By Jean Roberta
Tristan Taormino, once named by Advocate magazine as one of
the best and brightest gay and lesbian people under 30 (an
age she has since reached), is a kind of sexual Renaissance
woman: a sex educator who gives lectures and runs
workshops, a writer and editor of erotic literature, and a
performer who has starred in her own erotic videos. She is
currently the editor of On Our Backs lesbian erotic
magazine and series editor of the annual Best Lesbian
Erotica anthologies published by Cleis Press. Her most
recently-published book is Pucker Up, for which she was
interviewed by Rachel Kramer Bussel (article available
on-line at www.lesbianation.com). Check out the list of
TT's accomplishments at the end of this interview. She
agreed to answer some questions from columnist and writer
JR: When you were a child, what did you want to be when
you grew up?
TT: I wanted to be a teacher or a Solid Gold dancer. I
have grown up to be a little bit of both, I think.
JR: Did the Catholicism of your family affect the
development of your sexuality?
TT: Both of my parents were raised Catholic, but I was not raised with
any organized religion. I was also never baptised either, which, when
I was a kid was a huge deal (I was the only kid I knew who wasn't baptised,
and other kids told me I was going to hell for it). I had a vague sense
of Catholicism and Christianity, but went to church about two times,
and don't think it affected my sexuality per se.
JR: How and when did you first realize that you were sexually attracted
TT: I grew up being sexual with both girls and boys from a very young
age. I can remember fooling around with girls until I was in Junior
High, then things definitely shifted. Girls started getting 'boy crazy,'
and I just kind of followed suit. I had an enormous crush on one of
my best friends in high school and we had one of those intense, emotional,
flirtatious-but-not-quite-sexual relationships. When I was 19 and a
sophomore in college, I developed a crush on a friend who was a dyke.
I decided to act on it,
so I told her, and she became my first girlfriend.
JR: How and when did you first become involved in "BDSM" (for lack
of a clearer term) sexuality/relationships?
TT: I have a very clear memory of being into Dominant and submissive
role playing with girlfriends that I was messing around with - I really
got off on it. I started playing consciously with BDSM with my first
serious girlfriend in college - I was a sophomore.
JR: Do you consider yourself more of a maverick player than a member
of a BDSM "community"?
TT: No, I absolutely consider myself a member of the BDSM community;
in fact, I think that is one of the best parts about being public about
being kinky - I have met and become friends with some truly amazing
JR: Late condolences for the early loss of your father. Do you have
other close relatives still living?
TT: My mother is still alive, and her two brothers; both her parents
are dead. I have four cousins on my mom's side of the family, one of
whom has been living in a coma for several years. I don't know anyone,
except one cousin, from my father's family.
JR: How have your relatives responded to your public persona as a sex
TT: Well, my father when he was alive totally supported me, and my
mom, well, she has come a long way. She embraces all of it, even the
porn and the anal sex which even I admit is a lot for a mother to swallow!
But she's really great. The rest of the family doesn't really talk about
JR: You are widely admired for your work in several different fields
at once. Which came first?
TT: I began writing erotic fiction and putting it out into the world
in 1993; pretty soon, I discovered that I liked non-fiction much better
and sort of left erotica behind as a writer but stayed with it as an
editor. My sex education and public speaking sprang up once my book
The Ultimate Guide to anal Sex for Women was published. I made my first
porn movie in 1999.
JR: Is there one (paid) activity that you consider your primary occupation?
TT: I consider myself an educator first and foremost because I see
my writing, and even my porn, as educational.
JR: Which of your published pieces (including books you have edited)
are your favorites, and why?
TT: I love each and every one of them for different reasons. My erotic
story "Bombshell" was my first piece published in book form in the anthology
The Femme Mystique edited by Leslea Newman (Alyson, 1995), so that one
is special to me because it was my virgin voyage.
JR: Which writers have influenced you?
TT: Joan Nestle, Patrick Califia-Rice, Heather Lewis, Paul Monette,
Susie Bright, Jack Morin, Betty Dodson, and countless others.
JR: Among people you have known personally, who do you think has had
the most influence on you?
TT: My father, absolutely.
JR: Do you define yourself as a feminist? Could you define your political
TT: I am absolutely a feminist and consider the work I do very political.
