Last weekend, droves of people descended on a 15-acre park in northeast Los Angeles for an afternoon of picnicking, mingling, cheering on drag performances and a puppy costume competition, and more.
Known as Dyke Day LA, this annual Pride gathering takes a homespun approach to a month typically packed with corporate-sponsored parties, parades and concerts; one organizer estimated the crowd at about 1,500. Since its first iteration in 2007, it has gone from a scrappy Eastside alternative to the spectacle of West Hollywood’s Pride celebrations to an essential — if unofficial — event on the city’s Pride calendar, open to “dykes of all genders.” (According to the organizers, that means everyone but cisgender men.)
The name asserts that a term once widely taken as a misogynistic and homophobic slur can be seen as a positive, liberating label. However, attendees were split, mostly along generational lines, about whether the word “dyke” suited the moment, when labels like “nonbinary” and “genderqueer” are used to affirm identities that are more fluid.
“‘Dyke’ is not our generation’s name to reclaim,” said Melanie Marx, 31. “I feel like we’ve reclaimed ‘queer,’ and it’s far more inclusive.”
Several people in their 40s, 50s and 60s spoke of the word with affection. “I’ve always identified as a dyke,” said Tristan Taormino, 51, a feminist author and sex educator. “To me it’s a politicized identity. It’s not just about who I love and have sex with, but my culture, my point of view, my politics. It’s an absolute reclamation.”
This year’s Dyke Day, held for the first time in person since the pandemic began and as legislation is advancing around the United States that could curb the rights of L.G.B.T.Q. people, felt both celebratory and politically defiant. Under a canopy of tree leaves and rainbow balloons in Sycamore Grove Park, attendees ate ice cream sandwiches, sipped homemade cocktails, took naps, played backgammon, petted each other’s dogs, met each other’s pandemic babies (“I got it from my moms,” read a toddler’s T-shirt) and swapped numbers. Everyone was sparkling with glitter and possibility and also beads of sweat.
Leola Davis, 37, an aesthetician in Sherman Oaks who specializes in post-operation treatments for people recovering from mastectomies known as top surgery (she goes by @thelezthetician on Instagram), was excited to be back at Dyke Day after the pandemic hiatus. “There are no events in Los Angeles where you can see this many queer people at once, so it’s amazing for cruising,” she said.
Hannah Einbinder, the 27-year-old comedian and “Hacks” star, said, “There are very few centralized areas or bars or restaurants that are dedicated to queer femmes or non-cis male queers, so it’s nice to be here.” She added that it was “rare” to find this kind of scene in Los Angeles.
Mekleit Dix, a 25-year-old researcher who splits her time between New York and Los Angeles, said that Dyke Day was a welcome counterpoint to to the heavily branded hubbub in West Hollywood. “I think the sense of programming there is like: ‘It gets better, that’s why we’re partnering with JPMorgan Chase,’” she said.
Dyke Day, by comparison, is staunchly anti-corporate. In tents dotting the park, there were workshops on B.D.S.M. and other forms of kink; demonstrations of how to administer Narcan, a nasal spray, to reverse an opioid overdose; and resources for gender-inclusive health care. Elsewhere, artists recorded oral histories from patrons of lesbian bars that had closed between 1925 and 2005. American Sign Language interpreters and accessible paths ensured that all in attendance would feel welcome.
There were plenty of newcomers and allies in the crowd. “I’m just happy to be here with all my girls,” said the musician Lana Del Rey. “We have the best girls in town right here.”
Dyke Day follows a lineage of grass-roots Pride gatherings that have aimed to center people who identify as femme, including the first Dyke March, in 1993, in Washington, D.C., followed by New York the same year. Dyke Day LA, run by a nonprofit, is free and welcomes attendees of all ages. (For the children in attendance this year, there was face-painting, a bounce house and an inflatable slide.)
Marissa Marqusee, a nurse who manages the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s Audre Lorde Health Program and sits on Dyke Day’s planning committee, said it was important to the organizers to create an inclusive environment.
“We wanted the committee to be representative of the people who attend Dyke Day,” said Mx. Marqusee, who is transgender and nonbinary. “That means Black, brown, Indigenous, people of color. Queer and trans people. Service providers of all different backgrounds.”
“It’s like dyke Christmas,” said Lynn Ballen, a Dyke Day LA organizer and board member. She noted that, “traditionally, Pride events come out of a history that is more gay men, more cis, more white.” She and her fellow organizers were looking to foster a more diverse and inclusive environment.
That context, along with the expansion of gender identities, has shaped some people’s feelings about the word “dyke.”
“I’m a dyke, and in the ’90s, when I was a teenager, I was closeted,” said Romy Hoffman, a 42-year-old musician from Sydney, Australia. “I was into grunge, the Riot Grrrl stuff. I was discovering queer cinema. The word ‘dyke’ definitely represents that period of time, but I don’t know if it has been adapted to the age of queerness.”
Some prefer different terminology altogether. “I’m kind of old school and identify with ‘lesbian,’ personally,” said Ann Engel, 59, a therapist in Palm Springs.
“I grew up hearing people call women ‘marimacha.’ I understood it to mean, like, ‘butch woman,’” said Salvador de La Torre, 32, who is transgender and grew up on the Texas border. “It’s definitely derogatory and can be used as an insult, depending on the context.”
They said that the term continued to resonate with them. “Even though now I’m not a woman — I was socialized as one and I was assigned female at birth — I’ll always be fond of that association, and love the word ‘dyke,’” they said.