Unstraightening Lesbian: Removing the Heterosexual Lens: Amber Hollibaugh

Note: This is another joint post with Dirt, originally published here.

Amber Hollibaugh has been a well-known figure for many years, primarily known and often quoted as a “Lesbian Expert“, although, as we will demonstrate in this post, she is neither lesbian nor expert.

Hollibaugh has published books/articles, participated in many lectures/conversations/interviews, has been revered by many as an “expert” on “lesbian” matters, and has even been included in Smith College’s Voices In Feminism Oral History Project.

According to her publisher, Duke University Press:

“Amber L. Hollibaugh is a lesbian sex radical, ex-hooker, incest survivor, gypsy child, poor-white-trash, high femme dyke…She explores the concept of labeling and the associated issues of categories such as butch or femme, transgender, bisexual, top or bottom, drag queen, b-girl, or drag kingHaving informed many of the debates that have become central to gay and lesbian activism, Hollibaugh’s work challenges her readers…”

Hollibaugh’s work “challenges” us for sure, but not in the way this blurb intends.  Her work challenges us to call it out for what it is:



Image: #PicsArt #FreeToEdit

We previewed a couple of the quotes from Hollibaugh’s Smith College interview in our recent overview post, and let’s review them here again, briefly, to lead into this post:

Here Hollibaugh talks about trying to find a female partner since she decided to call herself a “lesbian“, and to this statement, we have to say: “Huh?”:

You’re not looking for girl…the signifier is a girl that’s a boy that’s a girl.” (pg. 50)

Here Hollibaugh talks about dating men (which is not very “lesbian” of her, now is it?):

I’d been very ruthless about men, didn’t really, I don’t know— I was in love with love…that period was a period where I started to have a lot of sex, I was either 16 or 17, and I wanted, I had started to believe in great love…” (pg.52)

Here Hollibaugh discusses her work as a prostitute while also calling herself a “lesbian“:

“…it is confusing when you are hooker, because you are doing it for work, and so you don’t know whether you would— how that’s affecting you— whether women look good because they aren’t men, or whether you are actually independently attracted to women. Uh, and I wasn’t quite sure how I thought about it. I wasn’t prepared to stop fucking men, I actually never had trouble having sex with men.” (pg.59)

It should already be quite obvious just from these 3 quotes alone that Hollibaugh is a troubled Straightbian attention-seeker using “lesbian” for her own self-promoting purposes, but since numerous people have persisted in their ridiculous belief that she is a “lesbian expert” for decades, we felt we needed to spell it out more clearly in this post.

Hollibaugh’s own version of her life story, as told in the Smith College interview is rambling, often confusing, sometimes evasive, and frequently contradictory. Some of her outrageous stories and claims are, quite frankly, simply downright unbelievable.

But regardless of whether her outlandish stories have even a grain of truth to them, it is obvious from her own words that she is not a lesbian.  Here are just a few of the statements, in Hollibaugh’s own words, that no true lesbian would ever think or say:

1). (About being with men): “It wasn’t that I hadn’t tried to love men, it wasn’t that I never loved them, it wasn’t that I didn’t get off on having sex with them” (pg. 72)

2). (About working as a prostitute): “I have to say, it was not a bad living.” (pg. 56)

3). (About one of her most significant relationships with a woman):  “it was one of the most important relationships I’ve ever had in my life, though the sex was terrible, and we almost never made love.” (pg. 71)

4). (About her experience AFTERcoming out as a lesbian” while living in a radical commune): “Like, when Laurel and I broke up, I went back to Berkeley…I ended up pregnant and I didn’t know what to do… If you were an independent woman, if you were a lesbian, if you — you were not probably going to do too well. And I felt, at least for many years, like I wanted what those men knew, and I was trying to learn everything…I did not want to be simply somebody’s girlfriend and I knew that the way I was treated was that those men did not think of me as a significant intellectual. I didn’t think of myself as an intellectual but I was hungry. And I knew that they had ideas and I knew in exchange for sex, I could get close to them and learn things from them even though they weren’t going to try to — they were going to take me serious intellectually but they — you know, you were in a world surrounded by men.”    (pgs. 85-95)

Let’s examine these few statements before moving on:

Statement #1: Hollibaugh admits that she loved men and enjoyed sex with men and had no problem reaching orgasm with men.  Hmmm…NOT LESBIAN.

