From Issue 3.1 - September/October 1996
Robert: How did you discover gender?
Carol: I came out in the 70s, the decade which pioneered essentialist ideas about gender -- there were two, they were different, and one had hegemony over the other. All these ideas are very traditional, but feminism upped the ante and encouraged women to think of ourselves as a minority group and men as a separate species. For fifteen or twenty years, I didn't hear any concept attached to gender beyond "it's oppressive." But what was usually meant by that was "men oppress women," not "the notion that we must have, and conform to social expectations of, a gender is oppressive." Frankly, I've experienced more of the second form of oppression than I have of garden-variety sexism, though naturally I've had my share of that, too. My attraction to the lesbian community was partly about my sense that in that community, traditional gender norms wouldn't apply. I was partly right about that, but what I experienced in the lesbian community of the 70s was also a new and different gender rigidity -- changed expectations, but expectations nevertheless. It wasn't until I transgressed one big dyke gender norm -- "lesbians don't fuck men" -- that I began to be freed up to see that gender makes a better sex toy than Way of Life.
Robert: Why is it that people often look at others who are over-the-edge, gender-wise, as role models?
Carol: Well, several things are going on at once. Differently-gendered people are not viewed with much more comfort in the traditional, essentialist lesbian and gay community than they are over at the Fresno PTA. There remains a lot of segregation and oppression within our own communities -- look at the ongoing situation regarding transgendered women at the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival, for example. At the same time, lots of us have articulated to ourselves that the two-gender, blue-blanket-means-baseball / pink-blanket-means-Barbie system is part of what we think is fucked up about the world. Or the worldly manifestations of gender oppression affect us even if we haven't articulated this. And when people come along who have negotiated gender differently -- as many transgendered people have clearly done, for example -- their struggles give the rest of us more room. Also, struggling with the straight and gay/lesbian worlds' anti-transgender bias can hone an individual's charisma, I think. Making your own way in the face of social opprobrium makes you stronger and more individual, and that's attractive to people, especially since in the queer and leather communities we're seeking greater individuality vis-a-vis the vanilla, het community. The other side of this is that going through this struggle for individuation doesn't make you a saint. For instance, I've been attacked by a "dyke with a dick" for being bisexual. It's like, "huh?
Robert: Have you ever had an exciting time getting your own gender prejudices tweaked?
Carol: It's exciting every time I get my gender prejudices tweaked. Thinking I know someone's gender and then finding out I was wrong. Or never being able to figure it out. That's very hot for me. One time I was involved in a sort of "sudden-onset" threesome with a male partner and a guy he'd picked up hitchhiking, and when the guy took his pants off, he was wearing lacy pink panties. It's such a simple thing, but what a charge! It represented to me that I couldn't rest on my ordinary gender expectations. It was sexy and mind-expanding -- even though, as you like to say, "they're not women's clothes, they're mine." True, but most men would never adopt what's usually thought of as female garb, and it means something when a man does so.
Robert: When was the first time you remember engaging your sexuality and gender in something other than societally-condoned patterns?
Carol: Well, I was a tomboy, but pre-sexual at that point. I guess the first time would be when I came out as a lesbian -- since it is a societally-imposed gender imperative that women fuck men, not other women. This is where the analysis of gender and sexual orientation converge. The next point at which I let my sexual experience overflow gender boundaries was discovering male sexual personae. I actually did that first with you. Getting into being a boy, and finding that it felt very different erotically and emotionally than it did when I was "myself" -- "female." And then getting into strap-ons, whether my sex/gender identity was female or male at the time, was a revelation.
Robert: You're the boy with the biggest one I ever saw.
Carol: I know, that's why you love me.
Robert: Back in 1990 you wrote a piece called "After the Light Changed" (this was after you'd gotten into using a strap-on). How did that story evolve?
Carol: I was a very bad little lesbian in the 70s because I dug gay male porn. It gave me a sense of men's eroticism without the pesky heterosexuality. It let me fantasize about myself as a man. It was totally hot to me in a way that lesbian porn -- such as it was in that decade -- never was. After I had come to terms with my attraction to men and come out as bisexual, my erotic male ideal was still a gay man, preferably a hunky leather daddy. You're sort of a big fag yourself, you know, and that's one important source of my attraction to you. So that story was a way of me writing porn that was personally very erotically meaningful -- the leather daddy lets the bi girl stick around and fucks her silly, even after he discovers that she's not the boy he thought she was -- and that helped bridge my queer identities. As it turned out, a lot of other people seem to respond to that bridge-building -- I've gotten more response from that story than I have from anything else I've ever written. It's being expanded into a novel (to be published by Cleis Press), and gender/fucking, as well as orientation-crossing, is a big theme.
My other projects -- Switch
Hitters, which just came out, and PoMoSexuals: Against Essentialist
Notions of Gender and Sexual Orientation, both co-edited with Lawrence
Schimel, expand on those themes. We're now accepting submissions for
PoMoSexuals. For writer's guidelines send e-mail to CarolQueen@aol.com
or write to 2215-R Market, Suite 455, SF, CA 94114. Hurry -- the
deadline is November 1st!