Unstraightening Lesbian: Removing The Heterosexual Lens: Dorothy Allison

Note: This post is the latest in the series that Dirt and I are writing to expose some of the biggest offenders of the so-called “lesbian experts” who are neither lesbian nor expert; this post was originally published here.


Image: #PicsArt #FreeToEdit

Today’s feature is Dorothy Allison.

Most would know Dorothy Allison for her semi-autobiographical novel and later made-for-TV movie Bastard out of Carolina. The novel depicts portions of the extreme physical/sexual and emotional abuse Allison suffered at the hands (and other male appendages) of her stepfather. And given the graphic nature Allison has written of her intimate past, not to mention her fiction, there is absolutely no speculation on where (sex/violence) figures in Allison’s life/work. And based on how sex figures (regardless of where [with women]) Dorothy Allison sits squarely in the middle of Straightbian, rather then the self-identifying lesbian femme that she claims to be:

When I was five, Mama married the man she lived with until she died. Within the first year of their marriage Mama miscarried, and while we waited out in the hospital parking lot, my stepfather molested me for the first time, something he continued to do until I was past thirteen. When I was eight or so, Mama took us away to a motel after my stepfather beat me so badly it caused a family scandal, but we returned after two weeks. Mama told me that she really had no choice: she could not support us alone. When I was eleven I told one of my cousins that my stepfather was molesting me. Mama packed up my sisters and me and took us away for a few days, but again, my stepfather swore be would stop, and again we went back after a few weeks.”

Allison has stated outright that sexual abuse that informed her ideas/experience of so-called lesbianism. We suspect equally responsible for her ignorant privileged notions of her masochistic sexual tendencies with women was her deep involvement in the early 70’s with a small feminist collective of similar Straightbians: women who chose to romantically/sexually entangle themselves with women/lesbians because they  too were sexually abused or because they were temporarily caught up in the Women’s (“we hate men right this minute”) Liberation movement.

“Writing Bastard Out of Carolina became, ultimately, the way to claim my family’s pride and tragedy, and the embattled sexuality I had fashioned on a base of violence and abuse.

“I became sexually and politically active, joining the Women’s Center support staff and falling in love with a series of middle-class women who thought my accent and stories thoroughly charming.”

“…I am not only a lesbian but a transgressive lesbian-femme, masochistic, as sexually aggressive as the women I seek out, and…pornographic in my imagination and sexual activities…”

In the same essay Allison goes on to say:

“The compartmentalized life I had created burst open in the late 1970s after I began to write what I really thought about my family. I lost patience with my fear of what the women I worked with, mostly lesbians, thought of who I slept with and what we did together. When schisms developed within my community; when I was no longer able to hide within the regular dyke network; when I could not continue to justify my life by constant political activism or distract myself by sleeping around; when my sexual promiscuity, butch/femme orientation, and exploration of sadomasochistic sex became part of what was driving me out of my community of choice—I went home again.”

As Allison’s sexual proclivities became better known to the lesbian feminist collective and other feminist activists, a rift developed between so-called “kinky” lesbians and lesbian feminists.

This split is as complicated as it is warped, regardless of which side women took. While the later “Sex Wars” that sprang out of this rift seem innocuous today, the irony involved in this scenario bears explaining.

We’ll call Allison’s “kinky” team Camp Allison and the uptight feminist team Camp Barnard.

Both camps were predominantly straight, and both camps predominantly co-opted and claimed a wrongful stake in Lesbian history.

Both camps hungrily devoured John Money‘s infamous and failed Gender Identity Theory, denying biology in favor of constructed sex roles where biology magically becomes meaningless, and where male and female bodies possess unsexed/non-sexually-oriented brains (it’s as if they think that the brain is not an organ — that the brain is somehow mysteriously disconnected from the body in which it resides).

Where Camp Allison and Camp Barnard differ is sex: Camp Allison, whose heterosexuality was heavily shaped by sexual abuse/violence, and Camp Barnard, whose heterosexuality was shaped by feminist theory.

Camp Allison were promiscuous, deviant, sexually aggressive, and sexually violent toward themselves and other women, and some Camp Allison members, specifically Pat/rick Califia and Gayle Rubin, even writing and speaking out in favor of legally lowering the Age of Consent laws which would make sex with minors legal.

Camp Barnard, on the other hand, arrogantly attempted to dictate to women/lesbians how to have lesbian sex and what consisted of lesbian sex, particularly a no-vaginal-penetration mandate. Some even went so far as to insist that lesbians do not have sex at all, and that lesbian attraction itself objectified women.

Sadly, the Lesbian Feminist Sex Wars were fought by sexually abused straight women in Camp Allison versus uptight, prudish straight women in Camp Barnard — while actual Lesbian input was both unwelcome and undocumented.

