'We're queer, we're here, get used to it!' 'Dyke Power!' We've heard these rally cries plenty of times in the past. But did you ever notice that the majority of people yelling those phrases were not Black? I wasn't surprised, because Black Americans, in general, will not embrace definitive names or labels that have negative connotations.
Well, I don't embrace the words dyke or queer, 'The term queer sounds like a disease.' When I first came 'out,' I was even hesitant to define myself as lesbian because of the negative connotations attached to the word. In time, however, I did embrace the word and it became apart of my identity. Similarly, I've run into Black sistahs who are new to the life and are very uncomfortable using the label lesbian as well, and dyke is out of the question. Instead, they define themselves as: wimyn-loving-wimyn, unique, and even bisexual since many were in relationships with men before coming out.
Words are arbitrary symbols that don't have meaning in themselves; we give them meaning by agreeing to key definitions. Additionally, culture plays an important role in how members of each ethnic group interpret certain words. Black American culture, for instance, is very complex because of our historical struggle as a result of slavery. Because of our struggles, which include being called many derogatory names, we're sensitive to many words that other cultures will use without blinking. Of course the most controversial word is the one that is highly symbolic of Black oppression: nigga.
Today, however, the Black hip-hop culture has embraced this term and redefined it as something positive, which angers many older Blacks. And we certainly see this transformation of word usage with other terms like: dyke, gay, fag, etc. It amuses me when my college students refer to someone as being 'gay' because I've come to understand the new definition of that term when used by today's youth. We used to say, 'square' in the 1970s, but today a person who is non-cool is called 'gay.'
Age factors in to just how sensitive Blacks are to certain words. Older Blacks, for example, are more sensitive to the word nigga because they lived through the civil-rights era. I can still remember my fear of being beaten up on the day of King's assassination because I was a nigga, as my white, racist classmates reminded me. They told me that all Black niggas were going to be assassinated before the day ended. I don't play that word today, it ain't nothing nice—and so the term dyke.
It's been quite empowering to define myself openly as a lesbian. Today, I'm the sum of many labels and names that I consciously embrace and own. So, you can call me butch, stud, buddy, Vic, Vicky, hey you, big mama, Papi, dude, Victor, lesbo, Vickster, Big Daddy Do Whap, Harpo, Sweetie, dread head, Victoria, four-eyes, or bad-azz ... just don't call this Black sistah a DYKE!