Where are all the women?

Photography by Wafah Dufour

This is why you’re not seeing lesbians at gay bars.

There is a common myth that lesbians prefer staying in to going out. The belief is that we would rather stay in bed with our cats and a cuppa than go to the club – when realistically, lesbians want to dance, get drunk, and let their hair down just as much as the next person.

The issue is finding a place to do so. It’s not that lesbians would prefer a quiet night in, but simply that we have absolutely nowhere to go. As London’s LGBTQ+ district you might think lesbians would flock to Soho on a Friday night, when in fact, of the 30+ gay venues only one is designed for women.

Whilst nights at Heaven and G‑A-Y market themselves as LGBTQ+ inclusive, they remain undoubtedly dominated by men. Queer women need their own space to feel comfortable without being pressured to dress, dance or behave in a certain way. Only last weekend, during a Pride event of all places, a lesbian friend of mine was asked are you even queer?” whilst outside of a gay club. My sexuality was questioned by a gay man – on Pride of all f***ing days – because I didn’t fit his perception of queer,” says Hannah Connolly. Do I need to shave my head and only wear dungarees? To be asked to prove my queerness in front of the same people I’m seeking acceptance from taps into something bigger. All I wanted was a drink and a dance, now I’m having an identity crisis.”

The duality of homophobia and misogyny sees women left behind in the gay scene when spaces aren’t actively working to include them. Gay men are the default and clubs run by gay men often favour programming that appeals to their own interests over considering the wider LGBTQ+ audience.

This being said, individual club nights led by women are popping up more and more frequently. No club to go to? Thankfully, some women are solving the problem by creating their own events. The likes of Pxssy Palace, BBZ, and Butch, Please are gaining popularity, whilst in the East London two of the best known LGBTQ+ venues, Dalston Superstore and Vogue Fabrics Dalston (VFD), are hosting lesbian nights of their own.

Celeste Guinness began working with Dalston Superstore 18 months ago to create her night, Female Trouble, a typical Female Trouble party aims to be a Venn diagram where activism, dyke-drag and lesbian in-jokes intersect,” she says. We’ve had political parties like our Dykes Against Microplastics’ and parties honouring the lesbian activists that were instrumental in the Gay and Lesbian Liberation movement of the West Coast of America in the 1970s.”

Celeste continues, In the midst of all the news of queer spaces closing, we’ve had some new hope this week in the form of a brand new girl bar opening: LICK in Vauxhall. Between this and The Chateau, an exciting queer scene is taking shape now in South.”

Photography by Anna Foxabbot

Meanwhile, Alexandra Loveless hosts the regular club night, Nice Mover at VFD. My club isn’t a lesbian club, but I’m a lesbian and I run it, so naturally there are more queer women present. Just due to the impact of having a core group of queer women at its centre, that in turn ripples out into the community.”

The audience reflects the source, gay clubs are by and for gay men, and women are afterthoughts at best and intruders at worst,” says Loveless.

Thanks to the opening of LICK club last weekend, London’s lesbian scene broadens to a whopping TWO clubs. What began as a regular club night, founded three years ago by Teddy Edwardes, soon evolved from the event C U Next Tuesday’ to LICK, the now permanent club in Vauxhall. Saturday’s debut opening welcomed a queue that filled the street and continued around the corner. If there wasn’t proof enough that lesbians want their own nightlife scene, women were willing to wait over an hour to get into the club.

The problem is that all the other options for queer people are so heavily male-dominated that a lot of queer women don’t feel comfortable going there, so lesbian venues are essential,” says LICK’s founder Teddy.

Graphic designer, Jasmine Lasode, is a new employee of London’s former only lesbian bar, She Soho. Aside from her place of work, Jasmine was unaware of any other lesbian nights, as she explains, when customers ask me if there’s another lesbian bar I explain that we’re the only one, which shocks everyone I speak to.”

But She Soho isn’t to everyone’s tastes. In the same way that straight clubs vary in music genre, lesbians want more options than Rihanna and Little Mix. If I were to open my own lesbian night the music would be different, and the space that my night would occupy would also be different. I would switch it up every week and have guest DJs,” says Jasmine.

Not only do women need their own space to feel comfortable, but different varieties of music, too. It’s great to have somewhere to go, but if you’re into soul music and the club only plays techno then you’re not going to go, regardless of its clientèle.

Lesley Magazine is the soon-to-be print publication that currently takes its form as an Instagram account. It’s dedicated to arts, listings, nightlife and community news for and by LGBTQIA+ women, trans and non-binary people. According to founding editor Kat Hudson, there are two free print weekly listings publications run predominantly by and for gay men in the city but nothing of that kind for our community. As we all work in LGBTQ+ nightlife we decided to join our forces together and create Lesley as an umbrella collective voice for our community. We have over 30 nights, organisations, independent zines, artists, and individuals involved in the magazine already.”

Lesley is the go-to social media account for all lesbian happenings in and around London. I don’t think there’s as much of a lack as people seem to believe,” says Kat. So many exciting club nights and other events have sprung up in the last year or two and the community is really thriving. There are a few things on every week for lesbians in the city at the moment.”

Queer women have become used to waiting for announcements for one-off events and planning their going-out-agendas around club nights that happen three times a year. But with Lesley and now LICK, our community’s nightlife is beginning to evolve.

For the LGBTQ+ community, going out is so much more than boozing and dancing. A club specific to any marginalised group, is simply a space with four walls and a roof where that group feels safe, feels acknowledged, and can see obvious similarities between themselves and other clientèle. For straight people, there are so many clubs to choose from that they come in the form of ping-pong arenas, doctors’ surgeries, circuses and ball pits, with a club for every genre of music you could imagine. But for women attracted to women, the only common theme seems to be rarity.

There are no other establishments for lesbians to mix with other lesbians. But more than socialising, LGBTQ+ clubs allow the queer community a physical space where we are both visible and protected. Where we can recognise ourselves in others and build relationships that are essential not just to living, but to surviving as someone within the community.

Queer spaces need to be accessible to all ages, and there should be more places for under-18s that allow them a similar sense of community. For young people with unaccepting families, it is vital that they are able to find these spaces and build relationships with people who share similar stories. It’s no coincidence that the LGBTQ+ community make up 40% of homeless youths.

As progress for women moves slowly, the progress for queer women moves even slower. We can only hope that the opening of LICK and popularity of independently-run nights triggers a chain reaction. If you’re reading this, why not start a club night of your own?

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