You’re now in your 60s. How’s your body holding up? Pretty good. I keep fit. I always used to be at a gym. When lockdown came, I bought a Peloton [exercise bike], which I adore. I’m in the Cotswolds and I’ve still got a little gym down the garden. We’re not talking anything fancy: a big wall mirror, some weights, a bench, the Peloton, a couple of big mats, balls.
How has your relationship with your body changed? You do notice your body changing as you get older. You have to work harder to keep yourself strong and well. You can’t do the things that you did in your 30s. I can’t stay up all night any more and not feel it the next day. That’s over. We gotta eat well; we gotta exercise. I want to stick around. It’s a very interesting time to be alive.
When do you feel most comfortable – and least comfortable – in your own skin? I’m most comfortable when I’m working outside. Maybe about halfway through a long day when you’re all warmed up and you’ve been planting things in your garden, digging or chopping. Anything like that, I feel a great sense of wellbeing. I least like it when I’m in crowded situations, surrounded by people I don’t know. Loud spaces are difficult for me. And I have to keep control of myself because, you know, I’m one of those people who’d just punch you. I would!
So much of your work explores, depicts and investigates sexuality and gender. How much of that is informed by the absence of discussing those things growing up? A lot. At least we live in a world now where people can talk and experience [those things]. But I’m still astonished that there’s so much body-shaming and body terror. I think you ought to be able to get into bed with somebody you fancy and have a good time without it being a performance – unless you both want it to be. Essentially, it’s got to be your space, hasn’t it? If you can’t live in your one true home – your body – where can you live?
One of the main characters in your 2019 novel Frankissstein is transgender. There’s so much transphobia at the moment, especially in the UK. What do you make of it? In the UK, we have a very negative conversation at the moment; both sides are so angry and shouting at each other. We know that never solves anything. So we’ve got to find safe spaces for women who feel that they just need to be in a room with other [cisgender] females. There should be room for that. We also have to find inclusivity and stop worrying that all trans women are rapists and secret oppressors. It’s become just another way of finding a group to demonise. I’m optimistic, though, because I don’t know any young people who really have a problem. Maybe my generation just has to either get over it or die. Why are we so hooked up on gender? Gay people have always been so good at saying, “This matters so much less than you think.” Trans people are pushing that argument further; we’ve gotta get past the binary.
How do you write a good sex scene? [Laughs] You have to really want to be in it yourself!
What makes for a bad sex scene in a book? Not being fully in it. Bad sex is always bad sex – in real life or in fiction – because somebody’s not really there.
What two books should I give to a partner as a sexy gift? One of yours, and one of someone else’s. One of mine: Written on the Body. I’d also say the best book about sex – where not very much sex happens at all – is Virginia Woolf’s Orlando. The first time-travelling trans novel. Delicious.
Jeanette Winterson discusses Life and Mars: The Future of Human at Sydney’s Vivid Festival on June 3.
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