Statement #2: Hollibaugh stated that she was not desperate for work when she decided to become a prostitute; she says in the surrounding text that she saw it as a money-making opportunity and willing entered into sex work. According to Hollibaugh herself, having sex with male strangers for money, is “not bad”.  (She only quit because she states that she was intruding on the territory of a sex trade boss, which resulted in one of her tales which stretches the boundaries of credibility).  Hmmm…NOT LESBIAN.

Statement #3: Hollibaugh here notes that in one of her “most important” relationships with a female, their sex life was both terrible and infrequent.  Why??  Because she is not a lesbian (and from the surrounding description, it actually sounds as if NEITHER of them are lesbian); therefore, they mistook friendship and caring for each other as “love”, but they had no chemistry because of the lack of lesbian sexual orientation.  Hmmm…NOT LESBIAN.

Statement #4: Hollibaugh breaks up with her female lover after raising Hell claiming to be a lesbian, and moves to Berkeley and joins a radical commune, where even more fantastical and nonsensical tales allegedly happened, but the only part we are concerned about is the part where Hollibaugh admits she had consensual sex with multiple men in order to gain knowledge. (Apparently Hollibaugh is unfamiliar with the more traditional methods of gaining knowledge, such as visiting a library). The main factor for us here is: Hmmm…NOT LESBIAN.

These are only a very small sampling of the multitude of non-lesbian comments in the Smith interview alone; but this small sample abundantly illustrates Hollibaugh’s true nature: heterosexual, dramatic, opportunistic, manipulative, vague, and quite possibly prone to prevarication.

The following quotes about Hollibaugh come from an article entitled “Outsider Chic Amber Hollibaugh’s Life of Contradictions and Dangerous Desires”, published in the Chicago Tribune in January 2001, written by Nancy Traver:

(Quoting Hollibaugh) ” ‘I slept with men on the Left just to overhear their conversations about Marx and the foundations of capital,’ she (Hollibaugh) writes in her book. ‘Sex was my tuition, and I paid it willingly.’ ” 

“‘Sex work itself was not as hard as dealing with the attitudes surrounding it’, Hollibaugh says.”

“Her life has had more dizzying twists and turns than the two-lane roadway that leads up Pike’s Peak. Indeed, following her life story could produce a bad case of whiplash. Hollibaugh’s new book, My Dangerous Desires: A Queer Girl Dreaming Her Way Home (Duke University Press, $17.95), is her way of explaining all the contradictions in her life.”

Again, this article and review of Hollibaugh’s book only reinforces what we already covered above: Hollibaugh has had a complicated, contradictory, and highly dramatic life, which includes repeated consensual sex with men

Anybody with an critical thinking skills whatsoever should be able to see that Hollibaugh is decidedly  NOT A LESBIAN.

In the horrible book The Persistent Desire, Hollibaugh participates in a discussion entitled: “What We’re Rolling Around In Bed With: Sexual Silences In Feminism”. Hollibaugh treats the readers to her “expert” opinions on Butch/Femme lovemaking. Here are a few Hollibaugh quotes from that chapter:

“I think the reason that butch-femme stuff got hidden within lesbian-feminism is because people are profoundly afraid of questions of power in bed.” (pg. 246)

“It’s hard to talk about giving up power without it sounding passive. I am willing to give myself over…I may not be doing something active with my body, but more eroticizing her need…” (pg. 246)

(When Hollibaugh is asked whether she ever wants to be active in sex rather than passively receiving):  “Well, not exactly in the same way, because with butches you have to respect their sexual identitythat’s why roles are so significant…” (pg. 248)

I was ruthless with men, sexually…” (pg. 249)

To analyze: Hollibaugh’s quotes from the chapter above show us that, in true heterosexual-privileged Straightbian fashion, she prefers the “pillow princess” passive role during sex, preferring that a Butch lover do all the work while she doesn’t reciprocate.

