Bryant Park, 3 p.m.
It is all those adjectives that give summer in New York City a bad rep: muggy, sticky, humid, and moist. I’m in an orderly line of dykes, signing a waiver to Marshal the 27th Annual Dyke March.
We are a beautiful motley crew of folks, some femmeing it up, others mascing it down. We come from all over the country, and all over the world, as do our parents and grandparents. Some are wearing leather harnesses and Docs, others are in floral hairbands and skirts. There’s no way of doing dyke, and this sweaty line of people proves that.
Bryant Park, 4 p.m.
There are a record number of Marshals (for a record number of marchers), and our training session with Maxine Wolfe, one of the original mothers of the Dyke March, has just begun. Everyone listens attentively, stern looks on their faces, nodding in unison. Marshaling is serious business. All the while, people walk past excitedly squealing, “OMG! The parade’s today,” “What? I thought Pride was tomorrow,” and “This must be the pre-parade, fun!”
Bryant Park, 4:30 p.m.
Give a bunch of dykes t-shirts (of a clenched fist punching through a brick wall) and count the seconds before they’ve rolled-up their sleeves, snipped off necks, and hacked away at the mid-drift. Life is too short for a bog-standard crew-neck.
We all start chatting, nervous newbies seeking tips from seasoned pros. People ask for names and pronouns and distribute trans pride stickers and glitter. Huge pellets of rain start to fall. “There’s too many hot dykes in one place y’all, we need rain to cool us off,” someone shouts while others cheer. It is time to head to the march.
5th Avenue, 5 p.m.
We run past the mass of marchers in a single file line. At the front, we flank the leaders: Sirens Women’s Motorcycle Club, an army of dykes in thick biker leathers, revving their motors, posing for photos, and looking bad as hell. We stand in formation, doting over them. They are ultimate dyke goals.
The Empire State Building is near camouflaged by clouds, and hot summer rain patters on us as we hold hands and wait patiently. A surreal, movie-like scene unfolds as the head of the police—wearing a long navy trench coat and NYPD umbrella—approaches a dyke representative. They talk for a while out of earshot. Eventually, the pair shake hands, people clap, bikers rev their motors, and it’s time to go.
5th Avenue, 5:30 p.m.
Just behind the bikers, there’s a crew of Accessibility Marshals pushing thirty dykes in wheelchairs. This is the first time the march has offered accessibility services, and it was such a beautiful thing to witness. I felt so proud to be part of a community that makes space for all of us.
Behind them, streams of dykes are strutting, strolling, prancing, and marching. People keep coming. I’d been at São Paulo’s dyke march the previous Saturday, where there was a strong turn out of around 300. Here, thousands came en mass like an unending river of dyke energy.
Us marshals kept formation—our arms raised and outstretched. We feel so empowered as we facilitate this spectacle and so connected to those we hold hands with and the others in our chain.
5th Avenue, 6 p.m.
Once the tail-end of the march passes, it is time to run two, four, six, or eight blocks to the next unmarshaled street. We bombard down the pavement like a gang of queer vigilantes, feeling v radical and v important as we claimed the road so our people could march.
Some are faster than others. “This is my one work-out day a year,” yells someone as they drop their pace. “Imagine if you wore heels,” someone else I pant alongside says. Many of us found that we were miraculously able to run better and further than ever; we’ll thank the potential audience of thousands of dykes for that one.
5th Avenue, 6:15 p.m.
Marshals have two jobs: to facilitate the march (making sure it goes as the organisers intended) and to protect the marchers. Role three, which they don’t tell you about in training, is to act as the official bureau of queer education to bemused tourists and New Yorkers.
“What’s this?” asked about thirty people to me alone.
“The dyke march,” I replied triumphantly.
“A night march?” they respond, perplexed as the afternoon sun peaked through clouds.
“A dyke march,” I repeat.
“Oh, what’s that?”
“It’s a march for dykes to celebrate our lives and demonstrate for our rights, safety, and visibility,” I say.
“Ohhh,” they respond, overwhelmed with waning attention.
“Cool,” or “Good for you,” they say before carrying on with their weekend shopping.
5th Avenue, 6:30 p.m.
We didn’t break formation. People were allowed out, leading us to playfully raise our arms so grown adults could bend down to get through. No one was coming in, though; we were willing to play a grown-up version of Red Rover to stop them.
Our only exception was an older lesbian couple who excitedly asked, “What’s this? A dyke march? What the hell? We’re dykes! Why didn’t we get the memo? Can we join, please please please.”
They ran in, holding hands defiantly as they marched on like two lost birds returning to the flock. All the marshal’s sternness evaporated; it was the cutest thing we’d seen all day.
5th Avenue, 6:45 p.m.
“YAY Marshals!” the crowd chants consistently.
People come up one-by-one to look us in the eyes and thank us sincerely for our help. “You’re welcome,” we say, huge grins on our faces. One dyke (and living legend) with a shekere kept running over and serenading us all individually.
“All praise the marshals,” she’d say. “All praise the pleasure-generating lesbian forum.”
Every time I turn around to take in the march, I see such a diverse bunch of humans, with such impressive sign-making abilities. The more political call for the abolition of ICE and the breakdown of borders. The more humorous declare lesbians to be miracles and ask all top daddies to call us now (including their actual cell number on the signs). Who needs hook-up apps when you’ve got the Dyke March?
Being part of this was such an empowering experience. I felt electric and, looking down the line of Marshals, I could see I wasn’t the only one.
Washington Square Park, 7 p.m.
We flooded into Washington Square Park. Picture is: a tidal wave of jubilant dykes. Our work is done, we are absolutely exhausted, but we don’t want the day to end. People are running through fountains topless, kissing their partners, exchanging numbers, and making plans for later. The parade’s drumming troupe are pounding out rhythms under the Arch. It is pure dykilious joy, and an experience that we’re all going to repeat for years to come.
They’ve already set the date for next year’s march: June 27, 2020. See you there!