We’ve all been there. You’re out in public, in a restaurant or a bar, and your enjoyment of the space is interrupted by a group of folks who are rowdier than you.
If you’re in a good mood, you probably have a laugh over how nuts they are. If not, you scowl and bemoan the lack of consideration, the seeming self-centredness that makes some people unaware or uninterested in the effects of their actions on the people around them.
Generally, however, folks don’t build a case around it for the vilification of a whole group of people, as in the case of one letter writer this issue (see letter titled Disruptive Dykes on page 21 of the Apr 23 issue). Dykes, he writes, are out to make his life miserable and take down gaybourhood bars in the deal. They should be exiled so that he can enjoy his beer in peace.
Attempts at humorous exaggeration duly noted, it’s an all-too familiar refrain. Dykes are bad for business. Dykes are lousy tippers. Dykes are somehow out to get in the way of gay men’s fun.
In reality of course dykes, like any other identifiable group, are a collection of individuals with a huge range of behaviours and motivations and to paint any group of people with the same brush amounts to prejudice, plain and simple. It’d be as if I decided that, on the basis of a snarky letter and various unrelated negative interactions I’ve had with gay men over the years that all fags were misogynist jerks. Not only would I be unfairly maligning them as a group, I’d be cutting myself off from the possibility of positive experiences with them in the future. No one wins.
Sometimes there seems to be the impression that because lesbians and gay men aren’t generally interested in getting into each other’s pants that we’ve somehow sidestepped sexism. But in effect we’ve changed the board, not the game. Our power struggles may not be as intimate but they can still be seen playing themselves out in the bars, in our community organizations, in the ways that we negotiate our priorities as a movement.
At the recent vote to determine the honoured groups and individuals in this year’s Pride celebrations I was taken aback by the grumblings over the split voting system. In theory there were two ballots — one for determining the honoured group and grand marshal for the Pride Parade and a second for determining the honoured group and honoured dyke for the Dyke March. Everyone was welcome to vote in the former matter, while the voting for the latter was restricted to those who would be eligible to march in the Dyke March — dykes and self-selecting trans folks. (In practice this system was considerably confused by logistical difficulties, but let’s not go there.)
What struck me was not that the griping was going on at all — after all the Dyke March has been a source of tension among fags and dykes since its inception — but that there were young hipsters among the disgruntled, folks I expected to understand the importance of queer women’s spaces in a culture in which misogyny is still very much an issue. It gave me pause because, as is all too often the case, it’s easy to assume that progress is linear, that each generation builds on what’s come before. This may be the case, to an extent, but it’s also true that no gain can be taken for granted. They have to be maintained, which can mean revisiting debates that you’d thought were long settled.
Dykes and fags have many things that set us apart from each other and at times it can seem as though our kinship is superficial, the product of external pressures of homophobia, of being set apart from the majority. Yet together we’ve created a queer culture that is something more than the sum of its parts, a culture that celebrates sex, values individuals who are true to themselves and birthed the concept of chosen family. We’re kind of a big deal.
But until we’re willing to acknowledge the prejudices that persist within the community we’ll never know how much more awesome we could collectively be.