Hollibaugh’s attitude is not only indicative of her own straight orientation, but, in this case more importantly, this mindset is also promoting the Stone Butch fallacy that is harmful to Butch lesbians.

Also: Hollibaugh is just plain wrong about Butch/Femme in general, as we have discussed many times in various posts, Butch/Femme is NOT about “role-playing”.

Finally, once again, Hollibaugh cannot even make it through ONE article, interview, or discussion without talking about sex with men.  The implication of that should be obvious, huh??

In summary:

Is Amber Hollibaugh wounded? Yes.

Exciting? Check.

Theatrical? For sure.

Attention-seeking?  Most Definitely!

Opportunistic?  Good God, YES.

Lesbian? OH HELL NO!

People wonder why we care about who says they are lesbian and whether they are really lesbian.  People say it’s not our business to care.

What we say to those people is that it is the overt misrepresentation of lesbian lives by people like Hollibaugh and all of the other false “lesbian experts” which has led to numerous troubles for real lesbians, including, but not limited to: confusion; isolation; invisibility; misunderstandings within the lesbian community and with the general public; heartbreak for lesbians by being falsely led to believe by Straightbians that any woman can be a lesbiancriticism from other so-called “experts” who are not smart enough to see that the women perpetrating these lies are not actually lesbians; and in some tragic cases, lesbian partners have even transitioned in the mistaken and impossible hope of “becoming the man” that they feel their Straightbian lovers want.

Real lesbian lives are harmed by fake lesbians‘ lies.  We will never stop caring about that, and we will never stop speaking out against it. It is time for the lies to stop.

Dirt and Mrs. Dirt

14 thoughts on “Unstraightening Lesbian: Removing the Heterosexual Lens: Amber Hollibaugh

  1. How do these people get away with it?
    I fear I have to express myself in a more direct (some would say vulgar) way than I’m really comfortable with, but I can’t see any way round it: if I were to say, I’m a proud gay man, but what really gets me going is licking clit, I’d be laughed out of court, certainly by other gay men, and (I would like to think) by lesbians too.
    It’s true that people falsely or frivolously claiming to be gay when they are not is (so far) much less of a problem in the gay male environment than for you. But you know that solidarity between real lesbians and real gay men, in so far as that is salvageable, is important to me, one of my betes noires if you like, and to have our identity undermined or erased in that way is damaging to both of us.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I think they get away with it because they used their Straight Privilege to bulldoze their way into lesbian space, and, quite frankly, because lesbians have let them get away with it.

      Dirt and I have gotten TONS of backlash over calling Straightbians out and I think it because lesbians WANT to believe that any woman can POOF! magically “become a lesbian”; perhaps because they have a crush on a Straightbian, or perhaps because they are already in love with a Straightbian, or perhaps because they have a liberal live-and-let-live, wabi-sabi attitude which is well-meaning but naive.

      And, of course, Straightbians themselves will aggressively defend the false premise that “any woman can be a lesbian” because they want to keep their fame, fortune, security, relationships, and Straight Privilege intact while twisting real lesbian lives into unrecognizable pretzels.

      Liked by 2 people

      • “Any woman can be a lesbian” was a slogan, rather than a reasoned statement of belief, and was important in its time, because it empowered women to say ‘no’ to men at a time when ‘yes’ was universally expected. It has been almost as much misunderstood as the parallel statement “Any man can be a rapist.”
        You’re right to be angry at both women and men who have, in the intervening years, abused those words for their own self-interest, but not, I think, at my sisters and your fore-sisters who thunk that up in the 70s.
        I have no doubt you’ll tell me why I’m wrong.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Well, the main problem here is that the false statement that any woman can be a lesbian (regardless of what the original intention was) has caused problems for real lesbians ever since.

          A truly revolutionary approach would be for straight women to empower themselves to deal effectively with men (including saying “no”), OR decide to forego male company without co-opting “lesbian”.

          It is neither revolutionary nor appropriate to avoid the true problem by appropriating lesbian culture.

