‘DYKE’ is a documentary portrait series, investigating dyke culture, history and experience in contemporary society. The photographic series features a range of people from the LGBTQIA+ community who are self-identifying dykes. I photographed London-based individuals for the project, each one ranging from a variety of diverse backgrounds, gender expressions, sexualities, ethnicities and ages. The word dyke is a slang term meaning lesbian. It has always been very loaded, particularly in social and political terms. It originated as a homophobic slur and a terrible insult used against masculine-presenting lesbians, and people living outside of mainstream society. As with every insult, it’s always better to reclaim it and use it to empower. Since the 80s, the term has been reclaimed by out-and-proud queers to imply assertiveness, toughness and power. It now represents our strength as women, as dykes and as lesbians. Through this project I aim to document a part of history that hasn’t been well-documented thus far and empower my community by shining a light on the whole spectrum of dykes. Lesbian history has frequently been associated with silence, invisibility and denial. Growing up I remember the lack of visual representation and not seeing any queer female role models who were strong and confident about their sexuality. That strength and confidence is what I want to capture in this project. It is incredibly important for our community to learn about queer history and in doing so, help formulate our sense of identity for the present and future generations. I aspire to assist people on that journey, so they can see themselves reflected back. I also hope to play a part in making lesbians and dykes more visible in the world. Gayness is something that brings everyone together. It doesn’t discriminate against age, gender, race or class. There is no other community that has this unity. Everyone is completely different and individual but united at the same time.
I identify as being queer and being a dyke. It’s kind of like a ‘fuck you’, innit? It makes people feel uncomfortable which I kind of like. If you’re not a dyke, I think people can get shocked when you say that word. It’s like ‘fuck you, I am one. I will do what I fucking want, dyke’. It is empowering.
Being a queer dyke, which I identify as for now, means liberation for me. I didn’t really start to discover my dyke side until last year, to be honest, and it sort of liberated me in a way and opened me up to more possibilities, not only in sexual orientation but also in the freedom of choice. I jumped out of this very rigid binary mindset I used to have and started to embrace more ambiguity and fluidity of everything in my life.
I think the word dyke has gone through an evolution, and back in the day, being a dyke was depicted as a negative thing. I have been lucky because I've been supported through my growth, my acceptance in me as an individual, and therefore my acceptance in being a dyke. I have been supported by my family and my friends, both gay and straight, and black and white. I happen to like women, if that makes me a dyke, then that’s what I am. I’m proud to be a dyke, prouder now than I’ve ever been in my life. Owning my dykeship at my age is very different, we spent so much time fighting for recognition. We were here, we were there, we had to fight, and we fought for everybody and now they want to write us out of history. No, it’s not happening. I think more people need to pay homage to what those dykes/lesbians have done to get us to where we are today.
To me, dyke is a reclamation of a word, a reclamation of owning a marginalised identity. A way to say yes, I’m a lesbian and I’m fucking proud of it.
As someone who identifies as a transgender non-binary boy and a dyke, my relationship with the word dyke is complicated. It’s a word I have learnt to reclaim and for me, it represents softness and hardness and the balance between the two. It makes me feel capable and part of something greater than myself.
Quite punk, quite rebellion against society expectations of gender and sexuality. A community of queers.
For me dyke doesn’t mean anything because I can’t really relate to a simple label. Is that too anti?
I think owning dyke as an identity feels like stepping into this space where you get to own how difficult it is to be a woman in this culture and this world. For me, a lot of it is about not hiding that hardness but being really proud of that hardness and using it to your advantage. Things are hard enough already, so if you are presenting as very hard, and giving that big dyke energy, it really fucking shows people that you’re not to be messed with. Dykes are not to be fucking messed with, that’s how it feels for me, it is a really assertive thing.
I think dyke in a traditional sense was a slur used against masculine-presenting lesbians. But I think it’s been reclaimed within the community to represent power. We have taken that and the idea of masculinity as being strong and powerful, and we are now using it for ourselves, to represent our strength as women, as dykes, as lesbians. We are reclaiming it. We are using it as a source of power. Dyke is some kind of liberation from gender. For me, it represents fluidity within my gender identity, it allows me to express myself in different ways, whether I’m feeling more masculine or feminine. I think a lot of people have a jarred relationship with my identity of being a dyke because I don’t always look like a dyke. I think a lot of people have an idea of what a dyke is and the way they should dress or should look, and I don’t always fit neatly into those stereotypes.
Dyke means inclusivity, friendship, community, understanding, humanity, giving each other the benefit of the doubt, and potential for greatness. Especially when you think about queer nightlife in London, that’s gonna be some of the most liberal spaces in the UK. The fact is dyke spaces are still a struggle to get outside of gay cis men spaces. Nights for us are still so marginalised and few and far between. Gay culture has a stereotype within the mass culture and it has become easier to be consumed by the mass culture, for example, Graham Norton or Alan Carr. But when it comes to dyke culture, it doesn’t have that same face for people to come and feel that they can be accepted. Still, if you go to a dyke night, it’s just dykes, but when you go to a gay night, there is going to be a lot of straight people there as well and allies. If dyke culture could be less marginalised within the LGBTQIA bracket, that's where the inclusivity comes in, that's where the community comes in, that's where the friendship comes in. And that is where the understanding of each other and willingness to learn and become better people in general. And that's what dyke means to me.
