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We’ve won, lesbians. We’ve penetrated the realm of emojis

Snark aside, queer women should never be invisible.

If you’re in the middle of writing an earnest blog post about lesbian invisibility, stop this second. If you’re at a protest against lesbophobia, a fundraiser for lesbians with allergies, or a dyke march, go home now. After a struggle that can be traced back millennia, to Sappho’s fight for her right to mournfully finger women on an island, the battle is finally over. And ladies, we won. We’ve done it, lesbians, we’ve penetrated the realm of emojis.

Emojis, of course, are those tiny pictures of things you send to people in texts/WhatsApp messages, etc when you’re feeling intimidated by the richness and depth of language, and are looking to outsource your creativity. “I’m facing a level of existential doubt and dissatisfaction heretofore unbeknownst to mankind. Words fail me; here’s a little tractor instead.”

These new guys on the emoji scene include Piper and Alex from Orange Is The New Black, a fish taco (for the love of God), and a Tegan and Sara album. This unprecedented projection of lesbian iconography on to the screen of digital communication is sure to change the medium forever.  I mean, I’ve lost count of the number of times my emotions could only be expressed by a graphical representation of a turkey baster, and now I can do exactly that. It’s overwhelming to think that, up until so recently, I’d have to settle for the words, “I’m feeling turkey baster-y.”

Snark aside though, queer women should never be invisible. And I doff my trucker hat to Katie Streeter and Kimberly Linn, the designers behind the lesbian emojis. Streeter and Linn simply saw a place in which lesbians weren’t represented and went about filling it with famously dykey things. Having said that, I wasn’t immediately sure what their unicorn emoji represented, and weird shit happens when you Google “Lesbian unicorn”.

But anyway, where to go from here? Now that we can get married, be on TV and text one another miniscule pictures of innuendo-drenched Mexican delicacies, what could possibly be next for lesbian visibility? You so rarely see any lesbian neo-Nazis so, yet again, we fall behind gay men there. But maybe, for once, that’s a good thing. What about breakfast cereal though? Count to three and a lesbian, somewhere, has just finished a bowl of Alpen. But what’s on the box? Mountains. Great lumbering, bland mountains. It’s probably about time that Coco, the Coco Pops monkey (who everyone thinks is a bloke, for some reason), came out as a lesbian too.

I’m actually quite chuffed that I can now electronically emote in Lesbianese. It’s almost like Polari, the original slang of gay subculture, getting a 21st-century makeover. Next we’ll be 3D printing strap-ons and plonking a statue of Sue Perkins peering into an oven on Mars. But back to the present. I don’t think there’s any doubt that the BuzzFeed Age is the best time there’s ever been to be a lesbian.

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

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Lord Empey: Northern Ireland likely to be without government for a year

The former UUP leader says Gerry Adams is now in "complete control" of Sinn Fein and no longer wants to be "trapped" by the Good Friday Agreement

The death of Martin McGuinness has made a devolution settlement in Northern Ireland even more unlikely and has left Gerry Adams in "complete control" of Sinn Fein, the former Ulster Unionist leader Reg Empey has said.

In a wide-ranging interview with the New Statesman on the day of McGuinness’ death, the UUP peer claimed his absence would leave a vacuum that would allow Adams, the Sinn Fein president, to consolidate his hold over the party and dictate the trajectory of the crucial negotiations to come. Sinn Fein have since pulled out of power-sharing talks, leaving Northern Ireland facing the prospect of direct rule from Westminster or a third election in the space of a year. 

Empey, who led the UUP between and 2005 and 2010 and was briefly acting first minister in 2001, went on to suggest that, “as things stand”, Northern Ireland is unlikely to see a return to fully devolved government before the inquiry into the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme is complete -  a process which could take up to a year to complete.

“Adams is now in complete control of Sinn Fein,” he said, adding that it remained unclear whether McGuinness’ successor Michelle O’Neill would be “allowed to plough an independent furrow”. “He has no equal within the organisation. He is in total command of Sinn Fein, and that is the way it is. I think he’s even more powerful today than he was before Martin died – by virtue of there just being nobody there.”

