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“We want to fling ourselves into it”: Michelle Tea on Sluts

Michelle Tea is an icon. Not only is she the author of over twenty books, including the classics Valencia and Against Memoir: Complaints, Confessions & Criticisms, not only was she the one who created Drag Queen Story Hour in San Francisco, and not only is her hair an incredible, enviable pink right now—she is also the founder and editor of the new queer indie publisher Dopamine (which, full disclosure, will be publishing my debut in 2026). Based in Los Angeles and working in partnership with Semiotext(e), Dopamine’s first release is the anthology Sluts, edited by Tea.

Tea invited contributors to consider the word “slut” as something like a seed. She asked them, “What kind of story does this word inspire in you?” The result is not only “an exploration of what it means to be sexually promiscuous in contemporary American culture,” as the anthology is promotionally described, but it is also a remarkable gathering of the diverse voices of energetic lustiness—for life, for sex, for everything—that are animating queer literature right now.

Sluts is also, of course, Dopamine’s first impression on the world, which seems more than apt for a press devoted to, according to its mission statement, “stylistic stories of unvarnished queer experience.” To find out more, I scheduled a little Zoom meeting with Michelle Tea—we spoke about the anthology, about how things are going with her new press, and about sluts in general.

Michelle Tea is the author of many books, most recently Knocking Myself Up: A Memoir of My In/Fertility. Modern Magic, a followup to her popular Modern Tarot, will be published this fall on HarperOne. She is the founder of Drag Queen Story Hour, a Guggenheim Fellow, and the founding publisher of Dopamine Books.

Amelia Ada: So, I’m wondering, what is a slut?

Michelle Tea: Obviously, it’s historically been a word that has been an insult. I think when you take it way back to like merry old England, isn’t it sort of like a messy lady, or something sexually messy? Like, get it together, girl. Clean your house. A put down to a woman. But it then became a way to police and patrol and punish women’s sexuality, especially women who did have a more of a voracious sexuality, or a more liberated sexuality. And this shows up in the anthology, especially in some pieces that look at girls coming of age. I think there’s really a moment in a femme’s life where you have to reckon with that word or that concept a little bit, and maybe even figure out what your terms will be with it.

And now we’re living in this moment where everyone’s in their slut era. It can decidedly mean actually having no physical contact with anybody. It can be whatever you want, you could be a slut for anything. And I love how the word has evolved. It is like big and hungry, about a big desire or a type of insatiability. A wantonness, a sort of lack of caring of how that looks. There’s a shamelessness in the word slut, which is really exciting and liberating. You can be a slut for a particular egg dish at a popular Los Angeles restaurant, or you’re a slut cause you like a variety of sex with a variety of people. It’s a word that contains a lot of different worlds.

AA: I love this. I think you’re exactly right that the word is maybe more common now, but I think it is still dangerous.

MT: If we think it’s not dangerous, that probably says more about who we are and the culture that we’re living in. I think it’s still a dangerous word for lots of people. In my life I hear the term “slut-shaming” far more than I hear the term “slut,” actually, which is a great improvement.

AA: I also love the femme connotation of it, too. Like you said, this sort of femme coming-of-age, of having to decide, or having to reckon with one’s own … I don’t know. One’s own desire.

MT: Yeah. And how are you going to position yourself towards that word? But it’s also toward society or society’s judgment, these sort of amorphous, oppressive forces. How are you going to interact with them? Do you give them authority? No, give them no authority. I definitely was just like, that’s bullshit, even as I still had internalized a lot of good-girl stuff when I was younger.

AA: I feel this! From my point of view, having recently transitioned, I have been dating cis men as a trans woman and it is so different from when I was dating as a gay man, which was my life in my twenties. Entering my womanhood, I feel this kind of like, “Am I a slut?” question. Which is, by the way, from Sex and the City. [Laughter] I just recently watched that actually, an episode called “Are We Sluts?”

MT: Oh really? Oh I love that, that’s so funny. Yeah, I could imagine that it’d be different because it does look, at least from the outside, like gay men could just be little ravenous packs of howling wolves with each other and it’s totally chill, and “slut” is just like an affectionate tease, if anything. But yeah, stepping into womanhood, and all of the joys and troubles of it—it is such a policed state in our culture.

AA: So with all this being said, I wonder what the decision was, then, to open your new press, Dopamine, with the word “sluts” as the title of this anthology?

MT: It just came to me. I imagined a bunch of different themed anthologies. I had this idea that I would do an anthology a year. I’m connected to so many writers that I really love, and I know that Dopamine isn’t necessarily going to be the best home for their work, and also I can only publish so many books a year. So an anthology would be a good way to bring in all of these writers that I love and also, ideally, benefit the press. So for the themed anthologies I thought of Criminal, Clown, Witch, and Slut. These are my community. These are the people around me and their different powers. It did feel like a really great, fun, bold way to announce the press—with an anthology of all these different voices to show the breadth of people that are within our orbit. I also thought it’d be cheeky and fun, and people would enjoy both writing for it and reading it.

AA: It also feels important. Criminal, Clown, Witch, and Slut: do you think that those four words speak to what you’re trying to do with this press in some way, some kind of ethos or aesthetic?

