, preaching to the converted. When I go to a place like North Carolina, when I appear on Ricki Lake, when I do HBO, I am attempting to bring positive, empowering, radical ideas about sex and gender to the masses. It's difficult, but important to counteract all the other crap and to say it to an audience that may not have heard it before at all.
This is an election year, and you've written about sex and politics in relation to Jack Ryan. How do you see sexual freedom playing a role in the Presidential election?
Well, I am not the first to say this, but if we have four more years of George W., we're fucked in so many ways. It's not a very good time to be a sex radical, a pornographer, a queer, a liberal, etc. We need to get him out. Period.
Describe your perfect New York day.
Colten and I wake up a 6 am and take our dogs, Reggie Love and Jordan, to Prospect Park in Brooklyn. Walk around the park and see how many breeds of dog we can identify. Get an egg and cheese sandwich at Bergen Bagel. Hop on the subway to Manhattan to the office of Dr. Marisa D'Andrea for a chiropractic adjustment and some acupuncture (she's licensed in both and she keeps me healthy). Then a manicure and pedicure at Rehoboth on 14th Street and Sixth Avenue. Lunch at Subway (I am a totally cheap date). A matinee at the movie theater on 19th and Broadway, where, I swear, every single person who works there is polite and friendly (I am a stickler for good customer service). Hook up with friends for dinner at Avenue A Sushi, where I have been going now for more than ten years and every time I order the same thing: Tuna Cado. Off to some new dessert/bakery place one of said friends has found that makes cupcakes that rival those of Magnolia or Billy's. There, indulge in dessert, the natural anti-depressant. Then home to Brooklyn to see what TiVo has lovingly recorded for us while we were out.
Youre a lifelong New Yorker, so Im curious as to your favorite New York locales for public sex.
Well, I have done it in Grand Central Station during rush hour, which was a blast and probably the most risky. These days, I am so much less of an exhibitionist that I barely even play or have sex at parties where everyone else is doing it. Same goes for public sex, no matter where I am. I just am in a very private space right now.
Do you consider yourself a confirmed New Yorker, or do you see yourself moving at any point?
You never can tell where I will go. But, I just finished renovating my total fixer-upper brownstone in Brooklyn, it took four years and was complete hell, so I am not going anywhere for a while. I want to enjoy the place I put all this work and money into! Plus, I really love Brooklyn. I am definitely not leaving this borough. When I leave, I am leaving the state.
I asked you this five years ago, so I'm curious as to your answers now. Please use five words to describe yourself.
Well, I have NO idea what I said five years ago, so here goes: ambitious, intense, compassionate, clever, moody.
What's next in the world of Tristan Taormino?
As I said, I am really try to cut down on the travel and events, and focus a lot more on writing projects. I am currently working on three anthologies: Best of Best Lesbian Erotica 2, Hot Lesbian Erotica, and Best Lesbian Erotica 2005. It's the tenth anniversary of the series, which makes me very happy and proud. I am writing the revised, second edition of The Ultimate Guide to Anal Sex for Women, which I promise will be bigger, longer, thicker. We, my partner and I, are giving puckerup.com a complete makeover. I am working on a TV project in the UK. And I am writing a new book, the subject of which is a secret.
Learn even more about Tristan, read her advice columns, see her photo gallery, buy her products and sign up for her newsletter at Puckerup.com
Photo of Tristan by Colten Tognazzini.
-- Interview by Rachel Kramer Bussel