Holly Near Is Still Singing After All These Years

She was the first out lesbian in People magazine, an originator of the women's music movement, and a costar in several big-name TV series (like Mod Squad) and films (such as Dogfight, alongside River Phoenix). We talk with Holly Near about her huge new album and a life of devotion to LGBT rights.



You came out as a lesbian in 1976 and were probably the first out lesbian in People magazine. But you were later in a long-term relationship with a man. How do you identify yourself now? Or are you just beyond identity politics?
I'm comfortable with all the ways in which we can be as long as it is nonviolent. Identity is an interesting thing. It is important to use words like lesbian and transgender for as long as people are being killed for those names. Just as it has been important to use words like black and Chicano and Arab and indigenous and Hawaiian. There are many reasons to identify when one's legal rights are challenged and one's very being is insulted. We need to keep using the words until the sting and the danger subsides. I used the word lesbian whenever possible when I first came out — even in countries where the interpreters didn't have a translation for the word. Using the word opened up important conversations and brought homophobia to the surface. Personally? When I think of my various identities, I think of feminist, artist, global peace activist, elder-in-training, and if I were partnered with a woman, then lesbian would be one of those identities. However, I doubt I would partner with a lesbian who wasn't a woman-identified feminist. When I was with a man, I did not think of myself as straight or bisexual. I thought of myself as woman-identified and monogamous. I'm no longer partnered, but I have friends so it is hard to call myself single. I find words to be very tricky. Maybe someday a word will come along that has my name on it.  But regardless, I have been very much a part of the lesbian community since the early '70s. I can't imagine myself without the lesbian community. So, what do we call that? I don't have the words. Maybe it is called love.

Tags: Music