I Asked Isadora: Island Insight
Readers of the S.F. Bay Guardian will recognize Isadora Alman as the renowned sexologist whose weekly column “Ask Isadora” ran from 1981 to 2003. In fact, the column was syndicated in 20 newspapers around the country, including the famed Village Voice in New York.
Readers wrote in with their most intimate questions and concerns, and Alman unfailingly gave answers reflecting her warmth, wisdom and extensive professional training. No topic was taboo.
She describes her process as reaching into a laundry basket full of letters by her desk and fishing out a balanced assembly to answer, so no gender, orientation or preference would be excluded. Today the column continues monthly in a different format on Psychology Today Online.
Originally from New York, Alman moved to the Island, by way of San Francisco, in 2006. Though reluctant to leave the city life, she prioritized moving closer to her daughter and granddaughter who live in Alameda.
The move was daunting. She was single and couldn’t fathom a social life on what felt then to be a remote island. Additionally, there was the dread of moving her belongings to a small rental, unsure if she would be able to make the move permanent.
Like many a city dweller, Alman had an aversion to driving on the freeway, which would necessitate the closure of her San Francisco office.
“What did it for me was that I was sitting on a bus in San Francisco and in front of me I heard two women talking,” said Alman. “One of them was saying ‘You know, my grandmother is with me every day of my life — I always hear her voice in my mind’, and I thought, ‘I want that for my grandchild!’”
In her Alameda home office, she’s maintained a flourishing psychotherapy practice — sex, relationships and intimacy being of common concern among humans. Along the way she’s published six books, the latest, What People Keep Asking Me About Sex and Relationships.
The journey toward becoming sex therapist extraordinaire began with a lack of personal satisfaction in her career as a real estate agent. She began looking for meaningful volunteer work and quickly found her niche at San Francisco Sex Information — a phone helpline that offered a prerequisite training course.
“I thought I had finally found my people!” Alman said. “It was just so gratifying for me to be able to talk casually about sex.”
From volunteering on the talkline, Alman swiftly moved on to become a supervisor, then the board of directors, then the training staff. By 1980 she arrived at the undeniable realization that the next step was to go for her masters degree in psychology leading to an MFCC (marriage, family and child counselor) license.
A decided proponent of lifelong love and libido, Alman follows her own advice. A dozen years ago, she rekindled a romance with a love from her youth back in New York. (Regular Alameda Sun contributor Morton Chalfy.)
They’d always kept in touch through four decades, and three marriages between them. An online flirtation led to the discovery that finally the timing was right and the magic spark was still there, with an added depth and comfort. They’ve been living together on the Bronze Coast ever since.
I asked Alman what memorable stories or surprising experiences stand out in her career. The obvious response was delivered with a grin.
“The ones that are memorable to me are the ones that are not fit to be printed,” she said.
She does, however, offer this distillation.
“Over years and years and thousands of questions the basic theme that emerges is: ‘Am I normal?’” She has never found cause to respond in the negative.