Lez Miserable: Unleashing your inner aggro-dyke

Aggro-dyke is more than “angry lesbian”. It’s a smarter, more subtle concept.

An Austrian and a lesbian walk into a bar. After a few G&Ts, the Austrian disappears for a bit. She reappears looking pissed off and damp.

“What happened to you?” I say (I’m the lesbian, by the way)

“Zat girl,” she says, pointing into a dense crowd of drunkards, “She spilt her drink on me.”

“Oh. It’s rammed in here. She probably didn’t even notice,” I reply, trying to stop The Austrian getting all Ride of the Valkyries.

“She noticed,” says The Austrian, darkly, “And she laughed.”

“What? And no apology?”

“No. I think she might have done it on purpose – I was in her way.”

Suddenly I’m the one getting all Wagnerian. Nobody fucks with The Austrian.

“Which one is she?” I ask, getting out of my chair, “I’m going to have a word.”

I size up an innocuous-looking blonde girl pointed out by The Austrian. Yeah, I could take her. In spite of my friend’s peace protest, I bulldoze my way over to the unapologetic drink-spiller. Inasmuch as a 5’4” asthmatic with posture that makes the Hunchback of Notre-Dame look like Darcey Bussell can bulldoze. After a brief exchange which may or may not have contained the word “mean”, I’m shocked to get an apology out of The Spiller.         

“Wow,” another friend says to the newly-assertive me, “I never realised you were so aggro-dyke.”

I think I may have invented this term, but I never realised that it applied to me. I once spent a week in a new job being called Helena because I couldn’t bring myself to embarrass my colleague by correcting him. But what does it mean to be aggro-dyke?

Aggro-dyke is more than “angry lesbian”. It’s a smarter, more subtle concept. Angry lesbians play hockey and knit passive-aggressive waistcoats. There’s nothing nuanced about hitting things with sticks. The angry lesbian stereotype is also, unfairly, mostly attributed to butch women. Let it be known that you can be femme as fuck and aggro-dyke. Aggro-dykes aren’t caricatures; they’re gay women who happen to be both gobby and skilled in calling people out on kinds of arsehattery.

Aggro-dyke is the innate gruffness that comes with not only a being woman (in a sexist society), but being a woman who loves women. I’m not saying that I stood up for a friend in a bar squabble purely because I’m gay. That would be insulting to gutsy straight women everywhere, but aggro-dyke is defined by an obsession with tackling injustice. Perhaps being part of a minority makes you more sensitive to unfairness and more reluctant to let things go.

One aggro-dyke speciality is staring down men who are hitting on their girlfriends. They’ve even invented a facial expression specifically for this purpose. It’s a cross between a snarl and a full-body dry heave; not so much looking daggers as looking rusty chainsaws. Aggro-dykes also make the best coffee you will ever taste. They just do.

My inner aggro-dyke has only just been unleashed. I always knew it was there. I mean, there was that time I shushed some loud-talkers at a Daughter gig. I’m both excited and terrified by my newfound gruffness. Goodbye Helena and hello girl who “gets involved”.

This surly butterfly has emerged from its “don’t cause a scene” cocoon. In fact, who knows how many scenes I might cause from now on? I can’t exactly see myself draped in a hemp cloak, fighting homophobic crime by night, but woe betide the next person to deny me a “thank you” when I hold a door open for them. Aggro-dyke may be a form of belligerence, but it’s one that needs to be celebrated and embraced. 

No one spills a drink on The Austrian and gets away with it. Photo: Getty

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

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The Tinder dating app isn't just about sex – it's about friendship, too. And sex

The lines between sex, love and friendship are blurrier than ever, as I found out quickly while using the app.

The first time I met someone using Tinder, the free dating app that requires users to swipe left for “no” and right for “yes” before enabling new “matches” to chat, it was an unqualified success. I should probably qualify that. I was newly single after five years in a committed relationship and wasn’t looking for anything more than fun, friendship and, well, who knows. A few weeks earlier I had tried to give my number to a girl in a cinema café in Brixton. I wrote it on a postcard I’d been using as a bookmark. She said she had a boyfriend, but wanted to keep the postcard. I had no date and I lost my page.

