Who Said Lesbians Don't Have a Sense of Humour?

Posted in Essays (E)

As is the case with many writers I have had more than my fair share of rejections for my work from various editors of magazines and publishing houses and the like. I’ve learnt over the years just to accept the fact that not everyone views my work as I do and that not all of my writing is going to appear in printed form. However, if I can at least get some of these rejected pieces onto the internet from time to time then all is not completely lost.

 The following piece was rejected recently by the very prestigious Radical Feminist Journal of Discussion and Activism, Rain and Thunder. Not that this is a criticism of R&T’s editorial policies. On the contrary, I have long admired the work the R&T Collective are doing to keep radical feminist ideas and actions in the public arena and I would recommend that lesbians and feminists who want to keep their finger on the pulse of world-wide radical feminist thought consider subscribing and or contributing to this excellent journal.

In the meantime, here’s Who Said Lesbian Feminists Don’t Have a Sense of Humour? to read.

Jean Taylor

Wurundjeri Country, Melbourne, Australia


Who Said Lesbian Feminists Don’t Have a Sense of Humour?

Humour and a sense of humour are funny things. For humour to work there needs to be someone who has the ability to be humorous, able to tell jokes, draw cartoons, be a clown and someone who has a corresponding sense of humour, someone who is able to smile, chuckle, laugh out loud at whatever is being presented and it works best of both have similar senses of humour and are able to laugh at the same things. 

It seems to me I got my sense of humour from my mother at a very early age even though I didn’t really understand the joke at the time. I’d never been able to take tablets of any kind so my mother used to crush them up and mix them with honey. This particular time a new doctor had prescribed capsules and my mother was at the end of the bed watching me as I tried valiantly to swallow the capsule with a glass of water. Finally, after much swallowing and drama on my part my mouth felt empty and I reported my success to my mother. She took one look at the capsule floating in the water and with her mouth wide open burst out laughing, holding onto the end of the bed for support and finally wiping the tears from her eyes with her hanky. 

I’ve never forgotten that image in part because I’m inclined to be easily moved to laughter in a similar way and laugh that way myself with my mouth wide open as I enjoy the feeling of laughter flooding my body and delighting my mind as I imagine it did for my mother. As such there have been a great many occasions over the years where I have actively sought out those events and occasions that will make me laugh. And fortunately, I haven’t had to go much further that the lesbian feminist community of which I am a part. 

I’m not the most amusing of prose writers, tending to be far more pedantic than anywhere near hilarious. But when I started writing plays, they were comedies! I wrote three plays and founded the Purple Parrots, a lesbian feminist performing group, 1985 - 1987. On opening night in May 1986, I was surprised and gratified to hear the audience laughing at my script as I’d intended but had forgotten about during the hard work of rehearsing and organising the shows.


The Bar-Dyke and the Feminist

Wild: It’s no use talking to you, all you think about is punching heads and beer and pool and the next fuck.

Teri: I’ll drink to that, so what else is there? Don’t tell me you feminists aren’t interested in fucking, you don’t even believe in monogomy.

I was a founding member of Amazon Theatre, another lesbian feminist performing group with the aim of writing and producing lesbian comedies, in 1989. We workshopped, wrote, produced and performed four plays altogether, Spot the Dyke (1990), Dykes of Our Restless Days (1991), Undercover (1992) and Della (1994), again to very appreciative audiences.


Spot the Dyke

Harley: And you think a meeting’s the answer do you?

Pat: How else are we going to get things done if we don’t have a meeting?

Harley: I could think of a few and none of them involve a meeting to get started.


The following are just some examples of the plethora of lesbian feminist humour of one sort or another that has kept me amused over the years. For example comics and cartoons are always good for a laugh. Here in Australia we had The Adventures of Superdyke which was illustrated by Anne Donald and first featured in the Lesbian Newsletter on 1981:

Faster than a Radclyffe Runner between bases! / Just as powerful as Sisterhood! / Able to leap out of overalls in a single bound!... Superdyke! who can smash the course of patriarchy!... and who (disguised as herself, a member of umpteen collectives), fights a never-ending battle for women, lesbians and a feminist sense of humour! 

