"The Dyke Show" by JEB

JEB (aka Joan E. Biren)

For the first time in 39 years, JEB (aka Joan E. Biren) gave a live presentation of the restored version of her original epic slide show titled The Dyke Show, with a new introduction and epilogue. The event was presented at The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center in New York City in partnership with the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art on February 9th.

In her own words: 

"Being Seen Makes A Movement Possible - that is and always has been [my] ethos. For more than 50 years, I have extensively documented lesbian lives, from intimate at-home shots, to front-lines, grassroots organizing and movement work animated by a fierce and loving commitment to breaking down hierarchy and power. This is evident not only in my photographic practice, which questions and queries photographic ideas of 'capture' and 'subject,' but also in my commitment to making these images as public and accessible as possible." 



During the 1970s and 1980s, JEB’s images were everywhere: in LGBTQ+ books, newspapers calendars, posters and postcards. She also brought her work to the public through narrated, informational and humorous slideshow presentations. From 1979-1984, JEB performed The Dyke Show more than 80 times to packed audiences at community spaces and universities across the US and Canada. Originally titled Lesbian Images in Photography: 1850–1984, the show includes portraits, documentary and erotic images by historic and contemporary photographers ranging from Alice Austen and Berenice Abbott to Tee Corinne and Leigh Mosley. JEB’s narration is a unique fusion of art history, activist inspiration and stand-up comedy.

For those of us who were lucky enough to be in the room for this event, the female energy was palpable. Lesbian celebrities such as Kate Clinton, Lola Flash, Ann Northrop, et al were present. The large hall on the third floor was filled to the rafters, and there was an overflow room downstairs where the event was livestreamed.

Photo by Clementina Hawarden

JEB narrated the steady stream of slides of photographs portraying lesbians, the earliest being by Clementina Hawarden (1822-1865). We then saw photographs of lesbians taken through the centuries, with some of the more famous subjects being Natalie Clifford Barney, Tee Corinne, and Romaine Brooks.

Natalie Clifford Barney
In introducing the work, JEB spoke of researching the material in libraries, and finding countless numbers of references to "war" in the card catalogs. References to lesbian photography was minimal. During this talk, the words "Promote Lesbian Visibility!" appeared on the screen.

It was especially gratifying to see so many young women in the audience, students who volunteered to assist in the production. They are learning about our foremothers in ways that I had not been able to as a student.

Recently I had blogged about a so-called lgbtq+ national political organization hosting its annual fundraising dinner in New York ("Are We Becoming the Enemy?"). By contrast, the male energy at that event was nothing at all like the energy I felt last night at The Center. Here the women were helpful, cooperative, supportive, and yes, loving. The gay men (and drag queens!) at the fundraising dinner were hostile, combative, belligerent, and arrogant. Don't make the mistake of assuming that an organization which calls itself lgbtq+ actually cares about lesbians. The misogyny is real!

During the afterparty at Henrietta Hudson's, I spoke with one of the organizers/presenters from the Leslie-Lohman Museum. She told me that the museum is receiving hate mail from gay men complaining about the "trans" content on display. Hate mail?! From gay men??! It seems our planet is reeling from a temporary - hopefully - overflow of testosterone, or, destructive masculine energy. We need look no further than Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump.

JEB's work is included in Leslie-Lohman's upcoming exhibit, Images on which to build, 1970s-1990s, which is co-organized with the Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati. Curated by Ariel Goldberg, Images on which to build, 1970s-1990s, explores the intersection of activism, education and media production in grassroots movements and will be on view at the Contemporary Arts Center until February 12, 2023. It will then travel to the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art and be on view from March 10 until July 30, 2023.

JEB also provided us with a printed bibliography with the names of over a hundred lesbian photographers, and the sources of reproductions of their work. Thank you, JEB!


Nina Kennedy is a concert pianist, orchestral conductor, and award-winning filmmaker. She holds a master’s degree from the Juilliard School. Her memoir, Practicing for Love, is a 2021 Lambda Literary Award Finalist. The sequel, Practice What You Preach, is available at infemnity.com/shop.


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