Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Pittsburgh Dyke March

Pittsburgh Dyke March
Poster from the second Pittsburgh
Dyke March 2007

Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA

Opened: 2006

Closed: 2011

Here's a partial description of the first 2006 Dyke March here in Pittsburgh. From Sue at Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents:

Nearly 125 women of all ages, ethnicities, sizes and shapes turned out Friday evening for Pittsburgh's first-ever dyke march, a grassroots effort organized by two local queer women in less than one month.

The event kicked off with a rallyesque bang at the CMU lawn with some spoken word, a few djs and a lot of lady mingling.  We marched from CMU to Pitt and back along the Forbes/Fifth corridor.  The pace was a little fast for those of us who aren't uber-physical, but the energy was high as the parade participants chanted, cheered and enjoyed the delicious feeling of being amongst a crowd of women laying claim to the dyke mantle.

The organizers expected/hoped for about 40 participants especially as they relied mainly on word of mouth to promote the event.  They got well over 100 women, some reportedly driving in from West Virginia to attend.

The event grew out of frustration that most spaces in the local community are defined by men, either the men who attend or the men who own the actual space.  This holds particularly true for PrideFest where some sense that queer women are invisible.  Some women just opt not to participate in the LGBT community or travel out of state to attend dyke-friendly events.  Eli and Khalia, the organizers, chose to create dyke affirming spaces and settled on a dyke march to coincide with PrideFest.

I spent some time talking with both Eli and Khalia to get their perspectives on the value of creating dyke friendly spaces.  I found them both to be articulate, passionate and -- perhaps most importantly -- willing to take action to build the dynamics they think will strengthen the community.

What I did not find was any sense of man-hating or male-bashing or desire to completely disengage from the male homodynamic.  I did an informal survey at PrideFest about the Dyke March and found that a lot of the women who did not attend had heard these sort of rumors about the event and the organizers. Fortunately, they were willing to listen to our experience and expressed a genuine interest in participating in the future once we reassured them that no one was planning to castrate gay boys. 

These women have done a good job creating a dyke-affirming event.  The next challenge is to reach out beyond their circles of genderqueer women to all those dykes who didn't attend, didn't hear about it and are pretty much mainstream.  Their voices should be part of the dialogue because they too are being disregarded by those in power. There are lots and lots of suburban dykes in Pittsburgh complete with minivans, car seats and years of misogeny on thier backs (my emphasis). 

More on that later when I discuss why being labeled an assimilationist is not cool ...

Note that we are already seeing signs of trouble in Dyke March land--even in 2006. Dykes are "mainstream" and "misogynist" if they've ever had a kid or owned a car seat? But "genderqueer" white dudes with eyeliner (on the weekends) working in highly paid STEM jobs somehow aren't? Wow. Just wow.  Not to mention the tremendous anxiety about appearing "man hating." As if mainstream gay guys really give a f*** about woman hating or being inclusive in their bars, clubs, and organizations.

Let's skip forward two years to the description of the 2008 Dyke March. Contrary to the expressed wishes of the organizers, it doesn't sound like they have reached beyond the circles of "genderqueer women" to what are somewhat patronizingly referred to as "mainstream" dykes.

Pittsburgh Dyke March 2008
We will march down 5th ave, make a right on Liberty, right on William Penn Place, then head back around to Mellon Square park *Trans family welcome* *This march will be accessible, we will have a truck for those who would like to ride the march* After party At Donny's and Weezie's Brought to you by THE PINK PARTY PRODUCTIONS! With special performances by: Colelea Bekezela Joey Murphy Smells Like Gina Ya Lioness Homemade/Dyke made teeshirts and bags available Come on out! Let's make some noise and take up space! Visibility! Spread the word! Any questions, please message us at our myspace page The Pittsburgh Dyke March is personal, it's political. We are claiming celebratory feminist space for LBTQ (lesbian, bisexual, trans, queer) wimmin. Our realities and issues have been set to the side of the larger "inclusive" GLBT umbrella, and we've been told we must compromise. We've been told to assimilate to appropriation by corporate advertisers and sacrifice our interests to further the "greater good" of the gay community. As womyn loving womyn we are claiming this loving and political space, not only to celebrate the fierce radical spirit of the Stonewall Riots, but to remind ourselves that dykes are, and will continue to be, a revolutionary force to be reckoned with. How we organize and celebrate with one another matters, our love matters, our art matters, and dyke lives matter

Let's hop forward another two years to 2010. Even though it's still called the "Dyke March" there is reference to the "Dyke and Trans March" organizing committee. Also note, that leader/kick-off speaker is now a transwoman. So much for getting those uncool "mainstream" lesbians  involved. The ones who might have given birth or who have functioning vaginas or something icky like that:

This was one of my favorite LGBTQ events of all time. It was joyful, fierce, unified and humbling to wind our way through Bloomfield yesterday afternoon. 

