Rebel Dykes follows a tight-knit group of friends who met at Greenham Common peace camp and went on to become artists, performers, musicians and activists in London. A heady mash-up of animation, archive footage and interviews tells the story of a radical scene: squatters, BDSM nightclubs, anti-Thatcher rallies, protests demanding action around AIDS and the fierce ties of chosen family.
It’s usually gay men who make films telling the LGBTQ stories of the 80s and 90s, but this is the story of a group of lesbians in London who partied hard and fought even harder for LGBT rights in the days of the AIDS crisis and Section 28.
Directed by Sian Williams and Harri Shanahan, the documentary uses archive film footage, photos and interviews with the women from the 80s to the present. They were the rebels, the women happy to protest and who referred to themselves as dykes rather than lesbians. And although at times they made it all look like one big party, they faced legal discrimination and harassment for simply being themselves.
Rebel Dykes is a trip down memory lane for some and an education for younger viewers and many of those who were not out in those days. There are wonderful reminders of parties at historical lesbian clubs Gateways, Kendricks and the Bell as well as Chain Reaction, the first BDSM, lesbian sex club. These were the days when Fifty Shades would have been shocking and never given a moment’s thought by mainstream film industry. It’s compulsive viewing with everything from politics to lesbian mud wrestling, baby oil and spaghetti hoop wrestling. I hope there was a shower room nearby!
Watch the trailer here.
There is, of course, a much more serious side; one of the women recounted the story of the famous lesbian abseil down Parliament to protest against the hated Section 28 but it wasn’t just LGBT rights in the sights of Rebel Dykes: they had a lot to say about the poll tax and it is their and others’ opposition to the despised precursor to Council Tax that is widely credited as being the beginning of the end of Mrs Thatcher’s 11 year reign.
I particularly enjoyed finding out what some of the women are doing now. Sadly, not all made it to old age and the documentary is quite rightly a memorial to those who are no longer with us. For the rest, many became the movers and shakers of our current LGBTQ scene. One is a well known drag king and some are LGBTQ business owners, lawyers and teachers.
We all have to grow up but it looks like these women had fun changing the world at the same time.
A release date is yet to be confirmed but, pandemic permitting, the movie should be out in the summer to coincide with the Rebel Dykes Exhibition, funded by Arts Council England and Heritage Lottery Fund. The Exhibition will run June to September in London Gallery, at Space Station Sixty-Five – click here for more information.
The Rebel Dykes archive collection is based at Bishopsgate Archive and is open for collections of heritage from all the Outsider Dykes (cis/trans/nb) living in London from 1981 – 1994: the dyke squatters, punks, reggae girls, sex workers, kink and gender warriors.
Help to fund the Rebel Dykes History project here: https://www.patreon.com/REBELDYKES