I’m on the Northern line trundling towards Angel, where I’m meeting The Austrian for lunch. Suddenly, I recognise the girl sitting directly opposite me. I once messaged her on OkCupid and she never replied. But I don’t hold this against her; if there’s one thing I’ve learnt from internet dating, it’s to grow a thick, dykey pelt of resilience. On the other hand, I’d rather she wasn’t sitting in front of me reading Joyce and looking dashing in the East End lesbian uniform – a slightly oversized button-down (done up to the top, naturally. I think it has something to do with ironically looking chaste) over skinny jeans. I’m squirming in my seat, afraid that she’ll recognise me as the nebbish who sent her a message containing a cheese-themed pun. She seems engrossed in A Portrait of The Artist though.
Just as I’m starting to relax, the train stops at Old Street and someone else familiar boards. This girl, I went on an unsuccessful date with a couple of years ago. She talked about her moon cup; I talked about my ex. The disinterest was mutual and there was no second date. Now she’s sitting a few seats down from OkCupid girl. The three of us have formed a kind of Lesbian Bermuda Triangle of doomed romance. I stare at my brogues and hope that maybe they’ll notice each other instead of me, fall in love instantly, move to Stoke Newington and get a cat. Maybe two cats.
Believe it or not, this isn’t the first time that I’ve spotted familiar gay girls on the Northern Line. They’re not all women I’ve dated/attempted to date though (oh God no). In fact, a lot of them are just friends of friends who keep cropping up in pictures on my Facebook newsfeed (yes, Sapphic circles are that tight-knit). See, the Northern Line is the pulmonary artery of the lesbian community. It takes in both the East End (the heart) and Soho (the lungs). With its smoky, rowdy, vomit-slicked streets, Soho may not strike many as lung-like. But it’s where lesbians go to take a break from the aloof, verging on prickly East London scene. We go there to breathe in rum, sweat and Lady Gaga. We go there to flirt with smiles rather than snarls.
The Northern Line is a veritable lesbian hot spot. Nowhere else on the tube (even on the far more east-reaching lines) do I constantly catch myself checking out sullen grrrls with undercuts and chewed up DMs. If you dimmed the lights and blasted out some Le Tigre, you could be at a Dalston girls’ night. It’s also the place (below ground) you’re most likely to spot a lesbian couple. It’s like they’re trying to build a burrow down there. I once saw a particularly loved-up pair peering down into a shared copy of Tipping The Velvet. At which point I came close to saying, “For fuck’s sake,” out loud.
No other line is like this. The Piccadilly is alive with panicky tourists doing illogical things to giant luggage. The Jubilee Line usually hosts a gathering of earnest types in expensive glasses, gently agreeing with each other about things they read in the Guardian. When traveling on the District Line, it’s pretty much compulsory to be a woman wearing William Morris wallpaper, or a man in loafers – preferably together, with a brood of children named after fashionable root vegetables. There’s something distinctly heteronormative about the District Line. Every time I get on it, I feel like I’m being ironic. Without a shadow of a doubt, the Northern Line’s "thing" is lesbians.
Over Wiener Schnitzel at Kipferl, I tell The Austrian about my lezzy tubular misadventure. Being straight, I wonder if she’s noticed the anomalous concentration of gay girls on the Northern Line. I’m sort of hoping she’ll say, “Ja. In my village in the Tyrol there are certain cable cars…” and then go on to confirm my thesis on the basis of some rigorous anthropological fieldwork she has coincidentally been carrying out on the Northern Line. What she actually says is, “That’s interesting. Have you noticed all the Austrians on the Central Line?”