BY NATASIA LANGFELDER
Kim Chernin and Renate Stendhal are lovers, spouses and co-authors. The two are both well known for their award winning queer-themed fiction. Now, they are turning their talents toward helping you with your sex life.
Yes, you read that right. In “Lesbian Marriage: A Love and Sex Forever Kit,” Chernin and Stendhal share both personal anecdotes and those of their friends and acquaintances to bring you a “toolkit” to keep the passion alive in your relationship.
The lesbian community makes a lot of jokes regarding the dreaded lesbian bed death, but with Chernin’s and Stendhal’s toolkit, it’s easier to confront bed death as what it is: The result of not putting the proper care into your relationship. This interview provides a tiny taste of the wisdom reflected in the book and the process behind how it came to be.
How did the decision to co-author a book come about?
We were excited when the Supreme Court decision was announced, declaring DOMA unconstitutional and dismissing the appeal of the proponents of Proposition 8 [in California]. The sense of a major historic event having occurred struck us both simultaneously and we wanted to be part of it. How? Well, of course we could get married, which we’d never wanted to do. And, we could write about it.
The minute the idea occurred to us, we began to scribble.
What was the process like? Do you think it’s easier or harder to co-write with your partner?
I imagine each project is different, the ease or difficulty depending as much on what we are writing as the process between us. This was our third collaboration, but the other two were quite different; we each wrote our parts separately and then wove them together.
We were pretty clear from the start, without giving it much thought, or even really articulating it, that we’d write this book on lesbian marriage simultaneously, working together on the same text as it unfolded.
Lesbian bed death is a huge concern for all women in committed, monogamous relationships. Why did you decide to write a book about it?
That’s an easy one to answer.
For years, it has seemed to us that bed death, or rather the gradual cooling of sexual passion, occurs in every type of monogamous, long-term relationship. It bothered us that this quite natural experience was exclusively attributed to lesbians and looked at with disapproval. What does bed death really mean? We wanted to find out by writing about it. After all, what is now cooler than something that was previously hot is simply cooler, not absent. Maybe, we thought, in that cooler state there is a whole lot to learn about sensual intimacy that has been over-looked when desire is at a fever pitch. Actually, we knew this already from our own experience of being together for 28 years. Suddenly, we wanted to tell all our sisters about it.
How did you come up with the concept for the book?
I don’t think we ever came up with a concept. What occurred to us were stories, anecdotes, things we’d heard from friends and clients that seemed archetypal or at least typical. We started to note down the stories, each of which turned out to have a distinctive issue or crisis (Challenge.) Then, we wanted to think about their deeper or larger meaning, without burdening the stories themselves. That suggested a section of reflections (Let’s See). And finally, in a last step of distillation, we wondered what it would be like to bring everything together as a playful list of dos and don’ts that could help couples face the challenges together. In that sense the “concept” was a natural process, driven by the emerging material itself.
The format of the book is unique. It’s a mix of personal essays combined with accounts from friends and acquaintances. Why did you decide to convey your message in this way?
We have often found, when writing individually or together, that hardly any decisions are made ahead of time, but rather, they tend to evolve as the writing evolves. We knew that we wanted to have a lot of fun writing this book. We had been offered a house-sit in Maui for a month, we had iPads, we knew we’d be down on the beach a lot, we figured we could have a great time sitting in the shade and saying out loud what we wanted to write, then typing it out as fast as we could before it vanished.
A good deal of the time we were convulsed with laughter, which seemed to communicate itself to our sandy neighbors, who would often look over and smile or wave. Hard to say what we were laughing about. Maybe just the excitement of feeling our minds and hearts working together at a break-neck speed like two well-paired horses galloping for the finish line.
You both share intimate details and personal faults in the book. Was it difficult to be so open with your audience?
It’s good to remember that the act of writing itself is private. It’s possible to get so involved in what you want to say that you don’t feel exposed or threatened by your own openness. Later, when you’re ready to publish, you have to look back, read again, consider what you’ve said, question whether it’s honest or not, and if it is, why you’d want to withhold it. If you’re lucky, whatever you’ve had to say about yourself will be recognized by your readers, who are therefore invited to participate in the same truthful narrative. Lovely for them, lovely for the writers.
Most of your advice is for couples who have been together for a long time, what advice would you give to younger couples who are already having problems in the bedroom?
We think the understanding we offer of relationships, sexual, intimate, passionate, hot or cooling or maybe never hot, is addressed to couples who have been together any amount of time. At any age. It is only a question of time before the issues we’ve discussed will show up and need to be understood. It could happen on the second date or two years later or not for a decade. Age and duration are not relevant. We chose our stories from among our clients and friends who were our age or younger. But there are very young couples in the book who discuss their concerns in ways that are characteristic of their generation.
Do you have any plans to continue writing together?
We had so much fun it seems likely that we’ll want to take off a month, if someone offers us a house-sit again, grab our iPads and start yammering about something.
You’ve been together for a long time. What do you think the secret to a long-lasting relationship is?
Humor. Laughing at oneself, not taking oneself too seriously, figuring out the ways each of you is legitimately different from the other, naming the typical conflicts as they come up and laughing your heads off at how absurd they are.
The same conflicts, over and over again, with nothing new to be said on either side, the same misunderstandings, the same reconciliations, the same old grudges, the same inability to forgive, is this the stuff of tragedy or of comedy? Really, it’s up to every couple to make up its mind. If they decide for comedy, there’s a good chance they’ll go on laughing together for a long time.
Get your “Lesbian Marriage: A Love and Sex Forever Kit” on Amazon.
Visit their web site at LesbianLoveForever.com.