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.