The Beatrice Interview

Helen Eisenbach

Touching Your Inner Lesbian -- And Hers

Especially That One, The Really Cute Girl Over By the Pool Table

interviewed by Ron Hogan


The wry sensibility of Helen Eisenbach's Lesbianism Made Easy has caught on with many readers. But the arch tone belies the book's upbeat vision of all-girl sex at its finest. The New York-based playwright and novelist makes dead-on points about the importance of self-esteem and gives sage advice about relating to other lesbians. (Of course, she also offers tips on how to seduce married women, but that's another story.) I spoke with Eisenbach about her happily homosexual tendencies and her preference for the label "womanizer."

RH: It seems as if there's a lesbian humor book boom right now.

HE: It's funny, because when people were trying to talk me into doing this book, they were telling me about what a demand there would be for it, and then when my agent started sending out the proposals, publishers would say, "We're sorry, but we already have our lesbian book" -- as if one is all you get. But that's the way publishing works: A year after something officially becomes a trend, 20 publishers try to make it into a book. I haven't read So You Want To Be A Lesbian? yet [Ed's note: At the time of the interview, the book wasn't out]. But Liz Tracey comes to my readings, and I think she's great. There's no competition between us whatsoever.

RH: What do you think about the current mainstream fascination with lesbianism and bisexuality?

HE: It's hard not to be skeptical about the publicizing of lesbianism, especially when you have movies like I Shot Andy Warhol, where the protagonist is identified as a lesbian, even though she only has sex with men in the movie. But it's probably a hopeful sign that people are acknowledging that human sexuality is on a continuum. I can't help feeling that the more open discussions there are, the better.

RH: You make a strong point about lesbianism being more than simply sleeping with women -- that it's not enough to sleep with women because you hate men, that you should be a lesbian because it makes you happy.

HE: You don't often find men who become homosexual for political reasons, and yet there are women who decide to become lesbians even though they don't lust after women sexually.

There was a period where I felt that I was a failure as a lesbian, because I was happy, because I would behave more whimsically, more frivolously than other lesbians, which somehow made me suspect. I really thought that I was doing something wrong because I got along with silly, frivolous, playful gay men and not with gay women. But I've finally found that there's a universe of frivolous lesbians and that there is fun to be had.

RH: It's interesting that you felt judged for not being the right kind of lesbian but you also have some sharp criticisms of lesbian S/M culture and certain aspects of butch/femme.

HE: Certainly, everyone's entitled to explore and find out what pleases them, but to elect to live your life in a very limited "drag" . . . I just don't understand it, just as I don't entirely understand the desire for same-sex marriage. As an artist, I'm very wary of having to play by certain rules or conventions in order to feel good about oneself. I remember seeing Word is Out years ago and feeling very vanilla in comparison, because I was just an ordinary loudmouthed homosexual girl. It's a shame that we haven't found many more ways to blatantly advertise the delights of homosexual living other than being encased in leather and pierced within an inch of one's life.

RH: That's why you like referring to yourself as a "womanizer," isn't it?

HE: When I use that term in conversations or interviews, everybody knows exactly what I mean by it. And it captures the playfulness of my lust for women in a way that the word "lesbian" doesn't.

RH: Behind your cynical humor, there's a really positive, upbeat message about being a lesbian.

HE: When I was younger, my mother told me she would rather that her children weren't part of a despised minority, because of her past, in which it would have been much easier not to have been Jewish. But being outside the mainstream is a blessing, because you realize what's wrong with the inhumane rules that are pressed upon everyone. And although I could fit in, I feel absolved from all those things which are no fun for anyone -- male, female, straight, or gay.

I was worried that the various frustrations and foibles of daily sapphic existence would make my writing bitter, and I didn't want to do that, because I'm very optimistic about all our chances for happiness. And I've found the response to be wonderful. There are a lot of women out there responding to the book's message of being a lesbian for positive rather than negative reasons, so I'm hoping that it will begin to catch on.

BEATRICE Candace Gingrich | Leslea Newman
All materials copyright © 1997 Ron Hogan