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[whitespace] Susie Bright Local exposure: Susie Bright speaks Sept. 23 at Copperfield's in Sebastopol.


Susie Bright's new book brings sex out of the closet

By Patrick Sullivan

"YOU JUST HAVE nothing left to hide, do you?" a shell-shocked stage manager once exclaimed to Susie Bright after the provocative author finished reading to a stunned nightclub audience an erotic account of a wet dream she'd had about Dan Quayle. The malapropism-spouting former vice president had apparently aroused enough genuine desire in Bright to make her fantasy a shocking experience for the crowd. She even knocked over her microphone in the throes of her passionate performance.

But recounting right-wing wet dreams in public is only the beginning for Bright. The Quayle experience, one of many anecdotes that she relates in her new book, Full Exposure (HarperSanFrancisco; $22), is a personal application of the prescription for candor that the sexpert-at-large wants to write for us all. Bright (whose previous books include The Sexual State of the Union) is willing to take her own medicine, and she thinks it's time the rest of America opened its bulging closets and let long-hidden truths about sex get a nice suntan.

That attitude, of course, raises one obvious question. In a time when the airwaves are saturated with Viagra jokes and stories about fellatio in the Oval Office, are there any musty erotic secrets left to air out? What makes a sexual liberationist like Bright different from, say, Howard Stern?

To her credit, that's an issue the author comes to grips with in Full Exposure, which purports to be her most personal book to date. Today's entertainers and advertisers, Bright admits, throw titillation around like colored beads at Mardi Gras. But she argues that there's something missing from this erotic imagery: "It's not designed to promote self-enlightenment or human connection, it's made to get you to do something else--buy something, yearn to buy something--which leaves you erotically nowhere. . . .

Titillation is the American standard: first offer a peek, then slap the hand that seeks to touch."

In Full Exposure, Bright employs her usual conversational writing style, packed with offhand quips and casual irony. That breezy tone, combined with the book's brevity, masks the serious goal of this 163-page volume. Bright has long defended freedom of sexual expression against all comers, from the puritanical right to the sexaphobic left. This old rogues' gallery is given a dutiful slap on the wrist in Full Exposure, but the main villain this time out is the commodification of sex.

That might sound strange coming from a woman who began her career selling vibrators and has gone on to edit well-marketed collections of erotica, but Bright is fully aware of the ambiguities surrounding current attitudes. She's delighted that people today feel free to write, read, and talk about sex. She's less happy that they do it all in the language of a Madison Avenue marketing profile--what she calls the ethos of "My sexual preference is my lifestyle is my politics is my record label."

As always, she makes her point with humor: "If Calvin Klein wants to get behind the Kinky Krusade, if Nike wants to court erotic chic in athletic advertisements, who am I to wax nostalgic over the days when we whispered to ourselves like fugitives?" she writes. "[But] we're still dealing with sex like it was an eight-crayon box."

SPEAKING OF MARKETING, there seems to be more than a little bit of it going on with Full Exposure itself. Someone somewhere decided to spin the book, which is subtitled "Opening up to Sexual Creativity and Erotic Expression," as a kind of self-help title, and maybe it is, albeit in a highly political, in-your-face kind of way. What John Gray book, after all, offers a 16-point list that includes such items as "Decloak right in the middle of fucking"?

And that may be the most heartening thing about Susie Bright. Rigid categories of all kinds--whether from the world of advertising or book publishing--come to grief at the hands of her sharp wit and irrepressible individualism. In a world that seems more standardized by the minute, it's nice to be able to count on someone for a rational dose of old-fashioned chaos.


Susie Bright appears Thursday, Sept. 23, at 7 p.m. at Copperfield's Books, 138 N. Main St., Sebastopol. 823-2618.

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From the September 16-23, 1999 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

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