          Liked by 1 person

        • I SO agree with you, Saye. My late friend Erika Wisselinck, who translated Mary Daly’s Gyn/Ecology into German (in my view anyone who even imagines contemplating such a thing deserves a medal, but she actually did it well enough to astound my professional translator German-speaking friends) was wont to describe herself as a “non-practising lesbian”, by which she did NOT mean, as we might, “can’t find a girlfriend”. Rather, she had “bought into” the entirely negative (and curiously androcentric) politicalesbian ‘definition’ of lesbian as any woman who systematically refuses sex with men.

          I can’t reasonably quarrel with straight-inclined feminists who eschew sex with men, and form erotic bonds with each other. It’s when they come poaching on ‘our’ land that the problems start. And yes, I know that as a gay man I’m stretching the boundaries of the word ‘our’ beyond their reasonable limit.

          Lesbian feminists (not to be confused with feminist lesbians!) were my closest friends in the 1970s, and it goes against the grain for me to bad-mouth them, but one of their biggest faults was their entirely dismissive attitude toward ‘real’ lesbians, many of whom had been out and visible since before they were born; in the case of butches, just like ‘effeminate’ faggots, often with no choice.

          While we must always be welcoming of those who “jump the line”, no matter how late in life, you and all real lesbians are right to set a boundary on who can and who cannot call themselves lesbian.

          Gay men have our own boundary problems, but they take an entirely different form, and would scarcely be relevant here.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. If you come out as lesbian and then, repeatedly, consensually, have sex with men and say you enjoy it…you are obviously not a lesbian. Its not like she was forced or coerced into prostutution, or thought she was straight when she wasn’t. She’s straight. Just like a friend of mine who says she’s lesbian but works as a prostitute by choice and is dating a M2T and thinks that makes her a lesbian. For real? It’s an obvious man you’re dating. And your clients are men with who you are having consensual sex. You’re not a lesbian, high femme or otherwise.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes, I agree. Of course, some women are forced or coerced into prostitution, and some may have no other way to survive. But Amber Hollibaugh herself said in the Smith College interview that she chose prostitution because as a living it “wasn’t bad” and that she would have continued except for a bizarre story about being allegedly forced out of prostitution due to turf issues. Plus, her interview revealed multiple other instances of consensual sex with men AFTER she said she was a “lesbian”. So I totally agree: no way.

      And same thing with dating a MtT/MtF/M2T (AKA: a MAN): he’s not a “lesbian” and the woman dating him wouldn’t be a “lesbian” either.

      Liked by 2 people

    • I have bucketloads of stories about prostitution (available on request), but I will treat you instead to an unedifying story of sex between a real gay man and a real lesbian. My friend M. and I had got very drunk on whisky; I hate whisky, but it was all we had, and she had brought it. When we had finished it, and there was nothing more to drink, no cigarettes either, she said “I suppose we’d better go to bed.”

      So we retired to my single (Joanna would call twin) bed which we’d often shared before. But this time M. thought she would “have a little go” at my cock. I don’t know how much you know about penises or penes, but if manipulated, they do get hard, it’s physiology, look it up. So in the spirit of reciprocity, I “had a stab” (all too literal, I fear) at finding her clitoris. Migod, you gals keep those things well hidden.

      After a few minutes of fruitless rubbing, she said “Maybe we should just sleep”, which we duly did, immediately. The morning was bruising, because she was full of guilt about it (Joanna will understand that), but I said “forget it, it never happened”. Obviously I haven’t forgotten it, or else I couldn’t be telling you about it.

      Believe it or not, there is a point to this story, which is that, by and large, real lesbians are not ‘disgusted’ by cocks, nor are real gay men disgusted by cunts, were just kinda indifferent. If you’re looking for hatred and fear, look to the heterosexual community, not us.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Ha! As a lesbian, I am certainly indifferent/uninterested in male anatomy regardless of how much alcohol I have consumed. 🙂 The recent spate of tasteless videos with titles such as “A lesbian touches a penis for the first time!!!” etc. are bizarre. Being gay/lesbian means we aren’t attracted to or romantically/sexually interested in the opposite sex; as you said, gays/lesbians do NOT hate the opposite sex…instead, we just aren’t romantically or sexually oriented to them.

