Photos by James Emmerman
Finding a group of about 10,000 women is more difficult than it seems. When I first arrived at Bryant Park for the Dyke March, I thought I had missed it altogether. But after an internal game of Follow That Lesbian to the Parade, I discovered a sea of proud dykes creating rolling waves of estrogen and rainbows behind the New York Public Library. The march was supposed to start at five, but by the time I arrived it was 5:07 and they had already walked an entire block. Say what you want about lesbians, but they really know how to get their shit together.
The Dyke March website promised me giant dyke puppets and a swimming pool full of naked ladies carried by other naked ladies, but I only saw slow-walking women in tank tops and shorts, holding hands.
I’ll be honest—at first, I was a little disappointed. Coming from the Drag March the night before, I wanted an afternoon filled with glitter and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow" sing-alongs. In retrospect, I’m glad that wasn’t the case. Unlike at other Pride events, which are basically glorified beauty pageants, women celebrated freedom of choice, whatever that choice may be.
Some giant vagina puppets would have been cool too, though.
If you know the history of the Dyke March, you’re probably not surprised by the lack of vagina puppets. At the Lesbian Avengers’ first march in 1993, OG lesbians marched in Washington, DC, because they'd had enough of the sexism, discrimination, and objectification that are essential to our capital's personal brand. Over the past 22 years, the movement has spread. Chicago hosted its first march in 1998, Mexico City had its first march in 2003, and Berlin decided to join in on the fun in 2013.
The protest is unregulated, and the organizers do not get a permit for the thousands of dykes to march to Washington Square Park. Based on the number of people and the minimal police presence, I was shocked that nothing happened. I did see two women yelling at each other as they tried to determine which one of them did, in fact, own the sidewalk, but they quickly agreed on joint custody and went on with their day.
It’s hard to tell what the original protest must have looked like other than a few grainy photos I saw on Google Images, but I found a woman, Karen, who sat on this amazing rainbow bike and wore a shirt from the original march, with her woman, Donna, by her side.
It looked like the ultimate lesbian fantasy, or at least my ultimate lesbian fantasy, and I wanted to find out about the changes that they’d seen through the years.
“It’s important for women to have their event like this,” Karen said. “They didn’t want us to be a part of Pride, so this is about women coming to together—it’s completely different now, though. It’s a lot easier to be out now at work and other places, but there need to be more changes made and for everyone to be accepted, and women still need to keep fighting for their rights.”
“I think all we can really hope for is economic equality and not to be afraid,” Donna added.
Amen. This march wasn’t just about lesbianism, but also about women’s rights in general. Different groups handed out stickers like “Abortion on Demand and Without Apology!” One woman walked around selling rainbow rape whistles. Every woman I talked to had the same agenda: lesbian visibility, equal opportunity, equal pay, and birth control.
These statements separated the Dyke March from the Pride Parade. Sure, it’s fun to see naked men covered in glitter dance with girls wearing weed-leaf pasties on a float sponsored by a major corporation, but the Dyke March didn’t focus on celebration, because women don’t always have something to be happy about. (Shout out to Hobby Lobby!) The sparkly boas and beads (anal or otherwise) seemed irrelevant compared to the necessity of raising awareness and initiating change.
The need for change was hard to forget since Christians protested the march along the way.
They all looked sad and sweaty as they stood along the streets waving their Bibles and screaming for the dykes' salvation. I asked one guy if he thought his methods of shouting nonsense at strangers was an effective way to spread the good word of the Lord. “You’re all going to burn in hell,” he told me. “Every single one of you.” I don’t know whom he was referring to, but I could assume that he meant basically everyone who’s ever come without crying.
A cross-dressing choir mocked Christian homophobes, singing, “Maria and Victoria / They’ll lick clit on the floor with ya / God is a Dyke” over and over again until it was stuck in my head for good.
It was getting hot, so I stopped marching to breathe and ran into an old woman who was sporting rainbow hair and a G pen. She was standing with her French friend as they both watched the parade. She told me that she’s been to all 22 marches and participated in the Stonewall Riots back when lesbianism was considered as alien as bestiality. Despite being there year after year, she’s still optimistically pushing for change.
“It’s much more accepting now… This is a protest, this is a march for lesbian visibility, and all I can hope is for this to become commonplace,” she said, taking another drag.
After two hours of marching and discussing women’s issues, I was physically and emotionally exhausted, so I decided to sit by the fountain in Washington Square Park. As I dipped my feet in the water, I watched as the real fun began. Girls exercised their legal right to show their boobs in public and got wet together in the fountain.
Others made out passionately with their loved ones.
Some girls wanted to show off their massive tits, which was fine by everyone.
I started off feeling anxious about being surrounded by so many women because a lot of girls weren’t very nice to me in school—which is a light way of putting it—and sometimes it’s hard to leave those stereotypes behind. But seeing so many women coming together in unparalleled unity to raise awareness both for gay rights and for women’s rights gave me a sense of sorority I didn’t think I had in me. All I wanted to do was take off all of my clothes and jump in—if only I didn’t have my period that day. Welcome to womanhood. Nothing is ever easy, is it?