These Hilarious Lesbian Haikus Poke Fun at Sex and Stereotypes

Anna Pulley squeezes laughs and lessons about love, life, and Larry King into “The Lesbian Sex Haiku Book (With Cats!)”

<a href="">Kelsey Beyer</a>

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Anna Pulley started out as a reviewer of sex toys. Now she counsels queer women on the subtle art of dating other women in her columns at the Chicago Tribune’s RedEye and AfterEllen. She has written about everything from her affair with a married woman to the time she went home with a guy who was turned on by the Bible. Now she’s channeled all that experience into her debut book, The Lesbian Sex Haiku Book (With Cats!)a compilation of short, sexy, satirical poems on everything from signs you might be a queer girl (“If you’ve gone out a / dozen times and still don’t know / if you’re dating her”) and every lesbian film ever made (“Girl has horrible / traumatic past, present, and / future. Then she dies”) to approved lesbian dirty talk (“I don’t care if it / takes hours, tell me about your / doctoral thesis”). Bonus: The book is peppered with drawings of cats “in various stages of lesbian anxiety,” illustrated by artist (and Pulley’s girlfriend) Kelsey Beyer.

Pulley, a former Mother Jones social-media fellow, recently sat down to talk about lesbian relationships and why we should make fun of sex more often.

Mother Jones: You say The Lesbian Sex Haiku Book is about “demystifying” lesbian sex. Why do you think lesbian sex and culture need to be demystified?

Anna Pulley: I write a lesbian advice column for AfterEllen called “The Hookup,” and I get questions every week from queer women, specifically women who are afraid to ask other women out and women who are falling for straight women. As I was writing this book and struggling with my own dating faux pas and horror stories, it just started to seem very funny to me. Lesbians don’t have a lot of guidance when it comes to dating and sex. We’re sort of in the dark about this. We don’t have the same sort of roles that straight couples do, so we’re often just sort of making it up. It often leads to inaction because we’re not socialized to be aggressive and ask people out or even to initiate sex.

“I also think sex is just really funny. I love that we can be turned on by Greenpeace.”

MJ: When you were young, where did you get your advice about lesbian sex and relationships?

AP: I learned the hard way, which I recommend as a strategy when you’re in your early 20s. That’s when you can make lots of mistakes and no one judges you for it. But also, I read a lot of books, and that really helped me. Audre Lorde’s Zami: A New Spelling of My Name was a big influence for me. The things she had to deal with are so different from the things we have to deal with now. She has the double whammy of being racially oppressed as well as sexually oppressed. I even read the joke books, like So You Want to Be A Lesbian. It’s a very dated book now, but I read that because I wanted to learn everything I could about lesbian culture. For me, the only way I understand the world is through writing and reading, and so that was sort of my strategy—as well as falling in love with a lot of married women and straight women, which I still kind of do.

Anna Pulley (right) and Kelsey Beyer (left) Courtesy of Anna Pulley

MJ: Why do you think humor is so important when we’re talking about sex?

AP: It’s important because we live in this very sex-negative culture, so it’s hard for us to talk about sex in general. I also think sex is just really funny. I was talking to someone recently, and we were swooning over Rachel Maddow, and we were just like, “Gosh, who else eroticizes someone’s glasses? Or who eroticizes someone’s politics in the way that queer women do?” I love that we can be turned on by Greenpeace. Which is also something I noticed when I was looking at Craigslist women-for-women ads. It’s hysterical. I’m looking for sex and someone is like, “Come to this Save the Whales rally. Maybe we can have sex afterward.” Those are the reasons why lesbian sex in particular lends itself to this kind of humorous take.

MJ: A lot of your haikus sound like jokes my friends would make with each other. For someone who’s just sorting out their sexual identity, I imagine they could feel like a friendly introduction into the lesbian community.

AP: That’s definitely something I was striving for. I want people to feel like they belong to this community, even if it’s weird and fractured. I wanted people to feel like here’s something you can read and feel a little bit less alone in the world. I’ve always struggled with finding that sense of community, which is weird because I lived in San Francisco and now Oakland, and there are queer people everywhere!

“It’s like straight sex, but / afterward we ask ourselves, / ‘We just had sex, right?'” Kesley Beyer

MJ: You do a lot of playing around with stereotypes of lesbians in the book. What stereotype do you find most frustrating?

“The [stereotypes] that bother me are the ones that are the products of straight male fantasies—the idea that bisexual women must love threesomes.”


AP: Probably the most prevalent one is the U-Haul—that we get together and we move in after two minutes of dating. But I also think that’s the one that really affects us the least. Like no one’s going to be thrown in jail or something because they move in with their partners too early. The ones that bother me are the ones that are the products of straight male fantasies—the idea that bisexual women must love threesomes. That’s a male fantasy, and that’s something that we’ve always sort of struggled against. So I ask myself, “What’s driving this stereotype and is there anything we can do to make fun of it?”

MJ: This kind of book is very much written by lesbians, for lesbians. I imagine it would be hard to get a publisher.

AP: My editor was great. She was straight, however. I did have to explain quite a few things to her, which was sort of fun. She was like, “Why do you keep making fun of Larry King?” And I was like, “Oh, he just gave this really damning interview about bisexuals.” So we had those little teachable moments. But they were never like, “Oh, I don’t think you should put this in the book.” They were like, “Help us understand so that we can be in on the joke too.”

“We don’t have sex; we / just pet each other until / a man comes along.” Kelsey Beyer

MJ: What was your favorite haiku?

AP: My favorite is in the chapter “How Lesbian Sex Works”: “Picture foreplay that / lasts longer than four minutes. / Now add some crying.”

MJ: This whole project was the product of a nasty breakup, which unfortunately happened at the same time that your father was diagnosed with cancer. Can you tell me a little more about what that time was like for you?

AP: It was very unexpected. I certainly did not think that anything would come from this really grueling period in my life. But it taught me that I wasn’t screwed. It was something that I could work through. And a haiku was really great for that because obviously it doesn’t require that much of an emotional commitment. It’s three short lines. And it allowed me to be creative in this way that I felt like I couldn’t. My fiancée dumped me, my dad got lung cancer, I was not doing well financially, and so I felt like I had to crawl my way out of this hole very incrementally. It ended up being such a surprise and such a delight that this turned into this book that of course has nothing to do with cancer and nothing to do with horrible topics.

MJ: Your haikus sound so conversational. It’s easy to assume they just popped into your head.

AP: It was hard at first. I had never really written haikus until I started carrying on a relationship with this married woman who lived across the country. She and I would write romantic haikus to each other, and we ended up writing hundreds of them. Now I can write them pretty swiftly. I’m doing a haiku battle tonight, actually. Writing is so agonizing. It’s kind of nice to not have to stress about the perfect construction of your sentence. To be able to convey so much meaning in this tiny fragment of a sentence, it’s freeing, paradoxically.

MJ: Kelsey’s drawings so perfectly capture sexual awkwardness. What was it like working with her on this project?

AP: It was fantastic. Originally, Wendy MacNaughton was going to do illustrations for the book, and she got too busy and famous. So I was like, “No! What am I going to do?” And miraculously, I was dating this really talented artist. And she was so willing and creative and brilliant. She threw in all these little puns and Easter eggs into her drawings that if you just sort of flipped past, you’d miss.

“Lesbian sex is / like water polo—no one / really knows the rules.” Kesley Beyer

MJ: In the beginning of the book, you stipulate that you’re not trying to capture every shade of lesbian culture and every sexual identity. Of course, it’s impossible to include everyone, so what do you think are the book’s biggest blind spots?

AP: That was something that I was really struggling with. I wanted to include a chapter on trans women specifically, but that’s not really my place. If I was trying to speak for a group that I didn’t have any cred with, I’d get it wrong and that would just cause a lot of anger and angst. So I ultimately decided to just fold everyone into the fray, but of course I still have blind spots. I’m a white person. I’m half Native American, but no one knows that because I look white. I live in this bubble where a lot of queer acceptance—at least at the surface—is readily available to me. So yeah, I did try to be conscious of that but at the same time, I was like, “Dang, I can’t speak for everyone.”

“No one knows what they’re doing when it comes to sex, so don’t freak out.”

MJ: What tidbits of wisdom from your book do you wish you had known when you were a teenager?

AP: If you really like someone, you have to tell her. You have to ask her out, because you’re going to regret it probably for the next several years if you say nothing. I’d also say to find community. Don’t try to do this alone. Things have changed a lot. It’s a lot better. But we still need people like us who we can talk to and joke to and sort of have a family with, because a lot of times, our families aren’t supportive. I hope that’s changing as well, but in the meantime, making your own family is something that is very important to developing a sense of self that’s positive and happy, which can be hard for queer people.

And no one knows what they’re doing when it comes to sex, so don’t freak out about that. No one’s like, “Yes, I’m a sexual pro and I know where to touch” or whatever. But I feel like we struggle a lot with this because, again, we don’t have a script. But don’t second-guess yourself. Be experimental and be open and be curious about sex. And use lube.

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