Backtracking, as a result of the Lesbian Sex Wars, Allison and her cohorts helped to organize the (also inappropriately-named) Lesbian Sex Mafia, described by Allison in her book Skin as follows:

I had helped organize the Lesbian Sex Mafia, a group intended for ‘politically incorrect’ women…(I) began to do public speaking on sexuality…publishing my essays on incest, family violence, and sexuality…(I) concentrated on attracting members whose primary sexual orientation was s/m, butch/femme, fetish specific, or otherwise politically incorrect.

First of all, Dorothy: Butch/Femme is NOT a “sexual orientation“.  Our sexual orientation is the same as every other Lesbian: LESBIAN! Secondly, the other sexual practices Allison lists among “sexual orientation” are NOT sexual orientation either. S/M and fetishes are not sexual orientations, they are pathology (in the way in which Allison and her cohorts define and practice them). Thirdly, to lump Butch/Femme as part of a passage discussing incest, violence, S/M, and fetishes is incorrect, irresponsible, and abhorrent.

Allison goes on to say regarding the Lesbian Sex Mafia’s demise:

“The most shocking failure of the Lesbian Sex Mafia…was that none of us predicted the kind of attack and vilification that accompanied the April 23, 1982 Barnard Conference on Sexuality, or the speakout on politically incorrect sex we organized to take place the next day….we had not seriously prepared to deal with critics who would be horrified at our behaviour as lesbians, never mind queer queers.”

The failure of Camp Allison was that they were so caught up in their own sexual abuses they believed that by reliving over and over and over and over again those abuses as adult women, what they were doing was subversive! It became abundantly apparent to them during the Barnard Conference that other feminists/academics didn’t share their noxious Nirvana. Members of Camp Barnard were in fact so disgusted some members dissected a sexscapade between Allison and two other women in an issue of Off Our Backs.

Allison recovered whatever shame or insecurity she felt over the Barnard scandal and went to write and publish essays, stories, novels-one as we mentioned that made it to film, as well as to teach and lecture at many notable universities.

Whatever Allison did sexually we would like to say is her business, but, unfortunately, Allison has SO publicly made it ours. Nevertheless, we don’t have to purchase her books or go to her lectures, and we haven’t. The problem we have is Allison did whatever she did while (with straight privilege) calling herself a lesbian. Dorothy Allison won copious lesbian awards for her writing, awards that paid her well, engagements that paid her well, and lecturing that paid her well. And still pays her well.

Like every Straightbian we have discussed thus far in this serious, NONE of them feel the slightest bit of remorse for shining under a star that doesn’t bear their name.

How many actual lesbian writers received rejection letters, so that this drivel written by Allison instead, under the incorrect name of lesbian, could be published?

“Natalia was much older than me, and we had been playing school girl and Governess. When I was the Governess, Natalia was my toddler who needed to be washed tenderly, powdered down, sometimes have her temperature taken–‘turn over baby’–and invariably be nuzzled gently until she orgasmed in my arms. When I was the schoolgirl, I was a stubborn adolescent who accumulated countless demerits…Natalia decided she would like to play out one of hers (fantasies) and see if she couldn’t train her schoolgirl to enjoy having her ass used.”

After lots of wine, oysters, and a bubble bath:

Before I could hiccup in confusion she had my wrist tied to a ring on the floor. “Ma’am?” I tried, unsure of which game we were going to play. “Be still,” she said sternly. “Don’t think, just relax. I want something from you and tonight I’m going to get it.” She poured a pool of thick creamy lotion into her palm and began to massage my ass, her blunt fingers pushing dollops of cream up into my butt.”

After some poppers:

“‘Ma’am,’ I wailed, and she purred back at me, ‘that’s my girl,’ while her hand worked its way steadily into my butt. She hurt me and I screamed at her. She laughed at me and I howled at her. But she had all the practice and she knew every crevice, every rudimentary panic, every movement I would make in response to every movement of hers, and nothing I did or said or cried stopped her. After a while she wasn’t hurting me, she was guiding me, whispering soft words while her fingers played tickle-touch so deep inside me I wanted to burp.”

Good grief.

Dirt and Mrs. Dirt

37 thoughts on “Unstraightening Lesbian: Removing The Heterosexual Lens: Dorothy Allison

  1. Once again, horrifying. No, lesbians don’t do gross incest scenes with each other, for gawd’s sake.
    I was reading about lesbian history this spring and I read about the “lesbian sex wars” of the 1980s. I was just a little kid in the 1980s, so my only concept of this is what I’ve read. But now I wonder how much of these “sex wars” were fought by women who weren’t even lesbians? Dear goddess. I can’t even learn about lesbian history and trust what I’m reading.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Rape is rape, and I find it VERY hard to believe that anyone, female or male, who has genuinely been raped, could fantasize about this stuff. I forced myself to read it again, but even with my most professional hat on (i.e. “translate this text into French”) I found myself gagging, and could not continue. Unprofessional, or course, but I would refuse the commission if offered.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. In Britain, we had our own version of the Lesbian Sex War (also in the 1980s but like everything else with a couple of years delay on you), in which the combatants were on the one hand sado-masochists and women who thought “lesbian strip bars” were a great idea, and on the other politicalesbians (“lesbians by choice”) who had taken it upon themselves to re-define and ‘re-invent’ lesbianism while their ex-boyfriends’ beds were still warm from their departure.

