I was 23 when I marched in my first Dyke March in Toronto. Two months before, I’d come out as a lesbian to my conservative Evangelical parents. One month before, I married my wife. To say that that period in my life was a rollercoaster of highs and lows is an understatement. But at the Dyke March, I felt something new: I felt like I was exactly where I needed to be.
Dykes on Bikes, a chartered lesbian-only motorcycle club with chapters all over the world, opened the march. Then, women of all shapes, sizes and ages followed on foot. They carried flags and banners, they shouted, they danced, they took up space, they sang. There weren’t any corporate floats or polished branded slogans or signs of capitalism. These women were joyful, they were raw and they were loud. They were provocative and powerful.
Initially, I was only going to watch from the sidewalk, but it was an adrenaline rush to see these women, who took a pejorative term weaponized against lesbians and flipped it into a force to be reckoned with. And it was an adrenaline rush to feel seen. I got up and ran into the street to join, marching all the way to where it ended in a picnic at Toronto’s Allan Gardens.
I had a great time, of course. But more importantly, the experience pushed me to find more spaces made for and by lesbians, wherever I go.
Spaces meant specifically for lesbians are disappearing
Seeing thousands of women who love women in the same space at the same time, as I did at that Dyke March, was particularly meaningful for me. The label of lesbianism is falling out of style in favour of other, less binary identities; a lot of women who love women are identifying as the more inclusive term “queer” as a way to signify gender or sexual fluidity. There’s nothing wrong with that, at all—the Dyke March is open to women of all orientations who love women—but for me, being surrounded by lesbians who were out and loud about their identity was very powerful. After all, I’d just come out to a family who made me feel powerless and unwanted, so seeing an unbreakable front of women who likely had similar experiences to mine and were still marching loud and proud in protest legitimized my rage and my joy.
But there was also another reason that I was so thrilled to see a space specifically for lesbians: because these days, that’s very rare. Queer spaces both inside and outside of Pride are dominated by gay men and physical spaces for lesbians and sapphics are almost gone. Instead of congregating in person, we’ve moved our community into digital spaces, whether that means dedicated and curated online editorials, Instagram or Twitter—particularly the group of Black lesbians that make up Dyke Twitter.
Consequently, I live the majority of my gay social life on my phone, something that feels both comforting and alien. It’s convenient that it’s readily available at my fingertips, but it’s still a constant reminder that my “immediate” community is a collection of women who live far from me.
I’ve been told that lesbians “need to find their own place”
In Toronto, Church Street remains a destination point for gay men, but spaces for lesbians and queer women in the city have gone underground or closed altogether. Still, there’s a stronger lesbian community there than in many other cities—something I didn’t realize until I moved away. In Detroit, where I live now, my experience finding a cohesive lesbian and sapphic community has been the opposite of my experience in Toronto.
Here’s just one example: I was at a local historic gay bar one night a few months after I moved back, and I struck up a conversation with a gay man. At one point in the conversation, he told me that lesbians “really needed to find their own place” in Detroit away from the bar we were sitting in. His words were frustrating because Detroit is a conservative mid-size city in America’s Rust Belt, so options are already limited. And though there are a handful of gay male bars in the city, the lesbian bars that used to operate in the city have long gone.
Finding lesbian spaces—especially intersectional ones—is transformative
There are summer festivals, like the weeklong Sweetheat in Miami, which is run by Black lesbians and geared towards Black women. But in general, there’s still just a smattering of lesbian-centred spaces that are so few and far between that a lot of us travel great distances to get to them. So, that’s exactly what I do. I paid to upgrade my Tinder account to swipe in other cities and set my location to Chicago—which, btw, is five hours west of Detroit.
It was a good decision—I visited in April and found out about the Black and brown women-centred community in Chicago’s Party Noire, AM/FM, and smallWORLD Collective. And it was transformative; I hadn’t seen an organized, dedicated space for Black and brown women even when I was in Toronto.
And that’s why I’m making such a big deal over Dyke Marches. Because we’re not just celebrating being women who love women. We’re making ourselves heard in heterosexual society and in gay communities, where we’ve had to carve out our own spaces so that we don’t disappear. For someone like me, who gets most of their gay interactions in an online bubble because there isn’t a cohesive LGBT community in the immediate area, these events make the sapphic community feel less spaced out—even if it’s only for the duration of the march.