I have a big lesbian crush on you, Dusty Springfield. And not just because you’re a pretty lady with a sexy voice. I have a big lesbian crush on you, Dusty Springfield, because when you were still alive, you might have returned that crush. It’s time to take a trip back into the annals of queer history and revisit the works of a presumed-straight lady-lovin’ lady.
Queers, you probably already know about our very talented teammate, but this one’s for the straights, and especially the straights who don’t realize that just because being “out” has only recently begun to become widely (relative widely, that is) acceptable, doesn’t mean that queers haven’t existed throughout the ages.
We’ve always been here, even if you’ve never noticed. I don’t have a time machine to undo all the straight-washing of our history, but I do have access to youtube, so that will have to do.
Ms. Dusty (if ya nasty, Mary Isobel Catherine Bernadette O’Brien if you’re Irish Catholic) launched her career in the UK, but spent a good chunk of her life in the U.S. Speculators claim she was hiding her lesbianism from the British press. Here are a couple interviews to back up this claim. Listen as she glosses over her life in the United States and Canada:
It gets worse. Around the middle of this next clip from 1981 Dusty is asked about a supposed engagement. She is asked who the man is, and she dutifully responds, “He’s a toronto musician you wouldn’t know.”
Admittedly I am no expert researcher, but the internet has revealed no clue as to who this “man” was, or whether he even existed. What we do know is that Dusty married a woman in Canada in late 1983.
Prior to the marriage, Dusty had several other partners, mostly known to the gay community, but seemingly hidden in plain sight when it came to straight fans. There was Faye Harris, a photojournalist she reportedly was on and off with for six years from 1972-78. Then came rocker Carole Pope, pictured below.
Like many other queer celebrities of the time (and even today), Dusty tended to sway between coy and open when answering questions about her sexuality. In 1970 she told the Evening Standard:
many other people say I’m bent, and I’ve heard it so many times that I’ve almost learned to accept it … I know I’m perfectly as capable of being swayed by a girl as by a boy. More and more people feel that way and I don’t see why I shouldn’t.
In 1973 the Los Angeles Free Press quoted her as having said the following:
I mean, people say that I’m gay, gay, gay, gay, gay, gay, gay, gay. I’m not anything. I’m just … People are people… I basically want to be straight … I go from men to women; I don’t give a shit. The catchphrase is: I can’t love a man. Now, that’s my hang-up. To love, to go to bed, fantastic; but to love a man is my prime ambition … They frighten me.
I’m not here to judge Dusty on her level or outness, or even to speculate whether she was bi, a lesbian, or something else. I do, however, think it’s important to revisit these episodes from the past and reevaluate our consumption of media through a new lens. For the straight people reading this, I now ask you to watch the following videos with the understanding that the lady in them quite often found herself falling in and out of love not with the men she sings about, but with women.
“Believe me, I can’t help but love you.” Oh, to be young, queer and angsty.
Sure, these two songs were written by Burt Bacharach for a straight audience, but fix the pronouns and suddenly you’re watching a medley dedicated to Faye Harris.
Fixing the gendered terms in this one doesn’t quite work with the extra syllable in “daughter.” That said, I can’t help but hear this song as a mocking recollection of a failed trip to reparative therapy.
Ladies and gentlemen, the theme from Norma Rae, performed by a strong closeted lady trying to make it in a straight man’s world. It goes like it goes.
Whoever wrote this article needs to do a bit more research before putting such a “gay man’s gossip conversation” together for others to read and claim that you know anything about this woman. Yes, Dusty was a lesbian. A very elegant and classy one I must say.
In those days we had to hide who we were and still do today. Look at Chely Wright today. She lost everything Nashville had to offer her for so many years (16 years) because she “needed” to come out for her own health and sense of well being. Nashville turned there back on her in 2010. For what reason Ms. Springfield did what she did in her life, was for her, not anyone else. I applaud her for taking care of who she was.
Dusty was not a songwriter, nor did she have any influence on anyone to write songs about her personal life. She was not a medium who could predict the future and know that it “might” have a feeling or two in her personal life in 20 years. She was handed the music and she sang it. Quite beautifully. I can see my life and just about everyone else’s in these songs too. That’s what makes a good song. People can relate to the story.
I wish she were here today to defend herself, but I guess it’s easy to make fun of the dead. That way you can get away with it.
1966, Los Angeles, Dusty sang at a gay mens secretive place in Topanga Canyon, CA…Closeted and out, but definitely the guys place. We were the token Lesbos allowed in at the time.
It must have been an amazing night! Lucky Gal!
Quick explanation – the purpose of this piece (as part of the site in general) is to provoke a re-examination by our straight audience of history, and in this case, one specific pop cultural figure, with the knowledge that things may not have been so straight-washed as they now seem. I love me some Dusty and any shade in the piece is not directed toward her but rather toward forces that contributed to the closeting of many, many people in the past (and still do today). No making fun of the dead was intended, but rather a secondary goal was to provide a nice roundup of clips for young queers who are not familiar with Dusty. You can never have too many queer idols.
Brava, Lisa. Well said.
Thank you so Mary! Have a great evening.
I feel sorry for her and for sexually abnormal and dysfunctional persons like yourselves, but cannot bring myself to the bizarre delusion of considering that the deviant sexual lifestyle that you would hope would become socially and morally acceptable is anything but physically counter-natural, grotesque and sick to the very core. You do need help, and we do all know it. There is nothing intrinsically bad about this. The bad thing is in saying that something so evidently wrong is right, when it really never can be. Sex is by nature intended to be heterosexual. There is nothing that can belie this biological fact. I sincerely hope that God will help you to heal psychologically, physically and morally to become functionally normal human beings.
Do you really just sit at home searching for things to be mean about to strangers online? Only it doesn’t seem massively Christian…
In my life I make it a practice to never comment on anything in my personal or cyber life that I don’t know anything about. Maybe this would be good advise for you.
“Gay the Straight Away is an attempt to break down the walls that separate individuals by their sexuality through humor and biting wit. Ignorance is what keeps us apart, so let’s open the floodgates and let the truth spill out. GTSA is more concerned with being honest than being politically correct. We might be brazen. We might be offensive. But we know you wouldn’t have it any other way ;)”
??? Honest truth?
I saw Dusty in 1967 at a gay mens gathering in Topanga Canyon, CA….Queens for days and protected her to the max…She sang “You Don’t have to Say” Dyke theme song for decades.
In the picture with Carole Pope, the ‘unknown woman’ beside Carole is Nona Hendryx, from Labelle and solo work, and I would suspect the other woman is Vicki Wickham, who managed both and lived with Nona for some time. I’m sure about Nona – not positive about Vicki.