A few months later, the comic strip was called Superdyke and Friends and signed Donald & Pausacker. Anne was still doing the graphics and Jenny Pausacker contributed the ideas. Superdyke and Friends became a regular and much-enjoyed feature of the Lesbian Newsletter and the Lesbian News for the next several years.

However, my very favourite comic strip of all time is Alison Bechdel’s Dykes to Watch Out For which started in the US in 1983 and because it is so popular the repeats still feature in the Lesbian Connection. DTWOF featured a range of characters including the irrepressible Mo whose main aim in life seems to be to angst about the state of the world while trying to be ideologically sound at the same time as negotiating the ups and downs of her relationships with Harriet and Sydney (at different times) and trying to keep her friends from being too much out of (her) control. What’s not to like?

Another Australia lesbian cartoonist, Judy Horocek has been drawing and exhibiting cartoons since the early 1990s and getting them published in books such as Life on the Edge (1992), Unrequited Love Nos 1 - 100 (1994), Women With Altitude (1998), If the Fruit Fits (1999), If You Can’t Stand the Heat (2010) and I Am Woman Hear Me Draw (second edition November 2013). Judy’s cartoons cover the political spectrum from racism, sexism and the ecology to refugees and misogyny and at the same time as making us laugh also show us that we’re not alone.

I first met the inimitable Topp Twins when they arrived in Melbourne Australia from Aotearoa in 1985 to sing at the opening of the The New Moods Women’s Art Festival in 1985. They stayed and played around Melbourne for the next couple of weeks and I have seen them many times since then, of course, as they’ve visited and performed in Melbourne innumerable times. It’s that combination of talented singing, off-the-wall sense of humour, radical politics, slapstick comedy, multiple characters (my favourites are Camp Mother, Linda, and Camp Leader, Jools) and laugh out loud ad libbing that gets to me every time I see them. In between visits, The Complete Topp Twins, all nineteen episodes of their award-winning TV comedy series, is available on DVD and is highly recommended. And if that’s not enough, there is also Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls The Movie also on DVD (2009) which tells the story of the up and downs of their lives, including Jool’s breast cancer, and includes most of their characters and several performances of their most popular songs.


Wahine Toa and the Pakehas

Wahine: (nods) Kiaora

Pakeha: Whew, am I glad to see you.

Wahine: Why, have we met before?

Pakeha: (explaining) I got lost.

Wahine: Do you know where you are now then?

Pakeha: Not exactly, no.

Wahine: Still lost then, aren’t you?


Stand-up comedy is one of the toughest things to do and while it might seem as if Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander don’t have much to laugh about the Ilbijeri Theatre Company in Melbourne has not only produced a number of extremely important plays they have also promoted several comedies including standup comedians in Natives Getting Restless in 2005 and 2006 with two Indigenous lesbians, the singer song writer Lou Bennett dressed as and sending up the so-called ‘discoverer’ of Australia Captain Cook and photographer, poet, community radio broadcaster and stand-up comedian Lisa Bellear.

We went to the extra late show at La Mama Theatre to see Sue-Ann Post’s A Bit of a Post Scrip about being brought up Mormon, dealing with childhood incest, coming out as a lesbian and related dramas in 1991. It was one of the funniest shows I had ever seen and as it was the first time this Sydney-based lesbian had performed her one-womyn comedy show in Melbourne we were lucky to see her at all. After she moved to Melbourne we were able to enjoy Sue-Ann’s humour on a more regular basis.

