July 01, 2009

My Favorite Clinton: An Interview With Kate Clinton...

For more than twenty eight years, self described “fumerist” (feminist/humorist) Kate Clinton has been delighting audiences with her witty commentary on issues ranging from all things political to the ongoing fight for LGBT equality and rights.

Being a huge fan of her work on stage and in print (all of which is brilliantly highlighted at her amazing website, www.kateclinton.com), I was delighted when her publisher (the fine folks at Beacon Press) sent me an advance copy of Ms. Clinton’s new book, I Told You So, and had to be peeled off the ceiling when her publicist (the amazing Michele Karlsberg) made a life long dream of mine come true: the opportunity to have a conversation with a person who’s work has not only inspired my interest in humorously writing about my own experiences as a member of the LGBT community, but who has also encouraged many others to stand up and get involved in the issues facing our community.

Robby Morris: I Told You So is your third collection of writings. I loved it! Your writing is thought provoking, occasionally mischievous, often poignant, and extremely funny. How did you select what writings of yours would be used in this collection?

Kate Clinton: Some of them were from The Advocate when I was writing for them and also columns I’ve written for The Progressive and for The Women’s Review of Books. Then it was just really going through the blogs that I had written for the past three years and seeing ones that I could splice together. There was combination based on themes, you know the gay movement, the presidential campaign, the media, feminism, and also more personal entries. And then there are columns that Beacon wanted that were written just for the book. And those are the longer ones, which I really enjoyed writing.

RM: I found myself stopping every three seconds saying “this is my favorite line!”

KC: Oh, how wonderful (laughter)!

RM: Is there one particular part in your book that stands out as a personal favorite of yours?

KC: I don’t know how successful it was, but I liked the effort I put into, well, a couple of things. One, the section on race and really talking about being white. And I love to talk about humor. Those were fun to write.

RM: If I had to name one, I would probably single out the essay in your book titled “Feeling Potlucky” as one that really resonated with me. Not that I’m a lesbian nor are there any invitations to lesbian potluck dinners in my future, but because I personally long for the day when I can stop tweeting, get off the computer, leave my cell phone on the charger, and gather with a group of gay folk and discuss life, love, politics, and whatnot.

KC: Yeah, I agree!

RM: Why don’t people do this now?

KC: As a matter of fact, it has inspired a group of women to have potlucks. And the first potluck they were going to discuss my book!

RM: That’s awesome!

KC: Isn’t it?

I don’t know why. I think everyone just thinks they’re too busy and they can’t go through the trouble of scheduling and where it’s going to be and what if I bring the wrong dish. I don’t know what the thing is. I just want to be around my physical friends. I want that! But I want it when we’re healthy and know what’s happening. I don’t want to be in some gay old age home sitting with gay people for lunch but I don’t know what’s happening (laughter)!

RM: One of my favorite quotes of yours is, “Don’t ask. I am a sixty-year-old white woman with the last name Clinton. How do you think I feel?” In the portion of your book titled “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pant Suit”, you provide a commentary on the rise and the fall of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. Excuse my use of the word “wrong”, but where do you think she went wrong and in fact do you believe she did go wrong?

KC: I do think there are a couple of places that she was wrong. I think people couldn’t do another Bush/Clinton/Bush/Clinton. I think there was that fatigue. I’ve talked about that with my political friends and they pooh-pooh it, but if you really think about it would be like 28 years of that! So I think that and I think, historically, as I said in the book, it’s time for baby boomers to step aside. It’s time for a new generation. Which Obama certainly represents.

And I just think there were tactical mistakes based on her generational understanding of campaigns. I think Obama made incredible use of the Internet and the connectivity it afforded and I think she ran an old school campaign. I think Bill harmed her in critical moments and she should have gotten rid of her campaign director, who seemed to antagonize everyone.

RM: You were able to include a beautifully written Afterward that was written a week after Barack Obama had been elected as the 44th President of the United States. We’re now well past his first hundred days in office. What are your feelings about him now?

KC: I’m enormously thrilled that we have a black president and an extraordinary first lady! I am sorry (with what) he was saddled with. I do think he has a lot of great ideas.

