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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The private renting sector enables racist landlords like Fergus Wilson

A Kent landlord tried to ban "coloured people" from his properties. 

Fergus Wilson, a landlord in Kent, has made headlines after The Sun published his email to a letting agent which included the line: "No coloured people because of the curry smell at the end of the tenancy."

When confronted, the 70-year-old property owner only responded with the claim "we're getting overloaded with coloured people". The letting agents said they would not carry out his orders, which were illegal. 

The combination of blatant racism, a tired stereotype and the outdated language may make Wilson seem suspiciously like a Time Landlord who has somehow slipped in from 1974. But unfortunately he is more modern than he seems.

Back in 2013, a BBC undercover investigation found 10 letting agent firms willing to discriminate against black tenants at the landlord's request. One manager was filmed saying: "99% of my landlords don't want Afro-Caribbeans."

Under the Equality Act 2010, this is illegal. But the conditions of the private renting sector allow discrimination to flourish like mould on a damp wall. 

First, discrimination is common in flat shares. While housemates or live-in landlords cannot turn away a prospective tenant because of their race, they can express preferences of gender and ethnicity. There can be logical reasons for this - but it also provides useful cover for bigots. When one flat hunter in London protested about being asked "where do your parents come from?", the landlord claimed he just wanted to know whether she was Christian.

Second, the private rental sector is about as transparent as a landlord's tax arrangements. A friend of mine, a young professional Indian immigrant, enthusiastically replied to house share ads in the hope of meeting people from other cultures. After a month of responding to three or four room ads a day, he'd had just six responses. He ended up sharing with other Indian immigrants.

My friend suspected he'd been discriminated against, but he had no way of proving it. There is no centrally held data on who flatshares with who (the closest proxy is SpareRoom, but its data is limited to room ads). 

Third, the current private renting trends suggest discrimination will increase, rather than decrease. Landlords hiked rents by 2.1 per cent in the 12 months to February 2017, according to the Office for National Statistics, an indication of high demand. SpareRoom has recorded as many as 22 flat hunters chasing a single room. In this frenzy, it only becomes harder for prospective tenants to question the assertion "it's already taken". 

Alongside this demand, the government has introduced legislation which requires landlords to check that tenants can legitimately stay in the UK. A report this year by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants found that half of landlords were less likely to rent to foreign nationals as a result of the scheme. This also provides handy cover for the BTL bigot - when a black British tenant without a passport asked about a room, 58 per cent of landlords ignored the request or turned it down

Of course, plenty of landlords are open-minded, unbiased and unlikely to make a tabloid headline anytime soon. They most likely outnumber the Fergus Wilsons of this world. But without any way of monitoring discrimination in the private rental sector, it's impossible to know for sure. 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.