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On a bright October morning, Reggie Franke greets me at the door of the blue house with white trim in Braintree where she lives with her wife, four of her seven kids, and a dog named Mozzarella. At 53, Franke has been living as an out lesbian for more than a decade. But it wasn’t an easy journey.
“I was married with seven kids and then came out,” Franke recalls. “And I didn’t know a single lesbian. And I looked on the internet for any place that lesbians might gather, and I found Dyke Night.”
At the time, Dyke Night was a weekly Friday dance party at Toast Lounge in Somerville — one of just a couple regular gatherings for lesbians in greater Boston. The first time Franke went, she only got as far as the parking lot.
“The second time I said, if I'm going, I'm going to go in. So I actually remember going in there and kind of holding onto the bar like, I'm not going to leave, I can do this, I can think of something to say to a lesbian. As it turned out, you could pretty much say anything to a lesbian,” Franke chuckles.
After that, she was a regular. In 2007, when Dyke Night moved to a monthly Saturday night residency at Machine in Boston, Franke followed. It was the one place she felt she belonged.
“When I came out, I lost all my friends,” Franke says. “I came from a very religious background, and when they found out that I was a lesbian, they wouldn't let their children play with my children, and they no longer called or came around, and I was no longer invited to be part of their social circles. So for me, and for a lot of people, [Dyke Night] is where their friends are. It's where their family is. And when they come to Dyke Night, everything's OK. For that few hours, everything's OK.”
"For me, and for a lot of people, [Dyke Night] is where their friends are. It's where their family is. And when they come to Dyke Night, everything's OK."Reggie Franke
On Saturday, Nov. 11, Dyke Night will host Second Saturdays at Machine for the very last time. The series was part of a long line of lesbian spaces in Boston, which flourished during the ‘70s — the heyday of women’s bars like The Saints and Somewhere — but diminished over the years. The end of Second Saturdays at Machine is, in a sense, the end of that lineage.
Kristen Porter founded Dyke Night in 1998 when she was working with the Lesbian AIDS Project of Massachusetts. The grassroots organization was not a nonprofit and could not apply for grant money, so they needed some other way to raise funds.
“We were trying to figure out, in my living room, how are we going to raise some money to pay for all this stuff that we want to do every week?” Porter says. “ ‘Let's throw a party,’ somebody said. ‘Great, what are we gonna call it?’ ‘Let's call it Dyke Night.’ ”
The title was meant as a political statement, a reclamation of a nasty slur. And the event was massively successful — so much so that Porter decided to keep running it even after the Lesbian AIDS Project disbanded, and to continue donating the profits to activist causes. She started out at The Midway in Jamaica Plain, moved to Toast Lounge in Somerville and eventually landed at Machine. The transition from neighborhood bars to the larger nightclub was prompted in part by the night’s overwhelming popularity, according to Porter.
“The night was the only gig in town,” she says. “One of the reasons we thought the party would work [as a fundraiser] is because we also felt like we were fulfilling a social need.”
Now, Porter wants to move on to new projects. (The Nov. 11 party also falls on Second Saturday’s 10th anniversary at Machine — a nice round number.) Though Porter will still throw special Dyke Night events, she wants to turn her attention to the over-40 set. “I started in my 20s, I'm now almost 50, my interests and what I see as the needs for the community is different than when I started,” she says.
"I started in my 20s, I'm now almost 50, my interests and what I see as the needs for the community is different than when I started."Kristen Porter
In addition, Porter has noticed a shift in the scene away from lesbian-specific events. When Dyke Night moved from Toast to Machine 10 years ago, Porter called it "Second Saturdays" so that trans and gender-nonconforming people would feel welcome. At the same time, she noticed that younger members of the LGBT community were seeking out such spaces less and less — the success of the gay rights movement meant they could now assimilate into mainstream society.
“With assimilation, the community has lost something,” Porter says. “I think one of the biggest victims has been gay-only and particularly women- and lesbian-only space.”
There may be other forces at work as well. “It's because people socialize different now,” says Maryalice Kalaghan, a local DJ who sometimes spins at Second Saturdays. “I don't believe it's economics, I don't believe that it's any of the other things I hear — I think it's just [that] people socialize differently.”
On a recent evening, Kalaghan sat at Machine’s empty bar while the staff prepared for the late night rush. Pop music played quietly over the PA and in the dimly-lit back room a rainbow flag glowed faintly through the darkness.
“When gay bars were really popular, there was no internet, there were no video games, that's not how you entertained yourself,” Kalaghan says. “And on top of that, there weren't gay people everywhere. You weren't out at work, you weren't out [at all]. So you went where like people were.”
Kalaghan has been DJing in Boston’s gay and lesbian nightclubs for 35 years. In that time, gay culture has become in many ways mainstream culture — and for some, that’s progress. But Kalaghan sees it as a loss.
"Every time a gay bar or a gay night closes, I weep for us, as a culture, and as a community. Because I don't want to be -- I don't want to be assimilated."Maryalice Kalaghan
“Every time a gay bar or a gay night closes, I weep for us, as a culture, and as a community. Because I don't want to be — I don't want to be assimilated,” she says. “Because that's what gave us power. That’s what gave us life.”
Soon, the disco ball will spin over Machine’s Second Saturday crowd one last time, as they celebrate, and mourn, the end of an era.
This segment aired on November 9, 2017.
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