Bus tickets had long since sold out, and eager first-years were begging the driver to be let on board. Once allowed, these Dyke Ball first-timers piled into the bus, with one anxiously asking a friend if her “conservative brown dress” would pass muster with the queer fashion police.
At the Dyke Ball, costume is required and “creative black tie” is recommended. In practice, that means everything from lingerie to formalwear, leather to feathers, high femme to butch drag. This year, one Wellesley student wore a satin “vagina” on her chest and asked drag emcee Jay Franklin to touch it. (Franklin, perhaps too much of a gentleman, declined.)
One pair of Wellesley students wearing nothing but lingerie and body glitter competed together in an onstage kissing contest. They were so involved in their exhibition that Franklin pulled the scantily-clad students off each other, saying, “This is a kissing contest, and that’s a lot more than kissing.”
Over the years, Dyke Ball’s reputation for lesbian exhibitionism has drawn “sketchy people” and “people coming to gawk,” says Ellie A. Graham, a board member of the Wellesley Lesbians, Bisexuals, Transgendereds and Friends (WLBTF). “Sometimes there are whole frats who will come and be like, ‘ooh, look at all the dykes’ and stare at people.”
The influx of onlookers displeased some WLBTF members. “It looked like a straight party, not a queer party,” Graham says. “A whole lot of guys in khaki pants grinding with their girlfriends. We welcome straight people and allies at Dyke Ball, but we want it to be a queer party. The fact that frat boys were getting in and keeping Wellesley students out was upsetting.”
In response, last year WLBTF changed its ticketing policy to reduce the number of non-Wellesley students who could attend Dyke Ball. While that limited the number of frat boys, it also kept out queer Harvard women who wanted to attend the event.
The costume requirement had been a part of Dyke Ball for a long time, but last year was the first year it was strictly enforced at the door, Graham says, as part of WLBTF’s efforts to prevent the Ball from gaining a reputation for heterosexual khaki-grinding.
“Some guys came in totally normal clothes,” she says. “We said that if they want to take of their pants, and go just in their boxers, then they could come in.”
Yet for some attendees’ tastes, the costumes are still not quite queer enough. “I thought there’d be more playing with gender and less playing with slutty,” says Karina A. Mangu-Ward ’05, co-chair of the Harvard queer women’s group Girlspot.
In response to queer students at schools like Harvard failing to get tickets to last year’s Dyke Ball, last year WLBTF inaugurated an e-ticketing system by which students at colleges other than Wellesley could reserve tickets in advance.
“The goal was to get off-campus queer people to come who didn’t necessarily have Wellesley contacts,” said WLBTF off-campus coordinator Robin N. Nelson.
The system was popular with Harvard students, who ordered more e-tickets than students at any other college, according to Nelson. Girlspot publicized Dyke Ball to its membership, sending out numerous e-mails, talking up the event at the meeting, and making sure people knew how to get to Wellesley.
The crowd this year included 1,800 people, which Nelson said was the biggest Dyke Ball ever. As recently as last year, Dyke Ball was held in Wellesley’s Alumni Hall ballroom, which has only a 600-person capacity, but this year WLBTF dressed up the Wellesley Field House for the Ball to accommodate larger crowds.
“Tonight, we are all dykes!” shouted Franklin to the screaming crowd. The highlight of the evening was the performance by the high-femme and butch drag lesbian burlesque performance troupe, the Princesses of Porn with the Dukes of Dykedom. Dyke Ball 2003 also featured the seductive moves of dance troupe Mia Anderson’s Drag Kings, Sluts, and Goddesses and the Wellesley the LesBiTrans advisor.
A group of Harvard first-year women danced on the crowded platform amidst boys in drag, glittering Wellesley women and colored lights flashing across the catwalk. Such a scene would rarely, if ever, be seen in the room parties and final clubs of the Harvard social scene.
Still, while our campus may not be host to celebrations of gender-play and queer sexuality, Mangu-Ward said that for her, Wellesley did not live up to its hype. “I didn’t feel that Wellesley was this blossoming haven of lesbianism that Harvard isn’t,” she said.
So what do Wellesley students think of this year’s increase in the number of Harvard Dyke Ball-goers?
“We enjoyed the dance a lot more,” Nelson said.