Dyke Patrol: Looking For Your People -The Toast

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The night before I moved overseas, my friends and I went to the pub. We were there for about six hours and I don’t remember much beyond a blur of yelling over each other, a lot of hysterical declarations of love. At one point some boys came up to try and hit on us and one of my friends looked up and said, cold and furious, “Our beloved is leaving us tomorrow – can you go, like, now?”

It’s been eight months since I packed up my bags and fled Australia, hoping this time it would stick. Melbourne is the best Australian city and one of my favourite cities in the world, but I’d had enough – it was too hot, too claustrophobic, too far away from everything. Bristol, the English city that had captured my heart when I was travelling the year before, seemed like everything I wanted: familiar to Melbourne in its vagabond, cheerful, arts-loving spirit, but more colourful, colder, crisper. Bands went there. Also, I’d fallen in love.

This city is beautiful and I love it, its vibrant walls, its tortuous hills and open spaces, “my lover” as a pet name used for the first time in my hearing outside of Buffy. I have a group of nice friends here and a gorgeous new house with the necessary eccentric landlord, and my career prospects are actually starting to look a little different from the “oh god what kind of idiot still gets an arts degree” sludge that they’ve been for the last few years. But there’s one thing I can’t get over, the thing that keeps me pining after my old town: Bristol, where are your dykes?

Because I come from Melbourne, where the queer scene for people in their early twenties rages, where at the centre of the storm is a brilliant and terrifying group of women and genderqueer people, where dykes prowl the streets of Brunswick and Northcote like a werewolf pack. I came of age there, in this city overrun, where the way girls looked at me made the back of my neck prickle, where there was always someone with delicate hands and an oversized tweed jacket looking to get you in trouble.


It might be that I’m just bitter, or not looking hard enough, or that this is what most cities’ queer scenes are like, but if there’s a place in Bristol crowded and dangerous with dykes like I remember, it’s not one that I can find.

My girlfriend, when I arrived, was the vice president of Bristol University’s LGBT+ society, and so I was fairly confident that I had a good “in” for the queer scene. But Bristol University’s LGBT+ society, while friendly to tag-alongs like me, is undeniably a place for students. It’s an insular group, with most of its members scattering to other UK cities when they’ve graduated, and though I’m only 22, being a non-student makes more of a difference than you’d think.

Perhaps I should have expected that; the trouble is, if you’re not a student, there doesn’t seem to be any alternative. There’s Queercaf, a group run by passionate people who want to combine queer parties with politics, and they do an admirable job, but events are few and far between and most of the people who go are well into adulthood – over 35 and bringing their kids. There’s Indigo, a queer group dedicated to women, but it’s an older audience again. Everything else is dominated overwhelmingly by cis gay men, with all nights ending at Bristol’s famous OMG club, possibly one of the worst gay clubs I’ve ever had the misfortune to be in and home to definitely the worst drag queen.

dykepic1Back home, Melbourne thrives through a mix of good ideas and brilliant coincidences. Rather than gay clubs, all of the queers I knew would go to nights – Thursgay at Mr Wow’s Emporium, IQ just across the road on Tuesdays, Closet held once a month (its posters frequently getting in trouble). Melbourne managed to avoid the tendency for gay clubs to be overrun by men, and particularly by older men, who – gay or not – can be an uncertain and unwanted presence in a room with a lot of women and genderqueer people, mostly by sending them off to the two or three gay clubs that do exist, so they don’t infiltrate these larger nights. I was introduced to the scene via my university’s queer club, but the group was never contained just to Melbourne Uni students. You’d meet graduates, or kids from other universities, or kids who weren’t going to uni at all, and then they’d invite you to parties where you’d meet still more people. The house parties in Melbourne’s queer scene became a familiar and delightful fixture of weekends: the Beyonce themed one that featured a giant chalk painting shrine to her (pictured), the Halloween I dressed up as Johnny Knoxville, the one where three of us sat around a bonfire when my friend came back from the loo to find the other two making out and said, sadly, “I thought we were talking about our daddy issues!”

It’s strange to me that there is no broader dyke scene in Bristol: that that community seems to be entirely missing. I wonder where they are, Bristol’s dykes, where they go and who they hang out with, whether, like me, they are the one queer girl in a group of friends. I hunt for them with all my Melbourne dyke instincts; whipping my head around when I hear a girl with an undercut drawling about Kristen Stewart, or grinning wolfishly if a girl catches my eye. Sometimes I’m sure, but I never get any invitation to a secret club.

I love living in this city, and I don’t want to leave it. I’m nervous talking to my friends or my girlfriend sometimes about this shock, this homesickness, because it feels accusatory in a way that normal homesickness doesn’t. I’m not blaming Bristol – probably this is the norm, gay scenes are dominated by a couple of shitty clubs and a pack of men. There is something special about Melbourne and its sprawling, devoted community, and when I discovered it, seventeen and overwhelmed, I thought these were the kind of people I’d hang out with forever.

dykepic2And I do miss it, I do. I don’t miss feeling inadequate and intimidated, I don’t miss the insane politics, the veganism, the in-fighting and factions, the people who don’t recognise you even though you’ve met them three or four times, but I miss it all the time. I miss Thursgay every week which was always playing my song, always, which played pop songs with all the joy and ferocity they needed, which took Taylor Swift and Beyonce and Wheatus as importantly as they needed to be taken – not seriously, but with weight. Not gravitas but gravity, knowing how to send a room up and down. I miss the undercuts, the glitter, the op shops, the oversized sweaters and see-through bras, I miss the long thick plaits and the monobrows, I miss the hiking boots and the untied laces.

I miss the butch girls and the bois, big and firm and putting a hand on your neck on the dancefloor, I miss the smaller queers, with their shaved heads and their winged eyeliner and the kind of fragile strength about them, like they’ve clawed their way back from the edge and so now they can probably carry you, too. I miss the hard femmes, whose particular version of femininity left me deeply uncomfortable, I miss their faith in vintage pin-ups and a curler. I even miss the first year boys: not their presence, but their scarcity. I miss the turquoise lipstick, the round high circles of blush. I miss my friends, I miss knowing people everywhere I went, I miss sitting in a corner of a park with a bottle of shitty wine and getting ready to dance. I miss napping on couches and waking up to people talking about coming out to their parents and making badges that say FUCK THE CIS-TEM, I miss the endless rows, I miss throwing my hands up once a week at least and saying fuck it, being done. I miss caring that much, not regarding it with a lazy whatever-whatever-ness, a kind of cynicism that I’m not good enough for. I miss being surprised. I want to spill down to Mr Wow’s, I want all of us there again, I want to be there, too, terrifying the token clueless lad and telling him to go, like, now, with a jug in front of me, safe and sound and loud.


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