(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.