A decade ago I was an anarchist. I worked for Dyke TV, a guerrilla media nonprofit that produced highly politicized television "by lesbians, for lesbians." We were loud. We were proud. We had armpit hair. We took to the streets to record real life as it unfolded, and to highlight the colorful and honest lives under the queer umbrella that no one else was paying attention to. It wasn't that long ago, but it was a very different landscape. Ellen was still hiding in the shadows, following the blowback of a cancelled show after coming out of the closet. Logo wasn't yet in existence, and there really wasn't much, if any, positive LGBT representation on TV.
Dyke TV made people angry. Some days we came to work to find dog shit at our storefront entrance (in Park Slope!), and we received hate mail -- yes, actual written letters -- from homophobes all over the country for our "perverted programming." One network threatened to take us off the air for a segment featuring lesbians playing badminton. OK, so the lesbians were playing badminton naked, but since when did bare bottoms harm anyone?
We also received letters from grateful lesbians from Missoula to Miami who secretly watched our show at 3 a.m. and were happy to see on TV the first lesbians they'd ever seen other than themselves. The fire to represent the underrepresented, bring equal rights to my fellow sisters and celebrate diversity was my driving force. My voice was loud, and I would not go silently into the night.
Fast-forward a couple of handfuls of years and I've traded in the shoestring-budget, bleeding-heart, minority-rights-centered organization for a Fortune 500 company (albeit one that has a pretty good track record on LGBT rights, thankfully). My activism has become a side dish rather than the main course. I do "my part" through volunteering at a gay youth organization, journalism and donating to related causes. I sign petitions on Change.org and share articles via Facebook and Twitter that highlight social injustices. I still am passionate about issues of equality, but I no longer work fulltime fighting for equal rights, and I haven't attended a rally or a march.
I've traded in the Dyke March for Dyke Sitting on the Couch, and I now shave my armpits regularly. Have I allowed myself to lose my edge, or did it happen naturally? Have the shifting political tides and subsequent progress in favor of equality quieted activist voices, or has activism itself shifted to a different, digital presence?
Dyke TV no longer exists, and we've seen an explosion of LGBT characters in TV shows, first on premium cable in late-night slots and now during primetime on major networks. Lesbians are no longer portrayed as vampire killers; they're among America's best-rated soccer-mom-daytime-talk-show hosts, cable news' respected political pundits, senators, teachers, moms and friends.
Some of us never part with our anarchist roots and a fulltime commitment to LGBT rights. Some of us marched in Washington in 1969 and continue to today. Others who once discarded their bras in protest now head into board meetings to present charts to straight, white men, their bosom support tightly clasped beneath their power suits. Then, of course, there are some among us who never considered social justice work part of their repertoire at all, regardless of age, socioeconomic or minority status.
Is activism a pastime that naturally presupposes youth, given that young people have the energy and time (and can afford smaller paychecks) to devote to taking to the streets? According to a recent study, "Service & Activism in the Digital Age," today's youth are less engaged in civic work than in past years. Those aged 16 to 18, who historically volunteered at higher rates than those in older cohorts, have, for the first time, dropped to levels of volunteerism of those 25 and older. The other side of that decline can be explained in part by digital activism -- education and engagement in social issues via the World Wide Web. We're seeing a lot of play in digital spaces that have mobilized change.
Clearly the job is not done. LGBT equality is still not a reality, but it's now in our sightlines more than ever. The past decade has seen great advances for our community, and we have every reason to believe that the future can and hopefully will bring about even more positive change. But the work doesn't just happen on its own; I may need to get off the couch and march!