Public Silence, Private Terror ….Dorothy Allison
““The hardest lesson I have learned in the last few years is how powerful is my own desire to hang onto a shared sense of feminist community where it is safe to talk about dangerous subjects like sex, and how hopeless is the desire. Even within what I have thought of as my own community […] I have never felt safe. I have never been safe, and this is only partly because everyone else is just as fearful as I am. None of us is safe because we have not tried to make each other safe. We have never even recognised the fearfulness of the territory. We have addressed violence and exploitation and heterosexual assumptions without first establishing the understanding that for each of us, desire is unique and necessary and simply terrifying […]
As feminists, many of us have committed our whole lives to struggling to change what most people in this society don’t even question, and sometimes the intensity of our struggle has persuaded us that the only way to accomplish change is to make hard bargains, to give up some points and compromise on others. What this has always meant in the end, unfortunately, is trading some people for others.
I do not want to do that. I do not want to require any woman to do that.
I do not want to claim a safe and comfortable life for myself that is purchased at the cost of some other woman’s needs or desires. But over and over again I see us being pushed to do just that.”
Dorothy Allison, ‘Public Silence, Private Terror’ in Skin: Talking Sex, Class and Literaure (1994), (113 – 114)
When I make love I take my whole life in my hands, the damage and the pride, the bad memories and the good, all that I am or might be, and I do indeed love myself, can indeed do anything I please. I know the place where courage and desire come together, where pride and joy push lust through the bloodstream, right to the heart… I go to bed like I used to go to karate. Want and need come together in a body that is only partly my own… I took my sex back, my body. I claimed myself and remade my life. Only when I knew I belonged to myself completely did I become capable of giving myself to another, of finding joy in desire, pleasure in our love, power in this body no one else owns.
Two or Three Things I Know For Sure, Dorothy Allison (via eruptedinlight)
The specificity of the language is sometimes necessary because quite often the subjects being discussed are notoriously complicated, frighteningly dangerous and self-revelatory. Let me assure you that when our feminist scholars, philosophers, speculators and thinkers use this language they’re not always talking about a distanced subject but about their specific lives. The sex act they may in fact have committed, enjoyed, desired or refused. They are standing naked, and the only thing holding them up, in some cases, is that complicated language.
The horror of class stratification, racism, and prejudice is that some people begin to believe that the security of their families and communities depends on the oppression of others, that for some to have good lives there must be others whose lives are truncated and brutal. It is a belief that dominates this culture. It is what makes the poor whites of the South so determinedly racist and the middle class so contemptuous of the poor. It is a myth that allows some to imagine that they build their lives on the ruin of others, a secret core of shame for the middle class, a goad and a spur to the marginal working class, and cause enough for the homeless and poor to feel no constraints on hatred or violence. The power of the myth is made even more apparent when we examine how, within the lesbian and feminist communities where we have addressed considerable attention to the politics of marginalization, there is still so much exclusion and fear, so many of us who do not feel safe.
I grew up poor, hated, the victim of physical, emotional, and sexual violence, and I know that suffering does not ennoble. It destroys. To resist destruction, self-hatred, or lifelong hopelessness, we have to throw off the conditioning of being despised, the fear of becoming the they that is talked about so dismissively, to refuse lying myths and easy moralities, to see ourselves as human, flawed, and extraordinary. All of us—extraordinary.
"I WEAR MY SKIN as thinly as I have to, armor myself only as much as seems absolutely necessary. I try to live naked in the world, unashamed even under attack, unafraid even though I know how much there is to fear. What I have always feared is being what people have thought me—my stepfather’s willing toy, my mother’s betrayer, my lover’s faithless tease, my family’s ultimate shame, the slutty, racist, stupid cracker dyke who doesn’t know what she is doing. Trying always to know what I am doing and why, choosing to be known as who I am—feminist, queer, working class, and proud of the work I do—is as tricky as it ever was.
I tell myself that life is the long struggle to understand and love fully. That to keep faith with those who have literally saved my life and made it possible for me to imagine more than survival, I have to try constantly to understand more, love more fully, go more naked in order to make others as safe as I myself want to be. I want to live past my own death, as my mother does, in what I have made possible for others—my sisters, my son, my lover, my community—the people I believe in absolutely, men and women whom death does not stop, who honor the truth of each other’s stories.”
by Dorothy Allison
Our Stories Literary Journal
The Women Who Hate Me
God on their right shoulder
righteousness on their left,
the women who hate me never use words
like hate speak instead of nature
of the spirit not housed in the flesh
as if my body, a temple of sin,
didn’t mirror their own.
Their measured careful words echo
earlier coarser stuff say
What do you think you’re doing?
Who do you think you are?
From the title poem in The Women Who Hate Me Dorothy Allison.
“I grew up poor, hated, the victim of physical, emotional, and sexual violence, and I know that suffering does not ennoble. It destroys. To resist destruction, self-hatred, or lifelong hopelessness, we have to throw off the conditioning of being despised, the fear of becoming the they that is talked about so dismissively, to refuse lying myths and easy moralities, to see ourselves as human, flawed, and extraordinary. All of us – extraordinary.”
— Dorothy Allison