Ottawa
3 min

Vampires, sex & cock-obsessed gay men

Patrick Califia battles gender transition & feminist backlash

HORRIBLE CREATURES. Patrick Califia's transition is ammo for feminist critics that rail "only someone who is as male as you could have defended pornography and sadomasochism." Credit: Mark Chester

The voice on the phone sounds remarkably male – no surprise – but some might find it hard to believe that this same speaker was once a major voice for leather dykedom, pro-pleasure feminism and, arguably, the founding voice of lesbian S/M erotica.



Patrick Califia is a sex radical, activist and the author of numerous books of essays and fiction. In late July, he will make his first appearance in Ottawa to hold two workshops and promote his new book, Mortal Companion.



Califia is a prolific writer, many of his works nominees and finalists for Lambda Literary Awards. His pioneering 1972 short-story collection Macho Sluts – written when he was a woman – established the lesbian S/M genre. The same book dragged Califia, a vocal anti-censorship advocate, into the censorship battles of Vancouver bookstore Little Sister’s.



Censorship isn’t the only battle Califia has fought in recent years. Eight years ago he was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, a chronic pain syndrome of unknown cause. Five years ago, Califia also began his transition to a male gender – facing feminist backlash.



The fibromyalgia has gotten worse, says Califia. He has trouble with mobility, due to nerve damage in his arms and legs, and uses a wheelchair, as well as voice recognition software to continue writing.



“There certainly have been people who have fallen out of my life because they either don’t believe that fibromyalgia is a real illness or they can’t deal with the fact,” says Califia.



“I think that when people are disabled, that certainly is not perceived as a sexy thing,” says Califia, “and you are perceived as not being as strong or as powerful. So, I think that people who were invested in that kind of an image of me can’t tolerate being around the reality of my life. But, you know, I’m 50, and I’m happy that I’m still alive and still doing all the things that I love to do.”



Complicating Califia’s transition was the central contribution he made to the porn and anti-porn debate in feminism. Accusations that he had abandoned womanhood – or even that he had never really been one – followed.



“That certainly did make it more difficult to transition, because I knew that a lot of the sex wars were about men versus women and the way that that was set up was anti-porn feminists trying to defend this true essence of womanhood against patriarchal, oppressive sex,” says Califia.



“For me to make a transition certainly has put ammunition in the hands of those people. I have gotten my share of triumphant, angry and vile e-mail – basically saying ‘Ha, I knew you were one of those horrible creatures all along’ and ‘Only someone who is as male as you obviously are could have defended pornography and sadomasochism’ and I think that’s sad.”



In an ideal world, says Califia, people’s opinions would be respected regardless of their gender. He says he “owns” his experience and the work he did while he identified as a leather dyke as a very valuable part of his past.



“Those were the stories that I told from that perspective and at the time that was how I understood my identity. It was how I lived,” Califia explains. “And I couldn’t share with people stuff that I wasn’t ready to deal with about myself because I didn’t know it either. So it certainly wasn’t about deceiving women, or certainly, as I have been accused, of trying to bring male sexuality into the women’s community.”



In terms of his transition, Califia – who has had chest but not genital surgery – says he is “happier” but isn’t happy with the surgery, in terms of results and the uninsured costs.



“It’s not perfect but, you know, nobody’s body is ever perfect,” he says.



He also admits to having mellowed over the years. He has much less casual sex with strangers, for one thing. But mellowing is relative. Califia is still outspoken on a number of issues.



Age of consent? Califia says he knows 30-year-olds he doesn’t think should qualify. Pornography? Most of it is still bad. Gay men? They need to get over their cock obsession. Otherwise he, as a bisexual trans man, is never going to get a date.



And let’s not forget the sex lives of vampires. Califia’s Ottawa visit is partly to promote his new vampire novel Mortal Companion.



“I think even people who don’t usually like vampire fiction as a genre might enjoy this book because it is very romantic,” says Califia. “I think that there is a very big difference between this book and a lot of conventional gothic vampire fiction. These vampires have a sex life. I think that in a lot of vampire literature the idea is that either you can be immortal and kill people and drink their blood, or you can have sex, but you can’t have both.”



Califia admits that writing a book that didn’t have a lot of sex in it would probably bore him to death. Some might say it just wouldn’t have any bite.



MORTAL COMPANION.

Suspect Thoughts Press.

288 pages.

$18.95.



READING.

Califia will read from Mortal Companion and Sensuous Magic: A Guide to S/M for Adventurous Couples.

5–7pm. Sat, Jul 24.

Venus Envy, 110 Parent Ave.

Free.



WORKSHOPS.

Writing sexually explicit fiction.

8pm. Sat, Jul 24.

Venus Envy, 110 Parent Ave.

Tickets: $25, at Venus Envy.



HOW TO TOP (FOR PEOPLE WHO USUALLY DON’T).

8pm. Sun, Jul 25.

Club SAW, 67 Nicholas St.

Tickets: $25, at Venus Envy.