Transgressive Solidarity: How The Dyke March Gave Me Hope
This weekend I did my urban millennial duty and attended a multitude of Seattle Pride centered events. Admittedly, this was out of a sense of socializing and day drinking than as a political act beyond the general performative liberalism we western urbanites have been bathed in for years. To me, Seattle Pride just felt like a block party was happening in my old neighborhood and the bars were open earlier, but everyone was in rainbow.
There was something, however, I found nagging throughout the whole afternoon of Moscow Mules and happy hour draft beers. It’s been almost exactly 2 years since same-sex marriage was made legal in all 50 states by the Supreme court case Obergefell v Hodges. Mainstream culture, especially among the under 40 set, has been overwhelmingly positive towards LGBTQ + people, at least at a surface level. Even though the understanding of a broader queer identity is far from being a universal value, being gay is mainstream.
Even Corporate America, the chained behemoth that drags the whole of mainstream culture, has hitched its wagon to the rainbow brigade. A broader Corporate allegiance with large LGBT organizations like Human Rights Campaign has allowed for great and, lets be honest, really easy PR. Walking around pride events you can’t help but be acutely aware of the corporate PR we are swimming in. Even in the off the beaten path, old school gay bar we visited, there were multiple reps from Uber near the front door, as though they are trying to erase the stench of Travis Kalanik’s disasterous year through a general proximity to off the clock drag queens.
This “rainbow-washing” of corporate image is unsurprising, especially in our social media age where identitarian politics can’t help but reign supreme, and allyship has become its own kind of social capital. I referenced back to the ideas of late Marxist critic and sage theorist, Mark Fisher. In his prophetic polemic “Exiting the Vampire Castle”, examines a concept of identitarian political capital and the ways in which, capital can subsume itself into supposedly radical politics. After having our collective hearts broken and futures shattered by the socially liberal free market capitalism that is center-left politics globally, I have been especially sensitive to the ever present expansion of market supremacist values in our everyday lives. Even through my good conversation and light buzz, I was weary from the absorption of generalized queer culture into the mainstream body politic.
The main reason for my group to go to the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle this weekend was to attend the Seattle Dyke March, a longstanding event that, according to their own words, operates in a “colaborative and celebratory” framework for “Feminist, Queers, and Community Empowerment”. When we first arrived near Seattle Central College to prepare to join the march, there was a rally with speakers, artists, and other performers. There, in the front park of our neighborhood community college, were gaggles of people in front of a podium as an older woman spoke about her experience within the LGBT community and the greater society as a whole.
“I’m glad I’m a dyke,” she said. “I’ve been a dyke for sixty years. Some of you may know what it’s like to be kicked out from your home when you are 17 for being a dyke, like I was.”
I recently read the new, and excellent, Angela Nagle book Kill All Normies, which chronicles and analyzes the history of the new culture war as typified by things like 4chan, the Alt-Right, and the Tumblr-Left. In it, Nagle examines the ways in which stylistic tactics such as transgression can be comodified by either the right or the left, and how the online right over the past decade have become the rebels and punks while the left let themselves become the pearl-clutching moral establishment. Through stylistic cultural politics, many left radicals and liberals alike were fooled by the disobedience of cultural and politic norms expressed on the online right into thinking these new culture warriors were actually the vanguard of a new anarchist left, as opposed to the foot soldiers in Richard Spencer’s new ethno-nationalist right.
“One good thing about being a dyke is you don’t need birth control, which is good because of the new healthcare bill,” said the middle aged speaker. Sure, maybe that isn’t the best joke she could have written, but listening to the speaker, as well as being part of the eventual march, my friend made the realization that the Dyke March serves as a counter-weight to the corporate-sponsored, “rainbow-washed” pride that surrounded the weekend. There weren’t the T-Mobile backdrops, or the Delta sponsored floats. The Dykes on Bikes who started and led the march were just that, queer people on motorcycles, as opposed to being given a special Google maps line like the giant parade that took place the next day.
By being separate from the corporate sponsored pride events, the Dyke March was free to actually be transgressive and need not internalize the values of corporate capital. It shook me out of my neoliberal doldrums, showing me that there is cultural boundary breaking still to be squeezed from the stone of queer solidarity, against the commodification of gay life into another lifestyle brand.