I had no illusions that how he got there was being a centrist and a moderate, but after what we’ve been through the last eight years, that moderation seems to be practically far left.

RM: What do you think of the current state of gay rights?

KC: I think that it’s a mistake for us to think that the world’s falling apart, people don’t have homes, food or jobs, and that we should feel silly saying “but what about my gay rights?” I think that’s a trap. We need to hold (Obama’s) feet to the fire, and insert gay issues where they should be, which is everywhere. In health care with HIV/AIDS, care for senior gay people, in education with anti-bullying laws and safe schools, and in the economy. The temptation is to say, “Oh, you’ll get these problems solved and then we’ll get back to you on the gay issues.” We just can’t back off.

I think with Prop 8 and its aftermath, the whole marriage equality issue really has galvanized the delightfully entitled gay youth. I was marching with them here in New York and they were outraged! “What do you mean we can’t get married? That’s an outrage!” And I was like, “Well, good!”

RM: I’m going to go into a psychotic direction real quick.

KC: I call it a show (laughter)!

RM: Because you refer to both of them in your book, if you were stranded on a desert island, like a castaways on ABC’s LOST, if you were forced to, who would you rather form an alliance with, Ann Coulter or Sarah Palin?

KC: Wow, that’s amazing (laughter)! I think I’d learn to swim (laughter)!

RM: Do you ever distinguish between writing for the page and writing for the stage or does it all kind of end up bleeding into each other?

KC: One does help the other. I’m working on a piece about Stonewall right now. I will be performing this weekend, so I know the things I write about that will fuel material for a show.

RM: We’ve seen Whoopi Goldberg, Rosie O’Donnell, Wanda Sykes, the list goes on and on, all get raked over the coals for being outspoken when it comes to politics. You’re pretty outspoken yourself in regards to the last administration. Do you ever find yourself worrying that “wow, maybe I’ve gone too far?”

KC: Over my whole career I think I’ve had one time. I was saying don’t you wish sometime Barbara Bush had bundled up her little boys in the family car and taken them down to the lake? It was right after that poor woman put the kids in the car and rolled it into the lake. I tried it a few times and then I thought, oh my God, that’s even too mean for me!

RM: You’ve been an activist for several decades now and have kept audiences in stitches with your live performances and writing. What keeps you still wanting to do this?

KC: I have no other measurable skills (laughter). People are always asking me to be on the boards of their organizations. I start misbehaving and trying to get other people to giggle with me and make fun of people, so they really don’t want that! But I am able to contribute by performing.

Basically I’m interested in ending the violence, ending homophobia and ending the oppression of women, so it seems like I have a couple of more year to go.

RM: PRIDE season is upon us.

KC: The trade-show (laughter)!

RM: We have so many reasons to celebrate and rejoice in our accomplishments as a community. But, explain to the less informed why it is still important for us to come out and stand up for LGBT equality, rights and visibility.

KC: I do think that it is still critical. We have created these very safe spaces for ourselves, these so called GAY-ted communities (laughter) for ourselves and we’re entitled to that. But it’s important to be visible, not just to each other and at circuit parties, but to be visible at work and visible to our families. I just think that visibility is what makes it impossible for people to oppress us. When we’re invisible, people can make the most outrageous statements about us, but when you say “You’re actually talking about ME, darling…”

As sophisticated as our media strategies, political lobbying, and organizations are, you can not underestimate the power of coming out to your bank teller and the guy at the dry cleaners.

RM: Just this morning I received a message from a friend on Facebook dying for me to ask you this one, last question. My apologies in advance. What did you think of that last episode of The L Word? (For those unaware, Ms. Clinton, with the aid of a clown’s nose, made a memorable appearance as a sex therapist in the show’s third season.)

KC: (Groans) You know, it felt like really bad sex (laughter)!

I Told You So (Beacon Press, 2009) is available in book stores now! For even more Kate Clinton (including blogs and vlogs), check out her website www.kateclinton.com!

Originally published in the July 2009 issue of The Empty Closet, New York State's Oldest Continuously-Published LGBT Newspaper, since 1973, through The Gay Alliance of Genesee Valley.