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.
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.
“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.
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.
“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.”