Lez Miserable: How to survive a lesbian protest march

Social awkwardness, men being disgusting, "feelings", bad vagina puns - Eleanor Margolis talks you through what goes on when large groups of lesbians gather to make their voices heard.

Rallies, marches, protests: if you’re a lesbian, you’ve probably been to at least one. Either voluntarily, or you were dragged along - possibly by your least hygienic friend (the one who insists that tampons are tools of the patriarchy). Last weekend, I got my stomp on, willingly, at Dyke March London – an annual celebration of fanny jokes and lesbian visibility. Having lived in Brighton for three years, I’d say I know a thing or two about what goes on at these scruffy girl-fests. For the uninitiated though, here are seven things that you’ll see at any lesbian demo.

1. Social awkwardness

“Did I meet her at a party, or is she that girl my friend briefly went out with who always brought pistachios with her on their dates?” is the kind of question you’ll ask yourself every time you clock a familiar face. She’s probably neither. Maybe she’s that girl you follow on Twitter who mostly tweets pictures of her lunch (lesbians are obsessed with lunch). Either way, you need to remember quickly, before she comes frolicking up and asks you how your second cousin’s ailing goldfish is doing. The lesbian scene is minute. You will have to make eye-crossingly goofy conversation with someone you know (from somewhere. . .).

2. Arguing couples

Gay Pride in particular is known to put strain on relationships. The atmosphere is thick with humidity and Rihanna, and all the rainbows are starting to hurt your eyes. You’re all riled up about feminism and stuff, then you and your girlfriend run into her most recent ex. The one who broke her heart. The one she still mentions at every opportunity. Looks like we have ourselves a situation referred to on The Scene as Lesbian Drama. There’s an old Lesbianese saying that roughly translates as: “Should a couple of dykes survive their first Pride together, they’ll get married and have nineteen cats.”

3. Rain

It’s common knowledge that it’s rained on every gay parade since the beginning of time. I’m sure the weather is usually great on Lesbos. But I bet that if Sappho and her mates had decided to shake things up a bit and smash some amphorae in 600 BC, it would’ve chucked it down.

4. Inexplicable communism

So, you thought this march was about dyke visibility? Wrong. According to a small but vocal group of attendees, it’s about liberating the proletariat. “But what if I once ate macaroons with a Tory and I sometimes sit in Starbucks when I have twenty minutes to kill? Am I not allowed to march for lesbian equality?” Apparently not. Go home to your Le Creuset casserole dish, bourgeois scum.

5. Men being disgusting

They’ll gawp. They’ll take pictures on their phones that they’ll send to their mate Craig (all men have a mate called Craig, who’s a dick). They’ll wolf whistle, even though that went out of fashion in 1943 after Mickey “Slim” Maguire did it to some broad, she didn’t take it so good and she busted his head with a flatiron. Certain men will treat the march as a kind of poorly choreographed burlesque show that’s been put on for their personal, sweaty-crotched amusement. If you’re part of a lesbian parade, chances are you’ll end up safely deposited in the wank bank of a guy with a popped collar and a photographic memory.

6. Feelings

Army of queer girls + gender politics + catchy chants = “feelings”. All sorts of feelings. Love for the sisterhood, irritation towards the sisterhood, indifference to the sisterhood. Something to do with sisterhood. Maybe the community spirit is turning you into a great, blubbery, joy-oozing marshmallow and you want to hug everything that has a face. Maybe the girl you’ve been trying to get with is having a worryingly intense conversation about the latest Jeanette Winterson novel with someone who isn’t you, and you want to kick everyone in the shins.   

7. Bad vagina puns

There are two things that lesbians love more than anything else in the world. One is vaginas and the other is puns. On special occasions we combine the two. Public demonstrations are the perfect place for us to show off our genital punning skills. At the start of Dyke March, I was handed a placard that read, “Snatch the day”. Such was my appreciation of its cleverness that I hung onto it and it now has pride of place in, uhh, my parents’ living room. I like to think there’s an unwritten “the more tenuous the wordplay, the more kudos you get” rule, but I try not to get too in-vulva-d. 

Women taking part in last year's Gay Pride march in London. Photograph: Getty Images

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

Photo: Getty
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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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