Reclamation: “Dyke” and the Lesbian Community

Grace (She/Her)
BCTK 2021 Summer Intern

At the age of 15, I owned up to my lesbianism. Shortly thereafter, I discovered the word dyke—but more importantly—I discovered the efforts to reclaim the word for the lesbian community. In this one word, there are multiple meanings. I was made aware of this fact during my time spent in high school while openly identifying as a lesbian. To some of my high school peers, “dyke” was merely an insult that followed descriptors like dumb, annoying, and ugly. It
was a word that was hurled at me because of my short hair, my affinity for men’s clothing, and the obvious pride I held in my identity. However, these things that made me so repulsive, and such a dyke, were valuable to me. My clothing, my style, and the way I carried myself were all parts of my lesbianism. I loved the idea of taking this word back for myself and I carefully wrote it on a poster that I brought to the 2017 Women’s March. In the capital, my sign was a shield against the rain, the cold, and the angry chants of counter-protestors. I raised it above my head, proclaiming myself to be a proud, strong, and powerful dyke.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, since the 70s, dyke has taken on a positive meaning when used as a reclaimed term. Its implications of women who appear traditionally
masculine or gender non-conforming have been embraced within the lesbian community. For many lesbians, the word is something like a celebration, and it has come to represent the power and pride that reside in a lesbian identity. As a whole, the term is one that is supported for its power to unite and provide community for lesbians, who are often ostracized by mainstream society as we reject societal expectations placed upon women.

Dyke, when used as a slur, is directed towards lesbians because lesbianism is a direct disruption of traditional gender roles. Lesbianism subverts many expectations of women and the word, when used in a derogatory fashion, is an angry reaction to this subversion. To many of us in the community, ignoring these gender roles is not a bad thing, in fact, it is extremely positive.

All of the implications of the word as a reclaimed term reflect the idea of breaking free from expectations and claiming an identity which means strength, power, and community.