Karin Kallmaker has posted the speech she gave for Dorothy Allison’s Golden Crown Literary Society 2018 Trailblazer Award Golden Crown Literary Society 2018 Trailblazer Award. It’s a great and impassioned introduction to Allison’s essential work.
In this new wondrous age with Supreme Court decisions affirming gay and lesbian marriages, and gender being redefined as nowhere near as rigid as it has previously been defined, I sometimes wonder if anyone knows what our lives were like at the time when I was a young woman, trying to figure out how to live my life honestly in the face of so much hatred and danger. Who are we if we cannot speak truthfully about our lives? How did we come to this new age in which we can take our lovers home or to church or walk hand in hand down the street without lies or pretense or a carefully crafted fictional stance to protect us?
Speaking truth to power was a tenet of the early women’s movement. We would change the world by the simple act of declaring our truth and refusing to back down or lie no matter how virulent the response.
How virulent was the response? Take a look at the coming-out stories shared in Crooked Letter i: Coming Out in the South (NewSouth Books). You will see the internal evolution of people who wanted simply to be themselves. It was not easy or simple or even a matter of confronting prejudice. Most of these people’s deepest struggles were with themselves, their families and their faith, their most personal convictions.
Confronting the enforced silence of manners and social expectations, we claimed our lives for ourselves. Was it heroic? Was it audacious, marvelous, scary and day by day painful? Of course. Did we change the world? Look around you and marvel.
Dorothy Allison, Gay and Grateful: On the Crooked Path to the Crooked Letter
When feminism exploded into my life, it gave me a vision of the world totally different from everything I had assumed or hoped. The concept of a feminist literature offered the possibility of pride in my sexuality. It saved me from either giving up writing entirely, or the worse prospect of writing lies in order to achieve some measure of grudging acceptance. But at the same time, Feminism destroyed all my illusions about Literature. Feminism revealed the city as an armed compound to which I would never be admitted. It forced me to understand, suddenly and completely, that literature was written by men, judged by men. The city itself was a city of Man, a male mind even when housed in a female body. If that was so, all my assumptions about the worth of writing, particularly working-class writing, were false. Literature was a lie, a system of lies, the creation of liars, some of them sincere and unaware of the lies they retold, but all acting in the service of a Great Lie — what the system itself labelled Universal Truth. If that truth erased me and all those like me, then my hopes to change the world through writing were illusions. I lost my faith. I became a feminist activist propelled in part by outrage and despair, and a stubborn determination to shape a life, and create a literature, that was not a lie.
— Dorothy Allison, ‘Believing in Literature’, in Skin: Talking about Sex, Class and Literature, (New York: Firebrand Books, 1994), p. 167.
Crossposted to Feminist Quotes
Throughout my life somebody has always tried to set the boundaries of who and what I will be allowed to be: if working class, an intellectual, upwardly mobile type who knows her place, or at least the virtues of gratitude; if a lesbian, an acceptable lesbian, not too forward about the details of her sexual practice; if a writer, a humble, consciously female one who understands her relationship to “real” writers and who is willing to listen to her editors. What is common to these boundary lines is that their most destructive power lies in what I can be persuaded to do to myself — the walls of fear, shame and guilt I can be encouraged to build in my mind […] I have learned through great sorrow that all systems of oppression feed on public silence and private terrorization. But few do so more forcefully than the systems of sexual oppression, and each of us is under enormous pressure to give in to their demands.
Dorothy Allison, ‘Public Silence, Private Terror, in Skin: Talking about Sex, Class and Literature, (New York: Firebrand Books, 1994), p. 117
Two or three things I know for sure, and one of them is that change when it comes cracks everything open (p. 48).
Dorothy Allison is a lifesaving writer who doesn’t get a lot of attention from mainstream feminism. Every time I read her work, I feel like she’s is reaching out to us in an authentic attempt to communicate something important about surviving in this world. In a world in which it can feel like there is little in the way of authentic, honest, communication, and in which so many interactions seem to be about what people can get out of each other, Allison’s writing is a great gift.
Here are 5 famous authors who were famous for something other than their writing
Apparently Great Expectations is the peoples’ favourite Dickens novel.
From Elisa Rolle, a post about lesbian pulp writer Ann Banon. I’ve never read any of her novels ::hangs head in shame::
Most of you have probably already seen this, “Straightening” Gay Characters in Young Adult Fiction
Here’s one for the critical theory geeks from Philosopherzone, The Mind of Jaques Lacan
And one for the writers, a lecture about dialogue from lesbian writer Dorothy Allison
A post about Danny Boyle’s great science fiction film Sunshine, Sunshine casts a fantastic light on science fiction. I remember that this film really got under my skin.
From Bad Reputation, a review of Troll Hunter, which is a film I have to see.
From Feminist Music Geek, Long live the pop star flesh, a great post about Debbie Harry and the David Cronenburg film, Videodrome; also from Feminist Music Geek, a post about Madonna’s much maligned Erotica phase, Lovers Pop.
From Overthinkingit, The female character flowchart. Please can I be the ‘Psycho Feminist Lesbian Amazon’?
From Den of Geek, some helpful advice for your big day, the golden rules of movie weddings and marriages