MT: Kind of, yeah. We want to publish people who push boundaries, and those four words, I think, are all categories or archetypes of people who do that. And also it feels very queer, too, these weird little queer categories. Slut for sure, right? Witch—I mean, powerful women and magical men, to be super binary about it, but it’s been a spot for all kinds of people to express magic. And clowns. I just think of the fool or the jester, or the person who can sneak into proper society because they’re hilarious, like the court jester who could say anything, could say all the things that couldn’t be said. I’m watching Feud right now, and Truman Capote was the fool, he was the jester, he got in there with his queeny humor and insight. And then criminal, of course—queers have been criminalized and still have to resort to criminality for survival so often.

AA: In the writing in the anthology, and also in the work that you want to publish through Dopamine, is there a quality in the writing that you look for that comes across as slutty?

MT: I think so, in the sense that I think that we’re going to be publishing work by writers for whom sex is important, a site of much thought and meaningful experience. But then so many other things launch out from that. Writing that feels liberated from whatever the constraints of the market might be, or the academy, or all the different places where someone’s writing might get a little oppressed, or, you know, dumbed down. We want work that is throwing those shackles off and being really liberated and flagrant and shameless and not really caring about decorum.

AA: My favorite writing has always been work that is like “fuck your decorum.”

MT: Of course! It’s so inspiring, that feeling that there are other ways to live and think and write.

AA: We keep talking about shamelessness. I’m immersed in academia, you know, and a lot of queer theorists like thinking about shame. They’re like, “Oh, shame is so interesting!” It reveals what you desire in some way, because if you’re not ashamed of something then you don’t desire it, I guess, is the argument.

MT: That’s true. It’s that vulnerability. That vulnerability of being witnessed, having some aspect of yourself—maybe feral, or taboo, or scorned—witnessed.

AA: I think what’s so liberating about the slut as an archetype, though, is that I don’t think the slut finds shame interesting.

MT: I don’t think the slut can afford to find shame interesting. [Laughter] I think that’s true. Yeah, shame definitely gets in the way of sluttiness.

AA: I thought I’d ask about Los Angeles. Dopamine is based in LA, you and I are based in LA. Is there something about publishing in LA that’s different?

MT: It’s an interesting question, and to a certain extent a little unanswerable, because who knows what would happen if I was publishing in other places. I don’t know. LA feels like a city that speaks to freedom, for sure. People come here to follow dreams. There’s a whole mythos of this being a hotspot for dreamers and people who are maybe a little bit delulu, but building a beautiful life out of those delusions. Hopefully. And also maybe they’re a little in love with the tragedy of it. The whole drama and pathos of a life spent chasing a dream can be really beautiful and full. Especially calling ourselves Dopamine. I feel like we’re in a city where people really chase feeling good. We like the sun. We like good times. We want to, you know, stay high. All these things give us dopamine in the real sense, like rewards and spiritual highs.

AA: From this description, LA seems like the kind of place that would honor the slut.

MT: It should! LA owes the slut a lot. I mean, my goodness, how many sluts have made this town operate? Oh my God. In all different ways. I’m thinking of Eve Babitz a little bit, just like these chroniclers of Los Angeles. I don’t think Joan Didion was really a slut, but I do think that she was maybe not unsympathetic to the slut. She maybe thought that shame was interesting.

AA: [Laughter] She definitely did. Do you have any advice for either aspiring sluts or someone aspiring maybe to be in an anthology called Sluts?

MT: Look towards other people who live shamelessly and who break that ground for you to stretch out a bit. Find your slutty icons, your people who lived with a bit of abandon, and let them be your ancestors, your chosen ancestors, or even your current heroes. There are definitely a lot of these people in the Sluts anthology who live in this really beautiful lust-for-life way, which absolutely encompasses sex. People like Bronte Pernell, Vera Blossom, Gary Indiana, and Liara Roux.

AA: Who are your shameless ancestors?

MT: I mean, there’s something very slutty about Cookie Mueller. She was very shameless, she said whatever she thought. She was very shameless about drug use, that sort of hedonistic pursuit. And I think she’s such a Pisces, she was really always looking for true love. Sluts want true love, too.

AA: Yes, we do!

MT: Yeah, and we’ll take great risks to find it. Great slutty risks to find it. I just love her so much, and I feel like she’s having a bit of a moment right now. I think it’s only going to get bigger, and so I love that for her memory.

I think for a lot of people who are sluts or slutty, sex occupies this very powerful core place in their life. I think that maybe they’re all Scarlet Women, whatever their genders. There’s this sense that the sexual realm actually contains a lot of potential. And it’s mysterious, we don’t always know what that potential is. But we want to fling ourselves into it! In spite of all of the cultural scaffolding that’s trying to prevent us from doing that.

AA: It seems like that scaffolding was erected in the first place to inhibit this access. Inhibit and control.

MT: Yeah. Miranda July’s new book, which will be out in May, All Fours, it’s so incredible. It’s one of the best books I’ve ever read. I know that’s a big thing to say, but I felt really inspired and moved by it. But there is this part in it where the narrator is like: Is this the skeleton in the closet of humanity and human culture—women’s sexual power? And insatiability?

AA: Yes, it absolutely is.

MT: It’s one of them, yeah.

Amelia Ada is the author of the book-length poem Hard and Glad, forthcoming from Dopamine/Semiotext(e) in 2026. Her poems and essays have appeared widely, and she is the co-host of the podcast You Shouldn’t Let Poets Lie To You. She lives in Los Angeles, where she is a PhD candidate at the University of Southern California.

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