Eleanor Margolis: sapphic cynic at large

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“You’re a lesbian, then?” asks the cabbie. I’m not in the mood

This is supposed to be my tiny bit of luxury, a protective bubble sparing me, this once, the stultifying, sexist harassment of traversing London in the wee hours. 

It was supposed to be my sanctuary: two women get into a British-made taxi in New York, 1960. Photo: Getty
It was supposed to be my sanctuary: two women get into a British-made taxi in New York, 1960. Photo: Getty

“You’re a lesbian, then?” I’m not in the mood. Not that there’s any particular malice in the cabbie’s voice: I know that tone well. It’s unadulterated male curiosity.

“Yeah, I am,” I say, fighting my end-of-heavy-night torpor and attempting to sound enthusiastic about it. I know I need to do my best to make sure he doesn’t think I’m sad about being a lesbian. I’m representing. God, I hate representing.

“Why, though – why would you be a lesbian?”

It’s an unholy hour and I am, in fact, on my way home from the Lesbian Prom, an almighty dyke convention at the Scala in King’s Cross. I’ve given up on trying to get the standard 17 buses and a canoe back to south-west London, so I’ve decided to splash out on a taxi. This is supposed to be my tiny bit of luxury, a protective bubble sparing me, this once, the stultifying, sexist harassment of traversing London in the wee hours. But it turns out that I might as well have kept my coat on and faced the troglodytes. My cab driver, having picked me up straight from the venue, knows that some kind of unholy woman-love festival is going on there, and he is quizzing me.

“I don’t know,” I say. “I mean, there isn’t really a ‘why’ – I just am.”

When you’re part of a minority, you must be prepared to don a mortarboard and turn educator at any given moment. It can be exhausting on a night out, when all you want to do is collapse in a cushiony pile somewhere and land face first in a Styrofoam container of culinary compost.

“An attractive girl like you . . .” the cabbie begins.

Uh-oh. I’m sure most women have, at some point, suffered that “shit, I’m at this guy’s mercy” feeling in a cab. My irritation turns to nagging fear and my fist tightens around my house keys.

“What has attractiveness got to do with it?” I say, trying to sound unfazed.

“I don’t have anything against lesbians,” he shoots, starting to get defensive.

This has gone from tedious to unsettling and back again. I’m done. I put my earphones in. But apparently I don’t get to decide when the conversation is over.

“What if you want to have kids?” he asks, loud enough so I can hear him over my Grrr! playlist.

“If I want kids, I’ll have them,” I say. “There’s more than one way to start a family.”

The cabbie looks genuinely flummoxed.

“I dunno,” he says, “it just seems strange to me . . .”

Earphones back in.

Fortunately, the cab soon stops outside my house.

“You know,” I say, as I get out, “it really isn’t strange.”