Asked what impact the passing of McGuinness, the former deputy first minister and leader of Sinn Fein in the north, would have on the chances of a devolution settlement, Empey, a member of the UUP’s Good Friday Agreement negotiating delegation, said: “I don’t think it’ll be positive – because, for all his faults, Martin was committed to making the institutions work. I don’t think Gerry Adams is as committed.

Empey added that he believed Adams did not want to work within the constitutional framework of the Good Friday Agreement. In a rebuke to nationalist claims that neither Northern Ireland secretary James Brokenshire nor Theresa May can act as honest or neutral brokers in power-sharing negotiations given their reliance on the DUP’s eight MPs, he said: “They’re not neutral. And they’re not supposed to be neutral.

“I don’t expect a prime minister or a secretary of state to be neutral. Brokenshire isn’t sitting wearing a hat with ostrich feathers – he’s not a governor, he’s a party politician who believes in the union. The language Sinn Fein uses makes it sound like they’re running a UN mandate... Gerry can go and shout at the British government all he likes. He doesn’t want to be trapped in the constitutional framework of the Belfast Agreement. He wants to move the debate outside those parameters, and he sees Brexit as a chance to mobilise opinion in the republic, and to be seen standing up for Irish interests.”

Empey went on to suggest that Adams, who he suggested exerted a “disruptive” influence on power-sharing talks, “might very well say” Sinn Fein were “’[taking a hard line] for Martin’s memory’” and added that he had been “hypocritical” in his approach.

“He’ll use all of that,” he said. “Republicans have always used people’s deaths to move the cause forward. The hunger strikers are the obvious example. They were effectively sacrificed to build up the base and energise people. But he still has to come to terms with the rest of us.”

Empey’s frank assessment of Sinn Fein’s likely approach to negotiations will cast yet more doubt on the prospect that devolved government might be salvaged before Monday’s deadline. Though he admitted Adams had demanded nothing unionists “should die in a ditch for”, he suggested neither party was likely to cede ground. “If Sinn Fein were to back down they would get hammered,” he said. “If Foster backs down the DUP would get hammered. So I think we’ve got ourselves a catch 22: they’ve both painted themselves into their respective corners.”

In addition, Empey accused DUP leader Arlene Foster of squandering the “dream scenario” unionist parties won at last year’s assembly election with a “disastrous” campaign, but added he did not believe she would resign despite repeated Sinn Fein demands for her to do so.

 “It’s very difficult to see how she’s turned that from being at the top of Mount Everest to being under five miles of water – because that’s where she is,” he said. “She no longer controls the institutions. Martin McGuinness effectively wrote her resignation letter for her. And it’s very difficult to see a way forward. The idea that she could stand down as first minister candidate and stay on as party leader is one option. But she could’ve done that for a few weeks before Christmas and we wouldn’t be here! She’s basically taken unionism from the top to the bottom – in less than a year”.

Though Foster has expressed regret over the tone of the DUP’s much-criticised election campaign and has been widely praised for her decision to attend Martin McGuinness’ funeral yesterday, she remains unlikely to step down, despite coded invitations for her to do so from several members of her own party.

The historically poor result for unionism she oversaw has led to calls from leading loyalists for the DUP and UUP – who lost 10 and eight seats respectively – to pursue a merger or electoral alliance, which Empey dismissed outright.

“The idea that you can weld all unionists together into a solid mass under a single leadership – I would struggle to see how that would actually work in practice. Can you cooperate at a certain level? I don’t doubt that that’s possible, especially with seats here. Trying to amalgamate everybody? I remain to be convinced that that should be the case.”

Accusing the DUP of having “led unionism into a valley”, and of “lashing out”, he added: “They’ll never absorb all of our votes. They can try as hard as they like, but they’d end up with fewer than they have now.”

Patrick Maguire writes about politics and is the 2016 winner of the Anthony Howard Award.