I believe in empowering women around their sexuality, and I think that
working in the sex industry, with political consciousness and awareness,
is very important. I also believe that speaking out about women's bodies,
pleasure, and sexuality in an anti-sex, anti-pleasure, sexually repressed
culture is radical in and of itself.
JR: As part of your sex-education work, have you lobbied for the decriminalization
TT: I have lobbied per se, but I do support its legalization.
JR: Various members of the BDSM or leather community have described
generational differences ("Old Guard" vs. younger generation) as well
as distinctions between Dominance/submission and sadomasochism, not
to mention the Handkerchief Code. Could you define your sexuality in
TT: I identify as a pansexual, polyamorous switch, and that identify
is definitely a product of my generation. I
think that older folks were a lot more rigid in their
definitions, and it was a lot harder to cross back and
forth across lines of gender, sexual orientation, and
top/bottom than it is today. I prefer partners of all
genders and I am definitely non-monogamous. I am both a
Top (and owner of a darling boy) and a bottom. I am
definitely more into Dominance and submission (D/s) than
sadomasochism (SM). If I am flagging anything, I guess
it's: red hanky on the left for a fisting top and yellow
hanky on the left for my golden shower fetish and purple
hanky and dark blue hanky on the right for my love of play
piercing and anal sex (not necessarily together).
JR: Are there particular risks or costs involved in being
a pansexual, polyamorous switch that you have learned to
TT: People assume that because I am in an open
relationship and I fuck people of all genders, that I will
simply fuck anyone. Um, hello, I do have taste, and I am
not just gonna jump into bed with every single person I
JR: There is a saying that the best sex happens in the
worst relationships. What is your response to that?
TT: I don't entirely agree. Sure, there are times when a
sexual connection between people is so primal, so intense,
and everything else - communication, compatibility is just
shit. But I tend to really like the company of the people
JR: Does your scorpion tattoo have some personal
significance that you would be willing to explain?
TT: My father was a scorpio, and the tattoo on my leg is a
memorial to him.
JR: Are you currently working on any big project aside
from your ongoing editing and educational work?
TT: Yes, I am working on a development deal with MTV to
produce and host my own show on sex and relationships.
But, as you know, a development deal does not guarantee a
show on the air, so we shall see . . .
~ Producer/Director/Star of Tristan Taormino's Ultimate Guide to Anal
Sex for Women 2, the video based on the book (Evil Angel Video, 2001)
~ Producer/Host of Sexology on the Burly Bear Network (2001) [link to
~ Producer/Director/Star of Tristan Taormino's Ultimate Guide to Anal
Sex for Women,the video based on the book (Evil angel Video, 1999) [link
PUBLISHING AND EDITING
~ Editor, On Our Backs (1999-present)[link to http://onourbacksmag.com]
~ Contributing Editor and Columnist, On Our Backs (1998-1999)
~ Publisher and Editor-in-Chief, Puck Up (1995-1996)
~ Contributing Editor, HX for Her
WRITING - BOOKS
~ Author, Pucker Up: A Hands-on guide to Ecstatic Sex (ReganBooks,
~ Author, the Ultimate guide to anal Sex for Women (Cleis Press, 1997)
[link to http://www.puckerup.com/store/book.htm]
~ Series Editor, Best Lesbian Erotica (Cleis Press, 1996, 1997, 1998,
1999, 2000, 2001 [link to http://www.puckerup.com/best_lesbian/bestlesbian.htm]
~ Co-editor, A Girl's Guide to Taking Over the World: Writings from
the Girl Zine Revolution (St. Martin's Press, 1997)
~ Co-editor, Ritual Sex (Rhinoceros Books, 1996)
WRITING - ANTHOLOGIES
~ Faster Pussycats edited by Trixie (Alyson, 2001)
~ You Are Being Lied To (Disinformation Books, 2001)
~ His Hands, His Tools, His Sex, His Dress edited by Catherine Reid
and Holly Iglesias (Harrington Park Press, 2001)
~ Out of the Ordinary edited by Noelle Howey and Ellen Samuels (St.
