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Hiding For Acceptance: Dusty Springfield’s Internalized Homophobia

There is no doubt you have heard at least one of Dusty Springfield’s songs during your lifetime. “Son of a Preacher Man,” anyone? Despite her prolific success in the music industry, there’s a large portion of Dusty that’s been swept under the rug by homophobic society: she was a lesbian. 

Karen Bartlett, The Spectator, believes Dusty’s protruding chin should have given her lesbianism away. Like Ellen DeGeneres, Clare Balding, Jodie Foster, and Vita Sackville-West’s “big thrusting chins,” the 1960s apparently disregarded Dusty’s sexual orientation when it was so pointedly obvious in the shape of her jaw. I have a sharp chin too. Karen might be right, but there’s way more tangible proof of Dusty’s lesbianism than her chin. 

Dusty’s lesbian relationships are well documented. Instead of analysing the shape of her chin, perhaps 1960s society could have paid attention to who she stood next to, lived with, and even married. She was never reported to be in a heterosexual relationship. 

Dusty had many female lovers, despite struggling with internalized homophobia. She rejected being called “gay,” yet she was open about not being capable of loving a man. She even said it was her “prime ambition” to love a man, but they “scared her.” Heteronormativity was the bane of Dusty’s existence.

In interviews, she desperately wanted to be perceived as straight — or at least not completely lesbian — to fit in. Her close friends said that, behind closed doors, around people she was comfortable with, Dusty was okay with her sexual orientation. She just didn’t like the negative spotlight on it and didn’t want to lose her fans. She seeked acceptance for her lesbianism. 

Dusty suffered from drug and alcohol addiction. While recovering, she met American actress Teda Bracci, and the pair fell in love. In 1983, when homophobia was off the charts, especially surrounding the HIV crisis,Teda and Dusty had a symbolic wedding ceremony on a ranch in California. 

Dusty was known for being extremely depressed. “There is a sadness there in my voice. I was born with it. Sort of melancholy. Comes with being Irish-Scottish. Melancholy and mad at the same time,” Dusty is quoted as saying in the Daily Mail. Dusty had a reputation for hurting herself and others. 

The marriage was very violent. “If you want to kill yourself,” Dusty said to Teda, in their home, after getting hyped up on wine and valium alone, “this is the way you do it.” She then came at Teda’s legs with a broken cup, after slicing her own wrists with it. Teda repeatedly hit Dusty’s head with a boot in return.  

That day changed Dusty’s life permanently:

 “That day, Dusty fled from the apartment clutching her mouth and was admitted to Cedars-Sinai hospital with her face swollen and blackened and her front teeth missing – a sight that reduced those who visited her to tears.

Her fight with Bracci that day had serious consequences. Borrowing some money, she hired a cheap plastic surgeon to repair her mouth. The result was that her face looked partially frozen, and she lost the characteristic, animated smile that had always seemed to light her up.”

Dusty was notorious for being a strict, unrelenting perfectionist. Friend and singer, Kiki Dee, said to the Daily Mail, “she was one of the first female artists, at a very chauvinistic time, who knew what she wanted and went for it…She was a perfectionist. To see someone like that was quite an education.” 

Dusty pushed those around her the same way she pushed herself. “She would push and push the session musicians to get the sound she wanted, and when one called her ‘a bitch’, Dusty shot back, with some bitterness, that there were a lot of men who had called her names behind her back, but were happy to live off the money they earned from her,” reports the Daily Mail. 

Her perfectionism came from deep insecurity. John Adams, Dusty’s hairdresser remembers, “she would rip her wig off in the dressing room and cry, ‘I look like Burt Lancaster,’ [with] her face twisted in anguish.” Self-deprecating jokes might be the Irish way, but the disgust in herself was very real. She even had her first nose-job by the time she was in her mid-20s. 

Dusty was, overall, vocal about her attraction to women, despite censoring herself in front of the public. She concealed and obscured her sexual orientation from the public for acceptance and success. “She was terrified if [her sexual orientation] came out it would ruin her career and her fans would leave, so she refused to talk [publicly] about it,” Jean Westwood, Dusty’s backup singer, said.

Dusty had a colorful, woman-loving life. Her first crush was a nun at school. She reportedly told lover Sue Cameron that she remembered transfixing on a girl undressing across the road  from her childhood home. Her first serious relationship was with American singer Norma Tanega. 

Dusty’s relationships and behaviour were extremely unpredictable and oftentimes abusive. She even ran over an elderly woman while driving her sports car late at night with dark glasses on. Unrepentant, Dusty said “everyone talked about the damage she’d inflicted upon [the woman], but no one mentioned the damage the tins from [the woman’s] shopping had done to her car.”

Considering Dusty Springfield’s self-hate — inevitably influenced by society’s view of her and her sexual orientation — it’s no wonder why she suffered. Her life’s story is testament to the cruelty lesbians have been subjected to throughout history and the consequences of it. It illustrates how societal and self-acceptance is absolutely essential for us to live healthy, happy lives, where we don’t feel the need to lash out at ourselves or others.

AJ Kelly

Contact AJ at [email protected] or view the rest of her work on aj-kelly.tumblr.com

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