Ron Suresha: An Interview
Daniel M. Jaffe
Ron Suresha is one of those rare author-editors with his finger on the pulse of cutting edge social issues. He has just compiled and edited Kinsey Zero Through Sixty: Bisexual Perspectives on Kinsey, which will constitute a special, double issue of the Journal of Bisexuality. This publication commemorates the 60th anniversary of one of the most influential studies of sexuality in history—Sexual Behavior in the Human Male by Alfred C. Kinsey, Wardell B. Pomeroy, and Clyde E. Martin. As momentous as this commemorative study is, it’s not the first of Ron’s revolutionary literary endeavors, all of which follow in Kinsey’s footsteps. Years ago, Ron documented the gay subcultural “bear” movement in two anthologies, one fiction and one non-fiction: in his groundbreaking Bears on Bears, Ron presented 25 interviews with men around the world discussing their senses of masculinity, their preferences for regular-guy, non-androgynous, non-feminine images of gay male affection and love. As a companion to this serious study of gender identity, Ron simultaneously published a playful fiction anthology entitled Bear Lust. Years later, he co-edited (with Pete Chvany) the pioneering work, Bi Men: Coming Out Every Which Way, a collection of over 30 moving personal essays from bisexual men and those who love them, exploring what it means to be a bisexual man in today’s world. True to form, Ron published the companion fiction title, Bi Guys: Firsthand Fiction for Bisexual Men and Their Admirers. Both latter books were Finalists for a Lambda Book Award.
I asked Ron how he came to work on the Kinsey project. He explained, “About four years ago, as I became aware of the 2005 Kinsey movie in production, I anticipated that 2008 would be the 60th anniversary of the publication of the Kinsey Male Report. When I met Journal of Bisexuality editor Dr. Fritz Klein at the Eighth International Conference on Bisexuality, I suggested the idea of a Journal issue commemorating the 60th anniversary of publication of the Kinsey Male Report with an eye toward examining the connection between Kinsey and bisexuality. Fritz was enthusiastic and really wanted the issue to proceed, but he passed away the next year. Last year, Fritz’s successors at the American Institute of Bisexuality and the Journal of Bisexuality graciously agreed to sponsor the project. This special double issue is scheduled to be published by the Journal’s new owner, Taylor & Francis, a huge international publisher of academic journals.”
One of the most impressive features of this issue of the Journal is the diverse array of contributors and perspectives. Among the many contributions, Ron includes work by scientists and other scholars of sexuality, visitors to the Kinsey Institute, an interview with several of the film industry professionals who created the film Kinsey, even an interview with Yale legal scholar Kenji Yoshino, who discusses jurisprudence and civil rights affecting bisexual persons and other sexual minorities. How did Ron decide the range of topics to include and which authors to approach? How did he find them, or how did they find him? “Anthologies are always a grab-bag,” said Ron, “especially when the deadline was as tight as ours. How we attracted such outstanding contributions—I’d have to say it was mostly providential! I sent out the call for papers to contacts in the GLBTIQ (gay-lesbian-bisexual-transgendered-intersexed-queer) literary community and the bi activist community, to contributors to my earlier books, and to the kind folks at the Kinsey Institute, who could not endorse the project but were very helpful nonetheless.
“An immediate response came from Dr. Brian Dodge at Indiana University, who contributed the lead article in collaboration with his IU colleague Dr. Michael Reece and with the sole living member of the original Kinsey research team, Dr. Paul Gebhard. Journal editor Dr. Jonathan Alexander and I contacted Dr. Yoshino and Kinsey Institute director emeritus Dr. John Bancroft for short interviews, and they graciously agreed. My friend and occasional writing partner, Dr. Jeff Shaumeyer, was inspired to write a short story describing the adventures of a copy of the Kinsey Male Report as it changes hands over six decades. I wrote two separate pieces: one on the publication and translation history of the Kinsey Reports—the Kinsey Female report was published in 1953—nobody had ever chronicled the translations in thirteen languages of the Male and Female Reports, to my surprise, and a walking tour of Kinsey’s Bloomington. Additionally we received pieces from Dr. Jennifer Germon from Sydney, Australia, and from U.S. bi activists Bill Burleson and Carol Queen. Finally, from dozens of articles and several biographies on Kinsey, I selected several previously published articles that complement the other material.”
I asked Ron to summarize the observations made in the journal by Dr. Gebhard, the original member of the Kinsey research team, particularly as to whether contemporary research into bisexuality has taken advantage of the foundation provided by Kinsey’s work. Dr. Gebhard's paper, said Ron, quotes Gebhard as saying, “ ‘Overall, Kinsey would have been disappointed.’ Sex research on bisexuality is still nascent. Bisexuality and bisexuals continue to be ostracized by gay men and lesbians and similarly marginalized by straights. Some progress has been made since Kinsey’s time, but not nearly enough.”
