A friend recently asked me if I considered myself a dyke. I hesitated, despite having screamed “I’m a dyke” over t.A.T.u. at a lesbian bar a few days ago. It certainly wasn’t the term I chose to explain my infatuation with women to my unsuspecting father, nor is it a word every lady-lover feels comfortable wearing on a T-shirt. All I know for sure is that I associate the word with power, and feel my most dykey as I watched queer people organize protests, populate Spotify’s Top Hits Playlist, and, of course, sit proudly at Cubby Hole with their legs spread from Brooklyn to the Bronx -- taking up space in the most literal sense of the word.
“For me, dyke is a term that has been directed at women who, through sexual relationship practices or otherwise, don’t do what women are ‘supposed to do.’” Adrienne Hill, a committee member from Buffalo Dyke March, told me.
Hill identifies with the term dyke. “It’s all about wearing that accusation like a badge of honor, and expanding what is possible for everyone by refusing to follow arbitrarily imposed social rules.”
Much like “queer” and “queen,” the word “dyke” has been reclaimed as a means of empowerment in the face of oppression. Reclamation functions by taking a person’s slander and changing its pitch, adding a kick snare, and creating something harmonious with which we can celebrate ourselves.
Robbie Butler, a lesbian in her 60s who was on the Buffalo Dyke March’s founding board, says that dyke is a word she had to fight for.
“I can remember many times walking down the street,” recalled Butler, “and a car would pass and some guy would yell out the window ‘dyke!’ I would say, ‘Yeah, you’re right. Look how right you are. I earned that. Thank you, and fuck you too.’”
But Butler says she had to fight to use the word both outside and within the LGBTQIA+ community, highlighting a shocking reality for some intolerant folks: “The queers” are not one single consciousness, retweeting the exact same social commentaries, aggressively pursuing a homosexual agenda. We contain multitudes, and our differences are especially apparent in recent years as a growing number of community members publicly scrutinize massive, corporate-sponsored pride parades.
Firstly, critics of Pride believe it caters to cis gay men. Consider many Pride ads, which resemble some version of an ever-oily lumberjack Thor in a rainbow jockstrap, photographed from beneath the bulge to highlight his tree trunk legs, with a caption like “Come to the MEATpacking District for Pride happy hour.” Sausage festival aside, the programming for Pride is incredibly white-centric; the addition of a brown and black stripe to the Philadelphia rainbow flag is only one example of how public discourse is shaping a new image of Pride.
Critics also believe that the corporate-sponsored Pride parades are just an opportunity for businesses to congratulate themselves and get some colorful advertising. For the same reasons, some people are also mad at Taylor Swift for making a gay anthem, claiming that she’s just queer-baiting and profiting from Pride. I’m not alone in my belief that exposure to tolerant messages is beneficial, especially for queer people that still live in the shadows of shame and fear. That doesn’t mean I didn’t furrow my brow when Taylor and Katy Perry hugged in burger and fry costumes, signifying the end of their public celebrity dispute, at the end of a video supposedly intended to support marginalized groups. Honey.
In NYC, the Queer Liberation March protests corporate involvement in Pride while also creating an inclusive celebration; their goal is to reestablish this time of year as a period to organize and stand against oppression. This all ties back to an ever-present discussion about the Stonewall Uprising, how it’s important to remember that trans women of color facilitated the riots that jump started gay liberation, but are often forgotten or ignored in the narrative.
The Queer Liberation March’s intention reminded me and many others of the Dyke March, which originally began to keep lesbians from being forgotten in the community’s narrative. Along with being inclusive, the Dyke March doesn’t operate within the margins of other parades, as organizers never seek permits, sponsorship or permission. As the NYC Dyke March website states, it’s “a protest march, not a parade.”
Butler lit up as we talked about how the Buffalo Dyke March does things financially. “We don’t even have a bank account, for crying out loud. We have money hidden in places.”
“In the sock drawer,” Hill added. “Which is kind of like a bank account.”