Then there is the way the Michigan Women’s Music Festival showcases lesbian comedians almost as much as they do their famous lesbian musicians. I attended my first Michigan in 1999 and was wowed by Marga Gomez on the Friday Night Stage and especially by Suzanne Westenhoeffer on the Saturday Night Stage who nearly had me falling off my low chair. And eleven years later, in 2010, I was equally impressed by the stand-up comedy of Karen Williams hosting the Friday Night Stage but my all-time favourite was the Canadian Elvira Kurt with her own hour spot on the Thursday Night Stage and was then delighted when both of them hosted the other stages at different times. None of of these comedians made any concessions in their material for straights nor apologised for the fact that they were out and proud lesbians and I appreciated them even more for that.  

The best time to see a lesbian film is with a bunch of dykes at home, or at a L&G Film Festival because then you can be assured that the whole audience will be groaning with disgust or laughing with appreciation at the same things, a rare and wonderful experience for those of us who so rarely see ourselves on screen and in a positive ways even less. 

Go Fish, written by Rose Troche and Guinevere Turner and directed by Rose Troche and with a cast of dozens, because it is funny, with recognisable characters and a believable script, would have to be one of my favourite lesbian films. And the more recent Cloudburst with Olympia Dukakis (Stella) and Brenda Fricker (Dot) playing an old lesbian couple who are on the run after Stella busted Dot out of a nursing home in order to get married in Canada so they can be together, is laugh out loud funny (except for the poignant ending). 

One of the funniest lesbian plays I’ve ever seen was My Life as a Dyke written by Nik Willmot which included a series of acts depicting all the hilarious diversity of being a dyke, including Lesbianism 101. My Life as a Dyke was performed by Nik, Rachel Forgasz and Rainie Daw and was so popular it played to full houses in Melbourne in January 2000 and again in June 2000 and yet again at La Mama Theatre as part of the L&G Midsumma Festival in 2001. The following year My Life as a Dyke Too (The Shequel) performed by Nik and Rachel had the lesbian audiences in stitches with more lesbian stories, including Lesbianism 201. Nik is not only a talented playwright she’s also a consummate actor as well. 


What Position Did You Hold in the Women’s Liberation Movement, Sister?

Dyke: (interrupting a votes for womyn speech by a Suffragette on a soap box) Er, excuse me, I don’t like to interrupt what you’re saying but I think you should know that womyn have had the vote now for over 100 years in this country.

Suffragist: (astounded) You’re kidding me!

Dyke: No, it’s true. Womyn can vote in elections these days.

Suffragist: Why that’s marvelous. (puzzled) How come no-one told me? That must have been the meeting I missed perhaps. (gets off box) Funny I haven’t noticed many changes.

Dyke: (trying to sound convincing) We even have women in parliament these days.

Suffragist: (suspiciously) How many?

Dyke: (counting on her fingers) Let’s see, there’s Joan and Olive and Kay and (shrugs) oh, there must be at least a dozen womyn who are politicians. 


These are only a very few examples of the lesbians who have kept us amused over these past four decades and counting. The key element in lesbian comedy whatever the genre is that we recognise ourselves, our foibles, our idiosyncrasies, our particular ways of living our lives, and we enjoy that recognition and feel affirmed and encouraged by it. It also shows a certain confidence in ourselves as lesbians, an acceptance of our way of life, to be able to laugh at and with ourselves. And as an antidote (anecdote) to the patriarchal madness, and to give ourselves a healthy creative balance to the political work we still have to do on a daily basis to resist the status quo, nothing is as effective as a good old belly laugh.

It’s laughter more than money that makes my world go round. And everyone knows, the best and most successful lovers, the ones we enjoy making love and hanging out with, are the witty, hilarious funny dykes with an enormously grand sense of humour, who can make us laugh at any time of the night or day, whatever we’re doing and particularly between the sheets. It’s no coincidence then that one of the many things that attracted me to Ardy Tibby  back in the year 2000 when she first arrived in Australia for a visit was her oral story telling sessions which had me in laugh out loud mode back then and have continued to hold me in hilarious thrall ever since.


© copyright Jean Taylor 2014