'Tis the season to be jolly. Well, almost. Performers and artists from all over the world are brushing up on their stage skills for a season of celebrations. LGBTQ authors VG Lee and Rose Collis are set to perform on Dec. 1 at The Emporium in Brighton, where the University of Sussex is located. The work that goes into putting a show like this together can be quite extensive, but these two seasoned performers and authors seem to love the work of giving voices through performance and reading to a community that was once kept silent by a wall of ignorance and torrential insults, one of which is still in use today: "dyke."
The University of Sussex's LGBTQ group, SussexLGBTQ, has voted that "dyke" is an offensive word, and on the basis of the fact that, earlier in the year, they banned the word "fag" from promotional literature, they decided that these two women, both exponents of LGBTQ visibility, should change the name of their act from "Dyke the Halls" to something less lesbian-related.
I'm more than slightly annoyed at the actions of these students and their collective hissy fit over one word that lesbians have been trying to own for years. I am a dyke -- not a full-on, hardcore dyke or a leather dyke or an S&M dyke, although I don't mind admitting that I'm toppy and a bit kinky, but I'm more into sensual rubber bondage than leather. "Dyke" is part of who I am. I gain strength from it, and when I get called "dyke" in the street, I don't mind, because I own it, and to me, people are just stating the obvious. In owning the word I take the sting out of the insult, and it reminds me that I'm doing something right.
I contacted SussexLGBTQ, and a young man responded:
Yes this is an issue we have discussed because of the use of the word "fag" which people complained about as offensive, because we received a complaint we removed it as we didn't want our members offended because we operate a safe space policy. They raised the fact that it seemed unfair that we'd accept the word "dyke" but not "fag". There was an extensive debate in our latest committee meeting about what should be deemed offensive and what shouldn't. Some committee members felt that it could be perceived as offensive or triggering.
Well, I find it both triggering and offensive that the thousands upon thousands of women like me who identify as dykes would be branded insulting by these young people, who only have the equality and freedom of expression that they currently enjoy because of the people who went before us. Those women gave me the right to use "dyke." They gave me strength, because I realized that I wasn't alone. I can't help but think that these precocious upstarts have no concept of the damage that they are doing.
To me, there's a big gulf between the amount of gay insults and the amount of lesbian insults, and it takes strength to own an insult. Queer identity itself is based on an insult -- "queer" -- but "queer" seems fine for the university to use. I feel that this over-liberalism is wrong. You can't please all the people all the time, and to turn on your own is wrong. A lesbian making light of and using "dyke" isn't insulting; it's empowering, which is something that these young people should bear in mind.
The truth of the matter is that the heterosexual world has and will continue to keep us quiet, in the corner, denied our voices, devoid of rights and full equality. They think they have the right to insult us, attack us and, on occasion, kill us just for being. But instead of standing shoulder to shoulder, these young men and women feel that they have more insight into LGBTQ issues than two prominent authors who, between them, have published more LGBTQ-related writings than these students could hope to achieve, but this doesn't engender the required respect but loathsome demands and a curtailing of artistic freedoms within a culture that has thrived on close-to-the-knuckle humor and satire. In a world where Russia wants to stamp out the queers, benders, gays, lesbians and trans people, we find Section 28-type oppression within our own education system, but not enforced by the government but by a group of LGBTQ youth.
VG Lee told Gscene's James Ledward:
As well as being an author, I am also a comedian and would find the email from Sussex LGBTQ hilarious, if it was not so insidious. I am not aware that 'Dyke' is a banned word. I realise that there will always be someone who is unhappy with an assigned name. Personally I don't much like being called a 'lezzer' but someone using it wouldn't pose a threat to me. This appears to be censorship because of personal taste or the view of a few. That is not sufficient reason to ask us to remove the word that I personally cherish!
What would these young people like to see? Would they ban the Dyke Marches that take place in London or San Francisco? Would they like to silence all of us just because they have their panties in a twist?
My first thought was 'you've got to be kidding me'. I've been a self-defined out and proud dyke activist for 34 years, marching and campaigning for gay rights before it became a trendy social event. At City Limits, I was the UK's first-ever journalist hired solely to cover dyke culture and politics. Much of my journalism and books have been about unearthing and celebrating dyke culture and history. And now I'm being told that a word and definition, steeped in our history and reclaimed by lesbian women, is taboo and 'violates safe space'. It's staggeringly ignorant, beyond insulting and politically-correct censorship gone mad.
I call for all dykes to get in touch with SussexLGBTQ and let them know how you feel.
Follow Eden Walker on Twitter: www.twitter.com/paristopalermo