Okay, maybe being a punk lesbian isn’t an identity which is achievable or desirable to everyone. However, I do offer that lesbian and queer punk people are a subsection of society that have produced the objectively coolest: icons, styles, music, and culture in history. We can all agree that there is an inexpressibly enthralling magic about women and gender non-conforming punks, unapologetically rejecting the patriarchy and conventionality: simply through their existence. For this reason, I present to you a whistle stop tour of a few specially selected punk queer cultural phenomenons: starting somewhere we are all familiar with…
Janis from Mean Girls
Queer punks are a perfect icon of subversion in mainstream media, and Janis is no exception to this trope. Within the film, Janis’ queerness is unofficial, but the evidence to suggest the theory is compelling. She is branded a “dyke” in the infamous burn book; is the only person who is allowed to called her gay best friend, Damien, “too gay to function”; and humours the campest homophobe, Regina George, in her end of year speech, by satirically confessing her “big, fat lesbian crush” on her. She even provides a dash of gender foolery, rejecting the prophecy that she was ever a “baby girl” and always been a “space alien with 4 butts” (Mean Girls Wiki). Janis’ queerness, dark, punk style and freakish, greasy hair express her incongruence to her peers, making her the perfect target for the social exclusion she is subject to, largely because of her accused lesbianism.
Her look and bolshy actions, like aggressively throwing Cady’s art out the window after Cady lesbophobically accused Janis of being in love with her, and her deep seated rejection of everything the toxic hetero conformist high school atmosphere feeds on, make her an irresistible queer punk icon in mainstream media. Despite the fact she does kiss a man in the closing scenes of the movie, I choose to interpret this as an articulation of compulsive heterosexuality in Hollywood movies of the naughties, and stand by the fact that Janis is an iconic queer punk.
Fittingly, I’m sure Janis would be a huge fan of the lovely expression of queer-punk feminism that is ‘riot ghoul’. Riot ghoul is a music genre which modernises the original genre and movement ‘riot grrrl’, of the 1990s. Riot grrrl was known best for juxtaposing sweet girliness with bludgened guitar, and lyrics which confronted gruesomely political issues for the time. Such as: reproductive rights, sexual assault, and sexuality. Being a punk movement, it naturally aligned itself with marginalised groups, whose existence opposed patriarchal conventions, including the LGBT+ community.
Despite riot grrrl being a punk movement, and punk being an inherently non-discriminatory subculture, riot grrrl faced criticism for being a movement exclusively for white, cisgender, and middle class feminists. ‘Sista grrrl’ was founded by punk people of colour as a response to this, as a more inclusive branch of punk feminism.
Most recently, riot ghoul has come about as an intersectional articulation of riot grrrl. Riot ghoul clearly makes a statement about inclusivity, a step in the perfect direction for punk feminism. It distinguishes the subculture from riot grrrl, improving the title to denounce any exclusivity that the term ‘grrrl’ may carry. But, also recognising the problems the scene had in the past: actively acknowledging the issues, whilst maintaining the punk alternative status with connotations of the previous revolutionary movement.
To give you a flavour, I’d recommend checking out The Muslims, an epic riot ghoul trio.
Finally, similar in sentiment, ‘Rebel Dykes’ is the title of a documentary released in 2021, which divulges the untold stories of anarchist, post-punk lesbians who squatted in London during the 1980s and 90s. Using the term ‘rebel’ to describe this group feels like an understatement! These women and people were glorious creatures of the night; pro-trans, pro-sex, vigilantes with recklessly inclusive politics, which wouldn’t fail to blow the minds of many today, even thirty-odd years post the intolerant Thatcher government, which the rebel dykes actively opposed. This documentary is an intriguingly unique piece of art to behold, one of the only outlets with such raw footage of an often untold queer history.
Due to the violence punk lesbians faced in draconian 80s England, the Rebel Dykes lived nocturnally to avoid being over exposed to danger by daylight (AnOther Mag, 2021) . Siobhan Fahey, Rebel Dyke film maker, who lived the Rebel Dyke life, reveals that the Rebel Dykes would congregate every Tuesday at a club night in Vauxhall (London), called ‘chain reaction’ (Call Me Mother Podcast, 2021). A plethora of fantastically peculiar entertainment ensued. Including, baby oil wrestling, strip shows, mud fights, drag shows, cabaret nights and notably, one occasion, one lesbian being covered in bottles and bottles of ketchup to massage into her whole body seductively.
Overarchingly, Rebel Dykes encapsulate the reason we should all be so passionate about punk lesbians. They galvanise a community built on the ostracisation they face from society, promoting an unapologetic attitude for queer women, and a radical rejection to a status quo which historically, has not worked in favour of any queer or gender minority individuals.
I have so much more to whittle on about concerning punk lesbians, but for now, I shall leave it at that, and I look forward to you coming out as a punk lesbian.
Mean Girls Wiki – Janis Ian | Mean Girls Wiki | Fandom
Rebel Dyke Documentary (2021) – https://youtu.be/yg1gfrMmfpk (unfortunately is no longer free to watch)
AnOther Mag (2021) – Rebel Dykes: The Secret History of a Radical Lesbian Community | AnOther (anothermag.com)
Call me mother podcast (2021) – https://open.spotify.com/episode/6qLNP1H4sNPMPwVhRzchq9?si=1Yh-ZDVHQvee5uxcsAGzSQ