I did my part for the gay agenda (a term used to refer to efforts to change government policies and laws on LGBTQIA+ rights-related issues), by attending the Third Annual Lambda LitFest in Downtown L.A. on Monday, Sept. 23. The LitFest brings together LGBTQIA+ writers, readers, and queer community leaders in a week-long series of free workshops, storytellings, poetry readings, and conversations.
This year’s theme is “All the Feelings,” which reflects the profound and deeply-felt spectrum of emotions of marginalized groups in a society that values logic and rationality. This theme promotes the sanctity of emotion and celebrates queer tears, joy, rage, and passion in a space where we are encouraged to embrace the emotions that society expects us to suppress.
To maximize my advancement and contribution to the agenda, I came to the event in my gay uniform: black t-shirt, cuffed sleeves and rolled jeans combo, accompanied with a pair of semi-dirty black high-tops, and my Women’s-Studies-major girlfriend in hand. The event we chose to attend was affectionately titled “How Do You Dyke?” and consisted of a series of readings and performances curated to explore how people of various genders have come to their dyke identity, what it means to them, and most importantly, how we define what it “means to dyke.” In a society where slurs are used to perpetuate marginalization and oppression, reclaiming slurs is a vital part of resistance. Reclaiming words can play an important role in cultivating identity and facilitating conversations about identity, rights, and power.
When asked about the importance of events like this one, a fellow festival attendee, Michael
a, said, “Queer women are so often made to feel invisible in our society. It can seem like we have no choice but to define our community by its ‘otherness’ — its exoticization, fetishization, invalidation by heteronormative culture. These spaces — where womanness and queerness are dominant — are so vital to our social health because they allow us to move past what it means to be defined by marginalization, and explore what it might mean to be defined by ourselves, for ourselves — with celebration and creativity, not fear.”
The event was held at the Women’s Center for Creative Work in Downtown L.A. with a written start time of 8 p.m., but didn’t actually start until closer to 9 p.m. The event space was about the size of your Residential Hall sub lounge and was obviously above its capacity, lined wall-to-wall with plastic chairs for those lucky 50 or so who came early enough to claim one; and those 30 – 40 who were not lucky, clung to the walls, peppered the floor, and huddled under the doorframe.
Going into the event, I had no idea what to expect besides a room full of lesbians, but in-between the waves of rolled t-shirt sleeves, flannels, buzzcuts, and a parking lot dotted with hybrids, there were posters of lesbian historical icons draping the asbestos off-white walls, feminist texts spilling off their places on the bookshelves beckoning for appreciation, and a constant undercurrent of feminine energy.
Kamala Puligandla, queer author and event host, introduced the event by giving the history of the word of the evening: dyke. The dictonary.com of the word is “a contemptuous term used to refer to a lesbian.” From the mid-nineteenth century to the early twentieth century, the slur came in the form of “dike,” which was used to refer to a well dressed cisgender male. The slur then morphed into “bulldyke,” which referred to a woman with a masculine appearance which led the way to the shortened version, “dyke.”
After a brief history of the dynamic connotations of the word, poets, storytellers, and artists alike each offered interpretations of how they understood their own Dyke-ness in intimate, defiant, and profoundly vulnerable performances. The audience, packed together like a tin of gay sardines, clutched to the prose, lyrics, and words that hung heavy in the space accompanied by a collective curiosity, a sense of solidarity, and, dare I say, sisterhood.