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When rebel dykes ruled the London streets

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Rebel dykes

When rebel dykes ruled the London streets

When it was illegal to be gay in London, rebel dykes made a home for themselves in women-only squats throughout the city in the 1980s.

These rebel dykes– lesbian separatist punk anarchists situated mostly around Brixton– created a lesbian subculture that was prevalent during that period.

This subculture sadly didn’t last, but filmmaker and artist Siobhan Fahey is trying to ensure this part of history isn’t erased through a documentary appropriately called Rebel Dykes.

Rebel dykes against the world

In the 1980s, squatting was more of a necessity rather than an option, given that three million British were out of work and more than 30,000 people were living in squats in London at the beginning of the decade.

However, people were still heading to the capital and these included a lot of young gay women, many of them teenagers, who began to set up squat communities in a lot of the empty buildings.

Many of these were from a group of radical young lesbians from the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp, which was a female-only protest against US nuclear weapons in an RAF base in Berkshire.

“Everything seemed cold and harsh, and it felt like there was homelessness everywhere. We squatted around Brixton and moved all the time when we were kicked out,” Siobhan related to Vice.

Around this time, then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher laid down Section 28, which outlawed the promotion of homosexuality as a “pretend family relationship.”

It was at that time that the rebel dykes were born– in their biker jackets and chains, their hair shaved and rainbow-colored– as an antithesis of 1980s’ conservatism, especially with the counterpart “political lesbians.”

“I remember butch women suffering a lot of violence, getting beaten up regularly. There were no role models at all. But there was a great source of excitement and fun from being the outsiders. We all stuck together, like the bad girls,” Siobhan said.

“We dressed in leather, had flat top haircuts, wore big boots– a very strong look so that you’d know we were a gang. We were outcasts from society, and outcasts within the wider lesbian community too,” she added.

Rebel dykes against lesbians

While the rebel dykes felt that the whole world was against them, not even their fellow lesbians were happy about them, either, thanks to their liberal attitude towards sex.

“There was a big split at the time between us and women who called themselves “political lesbians.” They were so opposed to men that they thought the best thing to do was to become a lesbian. They weren’t even necessarily attracted to women,” she explained.

“It was very hard work, and very depressing, to be a lesbian at that time. We felt people were always telling us off for being lesbians or feminists in the wrong way,” she added.

The rebel dykes also were into protest, from anti-apartheid to Support the Miners demonstrations, as well as early Pride marches.

In the first march, they were pushed to the back of the line– but they ended up helping to screen the marchers against fascists following them.

However, when the rebel dykes set up the first lesbian fetish club in London called Chain Reactions. Siobhan said: “We had pickets outside from other lesbians who thought that lesbians shouldn’t be doing this thing as it ‘wasn’t quite right’.”

Rebel dykes against history

As time passed, so did the rebel dykes fall out from history.

“There have been no books or articles. It’s like it never happened,” Fahey said, which is why she decided to create her documentary to tell their story.

She further said that lesbian culture hasn’t changed as much since then as ” the two-sided thing in the community feels the same.”

If you want to help Siobhan by funding her documentary, you can donate here.

Meanwhile, check out the trailer of her documentary below:


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