        Liked by 1 person

        • You’re a braver gal than I am if you can watch videos with titles like that. Even with my “valorous objective researcher” hat on, there are some porno videos where I just have to click the ‘skip’ button after the first few seconds. It must be a lucky lesbian who has grown to adulthood never having been touched by a penis, in one way or another, but I suppose in context it means ‘active’ touching. In any case, why?

          I take your words ‘indifferent/uninterested’ to mean ‘unaroused’, and I share that (lack of) feeling. But I am not entirely ‘uninterested’ in female anatomy (the Queen of England’s [late] gynecologist was a gay man), and cannot afford to be ‘indifferent’ to female physiology, especially when my friends (straight or les) are “on the rag”.

          Not so many years ago, my friends became obsessed by the idea that one of their breasts was larger than the other, and invited me (as the best objective judge) to rule the question. I have seen many more breasts than a heterosexual teenage boy can dream of, but god help you if you give an honest answer to the question.

          The fad seems to have passed, and god curse me if I have revived it. Please don’t go checking and measuring. My right one is bigger than the left, BTW. Oh dear, I seem to be setting the cat among the water, where I should be pouring oil on troubled pigeons.

          BTW, I’m not keen on the expression ‘opposite sex’ . Except by heterosexist reasoning, why are we ‘opposite’, rather than simply ‘other’ or ‘different’?

          Liked by 1 person

        • Politically (or otherwise) correct or not, I still prefer the term “opposite sex” because there are actual differences between males and females.

          Granted, there are similarities as well, such as we all have livers, but there are enough differences between the 2 sexes to constitute an observable difference.

          For me, the wording has nothing to do with so-called “heterosexist reasoning”; rather, it is a simple statement of acknowledgement that males and females are 2 distinct categories.

          Sex is a biological fact and not some sliding scale like the current “nonbinary” BS proponents want us to believe.

          People are either male or female (yes, people…BINARY!), or, rarely, intersex (which would be the only true “nonbinary” option).

          By “uninterested” in male anatomy, I mean not interested. At all. I wouldn’t ever even get to “unaroused” because I wouldn’t be exposed to find out; but I do know that if I were to suddenly see a male appendage, “unaroused” would also apply. “Indifferent” also applies. Don’t want to see one, don’t even want to think about one. Quite simply, male sexual anatomy is not a part of my life. I don’t mean that as a derogatory statement; I just mean it literally…I am simply not interested in male sexual anatomy at all. For those of you who are, have fun! 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

  3. I find myself both agreeing and disagreeing with your latest comment, which must mean we’re getting bogged down in semantics. ‘Difference’ does not mean ‘opposition’. Cats are different from dogs, but by no reasonable understanding is a cat ‘the opposite’ of a dog. On the other hand, it might be reasonable to regard people who prefer dogs as companion animals as being in some sense ‘in opposition’ to those who prefer cats.

    My (male) urologist is currently ‘training up’ a young lesbian doctor in his speciality. She obviously has a perfectly legitimate professional interest in male bodies, which (let us hope) she forgets all about when she goes home to her girlfriend. I feel very safe in her hands, trusting that she knows more about my ‘inner workings’ than I do myself.

    We’re not all doctors, but human beings, like all mammals, come in two distinct and discrete sexual categories, female and male. It surely can never be a bad thing to be knowledgeable about and sensitive to the differences as well as the similarities between us.

    I still think that our categorization as ‘opposites’ owes more to sexual politics and the unfortunate andrarchal history of our species than to a genuine recognition of our biological differences.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Perhaps it is semantics we are “arguing” about, but I do NOT feel that the word “opposite” means “in opposition”. I don’t mean the 2 sexes are (or should be) “against” each other, but, as you said above, humans do “come in two distinct and discrete sexual categories, female and male.”

      I think getting bogged down by semantics is obscuring the point of the conversation, since I doubt we are actually disagreeing with the point we are discussing, but rather the wording.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks for your apposite (not opposite) comment. I think we broadly agree, and the rest is just quibbling about words. In my own (poor) defence, the pension I live on comes from a lifetime of quibbling about words. Tomayto/tomato?

        Liked by 1 person

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