“I’m in the corner watching you kiss her,” every single person wails at Butches on Top, the 43rd party by Butch Please – widely regarded as ‘London’s coolest lesbian club night.’ It’s the only event in the capital that specifically caters and cradles the beautiful, bountiful world of butch. The bar is full and the Robyn smash is being wielded with varying degrees of passion by dykes in varying proximities from heartbreak.
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A bar full of butches and their admirers is the perfect place to select your dyke avatar: leather daddies, dog collar dykes, cottagecore queers. Tank tops, tattoos, heels, latex, lace, suspenders, suit braces, mullets, shaved, short-back-sides, braids, cascading locks; it’s an explosion of self-expression and self-exploration, flesh and fashion, and an ode to the dynamism and amorphousness of London’s butch scene.
“The community of queer women, trans and non-binary people in London is made up of so many different people,” Tabs Benjamin, the radiant ball of light who created Butch Please seven years ago, tells GO. “We are not all the same and that’s okay. It’s so important that we lean on each other, hold up each other’s voices and love each other,” Tabs says.
‘Loving each other,’ yes, that is certainly something the community has covered tonight. “WAP“ ripples through the sound-system, the baseline penetrating everyone in the bar as butches press up on butches, non-binary boos merge on the dancefloor, and femmes use pillars as the only thing keeping them vertical during their make-outs. Cardi B praises the pussy as dykes in dog collars slow dance like they’re at prom, and dykes in short shorts drop to their knees in front of their new-found love, dedicating the track to its namesake.
“Sexual freedom is a big part of Butch Please,” says Tabs – and that is no lie. “As a butch dyke, my sexuality is policed in a very public and deep way so it’s crucial that this space is somewhere we feel free to express our sexuality.”
But what does the name Butches on Top mean? Tabs, who fabulously themes her parties, sheds some light. While it “literally” refers to butches “as ‘tops’ and as ‘topping,’” she explains, it also refers to butches “being and feeling top (of the world!) and being the best.” It also, she says, alludes “to butches now and historically being on the front line – politically and physically of the community – and the battle to be gender non-conforming and free from violence.”
Though butch tops, pheromones, and Meghan Thee Stallion’s trademark “agh” bound limitlessly around the venue, this is a really cozy and comfortable party space. There are huge smiles everywhere, there’s kindness and consideration, and people who’ve come alone have found a crew for the night. Tonight may be the sexist queer club night in London, but it’s also the loveliest.
Royal Vauxhall Tavern in South London has been hosting Butch Please since its inception, gradually giving more space for butch dykes – transitioning from quarterly to monthly and then bi-monthly events (second Saturday and last Thursday of every month), Tabs explains. “It’s just blown up.” The venue is a fabulous Grade-II listed London-pub built in 1863 that morphed into an award-winning LGBTQ+ cabaret venue in the 1980s. All mahogany floors and disco balls, it’s laid out around a stage, with tiered platforms for dyke-watching and liberated dancing.
The king of the stage this evening – and most evenings – is Don One, the Drag King extraordinaire, who’d just landed back from Copenhagen Pride where they’d performed for 20,000 people. Charming, wooing, and cracking the crowd up, Don floats around the smoking area after their performance, cooling off and soaking in their scene celeb status. Don’s drag career (like Butch Please) has been going strong for seven years. “This night was an instant match for me,” Don tells GO. “It’s run so smoothly, it’s a totally joyful gig. The big dyke energy at Butch Please is real, so that makes it feel like home to me, too.”
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Indeed, people emerge from the dancefloor covered in sweat and frazzled from all that steamy dyke energy to breathe in London’s crisp night air. “You’re amazing,” people say to Don. Their appreciation for Don is palpable.
“I’m just back from a year in Russia,” says a student in the smoking area, “and I have missed this so much, it’s so nice being in queer spaces.” She then points to Don and says, “you optimize that for me” with tears in her eyes. “So thank you, thank you.”
“That’s why I do what I do,” says Don.” The student insists on gifting them a cigarette, which they accept “though I only smoke Vogues if I smoke straights,” they whisper to me.
Back inside, the t-shirts are off and the binders are out, and the drops get lower as the DJ summons Beyoncé on her silver horse, and the spacious tempo of “Break My Soul” rumbles through the Tavern. A few beats in and the central stage is full, the spotlight bathing dykes in their own inimitable light. One star gravitates to the front, lip syncing every single word. “It’s her first time at a queer party,” Don says, chuckling. “She came up to tell me earlier… now look.”
Pointing her finger to members of the crowd, stripping down to her bra, all-fours crawling across the stage, basking in that butch energy, “looking for something that lives inside,” she hollers the Bey lyric aloud, undoubtedly having found that something. Her exuberant performance doesn’t go unnoticed; another limelight-reveler soon joins her. Before the track’s done, the pair are manically making out on stage, our community newbie fittingly topped by a beautiful butch.
For obvious reasons, a first Butch Please is rarely a last…
Next Butch Please! Classic Butch is 29th Sep 2022 – more here