Response to: What exactly is a dyke, and how are dykes different from other lesbians?
“Well, I can’t tell you exactly what a dyke is because it’s an identity like any other, and it’s about a personal feeling that a label applies to you. I used to think dyke was a look, a style of dress, and that only lesbians could be dykes. I don’t think that anymore.
To me, the major differences between dykes and lesbians are that a) dykes are not necessarily women and they don’t necessarily date exclusively other women, and b) dykes are queer, community-seeking, focused on woman- or female-solidarity, and are politicized by their queerness. In my experience, lesbian-identified folks are not necessarily community-seeking or political.
I identify as a dyke because of all the reasons I listed above and because I feel very strongly that I relate to womenfolk who I date in a queer female-centered way.”
This answer is a great example of how you cannot assume that words mean the same thing to different people. I consider myself a life-long dyke (tomboi, baby dyke, dyke). I wholeheartedly agree with the following, although I’d clarify that there are plenty of lesbians who ARE community-seeking and political and more than a few dykes who are not.
b) dykes are queer, community-seeking, focused on woman- or female-solidarity, and are politicized by their queerness. In my experience, lesbian-identified folks are not necessarily community-seeking or political.
The following, though, made my jaw drop in disbelief.
a) dykes are not necessarily women and they don’t necessarily date exclusively other women
I fully support people’s freedom to identify however they choose. You don’t define me; I don’t define you.
That said, language is about communication. No matter how much I identify with my guy friends, I’m not a guy, much less a gay guy. I can happily identify as a gay man, but that doesn’t make me one by the current, commonly-shared definition of “gay man”.**
Along similar lines, I haven’t had a single life experience, no matter how tangential (friend of a friend) or virtual (books, blogs), to suggest part a) of this definition fits what I know of as the commonly-shared definition of “dyke”. Maybe it’s an urban phenomenon and the wave hasn’t reached me yet.
If this definition, in its entirety, is the essence of a new working definition of “dyke”, then I’m not a dyke and never have been. Because for me—at their core—dykes are women-identified women.***
Labels can be restrictive. They can also facilitate communication. Even be worn proudly. I understand language evolves, and it seems to be going through a growth spurt vis-a-vis sexual identity. I wish the queer community put more effort into using new terms for changing identities, rather than disappearing existing groups by coopting existing terms.
** My point is about language, not identity.
*** I consider this another key element differentiating dykes from lesbians (women identified vs. women loving). Also, I am an agnostic bystander in the holy war of what defines a “real” woman. Those battles are best reasoned/fought elsewhere.
I am very careful with my language all the time, so I’d like to point out that in your first point, what I wrote recognized that there are community-seeking lesbians. I guess I should clarify that my experience is that lesbians often seek a different type of community than the community I seek.
As to your second point, I’m sorry that you’re unable to find the possibilities for expansion without disappearance in your label. When I was (as Kate Bornstein puts it) being a bisexual-identified woman, I felt I had no license to be in dyke spaces because of my attraction to people who are not women. Since coming into my identity as queer and trans, I have come to understand dyke more broadly. I thought I had managed to get this point across succinctly in my previous post, but I am not a succinct person and I will clarify here:
I have experience being a woman, I have experienced being perceived as and interacted with as a woman regardless of whether or not I identified that way, and I have experience loving women as a woman and as a person with a female-assigned body who is not a woman. When other queer womenfolk and female-assigned people see me, that is the experience they recognize and feel a connection to; that is the experience they build community with me around.
I am not a woman and I do not date exclusively women and I am a dyke. I’m not co-opting the term or disappearing you, I am joining you. I do not need a different term if I am part of the same community. Unlike your example, I’m not arbitrarily choosing labels that have nothing to do with my truth.
Your distinction between lesbians as woman-loving and dykes as woman-identifying perplexes me. I know many more transmasculine people who shed their lesbian identities and kept their dyke identities than the other way around. They felt, exactly opposite to the way you do, that lesbian emphasizes a woman identity whereas dyke emphasizes loving women queerly, which many of us continue to do long after no one ever sees us as women.
P.S. It’s all very well and good to not get involved in the fight for inclusive and affirming understandings of what a woman is (in fact, I’m kind of glad you’re not involved because your phrasing leads me to believe that you are not on the side of womenfolk who are still striving for recognition) but that is not a fight for elsewhere, that is a fight for everywhere.