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53 “We’re as American as You Can Get”: Dorothy Allison Michael Rowe/1995 From The Harvard Gay & Lesbian Review 2 (Winter 1995): 5–10. Reprinted by permission of The Harvard Gay & Lesbian Review. Hailed as one of the most important new writers in American letters today, Dorothy Allison has written works of poetry, prose fiction, and essays. Her first book, The Women Who Hate Me, was an acclaimed volume of poetry. Her second book, Trash, a collection of short stories, was awarded two Lambda Literary Awards. Allison’s crossover triumph was her 1992 novel, Bastard Out of Carolina, a National Book Award finalist. In 1994, Firebrand published a collection of her essays, Skin: Talking about Sex, Class & Literature . Dorothy Allison lives in California with her lover and young son. Nexus Michael Rowe: Tell me about the early and primary erotic influences in your life, growing up in the rural South. Dorothy Allison: Well, if we’re going to talk about it like the great rivers, there would be two main tributaries, and one of them was porn. Raw porn, the kind my stepfather collected and kept under his bed—everything from Sexus, Nexus, and Plexus, which I remember mostly because there was one section in one of those books where a woman smoked a cigarette with her pussy, and I just wanted to meet her. I couldn’t believe anyone could actually do that. And the other was science fiction. Which I kind of rewrote to my own taste, with female heroines, and lots and lots of Sturm und Drang and kidnapping, and sacrificing yourself for the object of your lust. MR: What was it about those themes which caught your attention? 54 CONVERSATIONS WITH DOROTHY ALLISON DA: Mostly the self-sacrifice. For instance, a story in which young girls would have to be tortured and never give the name of the beloved, the one they loved. That kind of thing. MR: Was that a very romantic image to you, or a sexual one? DA: Romantic. But I didn’t see a lot of difference when I was a child, and I’m not sure I do still. MR: Was there a dearth of romance in your life when you were growing up? DA: There was perverse romance in my life when I was growing up. I grew up in the South. It’s an inherently romantic atmosphere, except that I grew up in this working-class family in which the assumption was that everybody ’s nerves are kind of blunted. I knew women who literally talked about dying for love, in a way that you believed them. One of my cousins fell in love, married a man, and he died. And she never married again. And the whole story was that this had been the great love of her life. So I had that kind of idea of romance, but I didn’t particularly trust it, because all the people that I saw seemed to be victims of romance. MR: Was your lesbianism something that was interfering with what you saw of romance around you? Often, gay people have to do a double-take. They have to do a double-filter to bring the stories around them into their own lives, making them applicable to them. DA: The funny thing is, I don’t think it was a real problem. I think that it was so natural and early for me that I automatically transposed all of culture into an all-female context. It was real simple, I sometimes astonish myself by how simple it was. MR: Did you ever share that with the people around you? Or did you just carry it around with you inside your head? DA: Mostly it was not safe to share it. I did, a couple of times, and the results were horrible. I discovered the hard way that nobody else shared my ability to transpose to an all-female environment, and that, in fact, it was considered crazy and dangerous. I got laughed at. In my earliest experiences making up a romantic story for another girl I was madly in love with, she gave it away. She read it to all the other kids at school, and I remember it with great pain. I spent three days in bed recovering. I was terrified to go back to school, and it turned me into this object of ridicule. I just somehow knew that it was dangerous. I...


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