Must I submit to the lesbian club scene?

It's the only way I can surround myself with gay girls. But flirting in Lesbianese is a fine art.

“So, uh, what’s your favourite drug?” I ask a sallow woman with pretty blue eyes.

She has just told me that she likes drugs, so I’m being polite.

“Oh, that would have to be heroin. Heroin’s really nice. But never do heroin.”

My new friend, an ex-junkie, proceeds to list all the reasons why I should steer clear of smack. This is the highlight of my evening. I’m standing in a drizzly smoking area, outside a warehouse, being lectured to about the dangers of drug use. Inside, nearly every eligible young lesbian in London is doing her bit to make the walls sweat.

The lesbian scene has me by the balls. Yet every Hackney girls’ night or Soho piss-up ends with me sitting on the night bus, face like chewed ham, listening to “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”. “That’s it,” I say to myself. “I’m retiring from The Scene.”

A week later, I’m back for another healthy dose of gin and humiliation. See, submitting to the lesbian club scene is the only way I can surround myself with gay girls.

The advantage therein? Well, the chance of my being in the proximity of a person kind enough to sleep with me goes up 17 per cent. I’ve done the maths. Then again, me in a club is a bit like Nigel Farage in a Polski sklep. The only way to communicate with your fellow woman, when house music is invading your every orifice, is through the arcane medium of dance. When, like me, you don’t so much dance as move weirdly, you have no voice.

If, on the other hand, it was socially acceptable to go up to a woman in a club and scream facts about tropical diseases in her ear, I’d be made. Reality is a sour bitch.While trying to look as dour and inconspicuous as possible, I’m avoiding eye contact with girls I recognise from unsuccessful OkCupid dates. Throw in a regrettable one-night stand and you have yourself a bona fide fruit salad of broken dreams.

Flirting in Lesbianese is a fine art, especially in the inscrutable East End dialect. It involves mastering a facial expression that says exactly this: “I loathe you, but I would dearly like to put my thumb in your vagina.”

From what I can tell, it’s somewhere between a glare and a snarl, with a sprinkling of leer. On the way to the bar, for my seventh G&T, I pass a stunner with a pixie haircut and a baggy, “wouldn’t you like to know . . .” button-down.

We frown at each other, so things are looking good. A bit later, I see her leaving hand-inhand with a girl whose grimace she clearly preferred. I stand at the bar, sipping my drink and praying to every imaginable deity for the DJ to play a song that I actually know. Feigning enthusiasm for early-Noughties R&B tracks remixed by people with beards and opinions about post-ironic synth revival is surprisingly hard work. With a genuine scowl, I empty my glass. “I’m retiring,” I repeat to myself.

The next weekend, I’m lying face down in bed, having a glorious dream about tractors. My phone rings. It’s a lesbian.

“Are you coming to Fanny Palace tonight?”

“To what?”

“The Facebook page says it’s a ‘post-queer trip-hop extravaganza’.”

“Sounds great,” I say.

Is this the ideal place to find a date? Image: Getty

Eleanor Margolis is a freelance journalist, whose "Lez Miserable" column appears weekly on the New Statesman website.

This article first appeared in the 06 November 2013 issue of the New Statesman, Are cities getting too big?

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Absolutely Fashion showed what fashion week is really like: nasty, brutish and short

With fake meetings about fake covers, the documentary gave a glimpse into the abyss at the heart of the fashion world.

London Fashion Week is the sad little sister of the one in Paris, where I once attended a Valentino couture show dressed by Gap, watched what looked like live-action anorexia nervosa at Armani and got into a fight at Chanel. Did a man wearing a lion’s head on his real head look stupid? Yes, said I. No, said the fashion ­journalist, with fury.

Fashion Week had a small elegy this year – a BBC2 documentary called Absolutely Fashion: Inside British Vogue, which was fantastically misnamed. There is nothing inside Vogue, except a vague groping for novelty, which is technically an abyss. But that did not stop the programme’s director, Richard Macer, from sitting in Vogue House for nine months, watching women smell each other’s mascara. In the way of a certain type of media, he seems to have emerged more ignorant than when he began. This is the central principle of fashion: stupefy the buyer and she will pay to be reborn as something uglier.

