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Califia, Patrick (b. 1954)  
 
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Never one to shy from controversy, Pat Califia is an outspoken advocate of sadomasochism and pornography, drawing the ire of some other lesbians and feminists. She has also earned admirers, however, for her courageous stands for individual freedom and for her writings, both fiction and non-fiction.

In 1999 gender outlaw and sexual anarchist Califia began the process of sexual reassignment, thus continuing his exploration of the variety of human sexuality and of the sex-gender system.

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A Mormon Childhood

Califia had a somewhat nomadic childhood. Born in Corpus Christi, Texas on March 8, 1954, she lived in various places from South Carolina to Utah as the family followed her father, a miner and road-construction worker, from one job to another.

She did not have the happiest of childhoods. Her father was an angry and violent man, and her mother a pious woman whose focus was on achieving happiness in the afterlife rather than in the world. Both were devout Mormons.

Although Califia's sexual philosophy is deeply transgressive in the eyes of the Mormon church, he stated in a 2000 interview that there is an element of Mormon thought in his approach to life. "One of the primary tenets of Mormonism is that if the truth has been revealed to you and you don't speak out, you are culpable for any wrongs that are committed in those realms of life," he said. Califia has never been one to remain silent.

Califia felt a sense of difference even as a child, insisting that she was not a girl when her parents told her that she could not become a train engineer because of her gender.

Califia began writing stories and poems almost as soon as she was able to read. A good student, she was able to leave high school a year early and enroll at the University of Utah in 1971. There she met other lesbians and recognized her own sexual orientation. She fell in love with another student who did not, however, return her affection.

Her parents took the news badly and decided to put her into a mental institution. The stress of the situation drove her to a nervous breakdown. She dropped out of college, evaded her parents, and became involved in political causes including the women's liberation and anti-war movements.

Lesbian Sex Wars

In 1973 Califia moved to San Francisco, where she wrote for Sisters, the magazine of the San Francisco chapter of the Daughters of Bilitis, and joined the lesbian separatist movement. When in 1975 she spoke in favor of sadomasochism (S/M), however, she found herself excluded from the lesbian feminist community. "The first time I came out, I lost my nuclear family. The second time, I lost my gay family," she commented.

Califia became increasingly involved in the practice of S/M, not only with other lesbians but also with gay men. She was among the cofounders of the lesbian S/M group Samois in 1978. Soon thereafter her articles on lesbian sexuality began to appear in various publications including the Journal of Homosexuality and The Advocate. Her sex manual Sapphistry: The Book of Lesbian Sexuality came out in 1980.

Califia later described her writings about S/M as "an opening salvo in the Lesbian Sex Wars." They, combined with her stance in favor of pornography, made her a lightning rod among lesbians and feminists. As a consequence, many of her writings were censored and she was regularly denounced for her views and "aberrant" sexual practices.

Women with opposing views, notably Catherine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin, argued for censorship of pornography, calling it an example of the patriarchal domination of women by men and thus inherently oppressive. Radical feminists extended this interpretation to lesbian relationships, especially those of the sadomasochistic variety, since they necessarily involved a relationship between a dominant and a submissive person--and also violence--mimicking patriarchal patterns used to subjugate women.

Califia acknowledged the inequality of power immanent in lesbian sadomasochistic practices, but contended that exploration and open discussion of these roles would not only lead to liberation but could also be extended to other issues of inequality within the feminist movement such as the marginalization of women of color and lower-income women.

This debate, which was particularly contentious during the 1980s, resurfaced in 1994 when the Little Sister's Book and Art Emporium, a gay and lesbian store in Vancouver, British Columbia, challenged a 1992 decision by the Canadian Supreme Court in Regina v. Butler holding that pornography was not covered under the right to free speech. The writings of American feminists opposed to pornography, including MacKinnon, had weighed heavily in the decision.

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