I wanted to share Dorothy Allison’s 2008 Femme Conference keynote address with you but I can’t find the video of it anywhere. I did find a lot of porno featuring a person named “Dorothy” fucking a person named “Allison”, but you can google that yourself. If this video still exists somewhere please do send me the link. I watch it every few months & it makes me laugh and cry and recognize myself.
Instead, I found a 2004 essay Allison wrote called “Notes to a Young Feminist.” Per usual, I love it. Here’s a sampling:
The specificity of the language [used in academic feminism] 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.
What I don’t hear at conferences is what did in fact bring me to feminism. So let’s go back, let’s begin: Rubyfruit Jungle, Riverfinger Women, Meridian, Wise Blood, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, True Story of a Drunken Mother, Snapshots of a Daughter-in-law, The Girl, The Salt Eaters, A Woman Is Talking to Death, Edward the Dyke, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Memoirs of an Ex-Prom Queen, The Bell Jar, Big Blonde and authors like Judy Grahn, Elana Dykewomon, Alice Walker, Adrienne Rich, Carson McCullers, Audre Lorde, Lillian Hellman and Joann Ross.
What was the first feminist book you read? Not Our Bodies, Ourselves or The Feminist Mystique. No, take me back. All the way back. Take me back to the trashy books you read. Take me back to the stuff that you read and that you wanted to be. I’m 54 years old. To quote “Sex and the City,” I’m abso-fuckin’-lutely tired. I read theory. I read to train my language and to sharpen my mind. But I write fiction. I write fiction for a specific, deliberate, reasonable, old lesbian purpose. The world I love is not on the page. The world I understand is not reflected on the page. What made me a feminist were occasional glimpses of my real life on the page.
We can talk a lot about mother-daughter transgression and generational resentment for a good couple a million decades, but I came to feminism as a lover. Feminism for me was a love affair. I came to feminism as an escaped Baptist. Feminism for me was a religious conversion experience. I came to feminism as a hurt, desperate, denied child, and I would’ve killed for the feminist mama who would take me in her arms and make it all make sense. And I’ve been running after her ass ever since.
If the only book of hers you are familiar with is Bastard out of Carolina, it’s probably time you read her queer-as-fuck collection of short stories, Trash. It’ll change your life.