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The term dyke is a slang term, used as a noun meaning lesbian and as an adjective describing things associated with lesbianism. It originated as a homophobic and misogynistic slur for a masculine, butch, or androgynous girl or woman. Pejorative use of the word still exists, but the term dyke has been reappropriated by many lesbians to imply assertiveness and toughness.
The origin of the term dyke is obscure and many theories have been proposed.Most etymologies assert that dyke is derived from bulldyke, which has a similar meaning. The term first appears in an August 1921 article in the journal Medical Review of Reviews titled "The 'Fairy' and the Lady Lover". In this article, Perry M. Lichtenstein, a prison physician in New York City, reports on the case of a female prisoner he examined: "She stated that she had indulged in the practice of 'bull diking,' as she termed it. She was a prisoner in one of the reformatories, and there a certain young woman fell in love with her." The forms bulldyker and bulldyking also appear later on in the Harlem Renaissance novels of the late 1920s, including Eric D. Walrond's 1926 Tropic Death, Carl van Vechten's 1926 Nigger Heaven , and Claude McKay's 1928 Home to Harlem. The Oxford English Dictionary notes the first attestation as Berrey and Van den Bark's 1942 American Thesaurus of Slang, which lists bulldiker as a synonym for lesbian.
The etymology of bulldyke is also obscure. It may be related to the late-19th-century slang use of dike ("ditch") for the vulva.Bull ("male cattle") being used in the sense of "masculine" and "aggressive" (e.g., in bullish), a bulldyke would have implied (with similar levels of offensiveness) a "masculine cunt". Other theories include that bulldyke derived from morphodite, a variant of hermaphrodite ; that it was a term for stud bulls and originally applied to sexually successful men; or that it was a dialectical corruption of the name of the rebel Celtic queen Boadicea.
From the mid-19th century to the early 20th century, dike had been American slang for a well-dressed man, with "diked out" and "out on a dike" indicating a young man was in his best clothes and ready for a night on the town. The etymology of that term is also obscure, but may have originated as a Virginian variant of deck and decked out.
In the 1950s, the word dyke was used as a derogatory term for lesbians by straight people, but was also used by lesbians of higher social status to identify crude, rough-bar lesbians.
In a 1970 study, Julia Stanley theorized that the source of these varying definitions stems from gender-determined sub-dialects.Homosexuality in America is a “subculture with its own language.” As such, a special vocabulary is developed by its members. Previously, male homosexuals defined dyke as lesbian without derogation. A bull dyke was also defined as a lesbian without further distinction. For female homosexuals of the community, however, a dyke is an extremely masculine, easily identified lesbian, given to indiscretion. Bull dyke is an extension of this term, with the addition of this person described as nasty, obnoxiously aggressive, and overly demonstrative of her hatred of men.
In 1995, Susan Krantz discussed the etymology of bulldyke, with derivations of the Middle English "falsehood" for bull and dick for dyke (Farmer and Henley 1891).Therefore, a possible origin for a masculine lesbian comes from bulldicker that could specifically mean "fake penis", denoting a "false man". Further speculation talks of the synonymous term bulldagger. Here, dagger also alludes to the male genitalia and bull referring to "false" rather than "man".
In 1969, people in the gay community began to march in the streets to demand civil rights. Terms such as dyke and faggot were used to identify people as political activists for the gay community. During this time, dyke referred to a woman committed to revolution, the most radical position. A surge of feminism in the lesbian community led to "dyke separatism", which emphasized that lesbian women should consider themselves to be separate from men, their ideas and movements.
In 1971, the poem The Psychoanalysis of Edward the Dyke by Judy Grahn was published by the Women's Press Collective.This use of dyke empowered the lesbian community because heretofore it had only been employed as a condemnation. Because of the exposure of the word to the public, the term dyke was reclaimed by the lesbian community in the 1970s.
The meaning of dyke has positively changed over time. Most members of the community have dropped bull from the term to use it as a positive identifier of one who displays toughness, or as a simple, generic term for all lesbians. This abbreviation does not carry the negative connotations of the full phrase as it previously did.Scholar Paula Blank, in a 2011 article on lesbian etymology, called for taking ownership of lesbian and similar words.
