Is ‘dyke’ a dirty word? Facebook seems to think so and keeps banning lesbians from using it, including Dykes On Bikes Queensland & Listening 2 Lesbians. Listen to Listening 2 Lesbians’ own Liz Waterhouse discuss Dyke is a Dirty Word. (START AT 09:35)
***Facebook was supposed to show up for the conversation, but told Shannon Power “We’ll get back to you on that”***
Shannon Power, “The Informer”, Joy FM (SP)
Jules Raven, Dykes on Bikes Queensland (JR)
Liz Waterhouse, Listening2Lesbian.com (LW)
<sounds of cheering and motorbikes>
SP: That’s the sound that almost anyone who has been to an LGBTI pride march has heard. It’s the distinct tones of the Dykes on Bikes opening this year’s Sydney gay and lesbian Mardi Gras. Every year the Dykes on Bikes have the honour of opening Pride parades to crowds of excited onlookers. Dykes on bikes are an international lesbian motorcycle club with chapters worldwide but a number of those chapters are at war with social networking site Facebook about whether or not dyke is a dirty word.
Jules Raven heads up Dykes on Bikes Queensland.
Jules thanks so much for joining us. Now I’ve noticed that the Dykes on Bikes Queensland chapter has some interesting spelling on its Facebook page. There’s a space between the D Y and the K E S of Dykes. What’s going on there?
JR: about five years ago we originally set the page up with the official Dykes on Bikes Queensland all spelled correctly and looking lovely and probably about four years ago I woke up to an email from Facebook and they had actually removed our name completely. So we originally changed it to, we were only able to get Dyes on Bikes so we had D Y E S and then probably about six months ago after further investigation we were able to put the D K and then the space and then Y E S so it’s been a bit of a battle between us and Facebook. They haven’t given us a reason as to why other than the fact that they felt that it was offensive.
SP: so when you spell dykes the correct way what happens?
JR: it just comes up saying this is offensive and unacceptable for Facebook.
SP: and so you’ve been trying for 4 years and you’ve never had a real reason from Facebook other than the word is offensive?
JR: we’ve never had any contact from Facebook.
JR: other than an automated email coming back to us from all of their contact points. I actually got to the point where I wrote them a letter and posted it to their headquarters in silicon valley and we still had no response.
SP: Yeah right, okay
JR: it’s been very frustrating.
SP: yeah so I mean for yourselves Dykes on Bikes we all know in this community and out side of the community. Is this a big deal? Why is it important to have your name spelt correctly on a Facebook page?
JR: it’s a huge deal given that Dykes on Bikes is actually a big international group. Now back in about the 80s, early 90s, the San Francisco club, because it was quite popular, had a bloke came around and started trying to sell T-shirts that had Dykes on Bikes written on it so the American chapters thought they’d better trademark that name. Now what happened from there is to trade mark it they put the trademark application form in and it was rejected because the name dykes was offensive. So they actually fought in the High Court in America and went all the way to the Supreme Court in the USA and won that case. So it’s a bit ironic that an American company of Facebook is the company that’s not allowing us to use that particular word and that name. That’s why we’re fighting for it. That’s why we want to get it right, to be on Facebook. It’s quite stunning to think that a group that has a trademark within their own country is not able to use the name. It’s been very disappointing.
JR: if we didn’t need to use Facebook we wouldn’t but obviously it’s such a big media hub for us it’s worth us trying to fight and trying to make it right not just for our group but for any other gay and lesbian groups that want to put their own stamp on it and trans groups. We need to be able to, within reason, I do understand that there has to be some barriers but within reason I think you know them not allowing us to use it because they find it offensive isn’t really an excuse any more.
SP: Liz Waterhouse runs the listening2lesbians blog with her partner lisa mallett. They’ve both noticed an increase in censorship of queer women using the word Dyke on Facebook. Liz has been banned, and is in fact currently banned, from using Facebook over her use of the word Dyke.
LW: Women being banned for saying I love dykes, for saying that they are going for a walk with friends who are Dykes, for talking about lesbians politically, socially, just you know really casually we just see post after post being removed, We see woman after woman being banned and it’s a very concerning pattern because for centuries lesbians have been silenced, and erased, and discriminated against and harassed and you know subject to corrective rape and death and we see that around the world still. At listening to lesbians we blog about women’s experiences of discrimination and harassment around the world. We use Facebook to reach out to women around the world, we’ve got a following in you know Africa talking about you know the experiences of African lesbians because of this platform and it’s very concerning that what we are seeing is something which is going to stop us being able to reach those women.
SP: liz and lisa have published numerous posts on the issue on their blog and have reached out to Facebook multiple times for guidance on why people that post the word dyke keep getting into trouble while other hate speech slips through the cracks. Liz explains to The informer why it is so important for persecuted communities to reclaim language that was historically used against them as a slur.
LW: it sounds like it’s just about a word and what can it possibly matter and just stop saying it but either we end up being self censoring, and I was self censoring when I got reported and removed the last time actually. I’d stopped using the word dyke which upset me but I was still reported and removed because it was in the link in my comments, I could see it. But more than just a sort of a social thing and isn’t it a first world problem, which is a question I’ve had, it’s actually something which is going to inhibit us reaching out and forming community around the world, and it’s going to stop us being able to collate information about our collective experiences. And if we can’t collect our experiences together and see a picture, we can’t agitate for change.
SP: the word was once used against them. Can you tell me why dyke is such an important word in terms of reclamation?
LW: so a lot of people have words to reclaim, the word dyke, like in other groups the slurs that are used against us. Some of them are able to be reclaimed, some I’m not so sure about. Dyke is quite a strong word. It has a strong, evocative feeling, and it’s been taken over by women for you know decades as a symbol of strength and pride and resistance. It really is to me a symbol of women taking up space, like Dykes on Bikes. Everybody loves Dykes on Bikes. It’s about noise, it’s about women unapologetically asserting their existence in the world. That’s not something we see lesbians being able to do very often so I think that dyke is quite significant because of its guttural nature, you know linguistically it’s quite strong, because of its social connotations. And it’s not even a word that some women we were thinking about too deeply when they were using it more recently, It’s just become part of how we talk about ourselves. So, from the personal to the political, it’s quite a strong and important word and to see it removed, to see our capacity to use it removed is very concerning.
SP: the informer reached out to Facebook who did get back to us and let us know that they’re doing a preliminary investigation into the particular cases brought up by the Dykes on bikes Queensland and Liz and Lisa from listening to lesbians blog. They’ve told us early on that dyke is considered a slur word and they do need to take into consideration their audience of 2 billion people but will continue looking into the matter and will get back to The Informer at a later date, so we look forward to having Facebook come back on joy to let us know exactly why they think dyke is a dirty word.