Rebel Dykes: a podcast and a journey

It has been an immense joy to work on ‘Rebel Dykes: the podcast’ these past few months. It’s a one-off feature about a remarkable community of outsider lesbians living in London in the 1980s, the work of amazing film-makers and curators to present this lost history, and why this all matters so much. (Now also available on Spotify!)

I was approached by Paul Green about producing something back in June. He had recently launched Bijou Stories: a project to create a LGBTQ+ history through collaborations between artists and communities. He had seen the Rebel Dykes documentary film at BFI Flare in March and was blown away by it. When I saw it, so was I! It’s a marvellously entertaining punk portrait of dykes living outside mainstream society and disapproved of by other feminists and lesbians. It appealed to my own rebellious streak and felt startlingly fresh and inspiring. (If you haven’t yet seen it, you must! It’s currently on general release and available on BFI player.)

Paul and I met with Siobhan Fahey, the woman behind the Rebel Dykes history project and the producer of the film. She had also been wanting to commission a podcast, so we agreed to make it a joint production.

The challenge for me was to produce something significantly distinct from the film which depicts the 80s Rebels so brilliantly (and has gone on to win multiple awards). Instead, I focused on the fact that this was a community whose stories might have been lost. That was the reason why Paul had developed Bijou Stories. And it’s what had originally motivated Siobhan – herself an 80s Rebel Dyke – who had been astonished that their history seemed to be being overlooked by academics and film-makers. 

It also turned out to be the driving force behind the Rebel Dykes art and archive show held in London’s Gallery Space Station 65 over the summer. As Atalanta Kernick, one of the co-curators, said to me:

I believe that lesbians we’re separated from our own history, culture and iconography. And if you don’t know where you’ve come from, it’s hard to know where you’re going.

Her words rang so true when I spent two days in the gallery interviewing visitors. Many of the younger people knew nothing of the stories and imagery from the 80s. In fact, some had never spoken to an older lesbian before (yes, really). I was privileged to be able to capture their powerful, moving responses to the exhibition and their sense of relief and excitement at seeing imagery of people like themselves.

Working on the podcast and interviewing people (Siobhan, the film directors, exhibition curators, visitors and artists) was an incredible journey for me.  I learned so much not only about the 80s Rebels (including fabulous stories that are not in the film) and the rich body of art from that period; but also about the new generation of Rebel Dyke artists (yes, the rebel spirit lives on!); about how three people who had never made a feature film managed to produce something so good in their spare time with no funding; about the challenges of curating a massively ambitious show during lockdown; about how the gaping hole in lesbian representation in films and exhibitions affects us all; and about how meaningful it is to discover the stories, history, culture and imagery of your people. It’s all in the podcast – and more!

There was something very healing and uplifting about the gallery show, where I spent a lot of time over the summer. It served both as a mirror on an under-represented community, and as a space where lesbians and queers of all ages could congregate and make new friends. And after the isolation of lockdown it’s what we all so badly needed.