    Gay men and, more importantly, ‘ordinary’ lesbians or gay women, as many still called themselves, found ourselves trapped in a horrible ‘no-man’s land’ between the two (no pun intended). I confess I sided with the lesfems, but retired to the sidelines when the conflict became really physically violent (more on ‘our’ side, I have to acknowledge, than on theirs).

    And now you’re telling me none of those people were lesbian at all (well, a few of them were, obviously). Their savagery (on both sides) played a big part in the closure of the London Lesbian and Gay Centre, of which we were very proud, for the short time it existed.

    I don’t often use the adjective ‘ordinary’ as a compliment, but I thank you and Dirt for being ‘ordinary’ lesbians (butch/femme/androgynous, what do I care?) and for giving a voice to other ordinary lesbians and ordinary gay men like me.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks ~ I like “ordinary”! Dirt and I are trying to get the idea across that gay/lesbian IS normal.

      Dirt and I are sick of well-meaning heterosexuals talking incessantly about “gender non-conforming”; but we are NORMAL. It’s their ridiculous standards that need to be called into question, not us.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I have a certain wariness of ‘ordinary’ and ‘normal’, but maybe that comes from other languages. You might drink a ‘vin ordinaire’ on a weekday with your partner, but you wouldn’t serve it to guests. And both in French and Spanish ‘normal’ kinda means “in conformity with the rules”. Pay attention if you’re translating, but otherwise nothing for English-speakers to worry about.

        Liked by 1 person

        • So true; I am nowhere near the level of knowledge needed to translate, but I know enough French and German (and have traveled enough) to realize that words, phrases, and colloquial sayings do not translate literally and often have very different connotations in other languages than the English version.


        • “For somebody who don’t drive, I’ve been all around the worl’:
          Some people say I’ve done alright, for a girl.”
          Copyright Melanie Safka, for you youngsters.

          I will never have a tombstone, but if I did, I wouldn’t be unproud if it read: “Here lies Petre Norman. Some people say she done alright, for a girl.”

          Thank your lucky stars you’re not a translator. Learning languages is the least of it. You have to have an extensive, but not at all intensive knowledge of loads of things. In other words, quite literally ‘talk the talk’ without ‘walking the walk’. We all feel like fraudsters, but we do our job, such as it is.

          Liked by 1 person

  4. Thing about this Queer Theory bred group is that they try to lump their traumatic re-enactment compulsion in with homosexuality, and act like if you are against their damage, its homophobia. Then we get them saying stuff like, ~i’m a radical pervert and proud~~

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thanks for commenting! Yes, they all are full of bravado, saying that they are “proud perverts”, and they claim that it’s lesbophobia if anyone questions them….and, sadly, they do all of this without any apparent self-awareness of the underlying issues driving their behavior, all the while spreading misinformation about real lesbians in the process. 😦

      Liked by 2 people

  5. ‘R’ has got it absolutely right. The London Gay Liberation Manifesto (1971) had this to say:
    “The ultimate success of all forms of oppression is our self-oppression. Self-oppression is achieved when the gay person has adopted and internalized straight people’s definition of what is good and bad.”
    IMHO, ‘queers’ both female and male who invest so much of their identity in ‘transgression’ are just as much guilty/victims of adoptance of heterosexist value-judgments as those who try obsessively to model their lives on picket-fence heterosexual coupledom. What else would they have to ‘transgress’?
    We all make value judgments, and I think we can quite rightly and legitimately make our own, independently of rather than ‘transgressive’ in relation to heterosexist norms.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I want to reply to “infectedbloodcomics” on the subject of rape. I very much hope you have never been raped, but I have, and it leaves you with a feeling of disgust not just toward the man who did it to you, but for yourself too. Luckily, I had enough good friends around me to help me overcome those feelings. Less fortunately, the bastard also gave me syphilis.

    So I’m not entirely unsympathetic to those who want to overcome that abuse “by any means possible” or even ‘relive’ that experience, but I don’t think the way they try to do it is the best way. I usually make quite ‘light-hearted’ contributions to Saye’s blog, but I can’t joke about this.

    I trust Saye and the regular readers of her blog quite a lot; nevertheless, this is not easy for me. I can only hope it’s useful in some way.

    Liked by 1 person

    • On the topic of rape… I went through many sexual assaults, although nobody was able to go all the way with me – I fought back and I was very lucky. So, I understand where you are coming from – unfortunately, most women (and several men, I bet) do. It’s ugly, it’s sad, it’s infuriating. But I completely agree with you: By “re-enacting” rape these people are just hurting themselves even more and dragging people into this awful spiral of abuse, too.

      BTW, I’m really enjoying your comments and I hope you’ll stick around 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

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