Miranda Vey at Dyke March 2010
The event kicked off with a call to action from Dykes on Bikes founder, Miranda Vey.  She uses the term "queer patriot" to describe the power within dykes and other LGBT persons to claim their rightful place in society at large as well as the local gay hierarchy. I've heard Miranda speak before and she is very open as a transwoman (my emphasis) to name the privilege she took for granted as a white man before she began transitioning.  She's not afraid to talk about it and she's not intimidated in the least to turn around and call out those who continue to use it to hold down women, queers and other disenfranchised communities.

Miranda has been a longtime supporter of this event, helping to raise funds and bringing the dykes on their bikes to protect the march route when the police failed to show up.  She is a dyke hero, a powerful woman and a force to be reckoned with.

The march kicked off a few minutes before 3 PM and wound its way through Bloomfield, attracting a signifcant degree of attention from residents and business patrons alike.  People took pictures, video and simply stood watching as this colorful, eclectic group of women strode through the streets with signs, banners and a fierce determination to demand they be seen. 

I intentionally monitored the reacton along the sidewalks and it was a mixture of "you go girls" and amusement.  There was very little animosity with the sad exception of a ten year old child screaming "Git out of here yinz bitches." I think most people had no idea what was going on other than a group of very interestingly clad gay women were suddenly visible in a way Bloomfield never experienced.  (There were plenty of signs though).

In 2011, they were still giving lip service to this being a dyke march.

But by 2012, the pretense was dropped.

Pittsburgh Dyke & Trans March 2012

According to our sage LGBTQ&A March organizers here in Pittsburgh, dykes will no longer be granted space at Pride just for dykes. Instead of the Dyke March, we have the Dyke and Trans March. Which to my way of thinking is basically Everybody-Who-Is-Not-A-Standard-XY-Masculine-Gay Dude. Basically a dumping ground for all the "other" people. So much for a uniquely dyke visibility.

Thanks, guys! You want your sandwich yet?

And in this post I finally found out that the Dyke March organizer mentioned above, the one called "Eli," now identifies as a HE.  Not even as a "queer woman."

In 2005, queer activist Eli Kuti helped launch our region’s first-ever Dyke March. It was my first Dyke March and the first time I met Eli – megaphone in hand, urging folks to make some noise all the while keeping a keen eye out for safety issues. Over the years, the march has evolved to include Pittsburgh’s trans community – and is now officially the Pittsburgh Dyke and Trans March. Eli is a pretty awesome activist – he isn’t afraid to stick his neck out (my emphasis) and challenge the “cool” queers when he feels they present a threat of some type to more vulnerable folks in our community. At the same time, he is concerned that the dyke parents attending the march with their stroller and little kids feel safe and welcomed. That’s a good balance and it suggests why Pittsburgh may be one of the few cities in the nation that successfully fuses dyke identity with trans identities and comes up with a positive, powerful event that respects everyone. We aren’t the only city to have a blended type of march, but it is new terrain for many people.

So maybe we should just drop the "dyke" altogether. Because I'm not seeing much dyke leadership (much less dyke respect) in this thing at all. Just a lot of the same old queer rhetoric that once again succeeds in erasing and burying "mainstream" lesbians in the Giant Queer Melting Pot.

And notice how we have  come full circle. The first Dyke March was organized because of "frustration that most spaces in the local community are defined by men, either the men who attend or the men who own the actual space.  This holds particularly true for PrideFest where some sense that queer women are invisible."

And what do ya know. We end of with the most prominent leadership positions being held by a "queer woman" who now identifies as a man, and a transwoman who was raised and socialized as a man.

So much for an alternative.

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