Spectrum plans to rename Dyke Ball
Most popular alternative is “Queer Affair”
Published: Wednesday, October 24, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, October 24, 2012 21:10
Members of Spectrum, a student organization focused on promoting LGBTQ awareness and supporting LGBTQ students on campus, plan to change the name of Dyke Ball starting this year.
According to Rose Layton ’15, Spectrum’s social chair, the most popular name for the annual party is currently “Queer Affair.” The name was suggested during a Spectrum e-board meeting along with “Queer Ball” and “Queer Prom.”
Although Spectrum has been accepting feedback from the broader community via Facebook, e-mail and regularly scheduled talk-back sessions, the number of suggestions for a name change from the outside community has been relatively low.
Advocates of the name change hope that the new name will be more inclusive for members of the LGBTQ community who do not identify as “dykes,” such as those who identify as bisexual or transgender. The name change is just one component of a larger effort by Spectrum to reclaim Dyke Ball as a safe space for the LGBTQ community.
“As the queer community at Wellesley sort of came into being ‘the queer community’ rather than ‘the lesbian community’ at Wellesley, [the name of Dyke Ball] definitely became a lot more of an issue,” Layton said.
According to Layton, Spectrum has been considering a name change for two to three years. Student Multicultural Affairs Coordinator Meredyth Grange ’14 commented on the name change in a Diversity Committee blog post entitled, “Renaming and Redefining Dyke Ball.”
“From what I’ve gathered, people seem to be split into relatively two camps,” Grange wrote. “There are some people [who] support the name change and the re-imagining of the space, and there are some people who have gotten worried by the idea of changing a ‘tradition.’”
Many students are also reluctant to give up the name because if its ability to shock. One anonymous student expressed her preference for the radical name.
“I think it’s better to keep the ‘shock’ aspect,” she said. “Wellesley College isn’t going to change the fact that it’s a women’s college”
Blake Desormeaux, co-facilitator of the LGBTQ support group known as Wellesley Siblings, who identifies as gender-variant, supports the name change and recalled his first experience attending Dyke Ball.
“Just the name of the party made me very uncomfortable because it’s not something that I identify with,” he said.
Grange challenged those who view Dyke Ball as a tradition to compare the political context of today with that of the 1990s, when Dyke Ball was created. She encouraged students to reconsider whether or not the word ‘dyke’ is suitable for the modern-day Wellesley community.
“Let’s not forget that it is people and communities that create traditions in the first place,” she said. “These traditions are never created in isolation, they are always created in a particular historical, social and political context.”
In 1993, when Dyke Ball was founded, it was originally entitled the Benefit Ball. Its purpose was to raise money to fight breast cancer and increase AIDS treatment and awareness, a tradition which Spectrum continues today. The Benefit Ball was also meant to increase the number of LGBTQ dances hosted by Wellesley Lesbians and Friends, the former name of Spectrum. As the dance became an organized event, attendees began casually referring to it as “gay prom” or “dyke ball.” Years later, Spectrum voted to officially change the name of the dance from “Benefit Ball” to “Dyke Ball.”
While the event’s name reflected the popularity of the word “dyke” during the 1990s, the proposed renaming to “Queer Affair” tends to mirror current preferences. The term “queer,” which Spectrum has proposed to replace the word ‘dyke,’ was adopted by queer theorists like Judith Butler in the 1990s, and has since gained popularity over the internet and among groups like Queer Nation. Since the 2000s, the word has been commonly used as an umbrella term to challenge heterosexual norms.
“While ‘dyke’ is an identity term that has been re-appropriated by the lesbian and bisexual community, ‘queer’ has been re-appropriated to be used as, among many things, an umbrella term for both sexual and gender minorities that identify as non-binary and non-heterosexual,” Grange wrote.
Assistant Professor of Women and Gender Studies Sima Shakhsari agreed that the term “queer” is more appropriate for a broader spectrum of students.
“There are a lot of students who may not consider themselves to be ‘dykes.’ We have a lot of trans- students here. We have students who are bi-,” she said. “‘Queer’ is a politics. It’s not contingent on who you sleep with.”
Shakhsari added, however, that the appropriation of the word ‘queer’ as an identity term has historically carried a connotation of whiteness.
“When you think about racial politics... the history of the appropriation of the term ‘queer’ by groups that are mainly white like Queer Nation,” she said. “So you may see people of color who may have problems with the term queer, because they think of it as dominantly white.”
Shakhsari added that students may also be reluctant to give up the word “dyke” because of its distinct use for women.
“It becomes more inclusive because you include people who do not identify as ‘dykes,’ but at the same time...there’s an erasure of women in this name change,” she said. “I see why some people may be uncomfortable with changing the name from ‘dyke’ to ‘queer.’”
She added, however, that because Wellesley’s culture is dominated by women, the change would not negatively affect women’s empowerment. Shakhsari supports the name change because of the inclusive nature of the term ‘queer.’
Layton agreed that the term “queer” is particularly suitable for students on campus who do not identify as women.