Renaming and Redefining Dyke Ball
Crash Course in Dyke Ball History: In 1993, this event was originally called the Benefit Ball. It had two purposes: raising money for breast cancer and AIDS treatment/awareness and expanding the queer dances that Wellesley Lesbians and Friends (which was what Spectrum was called back in the day) used to hold in dorm living rooms. This was 1993. It slowly became an organized event not only for the Wellesley queer community, but queer communities at other New England universities. Students identifying as straight did attend, but to show support, not because they felt any particular ownership of the space/tradition. The event was casually referred to by attendees as gay prom or dyke ball. It is important to note that popular movements to reclaim the word dyke, which was and still is used as a pejorative against lesbians, was beginning to be more widely reclaimed around this time (the late 1980’s-1990’s). I believe that the “official” name change (which let’s just remember was also decided by a group of students just like us) happened in late 1990’s/early 2000’s. Dyke Ball would probably have never been called Dyke Ball in the 1970’s or even the early 1980’s. Dyke Ball was only called Dyke Ball because of the social, historical, and political context that revolved around the word “dyke” at that time.
This is all super interesting! As a Wellesley alum who went to the first Dyke Ball, I will note a correction: In 1993, the campus’s lesbian/bi organization was called WLBF, Wellesley Lesbians Bisexuals and Friends. I also remember the event being called the Dyke Ball from the first year, but it may have had an official name that did not use the word “dyke.” I will check with my friends, who organized the first one. But yes, “dyke” as a word was definitely being reclaimed in the 1980s-90s. We used it as a word of pride (see Dyke March, too), but language changes. If Wellesley’s queer community in 2012 uses other language now to denote pride in their identity, I don’t believe it’s necessarily harmful to change the name of the event. - Malinda Lo ‘96
EDITED TO ADD: An update from another alum via Twitter: