13 Photos of Dyke Culture Between 1988 and 2003, by Phyllis Christopher

feature image: Phyllis Christopher

In the late ’80s, photographer Phyllis Christopher moved to San Francisco, where she documented protests, queer nightlife, and more. She later became a contributor and photo editor at the lesbian erotica publication On Our Backs, where she worked one-on-one with models who shared their own kinks and curiosities in its pages.

Earlier this year, Christopher published a collection of her black-and-white photos from this era called Dark Room. The book also includes writing from Susie Bright, Laura Guy, and Michelle Tea, as well as an interview with Shar Rednour. In June, I interviewed Christopher about her life and creative process, and she has generously offered to share more of her photography with us.

I love these photos. They feel joyous and hot, and they capture an underground dyke culture that was loud, ferocious, and teeming with sexuality.

If you like what you see and want to see even more, purchase Dark Room online from Book Works. And if you’re near San Francisco, you can attend the San Francisco book launch for Dark Room on Sunday, August 21st, from 3pm to 5pm at the Folsom Street Community Center. Phyllis will be joined by Susie Bright, Laura Guy, Shar Rednour, and Michelle Tea. Carol Queen will host.


A black and white image shows a white woman with short bob haircut wearing black combat boots. She is embracing a Black woman, who has short hair and wears a white tank top and a black beaded necklace. The two are seated on what looks like a leopard print couch or chair. The Black woman faces away from the camera.

San Francisco, CA – 2000 (Photo by Phyllis Christopher)

A black and white image shows a shirtless person with a buzz cut wearing a black studded collar and a chain around their neck. Their arms are in the air and hey are facing away from the camera. Their muscular back and the side of their right breast are visible. Flashes of light are on the right.

Karin – Buffalo, NY – 1988 (Photo by Phyllis Christopher)

A black and white image shows a crowd of queer people in the street at a protest. Two people on the left hold a fabric sign that reads, "QUEER NATION" in black letters. Behind them, two more people hold a black fabric sign that reads, "QUEER NATION" in white letters. A large bundle of balloons is in the background. All of the participants are wearing typical street clothes, but one man is wearing a leather vest, a leather harness, a leather cap, leather pants and sunglasses.

Queer Nation visibility action at Concord Mall – Concord, CA – 1990 (Photo by Phyllis Christopher)

A black and white image shows a Black woman wearing a headband, an open black blazer with a black lace bra underneath and black pants dancing. Beside her is a Black masculine person, who is wearing a brimmed hat, a white T-shirt, suspenders, black pants, white socks and dress shoes. They are also dancing and smiling. More dancers are visible in the background.

Dancers – Club G Spot – San Francisco, CA – 1989 (Photo by Phyllis Christopher)

A black and white image shows three women standing in the street at a protest. On the left, a woman with short, spikey blonde hair that's shaved on the sides wears black eyeliner, a black leather jacket, jeans, a studded belt, and black leather gloves. She holds a sign with an image of screaming woman and coat hanger that reads, "Abortion without apology. We Won't Go Back!" In the center, there is a woman with short, spikey blonde hair that's shaved on the sides. She wears a black button up shirt, a black leather jacket, jeans and sunglasses. On the right, there is a woman wearing a striped backwards hat, a striped shirt, a black leather trench coat, jeans and a necklace. She looks off to the right and touches her hand to her chin while wrapping her arm around the middle woman's shoulders. Behind them, more protestors and cops in riot gear are visible.

Pro-Choice March – San Francisco, CA – 1989 (Photo by Phyllis Christopher)

A black and white image shows a drag king dressed like Elvis. The king wears a gold, bedazzled jacket, a black shirt and black pants. He holds a microphone on a stand and throws one of his arms into the air while singing. His black hair falls into his face. Audience members smile in the bottom right corner of the image below the stage.

Elvis Herselvis at Klubstitute – San Francisco, CA – 1991 (Photo by Phyllis Christopher)

A black and white image shows a person in a white tank top and ripped jeans with short brown hair. They have a Celtic design tattooed on their arm, as well as a smaller tattoo of a cartoon boy. They lean over to light a cigarette. Beside them, a woman with shoulder length brown hair with a blonde highlight lounges in a black lace bra and skirt. The black leather skirt and fishnet-clad legs of a third person are visible to the right. Scraps of wood surround them.

Alley, South of Market – San Francisco, CA – 1997 (Photo by Phyllis Christopher)

A black and white photos shows a sketchbook featuring a line drawing of a hand. Next to the hand are the words, "Do lesbians cruise hands?" in cursive. The hands of the artist are visible on either side of the sketchbook. Their right hand holds a pen, and the first finger on their left hand is dotted with ink. Paper with scribbled names and numbers is underneath the sketchbook. The artist's glasses sit above the sketchbook.

Cartoonist Kris Kovick- San Francisco, CA – 1992 (Photo by Phyllis Christopher)

A black and white image shows three women lying on top of each other in a pile with their arms wrapped around each other. Two of the women — one with a bandanna around her forehead and sunglasses and one wearing a headband and no shirt — are kissing. The third woman, who wears sunglasses and a denim vest with a plaid peace sign/Venus symbol on the back, leans in towards the mouths of the kissing women.

Flannel Fetish Tribute for On Our Backs – San Francisco, CA – 1991 (Photo by Phyllis Christopher)

A black and white image shows the back of a person with chin-length, wavy brown hair wearing a baseball cap and a white tank top. They have the words, "Daddy's Boy" tattooed on their left arm. Another person whose face isn't visible wears a black shirt and a black leather wristband. They grip the first person's arm and lean in to kiss them.

Daddy’s Boy – San Francisco, CA – 2000 (Photo by Phyllis Christopher)

 A black and white image shows the silhouette of a masculine person wearing a baseball cap and jacket leaning against a brick wall in front of a "No Parking Any Time" sign. Another masculine person, whose back is to the camera, stretches out their arm to press their right hand against the brick wall. They wear a baseball cap and a black tank top. A street lamp is visible in the background.

Michou and Cooper – San Francisco, CA – 1997 (Photo by Phyllis Christopher)

A black and white image shows Leslie Mah of the band Tribe 8 playing a guitar, which has a sticker that reads, "Assimilate my fist" and another that reads, "Eat Pussy." The camera angle is from below, and we can nearly see up Leslie's shirt dress. Leslie has long, wavy brown hair and tattooed arms. A drum set is visible behind her and smiling audience members are below her feet.

Tribe 8 – San Francisco, CA – 1995 (Photo by Phyllis Christopher)

A black and white image shows the muscular back of a shirtless person. They're wearing white briefs and baggy jeans with a belt and chain wallet, and they're leaning against a motorcycle seat. Only their torso, arms and upper legs are visible.

San Francisco, CA – 2003 (Photo by Phyllis Christopher)


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Ro White

Ro White is a Chicago-based writer and sex educator. Follow Ro on Twitter.

Ro has written 89 articles for us.

12 Comments

    • My partner and I went to the book signing today as well! What an incredible event! I felt like I learned so much about our history <3

      And thanks to Ro for letting us know about it! I wouldn't have heard about it otherwise.

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