On Fifth between 17th and 18th St., a woman repeatedly flashed her breasts to thousands of dykes from 10 stories up. Waves of cheering matched the undulation of her shirt. “Its not a girls gone wild thing, it’s a Dyke love thing,” said marcher Liz Mauer.
A few hours prior on the misty boardwalk of Coney Island, mer-exhibitionists showed-off their bodies and costume to whomever shows up to the wetter-than-usual Mermaid Parade. Although the fair-weather crowd passed, the hordes of mostly-male photographers were unphased.
What do these events share? “If I said freaks, I would mean it in the most beautiful way possible” says Karen a lesbian marcher. “You don’t get to see hot glitter bedazzled wonderful fattiness other places. Both parades allow a space for it,” added another marcher.
Critics have taken the Mermaid Parade to task for promoting nothing more than beauty-pageant feminism; clearly exhibited in a pod of French Mer-Maids. Those who parade tend to see it in a more sex-positive light. “I have big tits and I love them and I like to show 'em. I love the creativity of the nudity” said Sarah Kornbluth of Brooklyn.
Some topless femmes at the Dyke March let the girls out to enhance the visibility of femmes (and feminity) in the dyke community, and they do that by reclaiming the power of breasts and heals. Why? Because “There is a lot of femmephobia in the dyke community, there is a fear among some that I would leave them for a man.”
DOES AUDIENCE MATTER?
The Dyke March was started as a project of the Lesbian Avengers because there was a need for a space outside of the male-dominated gay pride parades. The Dyke March also opts to function without corporate funding, which is more radical, but results in poor publicity of the event. With no PR and a drizzly day, the march down 5th to Washington Square Park gathered more perplexed onlookers than fans or foes.
So without an audience, who are you communicating with? At the Dyke March, the answer is: each other. Nancy, a 60+ dyke and her partner were there to represent the needs and concerns of retiring queers. Their primary audience was the queer community itself. The parade itself becomes a good excuse to bring dykes out for the parties and socials that follow.
Although the Mermaid Parade is more about pageantry than politics, Kali, the Killer of Demons of the Bollywood Bomb-Shells in the Mermaid Parade wore the heads of Bush and Cheney and Condi heads on her belt. Last year her crew was the Sea Geishas for Peace.
Second place in the Human-powered float category was captured by a mermaid cuffed and chained to the planks. Her name was Native American Mermaid and she was to be sold to the highest bidder.
Nudity can be transgressive and political, but it doesn’t have to be. For two women dressed in nothing but wide-holed fishnet body stalking did it because, “you got to have fun.”
“It’s not exactly feminist but there are a lot of strong powerful women here and strong powerful men,” said Megan, one of the parade-goers.
On any summer weekends at Coney Island, it will smell like hot-dogs, but at the Mermaid Parade, it’s a bigger sausage-fest then usual. Persistent photographers jockeyed for the best shots in the waiting area before the parade. Here they swarmed around sultry sea goddesses and tripped over tails of those who didn’t peek their interest.
Victoria, who has been attending the mermaid parade for eight years said that “everyone I know has always brought a camera to the mermaid parade.” As photographer Al Hirschberg points out, “How else are you going to get this close to unclothed girls without getting slapped.”
“This is more about celebrating mermaids of the parade and the fantasy involved with that.” Offered Rocco Vernon from Brooklyn. He did not divulge what his particular fantasy entailed. Bones, a Coney Island native who grew up with the parade said it was “disheartening to see the creepy guys. Like the one guy who was actually wearing a video camera inside of his outfit.”
Sarah Kornbluth found over 12 different pictures on Flickr of her silver-painted body and amazing ta-tas from the 2005 parade. “I feel like if you are going to be in the parade, and if there are going to be photographers and journalists, that is completely legitimate and good.” After the parade is a different story. While lounging in the Coney Island sands after the parade, she found it both inappropriate and intrusive that cameramen would follow, snapping shots of her tits without asking.
Emily Nepon, aka Killer, who attended both marches, said “I want men to take my picture and be lascivious to me, but they have to interact with me as human, not just my tits.” She also mentioned that she overheard men giving a “running commentary on how they wanted to have sex with everybody.” She paused, then added, “But, so was I.”
With reporting from Bennett Baumer. Editor's note: the name Liz Mauer is a pseudonym.