Ashleigh Atwell

Ashleigh Atwell: Dyke spaces must evolve to survive

For the past two years, I have had the honor of leading the Dyke March at Atlanta Pride and I look forward to doing so in some capacity as long as my legs stay in working order. Leading that march is important to me because it is one of the few times that I actually feel like there’s a space for me as a woman that loves other women. I crave spaces that center on women lovin’ women, and apparently I’m not alone. Recently, Slate posted a series of articles by lesbian writers in which a few of them lamented the demise of lesbian-centered spaces.

Older lesbian writers lamented the disappearance of the spaces that welcomed them when they came out in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s. In her article “Dyke Culture and the Disappearing L,” Bonnie J. Davis worried that “as we advance further into the 21st century, we are witnessing the almost flippant dismissal of recent, late 20th-century lesbian culture, particularly the loss of physical sites such as women’s bookstores and women’s music festivals and their material legacies (books, journals, albums, tapes, magazine interviews with artists).”

Other articles in the series expressed similar sentiments and they make plenty of valid points. Lesbian history isn’t recorded and revered like that of gay men. While gay spaces have been able to maintain their focus and identity, lesbian spaces get diluted by outsiders. Our businesses are disappearing at an alarming rate across the country. Atlanta doesn’t have much of a lesbian scene. Our nightlife consists of My Sister’s Room and a few independent party promoters. The closest thing we have to a daytime meeting spot is Charis Books. Still, there’s an aspect of this discussion that irritates me.

As these writers reminisce about the good ole days, their writing implies that the younger generation isn’t doing enough to preserve the culture. There’s an implication that since millennial same-gender loving women don’t feel required to call themselves lesbians, it’s a rejection of dyke culture.

“Younger women who love women are choosing the label queer or espousing some notion of sexual fluidity at higher rates,” wrote Slate editor June Thomas in “What Does Lesbian Mean in 2016?.” “Radical feminist thinking, historically led by lesbians, has come under criticism in some cases as being transphobic or otherwise outmoded.”

This belief is held by scores of older lesbians and reeks of the old right wingers that complain about safe spaces and frankly, it gets on my nerves. I want dyke culture to survive, but in order for that to happen, we can’t get set in our ways. One article mentioned that young activists critiqued the Michigan Womyn’s Festival without noting that the event has come under fire for only being open to “womyn-born womyn,” implying that transwomen aren’t real women. Lesbian spaces are notoriously biphobic and concepts like being a “gold star” preserve the idea that some women are more lesbian than thou. I could log into any random lesbian group on Facebook and find a post about separating “real” lesbians from the fake. This type of thinking is awfully exclusionary and it’s no wonder that younger women are turned off. As long as this type of behavior continues, you can bet your Birkenstocks that dyke spaces are going to die.

Rather than trying to resurrect dyke culture of old, we need to focus on making something new and better. We need to make sure bisexual, queer and transgender women feel welcomed. We need to make a concerted effort to not only support older businesses but encourage the creation of new ones. Elders, make sure you talk to us youngins so we can know our history and be able to pass it on to those coming behind us. If we aren’t willing to change, these eulogies to dyke culture are just another set of empty words floating around the internet.

Ashleigh Atwell is a queer lesbian writer and organizer born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia.