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.

Photo: André Spicer
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“It’s scary to do it again”: the five-year-old fined £150 for running a lemonade stand

Enforcement officers penalised a child selling home-made lemonade in the street. Her father tells the full story. 

It was a lively Saturday afternoon in east London’s Mile End. Groups of people streamed through residential streets on their way to a music festival in the local park; booming bass could be heard from the surrounding houses.

One five-year-old girl who lived in the area had an idea. She had been to her school’s summer fête recently and looked longingly at the stalls. She loved the idea of setting up her own stall, and today was a good day for it.

“She eventually came round to the idea of selling lemonade,” her father André Spicer tells me. So he and his daughter went to their local shop to buy some lemons. They mixed a few jugs of lemonade, the girl made a fetching A4 sign with some lemons drawn on it – 50p for a small cup, £1 for a large – and they carried a table from home to the end of their road. 

“People suddenly started coming up and buying stuff, pretty quickly, and they were very happy,” Spicer recalls. “People looked overjoyed at this cute little girl on the side of the road – community feel and all that sort of stuff.”

But the heart-warming scene was soon interrupted. After about half an hour of what Spicer describes as “brisk” trade – his daughter’s recipe secret was some mint and a little bit of cucumber, for a “bit of a British touch” – four enforcement officers came striding up to the stand.

Three were in uniform, and one was in plain clothes. One uniformed officer turned the camera on his vest on, and began reciting a legal script at the weeping five-year-old.

“You’re trading without a licence, pursuant to x, y, z act and blah dah dah dah, really going through a script,” Spicer tells me, saying they showed no compassion for his daughter. “This is my job, I’m doing it and that’s it, basically.”

The girl burst into tears the moment they arrived.

“Officials have some degree of intimidation. I’m a grown adult, so I wasn’t super intimidated, but I was a bit shocked,” says Spicer. “But my daughter was intimidated. She started crying straight away.”

As they continued to recite their legalese, her father picked her up to try to comfort her – but that didn’t stop the officers giving her stall a £150 fine and handing them a penalty notice. “TRADING WITHOUT LICENCE,” it screamed.


Picture: André Spicer

“She was crying and repeating, ‘I’ve done a bad thing’,” says Spicer. “As we walked home, I had to try and convince her that it wasn’t her, it wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t her who had done something bad.”

She cried all the way home, and it wasn’t until she watched her favourite film, Brave, that she calmed down. It was then that Spicer suggested next time they would “do it all correctly”, get a permit, and set up another stand.

“No, I don’t want to, it’s a bit scary to do it again,” she replied. Her father hopes that “she’ll be able to get over it”, and that her enterprising spirit will return.

The Council has since apologised and cancelled the fine, and called on its officials to “show common sense and to use their powers sensibly”.

But Spicer felt “there’s a bigger principle here”, and wrote a piece for the Telegraph arguing that children in modern Britain are too restricted.

He would “absolutely” encourage his daughter to set up another stall, and “I’d encourage other people to go and do it as well. It’s a great way to spend a bit of time with the kids in the holidays, and they might learn something.”

A fitting reminder of the great life lesson: when life gives you a fixed penalty notice, make lemonade.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.