The Beatrice Interview

Liz Tracey

"Lesbian humor is no longer an oxymoron..."

interviewed by Ron Hogan


Liz Tracey is just the other side of 30, but she's already a seasoned veteran in the queer media industry. Over the past decade, she has contributed to a variety of publications, including Girlfriends, Dead Jackie Susann Quarterly, Out, and Outweek, where she co-wrote a gossip column with Sydney Pokorny. Currently the editor in chief of LGNY, New York's only gay newspaper, Tracey has once again teamed up with Pokorny to write So You Want to Be A Lesbian?, a light- hearted introduction to sapphic culture and mores. Tracey met with Ron Hogan to share her thoughts about lesbian humor -- and about some famous humorists who may just be lesbians.

RH: How did you come up with the idea for the book?

LT: I was working at a publishing house and one day some friends and I decided to amuse ourselves by coming up with ideas for how-to books on subjects you wouldn't normally expect: How to Be a Lesbian Performance Artist, How to Be an Anarchist -- things like that. That was the germ of the idea, although the finished product developed into much more of an eclectic, humorous book, as opposed to being only a self-help manual or a parody of one.

RH: You do walk a very thin line between parodic humor and serious resources.

LT: I'd worked previously with young people whose only outlets for information are bookstores and the Internet, and I was dedicated to putting concrete information into the book. But you can still put humor into that -- for example, our section on coming out contains important questions you should ask yourself -- and then gives instructions for your coming out party.

RH: It seems like a lighthearted celebration of lesbianism wouldn't have been possible even a few years ago.

LT: That's very true. We happened to hit a zeitgeist. If you look at what's coming out -- there's H elen Eisenbach's book, there's Robert's Rules of Lesbian Living, and another book called The History of Lesbian Hair -- everybody seems to have hit upon this idea at the same time. As we wrote on the jacket cover, lesbian humor is no longer an oxymoron, and it's great to see that there are other people who feel that way.

RH: Although your approach to lesbian humor seems quite different than, say, Helen Eisenbach's.

LT: I think Helen was giving a real nod to writers like Fran Lebowitz. It's a very particular style of humor, very much involved in the style of the writing. I, too, worship Lebowitz, but Sydney and I tend to work with a broader palette. That way you have a good chance of getting some readers with each type of joke. And I've been really happy with the reception of our humor.

RH: Have you run into any flak from celebrities -- like Ellen DeGeneres or Rosie O'Donnell -- who have refused to speak publicly about their own sexuality, but whom you drag out of the closet? (Editor's Note: This interview appeared several months before Ellen Degeneres came out publicly.)

LT: Not yet. I think outing in general has become a non-issue for many people, even in the mainstream press. What we have gotten are responses from readers like "I thought so." I think people are much less scared or up in arms about celebrities coming out than they were in the past. People are more willing to make the assumption that somebody like Ellen or Rosie is gay, but at the same time very few of those people are following them at public appearances screaming that they should come out. I'm comfortable with that middle ground, myself.

RH: How has your background in 'zines helped you as a writer?

LT: Outweek was my first real writing job, and when I started there, it was a fly-by-night operation in every sense. What was great was that you could pretty much do whatever you wanted to do, which allowed me to stretch out and learn from my mistakes. The same thing happens with 'zines; nobody's telling you, "You can't do this, you can't do that." But you certainly learn from your audience, which is a much better way to do it. We would get detailed letters from readers of Dead Jackie Susann Quarterly about what they liked and disliked, readers who had a very personal concern with what they were reading. I love that so many people have access to that kind of independent publishing, whether it's on the Web or 'zine-based or some other format, getting their points of view out and creating dialogues where there were no dialogues before. For a writer, it's so important to see that and use it to build a foundation on which your writing can grow.

BEATRICE Suggested further reading
Leslea Newman | Susie Bright

All materials copyright © 1996 Ron Hogan