Here’s the latest in my series of interviews with Best Sex Writing 2008 contributors. Click here to read the table of contents and introduction.
Amy Andre has a master’s degree in human sexuality studies from San Francisco State University. She works as a sex educator and writer.
What inspired your article “The Study of Sex?”
I’m actually the guest lecturer I refer to in the essay. I’ve lectured in Dr. Nick Baham’s class a number of times. He’s doing great work, and I wanted to spread the word.
Your essay starts off with a description of a course called African-American Sexuality and goes on to talk about how race is handled in the field of sexuality studies and the lack of people of color in the field. How is race dealt with generally in the sexuality studies classes you’ve taken? What are some of the areas where the intersection of race and sexuality should be explored in academia, in your opinion?
Sexuality and race are two things that infuse every element of people’s lives. So I feel they should be in every area of academia. When I was in grad school, I was lucky enough to have a couple of professors who were very cognizant of their importance. But that was not the case in every class.
That course was actually part of the Ethnic Studies Department. Do you think a course like that also belongs in other departments?
Absolutely. I would love to see it replicated in Ethnic Studies departments across the country; it belongs in Sexuality Studies departments, too. As far as Nick and I know, his is the only course of its kind anywhere in the US, and, in fact, the world.
You quote SFSU Human Sexuality Studies professor Rita Melendez who says that the word sexuality “gets associated with white people,” and that if it’s in the title of a course, people of color tend not to sign up for that. Based on your own experiences and research, why do you think that is, and what can the field of sexuality studies do to be more welcoming to people of color?
She’s right. For example, even though SFSU, where I got my master’s degree, is, like many California universities, a majority minority school (most students are people of color, and mostly Asian American), the students in the Sexuality Studies master’s program are mostly white. When I was a student there, I was one of three students of color in my graduating class, and the only African American. Sexuality scholarship seems to have a reputation as being a white field, and that’s to the detriment of everyone, current scholars as well as potential scholars. Professors who are passionate about diversity should follow the example that Nick and Rita are setting.
Another interesting notion you bring up is a quote from California State University Professor Nick Baham about BDSM being a “political act.” What’s your take on that notion?
I agree. It’s political because engaging in BDSM is so recreational (as opposed to procreational), that it’s really the loudest you can metaphorically scream “I deserve erotic pleasure.” And that’s a political statement.
One of the first comments on the article at Alternet is an objection to its even being posted there on religious grounds, and religion is also something you touch on in the article. Is there a greater degree of tension between traditional religious beliefs and the field of sexuality studies from people of color?
I’m a non-practicing Jew, so I can’t speak from experience here, only from what I’ve read. But I have not read any social science research indicating that people of color are (a.) more religious than white people; (b.) more sex-negative than white people. There’s a stereotype, for example, that African Americans are more homophobic than whites (and that this homophobia is linked to the involvement of African Americans in Christianity). But, in fact, all the research I have read shows that the opposite is true: white people are just as homophobic as blacks, and blacks are just as LGBT-rights-affirming as whites. That’s a social scientific fact.
You have a Master’s degree in Human Sexuality. Was that also what you studied for your undergraduate degree, and what drew you to the field?
I have a BA in psychology. What drew me to sexuality was the just that I love sex. I’m constantly curious about it. I love to read about what other people do and why they do it. Also, I’m bisexual, and I am especially interested in understanding bisexual identity, politics, health, community issues, etc.
What do you see as the future of Sexuality Studies? Where would you like to see it go?
I would like to see sexuality studies focus a lot more on bisexuality. I recently co-authored Bisexual Health, a book published by the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, and bisexuals are experiencing a major health crisis. When we look at health status in relation to sexual orientation, people who identify as bisexual (which is, by the way, 50% of all those who identify as either gay, lesbian, or bi) have poorer physical and mental health than people of any other orientation. There’s a lot of work to be done.
What is a typical class you’re taking now like? What do most people in your field want to do after they finish their studies?
Right now, I’m getting an MBA, so a typical class is about finance and math! Coming from the social sciences, and as a writer, I feel very much like a fish out of water. Most people with MBAs go into the corporate world, but I’m planning a career in the nonprofit world, specifically focused on the needs of LGBT people.
In terms of sexuality studies, most of the people I got my first master’s with ended up back in school, working on PhDs, or working as researchers doing sex research at local universities.
You’ve been doing a lot of press around Lisa Diamond’s recent study on women and bisexuality. Can you tell us more about your thoughts on that and the general media treatment of bisexuality? Do you feel the topic is overly sensationalized in mainstream news outlets?
Lisa Diamond’s study shows that, for bisexual women, attraction to people of more than one gender remains consistent over time. Of course, to bi women, this comes as no surprise. I came out as bi when I was 14, which was almost 20 years ago, and I’ve never wavered from that. What she’s proving is that being bi isn’t a phase. The idea that it is a phase – and that phases are bad or wrong or inauthentic – is not only biphobic to me, but also confusing. Why would desire not based on gender be temporary? Why would desire based on gender be the ideal permanent state? I don’t have anything against monosexual (gay and straight) people – in fact, I’m engaged to one – but I do object to a monosexual-centric imperative.
There is definitely a lot of sensationalism happening in the mainstream media. It’s almost as though journalists can’t figure out any other way to present bisexuals.
You directed the short documentary film On My Skin about a transgender man and his family. Can you tell us more about the film and how it came about?
On My Skin is about my friend Logan Gutierrez-Mock. He and I got our sexuality masters degrees together. For fun, after I graduated, I took a free intro-level film class at a local community center. My fiancée, Kami, is a film-maker, and I love visiting her on sets and watching her in action, so I thought it would be cool to learn how to make one. Logan had just come back from Mexico, where his grandfather is from, and he had blogged about his journey. He was also just starting to transition from female-to-male and had a lot to say about his family and his gender. I decided to make a film based on his blog, and six months later, On My Skin was born and showing at film festivals all over the world. It’s even been translated into Spanish for the showings in Latin America and Spain!
What are the differences for you in working in academia and working in film? Do you prefer one over the other?
Other than giving guest lectures on topics like bisexual health, I don’t work in academia. And, other than directing On My Skin, I wouldn’t say I work in film, either!
What are you working on now?
Currently, outside of being a full-time MBA student, I’m writing a book, getting essays published in various places, and promoting Bisexual Health, which is available on the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force website as a free PDF download. And bringing On My Skin (which is available on my site, amyandre.com) to universities; it’s perfect for Gender Studies, Ethnic Studies, and Sexuality Studies classrooms. Oh, and I’m also planning my wedding. I stay pretty busy. 😉