Trumping Politics with Culture

Katherine Linton talks about queer life and new season of lesbian sex.

By: CHRISTOPHER MURRAY |Katherine Linton is best known to gay folk around the country from her time as the host of the long-running PBS series “In The Life.” Since then, she founded her own media company and has produced a series of documentaries focusing on gay life.

Originally from Westport, Connecticut, but now recently single and living in Brooklyn with her cat Popeye, Linton, 41, studied theatre at New York University and then went to Ringling Bros. Clown College. Afterwards, she joined the Big Apple Clown Care Unit and worked in municipal New York hospitals entertaining sick children.

After that came her time with “In the Life,” initially as host, but then with producing duties as well. Linton was asked by LOGO to create their first documentary, “The Evolution will be Televised,” but perhaps her most controversial and high impact project has been the series “Lesbian Sex and Sexuality,” also for Logo. Gay City News spoke to Linton as she prepared for the “series two” launch in September.

CHRISTOPHER MURRAY: If anyone knows, you do: what's the hot new thing in lesbianism?

KATHERINE LINTON: Not calling yourself a lesbian. Everyone is queer now it seems.

CM: Tell the truth, what do you think the world really thinks about lesbians?

KL: The world? I think the world still thinks we are as perverted and sick as ever, and I don't think the stereotypes about us have changed all that much. We're ugly, man-hating and wouldn't be gay if only we had the right man…but since we hate men, that's not likely to happen. I'm afraid that is what the world still thinks of us.

CM: I've always been confused about the role of dildos among lesbians. What's the real deal? Merely a functionary implement, or is it a representative symbolist object, or a vibratory tool of aggression and repression?

KL: D. None of the above. They are fun….and detachable.

CM: How fast is queer identity changing right now, and where the hell are we going?

KL: I wouldn't begin to pretend to be an expert on queer identity, but I do have hope that we are going to win this nasty culture war that has been waged against us for so long. The key to winning it, though, is that none of us become complacent because we have a couple of channels or some images on TV. The religious right is still a remarkably organized and powerful force in this country, and we have to be vigilant, active, and aware.

CM: Tell me about the new season of Lesbian Sex & Sexuality, what can people expect?

KL: Sex. No just kidding. Some sex, of course, but this season is more focused on expressions of sexuality. One episode focuses on Lesbian Camp, another on fashion. We go behind the scenes of Dinah Shore, and explore the issue of whether lesbians pay for sex. Another episode gives tips and techniques on how to keep sex hot in a relationship. It's a fun season so I hope people like it!

CM: It must have been so wonderful working on this series. Tell me about one of the encounters that surprised you and one that changed your view of lesbian sexuality.

KL: Well, it's been fun but hard, I can tell you that. We filmed a lesbian sex party and that was intense to say the least. I had never been to one, so didn't know what to expect. Let's just say it was really hard to figure out how to film in a way that we wouldn't have to blur the whole thing for TV.

CM: I know you are really interested in the intersection of sexual identity and religion. What's up with your piece on the founder of Operation Rescue?

KL: It's my own film in development called “Randall and Me: Together at Last”. It features Randall Terry-yes, the insane fundamentalist-and me attempting to have a real dialogue. At the end of the day it's impossible to change the mind of a fundamentalist, but maybe I moved him slightly on gay issues, I don't know. But what was and is important to me is to really listen to what the right says about us and to hone my own responses to the attacks. Living in New York and being so liberal it's easy to ignore them or call them crazy, but as I said, I think that is dangerous. Fully going into Randall's anti-abortion, anti-gay world was scary and shocking, but he is certainly not alone. On Randall's side, my world is scary. I took him to Stonewall and he thought a gay man wanted to fight him. Turns out the guy was just drunk and wanted us to film him. I had to remind Randall that it's not our side that is violent, but his. We'll see what happens with the film….

CM: Do you think we are heading towards another bang up between sexuality and conservatism as the presidential election comes down to the wire?

KL: I don't think so and hope not. Gay marriage was such a hot button issue in the 2004 election, and every pundit pegged George Bush's victory on our backs as I made clear in the launch documentary, “The Evolution will be Televised,” for Logo. Maybe McCain will go there, and if he does, I just hope Obama doesn't falter as badly as Kerry did. We'll see.

CM: What do you think is the impact in American culture of positive yet saucy and sex‑positive images of queer people in the media?

KL: Armistead Maupin said it best in an interview I did with him for “The Evolution”: “Culture will always trump politics.” Where the culture goes, politics will eventually follow. So I have a lot of faith in the impact of culture. However, we need to make sure we challenge our cultural images again and not become complacent with just a few, and also keep pushing on the political end.

CM: What else are you working on now?

KL: Just trying to get this series Lesbian Sex and Sexuality out the door. Developing a series to pitch on polyamory. Company image make-over with our website and logo. And trying to get out of the city more!

CM: You started out in the theatre, didn't you? What do you think is most important about the ability of art forms like theatre, film, and t.v. to help tell the stories of queer people?

KL: Culture is hugely important for our community. With AIDS alone, Rock Hudson's death suddenly woke the world up-albeit inspiring a hateful panic-but then you had “Angels in America” and “Philadelphia” and so many others that were so crucial in inspiring compassion, understanding, and activism. Don't know where we would be without the arts.

CM: If you could wave your magic wand and change one thing about representations of queer people generally and lesbians particularly in the mainstream media, what would you change?

KL: More images that are more realistic. And maybe Shane's haircut, only because there were so many copycats…but that seems on the wane…and it wasn't her fault.

CM: What makes you hot?

KL: Turtleneck Sweaters.