Ron dedicated this issue to the memory of Dr. Fritz Klein, “who understood fully how Kinsey liberated bisexuality.” In what way did Kinsey liberate bisexuality? Ron explained that, “although bisexuality is hardly mentioned in the text of Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, in his astounding research involving thousands of subjects, Kinsey liberated bisexuality by normalizing and centering bisexuality in his scientific scale (from 0 = heterosexual, to 6 = homosexual). Fritz Klein understood the liberating significance of this, although he later adapted the Kinsey scale to reflect other aspects of bisexual attraction and behavior in his Klein Sexual Orientation Grid, or KSOG.
“But I think Kinsey liberated bisexuality first and foremost by being happily bisexual himself. He loved his wife and family, but he also had a clear and strong attraction toward men. He did not publicly discuss his personal sexual drives, but it is clear that he considered himself bisexual. In the article, Dr. Gebhard describes Kinsey as being fond of saying that an ideal sex researcher ‘should be a 3 on the scale’ in order to empathize with all research subjects—to which Gebhard and his colleagues would often retort that an ideal sex researcher 'should also be a hermaphrodite.’ ”
Does Ron have a feel for how attitudes toward Kinsey’s work have changed over time? “I think,” said Ron, “that other than blatantly prudish indignation from a small faction of outspoken moral conservatives, Kinsey’s scientific work is considered just as valid and respected today as ever. There were definitely limitations and shortcomings in Kinsey’s research, as exists in all pioneering scientific discovery. But despite some minor statistical flaws and distorted claims about how Kinsey’s own sexual behavior affected his research, the vast majority of his published findings about human sexual behavior have been essentially validated. Certainly any rational person who believes in empirical science must accept those facts. Because his science was rock solid, Kinsey’s status as a preeminent scientist has proven resilient.
“Certainly the GLBTIQ community has become more aware of its debt to Kinsey, but their response is far from elevating him to any sort of cult hero status. What is really queer is that there is so little trace of the historical Kinsey in Bloomington. When I visited there last October, I became aware that no portrait, statue, or memorial of Kinsey is anywhere on the Indiana University campus. The Kinsey Institute is housed on campus on the upper floors of a nondescript building without an exterior marker. There is no indication that the charming house he built off campus, where he lived with Clara and raised his family, was inhabited by any well-known personage—although he is probably the college’s most famous professor and one of the world most famous scientists.”
I was curious as to how Ron’s previous work as editor prepared him for this project. Was it more difficult to compile and edit than the others? Less so? Ron replied, “The most challenging problem was dealing with transitions: the passing of the editorship to a new journal editor after Fritz’s death, and then the sale of the Journal of Bisexuality by Haworth Press, along with its other academic and scholarly journals, to Taylor & Francis. Such discontinuity is the stuff of editors’ nightmares, but I’ve managed.
“Editing an academic work is somewhat more demanding than a trade book but it’s not that big a stretch, especially since I edited a double issue of the Journal two years ago (co-published by Haworth in a trade edition as Bi Men: Coming Out Every Which Way). There are abstracts and keywords and an index and other features and formats particular to scholastic works. It was also a challenge in to keep the editorial tone sufficiently non-academic to appeal to a general adult readership, should the journal be chosen to be co-published in a commemorative trade edition, the prospects for which we are very optimistic.
“Overall I’m glad to report that working with this group of contributors on revising their pieces has been a delight. It’s my favorite part of editing books, fine-tuning a piece in collaboration with a writer.”
Does Ron have any new projects on the horizon? “I’m blessed,” he said, “with an overabundance of book projects, both old and new. This is unfortunately confounded by a huge shortage of book publishers willing to issue and keep them in print. Four of my titles went out of print and I have the rights reverted to reprint all of them as online publish-on-demand books under my own imprimatur. I’m researching the best way to republish them myself, but naturally that takes me away from other projects I’d like to complete. I need an agent.
“I’m writing primarily a collection of Persian folktales—not a GLBTIQ project but one I’ve been preparing for many years. I have researched and am very tempted to write a book about the closeted bisexuality of a certain male president, if someone would dare publish such an incendiary thing. For next year I’m bearing in mind a comedy screenwriting project and an anthology on male triads (relationships composed of three partners).”
Readers who wish to keep up with Ron's ever-on-the-edge publishing projects can read more at his website.