“He doesn’t understand fashion,” said one critic, which I think meant: “He should have licked Karl Lagerfeld’s shoes while crying about belts.” To this critic, that is understanding fashion. It is a religious hierarchy. (That no one has asked Lagerfeld what he has done to his face, and why, proves this. When I met Lagerfeld in Paris, he was behind a velvet rope. I wondered if he sleeps with it.) Macer is a sexist, suggested another critic, who seemed to think that any industry that employs women in large numbers – human surrogacy farms, for instance, or Bangladeshi textile factories, or German super-brothels – is feminist. This is the stupidest definition of feminism I have yet heard and I have fashion to thank for it.

Macer was too frightened to ask questions about exploitation, pollution or the haunting spectacle of malnourished adolescents inciting self-hatred in older females in pursuit of profit, and he is not alone. I read no insights about London Fashion Week, but I do not care about clothes. He was so cowed by his access as to be undeserving of it, and Absolutely Fashion was as much about the laziness and commercial imperatives of modern journalism as it was about fashion, from which we should expect nothing.

Macer had a tiny scoop: British Vogue learned that American Vogue was running a cover of the singer Rihanna in the same calendar month. It decided to run early and people stayed up all night anxiously repaginating. He had the opportunity to ask Anna Wintour, the editor-in-chief of the US magazine, about it, but a staffer begged him not to. So he didn’t. He segued from journalist to PR. He drank the opiate – and I understand this, because if you don’t, you won’t survive. “Come again,” Jean Paul Gaultier once told me in Paris. His meaning was: “. . . but only if you love my clothes”.

In one scene, the actor Hugh Jackman was photographed in a bathtub at Claridge’s Hotel in London. He was fully clothed and looked marginally more stupid than he does dressed as the genetically mutated wolf man Wolverine, but that is not the point. “Come and see how handsome you are, Hugh,” cooed a Vogue woman. I wouldn’t have minded Jackman preening over an image of himself in private, but this exposed a truth: some journalism is celebrity PR.

Elsewhere, Kate Moss did a shoot wearing clothes that belonged to the Rolling Stones. It was based, she said, on a well-known shoot that they once did “in exile”. She meant tax exile, which was funny.

That Vogue, which is still, at least nominally, a magazine, should devote itself to this junk is not excused by an intellectual curiosity so dulled that one executive said that New York Fashion Week had “a sort of Lego element to it”.

British Vogue is edited by Alexandra Shulman, and in the manner of print media with long-standing editors – she has been there for 24 years – it is, in essence, a cult. In this case, a passive-aggressive-ocracy. (People are always surprised to learn that magazines are tyrannies, but there it is.)

I do not know whether Shulman wanted Macer there or not, or whether she didn’t have the clout to stop it, but once he was in, she treated him with the bored derision of a woman contemplating a ball gown chewed by moths. Shulman has the face of a woman who should get out while she can. In her only revealing scene, she had to choose between two front covers. One was “artistic” because it showed Kate Moss’s knickers; the other was unthreatening because it showed only Kate Moss’s face. “My heart is never allowed to rule,” she said, and she laughed. But I think she meant it.

She lied to Macer, too, holding fake meetings about fake covers so the world would not learn that Vogue had, by its cracked standards, a huge scoop: the Duchess of Cambridge would appear on the cover of the 100th-anniversary issue in a hat.

Absolutely Fashion also taught us, had we not known, that fashion is peopled by privileged creatures who are impervious to the extent of their privilege and who are, therefore, bad journalists, because they cannot even effectively interview themselves. For instance, the photographer Mary McCartney, one of Paul’s daughters, told Macer that she had never got work because her father was a member of the Beatles.

To be oblivious to reality is essential in fashion. Everyone is equal under the skirt. Yet McCartney flourishes because of the doctrine of the age: the already prosperous are more worthy of prosperity.

Not everyone seemed so disingenuous. One woman described the search for the non-existent novelty as “exhausting”. She no longer believed in the cult.

Absolutely Fashion, if you watch it critically, is more interesting than Macer perhaps allowed himself to dream. In its way, it embodied any fashion week anywhere: nasty, brutish and short. 

This article first appeared in the 22 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times