Dorothy Allison is profoundly interested in what makes her different from mainstream American women, as well as from many lesbians. Her essays explore her identity, focusing specifically on her experiences as what she refers to as poor southern white trash and as a “queer” lesbian sexual renegade. Not only does Allison see herself as an outsider because of her impoverished childhood, but she also self-identifies as an outsider among others in the lesbian community.
Unafraid to confront herself as a “queer lesbian”—one who engages in sadomasochism—Allison challenges those who reject her to understand her life rather than condemn it. The sense of the outsider in Allison’s writing, and her bitterness at what she sees as other women’s betrayal of her, is clear in such essays as “Femme,” “Conceptual Lesbianism,” “Talking to Straight People,” and “Public Silence, Private Terror.”
Beyond her treatment of her own sexual identity and practice, Allison invites readers to evaluate their prejudices about anyone who is different, not just butch/femme lesbians. In “A Question of Class,” Allison convincingly demonstrates that class stratification exists in America, despite protests to the contrary, a caste system that is every bit as oppressive as the more explicit one she identifies as working against lesbians.
The most compelling aspect of SKIN is the personal voice that emerges: the powerful personality of Dorothy Allison, a lesbian unafraid of her queerness, proud of her difference.