08 August 2009

Kyriarchy Illustrated: A Dyke-Bashing in Liverpool

"Kyriarchy Illustrated" is an occasional series of posts where I talk about the effects of living in a kyriarchy via my personal experiences.  Find all of the posts so far by clicking on the "kyriarchy illustrated" link at the end of the post.
As a feminist I subscribe to the idea that the oppression of women is not best described by the term patriarchy, or "rule of the fathers", but by kyriarchy. As Arwyn defines it:
“[K]yriarchy” emphasizes that it is the very concept of “master” that rules us; it is the act of creating hierarchies on which we are all placed “higher” or “lower” that oppresses and damages us.
How these hierarchies of oppression intersect is different for everyone as a personal experience illustrates.

When I was in the UK last month, my fiancée (OHAI Ruth) and I went to Liverpool a couple times. The second time we went, we went sightseeing down at the docks and then headed over to visit a gay pub (instead of one of the many gay bars on the same street). As we headed to the pub, from behind us some bloke shouted, "Fucking dykes!". This was the first time I've been bashed for being a dyke and my reactions surprised me.

One of my reactions was pleasure at being correctly gendered as a woman. As a trans woman, I'm used to getting misgendered of course. And, I'm also happy when I get gendered correctly. Even so, I was shocked that even as I was irate at being bashed just for walking down the street being affectionate with the woman I love I was thankful for being affirmed as a woman. Such is the life of being trans in a cis world where one takes validation where one can get it. (A friend of mine pointed out that this happens reaction is also shown in the movie "Better Than Chocolate" where a trans woman replies "Oh thank you!" when hit with the same shout from skinheads)

A simulataneous reaction with the above was that I wanted to shout back, "Actually, only I'm a dyke. She's bi.". Because, while we may be involved in a lesbian relationship, Ruth is definitely bisexual. But, as usual, sexuality is attributed based upon one's current partner and the idea that one can be attracted to more than one gender is not even considered.

Additionally, Ruth told me when I asked her about this incident that she was just happy she wasn't being fat-bashed as she had been earlier in the evening (Yes, the assholes were out in force in Liverpool that evening). It was better for her to be attacked for her sexuality than attacked for her appearance.

So there you have it. Two people are bashed and their reactions to it differ based upon the differing oppressions they experience under kyriarchy. This is why I think any feminism that is to serve all women has to deal with the situations each woman finds herself in.


  1. Hecks to the Yes.

    When I was dyke-bashed in highschool, for dancing with my female friends at a (ok, every) school dance, it simultaneously sucked ('cause, y'know, it's not fun being verbally assaulted), and felt strangely good, because that aspect of my sexuality was being recognized. As a (often-invisible) bisexual, it was affirming that my queerness was recognized, without even being in an "official" relationship with another woman.

    I still wouldn't wish dyke-bashing on anyone, but having had that experience, your dual reaction made immediate sense to me when I heard it. We don't all have the same reactions to the same situation -- it depends so much on the intersections of our privileges and oppressions -- which is why feminism cannot be allowed to continue to be monolithically represented.

  2. *Applause*

    Yeah, it felt less upsetting to be bashed for being queer, even though they didn't get my queerness exactly right than being fat bashed, because at least the former was in some way affirming my queerness.

    However, having said that, it also felt more dangerous, in that I've not known (although I'm sure it's happened) anyone being physically attacked for being fat, but there have been plenty of people physically attacked for being queer.

  3. The whole 'being shouted at in the street' think is a weird and aggressive thing. I find it scary more than anything else - even if what is shouted is complementary! It's as if my personal space is invaded. I have a friend who is a red head and is used to having 'oy ginger' yelled at her by total strangers..

    the only time I've been shouted at in the street was by a group of boys who shouted 'oy pikies' when I was out walking with my daughter - my reaction (silent!) was "but I look good today!" where as yesterday I had been wearing hippy gear - so I guess my prejudice was showing...


  4. Good post. (btw I got here from one of your comments on the f word).