Dyke Nightlife Diary is recurring column for GO Magazine, by the esteemed nightlife writer Clare Hand.
Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Leather Covered Dyke.) It’s half-past eight, and I’m in the smoking area of Royal Vauxhall Tavern. It’s a magnificent queer bar in South London, a staple in the scene, with some of the capital’s friendliest security and bar staff. The perfect venue for some dyke nightlife.
Tonight, the legendary Butch Please has taken over, and I’m perched on a bench with a bunch of dykes. One speaks of how she popped her lesbian cherry the other week. “I’m a baby dyke, and tonight, I want to graduate to dykolescence.” Another gives pricing advice on queer dominatrixes. It’s quite a butch-presenting crew, and soon the rest are sharing experiences of how they’ve been confused for guys in toilets, and how they’ve been IDed — not because of their age, but for their gender.
Chatting is great, but we can see the door. We can see leather icons — daddies, doms, bikers — flooding into the venue, and it’s definitely time to get in the mix.
“Son of a Preacher Man,” oozes from the smooth sound system. The energy is high with anticipation and conversation. Countless jaws rest on the floor as we absorb the majesty of all this dyke energy. There’s a dom perched on a bar stool in a black leather skirt. She nurses a cider, her leather whip rests on her lap. Someone else strides past in red thigh-high lace-up boots, clasping G&Ts for her and her date. I chat to someone wearing a leather waistcoat with daggers & roses embroidered on the front and a dog collar strapped around their neck. “Butch Please is the only place in London I feel I can dress like this,” they say, before breaking into euphoric dance to Wham!’s “Club Tropicana.”
Looks are being exchanged in a no-nonsense manner. That dog collar will soon have a leash on it, that harness will be hooked to a St. Andrew’s Cross before the night is done. “Some of the best tops in London are in this building,” a friend tells me as we examine the crowd, jaws probably never retuning to their rightful place.
A woman with a blonde pompadour haircut, a white ruffle shirt, and a leather corset cinched at her waist stands on the upper level, surveying the crowd. She looks like the lesbian vampire of everyone’s pre-Halloween dreams, and though we’re all pretending to be dancing, drinking, or talking to our friends, we’re all silently vying for this icon’s attention. Baby dyke soon decides that this woman — the most seasoned-seeming dom of them all — is to be her chaperone into dykolescence, at which point the smoking area crew step in to gently advise against the move. “She will eat you alive,” someone says, though all silently envious of the baby dyke’s pluckiness.
As Hug the DJ drops Grace Jones’ “Slave to the Rhythm,” the room implodes in the rhythmic sways of dykes feeling themselves and feeling their sensualities. There’s such a relaxed atmosphere, and a really harmonious balance of different dyke communities — intergenerational, trans, butch, femme, non-binary, floral shirts, playful, serious; those filling the room with their sexuality; others keeping theirs to themselves; some with all their mates; others happily bopping along in the corner alone. If I’d recommend riding solo to any queer women’s party in London, this is it.
Of course, tonight isn’t only about listening to Grace Jones and doting over dykes. Tonight, like every Butch Please, is showtime.
Founder Tabs walks through the crowd and takes to the stage. A few years ago, she rode into the bar on a Harley Davidson, so she was keeping it low-key tonight. She’s a singer-songwriter who launched Butch Please a few years back because she “didn’t feel at home anywhere else on the London scene.” It was — and still is — the only night in London that specifically celebrates butch women. “We are crucial to the queer scene and we shouldn’t have to exist in the shadows of the scene as well as in the world at large,” she says.
Tonight, Tabs is wearing a t-shirt and jeans and tells the crowd, “You’re looking amazing in your leather and pleather (for the vegans). I’m more of a voyeur myself.” She then embarks on a powerful speech about finding her place in the world through her butch identity and the UK’s testing political times (#Brexit). “I believe that Butch Please is a political act,” she says, “talk to each other, love each other, f*ck each other. Keep supporting and listening to each other. Being in this space, that is resistance,” she concludes to raucous applause.
The show starts with a “skill share” session in the form of, well, an orgasm competition. Four brave souls volunteer to take to the stage and re-enact their best cumming sounds. Tabs, with tongue-in-cheek, asks each contestant, “What’s your name, and where do you come from?” Three answer accordingly; number four goes for, “My name’s Beth. I come from four fingers.” The winner (number one) walks away with a huge smile and a prize leather thong. Dykes feigning orgasms for other dykes did feel strangely subversive.
Eclectic programming is key to bringing this dyke motley crew together. After the skill share, Sandra Springer sings a beautiful cover of Amy Winehouse’s “Valerie,” and drag king Georgeous Michael meticulously recreates the ’80s star’s playful sex appeal. Soon after, the late-night DJ slot is filled by the force that is Aisha Mirza. Mixing filthy Dancehall bangers with ’90s RnB and Afrobeat. Inimitable mixing charges through the building. The thumping baseline convinces the sternest-looking dykes to unleash their moves on the floor.
Someone in leather arseless chaps and a latex Madonna cone bra dances like the world is hers. Butch women are feverishly making out with butch women. Baby dyke is grinding on someone with the self-assurance of a seasoned lesbian dom. Royal Vauxhall Tavern is filled to the brim with dyke love and butch adoration. Long-live Butch Please, the biggest dyke-daddy of them all.
Butch, Please! runs bi-monthly(ish) at Royal Vauxhall Tavern, SE11 @butchpleaselondon.