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Speaking Trash to Power


Talk to me about being raised poor and being a dyke: What’s similar, what’s different? The hatred I experienced growing up poor seemed to me remarkably similar to what I experienced growing up a dyke, and I couldn’t imagine everyone didn’t see it that way. But then, I still can’t believe there are gay Republicans.

What else do you remember? The thing people ask me is, What does your family think of Bastard Out of Carolina? The thing my sisters were mad about was not that I talked about incest, but that I talked about poverty. That was the thing they were humiliated by. Nobody’s supposed to know that we were poor. The whole idea is that you are supposed to grow up, work hard, get rich, and pretend you were never poor once. But I always had the suspicion that I couldn’t pass, so I might as well not try. I’ve never believed that I could pretend to be the kind of person that I am in awe of: women who think the world is made for them. When my publisher sends me to really nice hotels, I’m always expecting to be turned away at the door. It doesn’t change.

Why is there so much shame about this in our community? Well, it’s America, and this country glorifies and worships money and success. Money is success. And if you’re poor—well, it’s like crabs in a bucket. People who feel more threatened and embattled do not necessarily bond with other people they see as threatened and embattled. They bond with the rich and the strong.

So what combined for you because you were both poor and queer? It’s very hard when you are in that cauldron to sort it out. The fear is so enormous and the sense of threat. I mean, if they’re coming after you, are you going to be more afraid they’re going to throw you out because you’re a dyke or because you’re a working-class bitch who doesn’t know enough to dress right?

When you think about poverty, what does it mean to you today about who you are, who you will always be, and how it is woven into your queerness? The lesbian and gay movement did me a whole lot more good than any of the class movements in this country. I very quickly started to fight any sense of shame I had about being a dyke. But I can still be made to feel ashamed by not having grown up right. In real time, poor people are scary, poor people make you feel uncomfortable. They make middle-class people ashamed of themselves at some level. In this culture it’s a whole lot more frightening to be poor than to be queer. Being poor isn’t pretty and it doesn’t have a sense of humor.

Related article:

Amber Hollibaugh punctures the myth that queers can’t be poor.

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