The Dyke-Pansexual Sandwich
How thirty-something women who love women can find themselves squeezed between two very different generations.
Stuck in a Dyke/Pansexual sandwich? How thirty-something women who love women can find themselves squeezed between two very different generations
In the run up to my favourite time of year in Sydney I have been weighing up my options for celebrating Gay Christmas 2018, and this got me thinking about how last year’s festivities left me with something of an identity crisis.
My Mardi Gras 2017 season was punctuated by two very different evenings, populated by two very different generations. The first was a Heaps Gay street party, run as a ‘queer good times collective’ that describes itself as a ‘series of parties for LGBTIQ+ kids and their friends’. I had long been curious about the big love vibe of the Heaps Gay movement and, after an extended period overseas, this was my first chance to see what all the fuss was about. The second event was the Mardi Gras parade itself where I fulfilled a long-held ambition to ride with Dykes on Bikes who lead the parade each year. The former started running events in 2014. The latter was founded 26 years earlier. But it didn’t occur to me until after the glitter had settled on the 2017 Gay Christmas season that I didn’t feel quite at home with either.
At 37 I sit somewhere between the battle-hardened pioneers of the 70s and 80s gay rights movement and the millennials who reject the limitations of archaic labels and have created their very own language to describe their gender and sexuality. Growing up in the 80s and early 90s I knew that being a girl was a handicap to enjoying the Boy Scout adventures my brother took for granted, but I didn’t suffer much more that the odd tut when I questioned the status quo. And by the time I (finally) came out in my mid-twenties, it was the biggest non-event of 2005.
I realise now that when I began tentatively exploring the lesbian scene, first in London and later in Sydney, it was in the last heady years of lesbian-exclusive spaces. You could still be turned away from a bar for looking ‘too straight’ (when I made the mistake of wearing…a dress) and still be accused of being a ‘dirty bi’ (when I admitted I still dated men). But you could find any number of spaces filled with women-loving women who just wanted to have a good time.
So when I turned the corner of the Heaps Gay street party I was curious, and not a little bit excited, but I ended up feeling something close to lost. Here were hundreds of genderqueer, non-binary, pansexual, nonconformist party-goers (as well as a giant sparkling clitoris) but, much as I wanted to fit in, I just didn’t. Although I didn’t feel ancient I was definitely at the upper end of the age spectrum. Plus, I was fully clothed. And not covered in glitter.
As fluid sexuality and dating apps have been embraced by millennials, the argument goes that the need and desire for these spaces has been eroded. My older lesbian friends talk fondly of the plethora of social spaces for women that have long since closed down, but millennials don't seem to be missing what they've never had. A few of these spaces do still exist for the pioneer generation in the form of organisations like the Dykes on Bikes, so I was hopeful that I might feel more at home there than with the Heaps Gay crowd.
My first experience of Dykes on Bikes was at the practice ride that my then girlfriend and I attended a few weeks before the parade. I‘d heard about their reputation for pseudo-macho behaviour which has involved, amongst other things, hosting wet t-shirt competitions, so I was a little apprehensive. And I wasn’t disappointed; there was a lot of leather and much engine revving to feed the stereotype which quite honestly made me feel a little intimidated. But then everyone I met there was unfailingly kind and helpful - at one point when I was so cold my lips turned blue a very kindly dyke offered me her jacket in an act of chivalry that I am grateful for to this day. However, given that I neither own nor am remotely interested in motorbikes, nor have I ever identified as a dyke, it was perhaps a little unreasonable of me to expect to feel completely at home there.
What I know is that I still love all-female spaces - watching a women-loving women movie with 800 queer ladies of all persuasions at the Mardi Gras Film Fest is still one of my favourite events of the year. Yet I am neither a dyke nor a bisexual homo-romantic (my current favourite of all the millennial labels). I am a 37-year-old cis-gendered Australian/British/French woman who has dated men in the past, who plays hockey and married (then divorced) a woman, wears dresses and hoodies and lululemon yoga pants (though usually not at the same time), who believes in love and assumes that, if she finds it, it will be with a woman.
But given that life so far has been pretty unpredictable in that space, maybe any label is just a wild attempt to try and make sense of my inner emotional world; we all want to belong in some way, but could focusing so much on these labels do more to divide our diverse community than bring us together?
So how will I be spending my 2018 Mardi Gras season? I think I’ll give the biking leathers and the giant sparkling genitalia a miss this year. Instead I’ll be heading to Fair Day with my wonderful and eclectic tribe of lady-loving women. And, given that we range in age from our early twenties to late fifties, I think I’d struggle to find a label that does us all justice anyway. So I guess I’ll take a break from my identity crisis and focus my energy on something a little more fun, like maybe finding myself a similarly-sandwiched, label-less thirty-something lady to march down Oxford Street with come parade day.
Joanna Lamb is an Australian writer and the creator of Voices from the Well, the story of her journey across the world collecting stories from women who love women. Find her on twitter @VoicesFrTheWell