DIVA takes a look at the unwavering popularity of the infamous Dykes To Watch Out For


Way back in the day, before the lesbian wedding episode of Friends where they weren’t allowed to kiss, before Orange Is The New Black came out, and before the question “Do you listen to Girl In Red?” But not quite as far back as Sappho. Yes, one of the original lesbians making an impact post-Stonewall, Alison Bechdel. Although she doesn’t mind the label for herself, she feels “not butch enough to really claim it…part of being butch is owning it, the whole aura around it. 

Recently I’ve noticed a surge in her work in the media, bringing it back to the forefront. From 1983 to 2008 Bechdel put pen to paper and sketched open a window into the drama within a lesbian friendship group. Dykes To Watch Out For truly was ahead of its time, while also being extremely time-specific discussing not just the year’s, but the month’s, politics which I ended up googling to understand exactly what was happening since I wasn’t born when most of the comics were being released. 

Dykes To Watch Out For is also where The Bechdel Test debuted, something Bechdel was shocked at how massive it became, saying “it was a joke” and “didn’t intend for it to be the real gauge.” The comic was also one of the earlier occasions trans people were shed in a positive light in the media, while also acknowledging the unfortunately still ongoing debate around trans women in women’s spaces. 

While many view the trans representation as flawed, for it being the days before YouTubers were educating everyone online, Bechdel didn’t do too badly. The charmingly funny and heartwarming comic has been adapted into an audiobook, released exclusively on audible on the 1 June, earlier this year. Many have complicated opinions on it being produced by a company run by Amazon, notoriously known to value capitalism above all else and Dykes To Watch Out For held a long-running story line on their discomfort with purchasing books from chains over their local “Madwimmin bookstore.”

 What’s more, older fans of the comic reminisce on how little has changed within the community, saying “It’s sort of sad that with all the progress we’ve had, some things are still the same.” Despite this, the adaptation is still a massive win for authentic LGBTQIA representation in the media. Voices you may pick out among the cast include everyone’s favourite Jane Lynch narrating, A League of Their Own’s Roberta Colindrez as Lois, and Portlandia’s Carrie Brownstein as Mo.

Dykes To Watch Out For isn’t the only notable rise in the portrayal of Bechdel’s work. In Dublin’s Gate Theatre, a production of the musical based on Bechdel’s 2006 graphic novel Fun Home took place from 6 July to 1 September. Documenting the death of her father and coming to terms with her own sexuality, the original Broadway production featured Roberta Colindrez originating the role of Bechdel’s college girlfriend Joan and broke records with five Tony wins out of 12 nominations. A film adaptation is also on the way by Brokeback Mountain’s Jake Gyllenhaal. 

The Dublin production features one of the most acclaimed musical theatre actors to come out of the Emerald Isle, Killian Donnelly as Bruce Bechdel. The musical incorporates three incarnations of the cartoonist: Alison, medium Alison, and small Alison. The writing truly shows off the innocence in the youngest Alison, the awkwardness of your first relationship through medium Alison, while the oldest Alison takes a step back, observing and analysing her life’s events. In Dublin, Alison and her mother were portrayed by Frances McNamee and Nichola MacEvilly, both previously starring in Conor McPherson’s Girl From The North Country.

Both these newest incarnations of Bechdel’s work have certainly filled a craving, but also leaves me curious as to what’s to come next for her and her work. A new graphic novel? A fresh instalment of Dykes To Watch Out For? Or something else entirely?

DIVA magazine celebrates 29 years in print in 2023. If you like what we do, then get behind LGBTQIA media and keep us going for another generation. Your support is invaluable. 

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