Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Dyke Pride

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

There are plenty of lesbians who think we're on the way up. They're "out". They fit in, and feel like they're just a hairsbreadth away from getting their props in society. They'll take the legislature over the streets any day. But for the rest of us desperate for a voice and face, there's still the Dyke March.

We meet at Bryant Park at 5 the Saturday before the LGBT Pride Parade. Things start off slow because organizers don't ask for a permit, and there's always the show of a negotiation with the cops before we really get going. In a lesbian catechism, one dyke screams, "Whose streets?" And the celebrating faithful respond, "Our streets!" Until eventually they are.

Even if there's no other message -- and admittedly the signs are sometimes in short supply -- that single message is enough. Because we're taking not just any streets, but the fabled Fifth Avenue in New York City where you don't just shop, you parade. New York has dozens, and lesbians have as much right to the pavement as any of them, the Irish Hibernians and the Puerto Ricans, Hindus, Captive Nations. In fact, we are them, if you give us a closer look, which hardly anybody does.

Eighteen years after the Lesbian Avengers kicked off the first march, even a couple thousand dykes in one place rarely gets a line in the local press. We're like the inverse of unicorns which are often mentioned, rarely seen.

Let me quote my girlfriend, and declare, "We could disappear and who'd notice we'd gone?" Disapparate lesbians, and American culture at large would lose what? One talk show host, a cable news commentator, a reality TV show, and digging deeper, a couple of grrrrl bands, the school's gym teacher, and those two mommies down the block.

You'll see Latinos and African Americans in Woody Allen movies before you'll see dykes (except for Ellen) on network TV. Forget the movies, except maybe as a punch line. Music's not much better. Where's the second Melissa Etheridge? Or even a dyke writer under fifty? Where is the next Audre Lorde?

I don't think I'm so out of touch I'd miss a young dyke busting out, a Sarah Schulman or Jeanette Winterson, Sapphire, or Adrienne Rich. Are they even possible anymore since somebody opened the pressure cooker just that tiny little bit giving us a few token rights, role models you can count on one hand? Is a lesbian identity necessary? Is visibility? Do we need a community at all?

The Dyke March answers with a resounding yes. Besides the thousands of us in New York, there's the enormous Dyke March in San Francisco, and others in Toronto, and Portland, Boston, Chicago, and Phillie, and here and there in the South and Southwest. Plenty appear one year, disappear the next, and reappear later on.

This year, by the time we were several blocks in, where the Church Ladies for Choice serenaded marchers with the message, "God is a lesbian," our numbers had swelled to several thousand. I saw a lot of young dykes of color that probably identify with our few role models even less than me, and know why they're there in the street.

One young woman told me she'd been there every year since she was old enough. And when I asked her why, said, "Because I have to be. We're not equal yet."

There was another reason, too, that you could see in her face, and the faces of the other young women she was marching with -- joy. We don't mention it much. It's the kind of thing that gets erased in the debate about same-sex marriage and gays serving the flag. Like the idea of liberation, it disappears like the words lesbian and gay when assimilationist organizations like Equality Now choose their names.

And while equality has its clear and essential benefits, you can smell the omnipresent danger of being subsumed into the nice white middle-class heterosexual ideal in which we're all separated into couples, stuck in ticky-tacky suburban houses, and banal, insupportable lives. I want equality under the law, but so much more. I want to exist. I want to claim a few miles there in the center of my goddamn city with several thousand of my ilk.

Better yet, I want to build a lesbian golem to stamp through the universe of society's heterosexual imagination, where if we surface at all, it's still as porn. Or ridiculous maidens. We are mostly dust invisible in the corner. It would be better if we scraped it together and made a monster of it. Leave trails of muddy footprints, broken buildings, graffiti, scraps of paper with the words, "truth," "love," maybe "joy" scribbled on them.

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