‘We weren’t lesbians. We were dykes.’ The basic message of this ramshackle and consistently entertaining doc is delivered pretty much straight away. The rebel dykes of the title refused to wait politely in the wings in the late ’70s for public and government attitudes towards their sexuality to change. They weren’t quiet or timid or self-effacing. They were poor, working-class, marginalised and angry – trying to carve out a safe space in British society while encountering hostility not only from the media but from other feminists.
What emerges is a story of resilience and invention, from brilliantly original music and magazines to the squat culture of a London that is portrayed as ‘dirtier and meaner’ than today, with the threat of homophobic violence never far away.
There’s a huge amount of resonance for current issues here too, in particular debates around trans identity and inclusion. The infighting within the lesbian community is starkly and horribly put into perspective with the introduction of the Thatcher government’s infamous Section 28, which forbade the ‘promotion of homosexuality’.
Teachers weren’t allowed to discuss gayness with their pupils. ‘We knew people killed themselves,’ remembers one interviewee grimly. On a lighter note, why not contribute to the hotly debated topic of what angle is acceptable for a strap-on so that it doesn’t resemble an erection too much? From abseiling into the House of Lords on clothes lines to naked wrestling in mud and baby oil at in-your-face S&M club Chain Reaction, the rebel dykes didn’t want to ‘wear dungarees and go to Greenham [Common] in Birkenstocks’ as Debbie from Echobelly puts it. This is a great piece of history, about people who took huge risks every day and every night just to be allowed to be themselves.
In UK cinemas and streaming on BFI Player and Bohemia Euphoria Nov 26.