Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Isn't "Dyke" Derogatory?

(I love an interactive blog.  Feel free to ask me questions any way you want!) 

A good question was raised in response to my last post about Dyke in a Small Town: isn't "dyke" a derogatory term?

Well, yes and no. 

I have my personal response to this question, which I will provide here, but I decided to go look at that Internet "expert" in all things, Wikipedia, too, in formulating this response.  Which was actually quite illuminating.

I came out in my teens.  Still in high school.  A baby dyke.  (There's that word again).  Frankly, the word homosexual does not roll off my tongue.  And the older I get, the more clinical the term sounds.  So while it is an accurate word that can be used to describe me, it is not my preference.  Lesbian is a more acceptable gender-specific term that also applies to me.  And, at times, I will use it, too.  It, also, does not roll off the tongue.  But it is also an accurate term for me.

I'm not sure when I started using the term dyke.  It would not surprise me that my usage was as a direct result of enjoying Alison Bechdel's syndicated comic strip: Dykes to Watch Out For.  She started the comic strip in 1983, and I caught it in the first decade of syndication, and owned the first three books at the time with the past strips.  I loved it.  It was hysterical. (To find more about the history of the strip, ironically, Wikipedia has a fairly informative page.)  I was very fortunate in that we were able to get her to come to our school during Pride Week.   

Now within the "community" there are various ways to distinguish between "lesbians" and "dykes", but I am NOT going to go into that, here, or otherwise - because like all stereotypes, there are bound to be some innaccuracies, and unlike using the word dyke here, I might actually offend someone in spelling out the distinctions.  But let's just say, shortly, I more identify as being a dyke.  It comes out of your mouth much easier than "lesbian" or "homosexual".  It's short, sweet, and simple. 

While there could be some nuanced argument about someone choosing to use a derogatory term to describe themselves and related self-esteem and all that, this is NOT the issue going on here with me.  Generally, when one party chooses to use a "derogatory" term to identify themselves it is often a way in which they can reclaim the word from the negative connotations and make it a positive one.  Someone wants to call me "dyke" under their breath, I'll say, "Yep, that's right."  It is no longer the insult that they might have expected or wanted.  They'll have to work harder, then, to disparage me. 

The word "dyke" though is used by much more than me and Alison Bechdel in common Pride parlance. Many gay pride marches will begin with the "Dykes on Bikes", which I once participated in. And San Francisco has had (still has? It's been years since I lived there) a "dyke parade" the night before the big Pride parade (and a much better place to pick up women than the main parade....).
Now Wikipedia will inform you that the word "dyke" has many multiple references, and as a "vulgarism" meaning "lesbian" doesn't even appear until #10.

So, yes, I guess if you call it a "vulgarism" it perhaps has some, um, derogatory character still attached to it.

What I found amusing / interesting / depressing is another reference within Wikipedia for "LGBT slurs" which has tried to be reclaimed, renamed as and redirected to "LGBT slang"

In introduction to the list, it clarifies that such terms may be acceptable when used by members of the LGBT community and their allies, but when used formally by outsiders might be considered perjorative.

I find amusing, quite interesting and apropos for this post that someone within Wiki is asking "by whom?" in the placeholders for references. 

Ultimately, the use of terminology is similar to usage of racial terms.  The wikipedia article on "Terminology of homosexuality" touches upon this in it's introductory paragraph:

Think about the useage of the word "colored" "black" and "African-American".  Depending upon who says it, and to whom, any of those terms might be offensive, or might be preferred. 

At the end of the day, no, for me, the term "dyke" isn't derogatory.  But I'm also pretty easy going - it doesn't really matter what you call me.  I'm just me.  The Borg Blog [substitute real name there] and I am uniquely me and just like you, all at the same time.  (See Assimiliation).  What's that old joke, I don't care what you call me, just don't call me late for dinner! ;)

Resistance is futile.


  1. I just don't call anyone anything. Unless they are an asshole, I will call them that.
    When I was a kid, people seemed to say the tough ones were dykes and the softer ones were lesbians. People are stupid.

  2. I agree, and "asshole" flows from my mouth on a daily basis. It's sad, really. SOME people are stupid, but not all of us. :)

  3. I prefer not to think in terms of "stupid" or not, but differently experienced, and now you have an opportunity to enlighten them! ;)

    While I admit I write above a little tongue in cheek, I am also half serious, too. One of the things you learn in living in a "small town" as a dyke is to step behind the words and understand their intentions. People say "stupid" things. I talk a little about this in my post Practicing Patience (

    It is tough sometimes, I know. That's why it's called "practicing"! ;)

  4. Ah, labels - what a thorn in our collective sides.

    I had a conversation recently with a friend who self-identifies as "queer" about the use of let's call them "controversial" labels. His differentiation was in the way the term is used - he doesn't mind if a non-queer calls him "queer" as long as it isn't meant to be inflammatory, as in "Effing queer!" But I'm still not sure how I'd feel about a let's call them "naive" or "ignorant" person saying something like "That so-and-so, he's queer." I really only feel comfortable with that (or "dyke" or "fag") used by other queer friends. The rest of y'all should use "gay" or "lesbian" IMO - those are safer, more objective terms that carry no emotional trauma for most of us, whereas the others can be triggering, even if used in good faith. And yeah, "homosexual" sounds pretty clinical to me too.

    One term that I've heard some of my usually-politically-correct friends using lately is "midget." It makes me cringe because I don't believe that people with dwarfism like that term. But my friends don't know that, and they mean well, and who am I - the PC police?... but that's another post. ;-)

    1. *snicker!* All I can think of is this Borg cube (you said "collective") floating through space with a big thorn sticking out... Maybe a mouse will come along and extract it? Okay. I can be silly sometimes.

      The permissive usuage you discuss is often reserved for the 'n' word...

      The irony, and a struggle, I think within the "queer" community, is a over a desire to be all-inclusive, and allow anyone who wants to identify with us - even if not *as* us - to do so.

      We are quick to make sure that we have the "F" included in our organizations ("Friend") or that we're the GSA - Gay Straight Alliance. We, as a collective community, have generally felt so outcast, that we struggle hard to make sure we don't outcast anyone else. We are not always successful, of course. Not by a long shot.

      Once we all realize that we ARE the same, and we belong to this one huge collective - the human race - and focus on our similarities and not so much our differences - labels will fall away, and their power to hurt us will dissipate. You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile. You will be Borg.

    2. (Yes, I just see this reply now - I guess I should subscribe to followup comments from now on.)

      SO true - I've been wondering lately WHY I need to find a term for my sexuality at all. It's not really relevant to you unless you want to date me.

      THIS is the box I check: (hope you can view this)