I appreciate the word dyke is pretty loaded. For many, it still causes hurt and offence as it once did for me when written in graffiti on my locker at school. But now, it signifies strength and pride. I've somewhat shied away from my queer identity in the past but today I'm letting my dyke flag fly. My inner dyke is strong and she's proud.
Dyke is unfaltering energy that transcends my gender and sexual identity, that is home to the otherwise and for so long unnamed connection to my style that is unconcerned with any gaze, my unapologetic approach to life, my pride in a community that is in the shadow but stands boldly.
Being a dyke gives me the confidence and strength to do and say whatever I want, I've developed a 'fuck you' attitude within this world of sexual freedom and pleasure, allowing me to open up and do the things that I thought I'd never experience.
I think dyke is quite not complicated but it reminds me of a lot of things - it definitely reminds me of being at school, being upset and saying to my friends “don’t use gay as an insult, guys”. Do you know when people are like “urgh that’s so gay”? My friends were like “hahaha you’re gay, gay gay gay gay, haha, see you later dyke”. Then I came out as bisexual, and never really thought about the word, cause dyke was such a slur with all these weird connotations from when you were a kid. Years and years later after meeting my queer family, and being in a group of proud dykes, and feeling like I’m a proud butch dyke, things are different. I really really love it now when someone calls me a dyke, I’m like thank you so much. I see it as a compliment because I aspire to be a dyke.
‘Dyke’ is a strong word to me. It refers to sexuality, yes, but it also feels somehow broader than ‘lesbian’ in that way. ‘Dyke’ has a certain power to it, has a nice ring to it. ‘Dyke’ is strong, it’s tough, it has something to say. It’s womxn loving womxn with no apologies, being different with no apologies, being strong with no apologies, and giving our lives to each other.
Dyke to me is something that I’m starting to explore. It is a part of myself and my queerness that felt unfamiliar or unwelcome in the past, as there is this assumption surrounding people that present more fem. I always felt like dyke was a word that wasn’t meant for me or that I could use to describe myself because I was more fem, which reinforces stereotypes that exist within the queer community. Dyke is power. Dyke is a person in a leather jacket, dyke is in jeans, dyke is me in a set of leopard print suspenders on a bed, dyke is dyke, you can’t define it or pin it down to one thing, it is more of an experience and an emotion, and a way of understanding yourself and your queerness and your identity.
As a trans-masc non-binary lesbian who's been on T for over a year now, I have a weird relationship to dykiness. To me, it feels like an aspirant I have forever wished I could inhabit but never feel I project. I imagine dykes as sensual, bold, self-assured, with their strap-ons and steel-toed shoes and jangling key-chains hanging off their belts. Dykes are all my crushes, never myself. With my ever-growing body hair and concealed tattoos and penchant for old-man cardigans, I feel too soft and sensitive for such a potent identifier. But truly, I know that dykes are soft and stoney, nimble fingers and hard fists, knit and silk and leather, bold and tender and exhausted and ill-at-ease and devil-may-care. Queer presence is always a knife-edge walk between comfort and confidence, a balancing act that demands dexterity and flexibility and above all resilience. Dykes, to me, are guardian angels of our dangerous, daring acts of queer becoming. They take all forms, perhaps even mine.
Dyke means so much more than liking the same sex. For me, it is a community, it is a reclamation of the word, it’s true self-expression, love and bravery. In a world where there is separation, dyke brings it all together because the world sees things in the way they should’ve always been seen. I also believe that everyone is a dyke and they just don’t know it yet.
I think dyke is a position more than an identity. It goes beyond an identity, it is unapologetic and political. I feel like it is extremely hard to be put into a neat box or dictionary definition, whereas I feel you can define lesbian more easily. Lesbian feels less elastic than dyke which is a term for you to make your own. Dyke has always felt like an extremely freeing term to me. Like when I came out, I struggled a lot because I came out relatively late, and part of the reason it took me so long to come out was that I was so deeply uncomfortable with my gender representation. I had a lot of questions about my gender, and when I came out it allowed me to start exploring. I think the moment I found myself was when I took the word dyke and allowed myself to say this is a word I can use for me. I saw it almost like gender, as a way of being, a way of being that I had always been since a child. The word dyke is like an atmosphere almost, a way of moving. It feels like an extremely thick term, filled with meaning. It’s almost like being part of a special club, which other people can’t see that you’re a part of.
Being a dyke means turning what was once punishment into pleasure.
To me, dyke is power, confidence, self-love, and a bond between masculinity and femininity in your own authentic way. Being someone who sort of self-defines as genderqueer/non-binary, I think dyke was often a word that was reserved simply for cisgender women. Before, the word dyke was kind of a slur, to define a cis lesbian typically masculine. Like a lot of things, language changes, and we can actually reclaim and redefine it to mean something that can actually embody us. For me, as somebody who is masculine-presenting, I would say the word dyke is a way in which I can embody my queerness. Dykeness is strong, it's compassionate, it's sexy, it's real, it’s everything that I would like to believe that I am. I think learning to feel at home within your skin and comfortable within yourself is a journey, but it’s a journey I’m taking. Dyke just so happens to be the word that really kind of fits things. I think the nature of the word dyke, which is a reclamation, has gone even further now and is more universal. Trans people, non-binary people, genderqueer people can find some sort of affinity or connection to it, like myself.
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