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

“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.”

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

This article first appeared in the 09 April 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Anxiety nation

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Scotland's vast deficit remains an obstacle to independence

Though the country's financial position has improved, independence would still risk severe austerity. 

For the SNP, the annual Scottish public spending figures bring good and bad news. The good news, such as it is, is that Scotland's deficit fell by £1.3bn in 2016/17. The bad news is that it remains £13.3bn or 8.3 per cent of GDP – three times the UK figure of 2.4 per cent (£46.2bn) and vastly higher than the white paper's worst case scenario of £5.5bn. 

These figures, it's important to note, include Scotland's geographic share of North Sea oil and gas revenue. The "oil bonus" that the SNP once boasted of has withered since the collapse in commodity prices. Though revenue rose from £56m the previous year to £208m, this remains a fraction of the £8bn recorded in 2011/12. Total public sector revenue was £312 per person below the UK average, while expenditure was £1,437 higher. Though the SNP is playing down the figures as "a snapshot", the white paper unambiguously stated: "GERS [Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland] is the authoritative publication on Scotland’s public finances". 

As before, Nicola Sturgeon has warned of the threat posed by Brexit to the Scottish economy. But the country's black hole means the risks of independence remain immense. As a new state, Scotland would be forced to pay a premium on its debt, resulting in an even greater fiscal gap. Were it to use the pound without permission, with no independent central bank and no lender of last resort, borrowing costs would rise still further. To offset a Greek-style crisis, Scotland would be forced to impose dramatic austerity. 

Sturgeon is undoubtedly right to warn of the risks of Brexit (particularly of the "hard" variety). But for a large number of Scots, this is merely cause to avoid the added turmoil of independence. Though eventual EU membership would benefit Scotland, its UK trade is worth four times as much as that with Europe. 

Of course, for a true nationalist, economics is irrelevant. Independence is a good in itself and sovereignty always trumps prosperity (a point on which Scottish nationalists align with English Brexiteers). But if Scotland is to ever depart the UK, the SNP will need to win over pragmatists, too. In that quest, Scotland's deficit remains a vast obstacle. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.