Martin's Press, 2000)
~ A woman Like That edited by Joan Larkin (Avon Books, 1999)
~ Strategic Sex edited by D. Travers Scott (Haworth Press, 1999)
~ Sex Spoken Here edited by Carol Queen and Jack Davis (Down There Press,
~ Virgin Territory 2 edited by Shar Rednour (richard Kasak books, 1997)
~ Chick Lit 2 edited by Mazza, DeShell & Sheffield (FC2, 1996)
~ Food for Life edited by Lawrence Schimel (Cleis Press, 1996)
~ Heatwave: Women in Love & Lust edited by Lucy Jane Bledsoe (Alyson,
~ The Femme Mystique edited by Leslea Newman (Alyson, 1995)
WRITING - MAGAZINES & NEWSPAPERS
~ Columnist, The Village Voice [link to http://www.villagevoice.com]
~ Columnist, Penthouse.com [link to http://www.penthouse.com/exclusives/trsitan]
~ Advice Columnist, Taboo Magazine [link to http://www.tabookink.com]
~ Columnist, The Loop (Vancouver, BC) [link to http://www.theloopmagazine.com]
~ Spectator [link to http://www.spectator.net]
~ Paper Magazine
~ The Advocate
~ The Boston Phoenix
~ Blue Food
~ Venus Infers
~ On Our Backs
~ Out Magazine: 100 Gay Success Stories of the Year (2000)
~ Detour Magazine: Five Adult Industry Up and Comers (1999)
~ Paper Magazine: Thirty New Yorkers Bound for Greatness (1998)
~ The Advocate: The Best and Brightest Gay & Lesbian People Under 30
~ Playboy, RedBook, Entertainment Weekly, New York Magazine, The Village
Voice, Time Out New York, Penthouse, Out Magazine, Details, AVN, Spin,
Detour Magazine, Utne Reader, the Boston Globe, P.O.V., Publishers Weekly,
Lambda Book Report, Harvard Lesbian & Gay Review, Salon Magazine, Women's
Review of Books, Newsday, San Francisco Bay Times, Seattle Weekly, The
Austin Chronicle, The Star Tribune, The Journal Gazette, The Desert
Sun, The Library Journal, Sojourner, Easy Reader, Libido, Pop Smear
Magazine, Girlfriends, Curve, Bad Attitude, Ben Is Dead, Factsheet Five,
~ The Howard Stern Show, Loveline with Dr. Drew and Adam Corolla, Sex
Files on The Discovery Channel, HBO's Real Sex #25, MTV's The History
of Sex, Fox News, City TV (Toronto), Good Day New York, New Jersey Is
Talking, KESQ-TV, Lesbian Central
~ Toys in Babeland, New York, NY
~ The Learning Annex, New York, NY
~ The Eulenspiegel Society (TES), New York, NY
~ Lesbian Sex Mafia, New York, NY
~ Good Vibrations, San Francisco, CA
~ QSM, San Francisco, CA
~ Stormy Leather, San Francisco, CA
~ Black Rose, Washington, DC
~ FIST, Baltimore, MD
~ Grand Opening! Sexuality Boutique, Brookline, MA
~ Living in Leather Conference, Ft. Lauderdale, FL
~ International Ms. Leather Contest, Toronto, Canada
~ Come As You Are, Toronto, Canada
~ Intimacies, Northampton, MA
~ Harvard University, Cambridge, MA
~ Yale University, New Haven, CT
~ Brown University, Providence, RI
~ New York University, New York, NY
~ Wesleyan University, Middletown, CT
~ University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA
~ Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, NY
~ University of California, Santa Barbara, CA
~ Hampshire College, Amherst, MA
~ San Francisco Book Fair, San Francisco, CA
~ New York Public Library, New York, NY
~ Highways Performance Space, Santa Monica, CA
~ OutWrite Conference, Boston, MA
~ Michigan Womyn's Music Festival, MI
~ 2000 AVN Awards (2)
~ 2000 X-Rated Critics Organization Award
~ 1999 Firecracker Alternative Book Award Nominee
~ 1998 Firecracker Alternative Book Award Winner
~ 1998 #1 Bestseller/Women's Sex Instruction (amazon.com)
~ 1998 Lambda Literary Award Nominee
~ 1998 Vice Versa Award Winner for excellence in gay and lesbian journalism
~ 1997 Firecracker Alternative Book Award Nominee