By Chris Pepin-Neff
The famed 1979 documentary, “Witches, Faggots, Dykes and Poofters” reminds us that the word “dyke” can be used as a slur against women.
However, its dominant positive perception in the nomenclature of the LGBTIQ+ community tells a different story because in Sydney, dyke has been reclaimed by women as they reclaim the air we breathe and the sounds we hear, with the roar and thunder from their motorcycles.
Dykes on Bikes is a revolution on two wheels that has participated in Mardi Gras since 1988 and led the Parade since 1991.
They Kick Proverbial Ass
Academic and researcher Anna de Jong noted in 2015, that “The Dykes on Bikes is an international group for women who ride motorbikes. The group’s identity subverts normative understandings of a female subject heteronormatively aligned with domesticity and passivity.” Perhaps, it’s enough to say, they kick proverbial ass.
Patrolling Oxford Street
Indeed, Dykes on Bikes and the Vixens Motorcycle Club played a key role in taking back the streets for the LGBTQI community in the 1980s and 1990s.
Following reports of hate crimes on Oxford Street in Darlinghurst, the motorcycles would rolldown side streets and alleyways late at night to make sure that fellow witches, faggots, dykes, and poofters got home safe, got home in a cab, and were not subject to violence on their streets. Our streets.
In 2017, Sheila Malone wrote about the importance of noise from motorcycle clubs. She said, “Noise plays a specific role in the politics of protest. The use of motorcycles to display affiliations, to protest status quo, and to challenge dominant ideologies is powerful, purposeful, and politically messy.”
Specifically, she focuses on “how motorcycles disrupt the social, revealing the indelible charge of sensorial codes of meaning of producing noise—the productive process of drowning out voices, the turning up the volume of dissident perspectives.”
The Sounds That Make Mardi Gras, Mardi Gras
In this way, the Dykes on Bikes have done more than reclaim their name, reclaim the streets, and protect the LGBTIQ+ community. They have queered the sounds that we hear that make Mardi Gras, Mardi Gras, and they produce this sound whenever they travel.
At the 2022 Trans Day of Remembrance last year, the first attendees were the Dykes on Bikes and they were announced long before you could see them, and then parked central to the event. They were the last to leave. They continue to protect and renew us because the Dykes on Bikes are queering the space and providing safe haven for every queer and gender-diverse person within earshot.
Dr Chris Pepin-Neff (they/them) is a writer and lecturer