My Tinder date was a master’s student from Valencia called Anna (her name wasn’t really Anna, of course, I’m not a sociopath). When I arrived at the appointed meeting place, she told me I was far more handsome IRL (“in real life”) than my pictures suggested. I was flattered and full of praise for the directness of continental Europeans but also thought sadly to myself: “If only the same could be said about you.”

Anna and I became friends, at least for a while. The date wasn’t a success in the traditional sense of leading us into a contract based on exclusivity, an accumulating cache of resentments and a mortgage, but it had put me back in the game (an appropriate metaphor – people speak regularly of “playing” with the app).

According to Sean Rad, the co-founder who launched Tinder in late 2012, the service was invented for people like me. “It was really a way to overcome my own problems,” he told the editor of Cosmopolitan at an event in London last month. “It was weird to me, to start a conversation [with a stranger]. Once I had an introduction I was fine, but it’s that first step. It’s difficult for a lot of people.” After just one outing, I’d learned two fundamental lessons about the world of online dating: pretty much everyone has at least one decent picture of themselves, and meeting women using a so-called hook-up app is seldom straightforwardly about sex.

Although sometimes it is. My second Tinder date took place in Vienna. I met Louisa (ditto, name) outside some notable church or other one evening while visiting on holiday (Tinder tourism being, in my view, a far more compelling way to get to know a place than a cumbersome Lonely Planet guide). We drank cocktails by the Danube and rambled across the city before making the romantic decision to stay awake all night, as she had to leave early the next day to go hiking with friends. It was just like the Richard Linklater movie Before Sunrise – something I said out loud more than a few times as the Aperol Spritzes took their toll.

When we met up in London a few months later, Louisa and I decided to skip the second part of Linklater’s beautiful triptych and fast-track our relationship straight to the third, Before Midnight, which takes place 18 years after the protagonists’ first meet in Vienna, and have begun to discover that they hate each others’ guts.

Which is one of the many hazards of the swiping life: unlike with older, web-based platforms such as Match.com or OkCupid, which require a substantial written profile, Tinder users know relatively little about their prospective mates. All that’s necessary is a Facebook account and a single photograph. University, occupation, a short bio and mutual Facebook “likes” are optional (my bio is made up entirely of emojis: the pizza slice, the dancing lady, the stack of books).

Worse still, you will see people you know on Tinder – that includes colleagues, neighbours and exes – and they will see you. Far more people swipe out of boredom or curiosity than are ever likely to want to meet up, in part because swiping is so brain-corrosively addictive.

While the company is cagey about its user data, we know that Tinder has been downloaded over 100 million times and has produced upwards of 11 billion matches – though the number of people who have made contact will be far lower. It may sound like a lot but the Tinder user-base remains stuck at around the 50 million mark: a self-selecting coterie of mainly urban, reasonably affluent, generally white men and women, mostly aged between 18 and 34.

A new generation of apps – such as Hey! Vina and Skout – is seeking to capitalise on Tinder’s reputation as a portal for sleaze, a charge Sean Rad was keen to deny at the London event. Tinder is working on a new iteration, Tinder Social, for groups of friends who want to hang out with other groups on a night out, rather than dating. This makes sense for a relatively fresh business determined to keep on growing: more people are in relationships than out of them, after all.

After two years of using Tinder, off and on, last weekend I deleted the app. I had been visiting a friend in Sweden, and took it pretty badly when a Tinder date invited me to a terrible nightclub, only to take a few looks at me and bolt without even bothering to fabricate an excuse. But on the plane back to London the next day, a strange thing happened. Before takeoff, the woman sitting beside me started crying. I assumed something bad had happened but she explained that she was terrified of flying. Almost as terrified, it turned out, as I am. We wound up holding hands through a horrific patch of mid-air turbulence, exchanged anecdotes to distract ourselves and even, when we were safely in sight of the ground, a kiss.

She’s in my phone, but as a contact on Facebook rather than an avatar on a dating app. I’ll probably never see her again but who knows. People connect in strange new ways all the time. The lines between sex, love and friendship are blurrier than ever, but you can be sure that if you look closely at the lines, you’ll almost certainly notice the pixels.

Philip Maughan is Assistant Editor at the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 26 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit odd squad