Sci-fi Camp Aesthetics in Lesbian Feminist Radio

Curator's Note


To those in the know, 'camp' as an aesthetic is much more than Ru Paul’s Drag Race musicals and Joan Crawford. Camp is a historically rich and radically queer form of artistic expression, style, and sensibility that eludes definition. Through an articulation of lesbian camp, Nielsen (2016) invites a reorienting away from a once exclusionary notion of camp as gay male queer expression and toward its varying "queer manifestations and consumptions" (p.121). While much of the research on camp focuses on visual aesthetics, the study of camp within queer feminist radio allows for a reorienting once again toward how camp is applied as a “queer expressivity” via sound (Meyer, 2010). A case in point is the radio play miniseries “Dykes in Space” aired on The Lesbian Show in 1983. The Lesbian Show, on air for over 30 years, was a community radio show founded in 1979 at Vancouver Co-Op Radio in Vancouver, Canada.

Without any visuals to assist in the recognition of camp aesthetics, the producers of “Dykes in Space” instead offer up the popular culture sonic cues and narrative tropes of 1960’s space adventures like Lost in Space and Star Trek, playing off signifiers still recognized today as classic to the sci-fi adventure genre. In my research I learned from former Lesbian Show members that in fact, their sci-fi adventures where loosely based off of The Muppet Show “Pigs in Space” series (first appearing in 1977). After a few opening bars of “Pomp and Circumstance, Op. 39”, we hear a long echoed “Dyyyyykes in Spaaaaace!”. Their tape delayed intergalactic outcry welcomes us into the continued trumpets and whooshing spaceship sounds of this futuristic Dyke space dreamland. The narrator then announces our space heroes hailing from Planet Dyketan. Canned stadium size audience applause plays in the background as we meet Captain Queer (played by episode co-host Pat), First Mate Butchy and “the amazing-brilliant Doctor Lesbo!” It is year four thousand and ‘dyketeen’, and we join our fearless ‘Dyke-o-nauts’ as they are battling the evil brainwashing forces of ‘heterosecons’.

In applying a feminist embodied ear to the context surrounding this performance, the ‘bad’ acting and ‘cheesy’ scripting only add to the campy aesthetic and performative queer play at the heart of “Dykes in Space”. Their amateur sci-fi fantasy is a process and performance in queer communal play and reclamation beyond the sometimes-unkind reality of queer life in a heterosexual dominant world.  Camp is a form of self-defence (Halperin, 2012), of getting ahead of the pain and ridicule of being queer in a larger societal context at the time of The Lesbian Show in which being a Dyke/lesbian could mean losing your job, getting stopped at the border, or beaten by police. Ultimately, “Dykes in Space” is an engagement in queer feminist world-making through dyke culture and pop culture science fiction toward a potential future beyond earths heteropatriarchal oppression.

"Dykes in Space" Audio Clip Transcript Available at:

Audio Clip Excerpt From:

Lesbian Show, The. (1983, October 20). The Lesbian Show: Humour Feature - Side 1 [Broadcast Recording]. The Lesbian Show, Vancouver Co-Op Radio Fonds, City of Vancouver Archives, Vancouver, BC, Canada.

Works Cited:

Elgar, E. & Lopez, A.M. (1904). Pomp and Circumstance, Op. 39. – March No. 1. [version unknown].

Halperin, D. M. (2012). How To Be Gay. Harvard University Press.

Meyer, M. (2010). An archeology of posing: Essays on camp, drag, and sexuality. Madison, WI: Macater Press.

Nielsen, E.-J. (2016). Lesbian camp: An unearthing. Journal of Lesbian Studies, 20(1), 116–135.

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