Why I Love the word “Dyke”

CW: Discussion about gender issues, homophobia, transphobia, coming out

My mother really tried to be supportive of me in middle school. Almost a little too supportive. It wouldn’t be until I was 20 that I would come out to my parents, but back in middle school Mom would sometimes come to me out of the blue and enthusiastically remind me, “It’s OK if you like girls!”

I didn’t get the hint and at the time I didn’t think much about girls. Or boys. Or anyone, really. I thought about algebra and poetry. I was a weird kid. Now I’m a weird adult.

Despite my mother’s best efforts, it wasn’t until I got to college that I came to terms with my sexuality. Sure, I’d known I “liked” girls by the end of high school, but I didn’t know that meant anything. I didn’t know you could do anything about it! Dating women was a foreign concept to me. It remained foreign until I laid my eyes on Sam* (names have been changed for privacy).

At the time I knew Sam, they identified as a butch lesbian and I had never seen anything like them in my life. The swagger, the style, the short hair, the smile–I fell fast and I fell HARD. What was this gorgeous queerness I was witnessing? A beautiful entanglement of the masculine and the feminine? I was entranced.

I broke up with my long-distance boyfriend and confessed my love to Sam. It… went quite badly, truth be told. In the end, I dodged a bullet because Sam turned out to be quite the misogynist, but my heart had spoken: I knew I liked what I saw and wanted to see so much more.

Unfortunately, I made a pretty big misstep regarding my own gender presentation at this juncture because I thought to myself, seriously, “Well, I love butch women, and butches love femmes, so I must be a femme!” Oh what a naive little baby dyke I was.

For a few years I tried in vain to be a decent chapstick lesbian. I do like chapstick, but I don’t feel comfortable in make-up or heels or most dresses. I’ve never been pretty, no matter how hard I’ve tried. Pretty is just not my aesthetic. Dyke is my aesthetic.

We like to joke that lesbians don’t have any fashion sense, I’ve even made this own self-deprecating joke repeatedly, but the truth is lesbians absolutely do have a fashion all their own. We just enjoy mocking it as a society.

Now, to be clear, femmes absolutely have their own fashion sense and it is gorgeous and incredible and I could never even begin to approach it in my own fashion (I wish I could). What I’m talking about here is the Dyke aesthetic, specifically.

Even if you’re not a queer person and you’re reading this, you have an image pop to mind when I say “dyke,” right? Maybe she’s wearing flannel and steel-toed boots, maybe she’s wearing a leather jacket and Doc Martens, maybe she’s kicking back in jeans, converse and a punny t-shirt, but you see her, don’t you?

“Dyke” is a loaded word, to be sure. It’s not quite the slur it used to be decades ago, but even in this day and age I’ve had white boys screech it at me out of a car window as they drove by. It doesn’t feel good when it comes from them. Even if the context were different, the word feels wrong in their mouths. “Dyke” is a punchline to them. It’s so much more to me.

As I came to term with my own gender-not-normalness, my own desire to weave my femininity and masculinity together, “dyke” became even more important to me. “Dyke” was a thing I loved, but “dyke” was also something that lived in me. I wasn’t even sure I could find a partner at that point, I hadn’t met any other butch-loving-butches, as it were, but I was finally starting to understand who I was.

The reason I love the word “dyke”, even as uncomfortable as it makes many people, is because when I learned what a dyke was for the first time, I felt like I was home. So many things fell into place, so many experiences made sense in retrospect. Who I love and how I love actually had a word.

And that’s part of why it’s so important to have words to put to your identity. I know folks hate having to learn new terms for genders and/or sexualities, but imagine how hard it is not to have words to describe who you are and what lives in your heart.

If you’re a cishet person, then you’ve always had words to describe who you are and what you desire. But for queer people, the only thing we’ve always known is that we were different. Everything else was up to us to figure out.

Even with words, I still don’t quite know how to describe what happens inside me in the presence of feminine masculinity. The combination of strength and softness makes my heart flutter. A dapper woman, especially one wearing a tie, captivates me to turns my stomach to feathers. I’ve never swooned over a man, but a sharp-dressed woman? Fetch my fainting couch, post-haste!

Anyone who wonders to themselves (or, goddess forbid, out loud) why those of us who love butches and other masculine-of-gender (MOC) queer identities don’t “just date men” is beyond missing the point. Feminine masculinity is a brand of masculinity all its own, and a cishet man simply cannot channel that energy. (And, frankly, they should worry about their own masculinity because it is toxic as hell.)

In short, I suppose this is just a love letter to all the dykes out there who feel out of place. Even within queer communities, dykes can be looked at with a side-eye and the opinion that we set the whole movement back with our stereotypical gayness.

I’m here to say that dykes, and lesbians of all gender presentations, matter. Our voices matter, our genders are real and if we should stop shaming ourselves for just a second, we might see how beautiful it all is. Everyone deserves to feel at home.

2 thoughts on “Why I Love the word “Dyke”

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