Last weekend, throngs of people descended on a 15-acre park in northeast Los Angeles for an afternoon of picnics, socializing, cheering at drag performances and a puppy costume contest, and more.
Known as Dyke Day LA, this annual Pride gathering takes an artisanal approach to a month typically filled with corporate-sponsored parties, parades and concerts; one organizer estimated the crowd at around 1,500. Since its first iteration in 2007, it’s gone from a rambling Eastside alternative to the spectacle of West Hollywood’s Pride celebrations to a staple – albeit unofficial – event on the city’s Pride calendar, open to “dykes of all genders”. (According to organizers, that means everyone except cisgender men.)
The name affirms that a term once widely seen as a misogynistic and homophobic slur can be seen as a positive and liberating label. However, participants were split, mostly along generational lines, on whether the word “dyke” was appropriate at the moment, when labels like “non-binary” and “genderqueer” are being used to assert more fluid identities.
“‘Dyke’ is not the name of our generation to claim,” said 31-year-old Melanie Marx. “I feel like we’ve reclaimed ‘queer’, and it’s a lot more inclusive.”
Several people in their 40s, 50s and 60s have spoken of the word with fondness. “I’ve always identified as a dyke,” said Tristan Taormino, 51, a feminist author and sex educator. “For me, it’s a politicized identity. It’s not just about who I love and have sex with, it’s about my culture, my perspective, my politics. This is absolute recovery.
This year’s Dyke Day, held for the first time in person since the pandemic began and as legislation progresses in the United States that could restrict the rights of LGBTQ people, was both celebratory and politically provocative. Under a canopy of tree leaves and rainbow balloons in Sycamore Grove Park, attendees ate ice cream sandwiches, sipped house cocktails, naps, played backgammon, petted dogs each other, met each other’s pandemic babies (“I got it from my mothers”, read a toddler’s t-shirt) and exchanged numbers. Everyone shimmered with glitter and possibility and also beads of sweat.
Leola Davis, 37, an esthetician in Sherman Oaks who specializes in post-surgery treatments for people recovering from mastectomy known as upper surgery (she goes by @thelezthetician on Instagram), was thrilled to back to Dyke Day after the pandemic hiatus. “There aren’t any events in LA where you can see so many queer people at once, so it’s amazing for cruising,” she said.
Hannah Einbinder, the 27-year-old comedian and ‘Hacks’ star, said: “There are very few centralized areas, bars or restaurants dedicated to gay women or non-cis gay men, so it’s nice to be here.” She added that it was “rare” to find this kind of scene in Los Angeles.
Mekleit Dix, a 25-year-old researcher who splits her time between New York and Los Angeles, said Dyke Day was a welcome counterpoint to the heavy hubbub in West Hollywood. “I think the sense of programming there is like, ‘It’s getting better, that’s why we’re partnering with JPMorgan Chase,'” she said.
Dyke Day, by comparison, is decidedly anti-corporate. In tents dotted around the park, there were workshops on BDSM and other forms of kink; demonstrations on how to administer Narcan, a nasal spray, to reverse an opioid overdose; and resources for gender-neutral health care. Elsewhere, artists recorded oral histories of patrons of lesbian bars that closed between 1925 and 2005. American Sign Language interpreters and accessible paths made everyone in attendance feel welcome.
There were many newcomers and allies in the crowd. “I’m just happy to be here with all my girls,” said musician Lana Del Rey. “We have the best girls in town here.”
Dyke Day follows a line of grassroots Pride rallies that aimed to center people who identify as women, including the first Dyke March in 1993 in Washington, DC, followed by New York the same year. Dyke Day LA, run by a non-profit organization, is free and welcomes participants of all ages. (For the kids in attendance this year, there was face painting, a bouncy house, and an inflatable slide.)
Marissa Marqusee, a nurse who manages the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s Audre Lorde Health Program and serves on the Dyke Day planning committee, said it was important for organizers to create an inclusive environment.
“We wanted the committee to be representative of the people who attend Dyke Day,” Mx said. Marqusee, who is transgender and non-binary. “It means Black, brown, Indigenous, people of color. Queer and trans people. Service providers from all walks of life.
“It’s like a dyke Christmas,” said Lynn Ballen, Dyke Day LA organizer and board member. She noted that “Traditionally, Pride events come out of a story that’s more gay, more cis, more white.” She and her fellow organizers sought to foster a more diverse and inclusive environment.
“I think there’s a kind of safety and joy in what we’re creating on Dyke Day that fuels us to get back into the straight world for the rest of the year,” Ms. Ballen said, especially that states have sought to restrict discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity in schools and limit the rights of transgender youth. If the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, it would remove the precedent of laws protecting birth control rights, certain intimate acts, and marriage equality.
This context, along with expanding gender identities, has shaped some people’s feelings about the word “dyke”.
“I’m a dyke, and in the 90s, when I was a teenager, I was locked up,” said Romy Hoffman, a 42-year-old musician from Sydney, Australia. “I was into grunge, the Riot Grrrl stuff. I was learning about queer cinema. The word ‘dyke’ definitely represents that time period, but I don’t know if it was adapted to the age of homosexuality.
Some prefer completely different terminology. “I’m kind of old school and personally identify with ‘lesbians,'” said Ann Engel, 59, a therapist in Palm Springs.
“I grew up hearing people call women ‘marimacha’. I took it to mean, for example, “butch woman,” said Salvador de La Torre, 32, who is transgender and grew up on the Texas border. “It’s definitely derogatory and can be used as an insult, depending on the context.”
They said the term continued to resonate with them. “Even though now I am not a woman – I was socialized as such and assigned a female at birth – I will always love this association and love the word ‘dyke’,” they wrote. declared.
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