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London Rebel Dykes of the 1980s

2 December 2014 by Rose Bush

The LGBT History Festival spurred me into starting a project I've been interested in for years. Although I am neither a historian nor a film-maker, the callout for submissions made me decide to record some archive material and to make a short film.

I lived in London in the 1980s in a lesbian feminist community rarely mentioned in feminist history books. We were not second wave feminists, who were seemingly mainly interested in meetings and theories and political lesbianism, with its anti-sex rhetoric; neither were we the Riot Grrrl movement that was yet to be born. We were instead something new and wild and raucous, and focussed on direct action. Our links were as much with anarchism and punk as they were with feminist theorists.

Screen printed poster for Greenham peace camp
Screen printed poster for Greenham peace camp

But this history cannot be found in books or archives. We were too busy getting on with our lives to write books and collect materials. I have been trying to persuade my academic friends to work on this for ages: “somebody should write this book,” I would say. I decided if no one else is going to do it, it will have to be me!

So I set up a Facebook page and made a plan. I went to London over a weekend in November, and took over the BFI Library for two days. As people came in, I interviewed them and scanned the many documents they brought with them, such as photographs of girls in squats and on marches, copies of fanzines, and flyers for DIY events. On the Saturday evening I held a focus group of memories with seven women who came along.

Atlanta in a park round the corner from her squat, probably walking her dog, Pandora.
Atlanta in a park round the corner from her squat, probably walking her dog, Pandora.

What rich stories and memories I have collected! One of the interesting things that has emerged is that this group of women were all hugely involved with political action: such as squatting houses, and occupations such as Greenham Common. All of them either attended or helped create the first lesbian S/M club, Chain Reaction, with its emphasis on art and sex and community, where there were jokey cabarets with live fist fucking and sex on motorbikes. Sex and politics and leather jackets seem to be the themes from the interviews!

One of my contributors, Bea, came over from Berlin to London 1986 to find punk bands for a rock and punk gig she was putting on in Berlin, and instead fell in love with a bunch of Finnish dykes squatting in South London. With them, she helped to organise the first women-only SM dyke club in England. She still lives in London. Her thoughts about being a London rebellious dyke in those years:

We made our own spaces, for us, for young women, for girls. Punky girls. Hippy girls. Girls who didn't fit into school, study, job, that sort of lifestyle. We were outside that sort of lifestyle. For whatever reason we were exploring, we wanted our days to ourselves. To explore stuff. Who we were, what we like to do. We found our own space and fought politically or just at home in every day life to create these spaces.

Fisch and her collection
Fisch and her collection

As I want historians in the future to continue exploring this archive, I am building links with the Lesbian Archive (held at the Glasgow Women's Library) and the London Metropolitan University Archive, and my intention is to give all the submissions to them when I have finished making my film.

Now I have the hard work ahead. I have 6 hours of interviews to transcribe, and I'm teaching myself Audacity and Video Studio Pro X7 software so that I can edit it down. I've been studying documentary making, and oral history recording. My first task is to create a short presentation of some of the themes for a presentation at The Queer Forum on December 7th, and they onwards to create a 20 minute film of sound and images to be shown at the history festival in February 2015.

Thanks to Fisch, Bea and Atlanta for the images for this blog post, and thanks to Rosanne, Atlanta and Bea for the audio.

Screen printed poster for Greenham peace camp
Screen printed poster for Greenham peace camp

Rose Bush

Rose Bush is Manchester based promoter of queer events and she works as a nurse. Over the past 5 years in Manchester she has been involved with Ladyfests, Queerchester, Queer We Are and The Riot Collective. She’s going to be aged 50 very soon, and before living in Manchester she has moved around every few years, living in amongst other places, San Francisco, London, Berlin, Glasgow and Todmorden, always finding some feminist or queer project or other to inspire her.

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