In the late 20th and early 21st century, the term dyke was claimed by many lesbians as a term of pride and empowerment.Alison Bechdel, author of comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For (1983–2008), said use of the term was "linguistic activism". The strip depicts the lives of a lesbian community and is one of the earliest representations of lesbians in popular culture. It has been described "as important to new generations of lesbians as landmark novels like Rita Mae Brown's Rubyfruit Jungle (1973) and Lisa Alther's Kinflicks (1976) were to an earlier one."
In her 2011 article The Only Dykey One, Lucy Jones argues that consideration of lesbian culture is core to an understanding of lesbian identity construction.Matters came to a head when the United States Patent and Trademark Office denied the lesbian motorcycle group Dykes on Bikes a trademark for its name, on the grounds dyke was offensive, derogatory and disparaging to lesbians. However, the office reversed itself and permitted the group to register its name after attorneys appealed and submitted hundreds of pages to show the slang word does not disparage lesbians in the way it once did. On December 8, 2005, Dykes on Bikes won the trademark case, and the organization has since gained international recognition for leading San Francisco's gay pride parade.
In June 2017, Facebook censored the use of the word "dyke" on its website as "abusive content".This decision resulted in a Change.org protest petition created by the Listening 2 Lesbians collective that was signed by 7,247 supporters.
Dyke Marches have become popular gay pride events nationwide in the United States and Canada. They are generally non-commercial, in sharp contrast to corporate-sponsored pride events, and some are participated in by bisexual and trans women. The stated mission of the Boston Dyke March, for example, is "to provide a dynamic and welcoming space for participants of all sexualities, genders, races, ages, ethnicities, sizes, economic backgrounds, and physical abilities."Marches also take place in several European cities. The United Kingdom's first Dyke March was held in London in 2012. In Germany, the annual Dyke March Berlin was established in 2013. In Mexico, the Marcha Lésbica (Lesbian March) was founded in March 2003 and is held biannually in Mexico City.
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A dyke bar is any bar or club frequented by lesbians, and is considered as slang in the vocabulary of the LGBT community. The existence of official dyke bars, or lesbian bars, in the United States has decreased tremendously in the past 40 years. In the 1980s there were around 200 lesbian bars, in 2021 the number is thought to be at 16. The COVID-19 pandemic contributed to the closing of dyke bars, with the lack of business preventing bar owners from paying rent, exacerbating an already existing decline in lesbian spaces.While gay bars and gender inclusive LGBT bars exist across the United States, spaces specifically for lesbians/sapphics are much less common, and their presence is steadily decreasing.
The Stonewall riots were a series of spontaneous demonstrations by members of the gay community in response to a police raid that began in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, at the Stonewall Inn in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of Manhattan, New York City. Patrons of the Stonewall, other Village lesbian and gay bars and neighborhood street people fought back when the police became violent. The riots are widely considered to constitute one of the most important events leading to the gay liberation movement and the twentieth century fight for LGBT rights in the United States.
Queer is an umbrella term for sexual and gender minorities who are not heterosexual or are not cisgender. Originally meaning "strange" or "peculiar", queer came to be used pejoratively against those with same-sex desires or relationships in the late 19th century. Beginning in the late 1980s, queer activists, such as the members of Queer Nation, began to reclaim the word as a deliberately provocative and politically radical alternative to the more assimilationist branches of the LGBT community.
A fag hag is, in gay slang, a woman who associates either mostly or exclusively with gay and bisexual men. The phrase originated in gay male culture in the United States and was historically an insult. Some women who associate with gay men object to being called fag hags while others embrace the term. The male counterpart, for heterosexual men who have similar interpersonal relationships with gay and bisexual men is fag stag.
Butch and femme are terms used in the lesbian subculture to ascribe or acknowledge a masculine (butch) or feminine (femme) identity with its associated traits, behaviors, styles, self-perception, and so on. The terms were founded in lesbian communities in the twentieth century. This concept has been called a "way to organize sexual relationships and gender and sexual identity". Butch-femme culture is not the sole form of a lesbian dyadic system, as there are many women in butch–butch and femme–femme relationships.
LGBT slang, LGBT speak, or gay slang is a set of slang lexicon used predominantly among LGBT people. It has been used in various languages since the early 20th century as a means by which members of the LGBT community identify themselves and speak in code with brevity and speed to others.
LGBT culture is a culture shared by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer individuals. It is sometimes referred to as queer culture, while the term gay culture may be used to mean "LGBT culture" or to refer specifically to homosexual culture.
Terms used to describe homosexuality have gone through many changes since the emergence of the first terms in the mid-19th century. In English, some terms in widespread use have been sodomite, Sapphic, Uranian, homophile, lesbian, gay, effeminate, queer, homoaffective, and same-sex attracted. Some of these words are specific to women, some to men, and some can be used of either. Gay people may also be identified under the umbrella terms queer and LGBT.
The gay liberation movement is a social and political movement of the late 1960s through the mid-1980s that urged lesbians and gay men to engage in radical direct action, and to counter societal shame with gay pride. In the feminist spirit of the personal being political, the most basic form of activism was an emphasis on coming out to family, friends, and colleagues, and living life as an openly lesbian or gay person.
A Dyke March is a lesbian visibility and protest march, much like the original Gay Pride parades and gay rights demonstrations. The main purpose being the encouragement of activism within the lesbian community. Dyke marches commonly take place the Friday or Saturday before LGBT pride parades. Larger metropolitan areas usually have several Pride-related happenings both before and after the march to further community building; with outreach to specific segments such as older women, women of color, and lesbian parenting groups.
The LGBT community has adopted certain symbols for self-identification to demonstrate unity, pride, shared values, and allegiance to one another. LGBT symbols communicate ideas, concepts, and identity both within their communities and to mainstream culture. The two most-recognized international LGBT symbols are the pink triangle and the rainbow flag.
Gay is a term that primarily refers to a homosexual person or the trait of being homosexual. The term originally denoted being "carefree", "cheerful", or "bright and showy".
The lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people in the Philippines have a distinctive culture in society and also have limited legal rights. Gays and lesbians are generally tolerated in Filipino society. Despite recent events that have promoted the rights, general acceptance, and empowerment of the Filipino LGBT community, discrimination remains. Homosexuals in the Philippines are known as "bakla", though there exist other terms to describe them. Similarly, Filipino lesbians are generally known as Alfa.
New Zealand society is generally accepting of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) peoples. The LGBT-friendly environment is epitomised by the fact that there are several members of Parliament who belong to the LGBT community, LGBT rights are protected by the Human Rights Act, and same-sex couples are able to marry as of 2013. Sex between men was decriminalised in 1986. New Zealand has an active LGBT community, with well-attended annual gay pride festivals in most cities.
Fruit and fruitcake, as well as many variations, are slang or even sexual slang terms which have various origins, is a homophobic slur, tend to primarily refer to gay men and sometimes other LGBT people. Usually used as pejoratives, the terms have also been re-appropriated as insider terms of endearment within LGBT communities. Many modern pop culture references within the gay nightlife like "Fruit Machine" and "Fruit Packers" have been appropriated for reclaiming usage, similar to queer and dyke.
Dykes on Bikes (DOB) is a chartered lesbian motorcycle club with 22 chapters, numerous affiliations, and 501(c)(3) nonprofit status. They are known for their participation in gay pride events such as Pride parades, and significant LGBT events like the international Gay Games.
LGBT linguistics is the study of language as used by members of the LGBT community. Related or synonymous terms include lavender linguistics, advanced by William Leap in the 1990s, which "encompass[es] a wide range of everyday language practices" in LGBT communities, and queer linguistics, which more specifically refers to linguistics overtly concerned with exposing heteronormativity. The former term derives from the longtime association of the color lavender with LGBT communities. "Language", in this context, may refer to any aspect of spoken or written linguistic practices, including speech patterns and pronunciation, use of certain vocabulary, and, in a few cases, an elaborate alternative lexicon such as Polari.
Discrimination against gay men, sometimes called gayphobia, is a form of homophobic prejudice, hatred, or bias specifically directed toward gay men, male homosexuality, or men who are perceived to be gay. This discrimination is closely related to femmephobia, which is the dislike of, or hostility toward, individuals who present as feminine, including gay and effeminate men. Discrimination against gay men can result from prejudicial reactions to one's feminine mannerisms, styles of clothing, and even vocal register. Within the LGBT-community, internalized issues around meeting social expectations of masculinity have been found among gay, bisexual, and transgender men.
Lesbian erasure is the tendency to ignore, remove, falsify, or reexplain evidence of lesbian women or relationships in history, academia, the news media, and other primary sources. Lesbians may also be ignored within the LGBT community and their identity may not be acknowledged.
The lesbian flag is a symbol of the lesbian community. Since 1999, many designs have been proposed and used. Although personal preferences exist, no design has been accepted by the community as the official lesbian flag.
Special Issue: A History of "Lesbian History," Part 2
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