Monday, July 07, 2014

Blasting Past the Dyke March

By Kelly Cogswell

Last Saturday morning, I was sitting in a Toronto café watching the news when their World Pride rundown included a Dyke March. They actually said it on TV, "Dyke". And no buildings collapsed, or fire rained down from the sky, though it was pretty hot.

I even got a little sunburnt when I joined the dykes gathering in downtown's Allan Gardens, hanging out, and trying to figure out where their group was meeting. Because the closer we move towards legal equality, the more official and officious our events. In Toronto, there was registration for groups, and an order of march that actually had individuals asking if they could participate. On the upside, there were portable toilets, and the use of a free wheelchair if you needed one.

Tents were set up to give out NoH8 temporary tattoos. Others took pictures of kissing queers for some project or other. There was an informational type booth that didn't have much information, but plenty of cute volunteers, one of whom informed me she was straight, but looked disappointed when I didn't immediately applaud her benevolence.

I was at the march to give out stuff about the Lesbian Avenger Documentary Project, the same Avengers that started the whole Dyke March thing in 1993 in Washington, DC, when 20,000 lesbians were Out for Power. In 1994, on the anniversary of Stonewall, the original New York Avengers hosted the first international Dyke March, getting another 20,000 lezzies into the street to declare that Lesbians Lust For Power.

It was amazing. All those dykes from all over the world, stepping into the street as lesbians, many for the first time ever. They danced. They shouted. They ripped their shirts off with joy. And they did it with a radical political message and didn't ask anybody for permission.

I was warned Toronto's World Dyke March wouldn't have the same edge. Some of this year's organizers complained that the politics had been stripped away since an earlier group had responded to the siren song of money from Toronto's official Pride organization. And you don't get nothing for free.

Dyke issues, they said, were consistently swept under the rug. Like the violence we face, the constant harassment, the disenfranchisement, really, when so many young queers are booted from their homes, and don't make it through school. Uneducated, gender non-conforming, they can't find jobs, much less a way to participate in civic life.

In 2010, some outraged Toronto activists organized a Take Back the Dyke march which was almost as big as the official one. But in their estimation, it was too late to regain control. They've temporarily conceded the fight. Though this year transpeople -- equally pissed with the official Trans march -- were holding a competing event.

I heard so much trash talk that when I walked to the front, I expected corporate logos everywhere, glum girls in pearls and twinsets. But what I saw was the usual sea of cheerful dykes who were dancing, and flirting and waving clever signs. The crowd of 7,000 was led off by dykes on bikes, and included women's health centers, and one large group called Craft Action TO. Actually subsidized by Pride Toronto, they'd crocheted alternative Dyke March banners, and an extraordinary umbrella composed almost entirely of tits. Guided by Guatemalan dyke Adriana Alarcón, lesbians who had never touched yarn joined the new wave of craftivists, discussing politics as they got their craft on.

There was no denying the energy. Even the dykes who'd helped organize the earlier competing march seemed happy. Maybe because in large demos like this, it's the numbers that count. No matter what theme we have, or signs we wave, the primary message of a Dyke March is in our dyke bodies claiming public space en masse for a whole two hours. After all, despite our growing legal rights, dykes are still largely invisible in the public sphere from politics to TV, not to mention the streets.

Even the LGBT community would prefer to leave the L behind. The official World Pride Facebook page had lots more posts promoting the merchandise than they did for the Dyke March or other lesbian activities. One event organizer complained that his dyke stuff, even when it was official, almost never made it into the printed World Pride program.

Alone, a more radical march wouldn't solve these problems. To bring attention to specific issues, we may as well piggyback on official efforts, and seed their marches with groups of ten or fifteen, each carrying signs of our own choosing. We could also use Pride Week to host Speak Outs or create direct actions by small groups around the most pressing local issues.

The real question is how to harness that dyke energy from July to May, when the real work gets done.

Kelly Cogswell is the author of Eating Fire: My Life as a Lesbian Avenger (U Minn Press, 2014).

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