Humanist Profile: Susie Bright
This article is one in a series of articles in March in honor of Women’s History Month.
“I feel tearfully misunderstood when people think I’m a cheerleader for toys or a fifth-rate entertainment product. I couldn’t care less about the material end of all this. I want to change consciousness, that’s why I became a political activist, that’s why I started writing.”
— Susie Bright, interviewed in 2016 by Cory Silverberg for About.com
Susie Bright was born March 25, 1958, in Arlington, Virginia, to two linguists. Her parents’ interest in culture, history, and politics paired with her upbringing in West Los Angeles helped shape Bright’s open outlook on the world. At the early age of eight, Bright took crayon to paper, crafting pamphlets in Crayola orange-red decrying Ronald Reagan’s run for California Governor. At ten, she abandoned religion.
While Bright is widely known for her sex-positive journalism and her vast portfolio of feminist writings, which include her best-selling books, The Sexual State of the Union and Full Exposure,she has a long history in social justice and civil disobedience. During high school she wrote for the underground student newspaper, The Red Tide, covering everything from how to avoid narcs to finding free birth control. The paper’s breadth was wide and meaningful, evidenced by the principal’s constant attempts to shut it down. These attacks by the administration ended when Bright and her fellow muckrakers sued the LA school district for the right to distribute their paper without prior censorship or approval, winning in the State Supreme Court in 1977. This early activism set the stage, as Bright explains in an F.A.Q. on her blog:
Since I was in high school, when I got introduced to radical politics about most everything, I have been quite frank about sexuality. I was appalled when I found out that masturbation was not some secret hold that the devil had over me. I couldn’t believe all the lying about sin and sexuality that I had been taught as a child…. From there, I became interested in the way the erotic mind works, and how sexuality, politics, and culture feed off each other.
After dropping out of high school Bright joined an activist group, the International Socialists, who helped labor unions’ rank and file organize. This experience on picket lines led Bright to co-found the Teamsters Union for a Democratic Union. After the group disbanded, Bright went back to school and studied theater and women’s studies at California State University, Long Beach, and earned a degree in community studies from the University of California, Santa Cruz.
It was only after moving to San Francisco in the 1980s and getting a job at the infamous Good Vibrations sex store that Bright began writing extensively about sex. She helped publish On Our Backs magazine, the first ever openly lesbian publication written about sex by women for women. At this time, Bright also started writing film reviews of porn, critically analyzing them for societal meaning and covering the greater porn industry in mainstream press. Her vast knowledge and experience on the topics of sex and feminism has led to myriad projects and works including the longest-running show about sex-ed in broadcast history, In Bed with Susie Bright, as well as her fifteen-year editorship of the anthology Best American Erotica. In an interview with About.com, Bright explained the importance of openly talking about sex in our society:
[Sex is] a time capsule of American politics. The wars, the Clinton-to-Bush pendulum, AIDS, the environment, the passing of the ’60s counterculture, the passing of the punk counterculture, everything. You read Best American Erotica and nothing else and you’d have a pretty intimate idea of what these humans were up to.
Bright has continued her revolutionary work by publishing numerous books, including her 2011 memoir, Big Sex Little Death, serving as a contributing editor for the New York Times Book Review and San Francisco Review of Books, as Executive Producer/Editor-at-Large/podcast host at Audible.com, and by blogging daily about current events. Bright accepted the American Humanist Association’s Feminist Humanist Award in 2017.