How The Lesbian Community Is Reinventing Modern Dating

Feb 15, 22
How The Lesbian Community Is Reinventing Modern Dating

The number of lesbian bars is shrinking. There’s only one in the whole of London, and in most UK cities there aren’t any left at all. Having gay bars which welcome gay women isn’t enough, especially when lesbians report feeling left out of LGBTQIA+ events and spaces. Surveys even show that 79 per cent of gay women say there is misogyny in the LGBTQIA+ community.

Instead, lesbians are now meeting at sober events – with wild swimming and outdoor activities proving popular. That’s how Rachel Ashe met her partner, Cory. Rachel lives in Swansea and is the founder of Mental Health Swims, a non-profit swim group that hosts monthly swim meets across the UK. Cory attended one of the swims she saw advertised on Instagram.

“This is the closest thing to love at first sight I’ve experienced. It was a knowing at first sight. I gravitated towards her. I knew that I wanted to really know her,” Rachel says. “I wasn’t looking for it. I wasn’t looking to meet anyone. I was married at the time – to a man. I didn’t know this gorgeous woman was going to come along. But there are quite a lot of lesbians who come to our swims. I think it’s a very feminine thing.”

Rachel wants to be more involved in the gay community, and has even looked at moving to a bigger city to find one, but doesn’t miss the bars. “We went to London recently, and we did pass She bar and I just thought: we’re too old. We’re in our thirties. I don’t really want to go out to a club. I’d love to do something like a gay women’s cooking class, or a dinner party. We just need more events.”

That’s what founder of lesbian event group Out and About, Polly Shute, is working on. Polly was on the board of Pride in London for four years, and found it only catered to gay men. She gave up trying to change it, and instead, started her own events which are designed with gay women in mind. These include walking groups, as well as a monthly supper club in London with about 50 to 60 women attending each time.

“Our research says that 79 per cent of women want to meet others through shared interests, and the experience market is huge,” Polly explains. “Women don’t want to go to bars and cruise, and they’re also less likely to go out to clubs when they do get into a couple. I didn’t come out until I was 41, because I thought, ‘I just don’t fancy anyone.’” You don’t know where to go, and you focus on other things like your job. I don’t want anyone else to have to go through that.”

Instead of big nights out, Polly adds, “The feedback we’ve had from gay women is that they want wellness events.” It’s not surprising, since research shows gay people are more likely to have a mental health condition, according to NHS data. Polly is holding a three-day wellness festival this summer. Called “Out and Wild”, it will take place in Pembrokeshire from 10 to 13 June, and is for “queer, questioning, and curious women”. There’s wild swimming, pilates and yoga, breath workshops – and, of course, music.

“Unlike most music festivals where nothing really happens until 3pm, this festival will encourage women to meet and talk. It can be intimidating for us to go to festivals, especially with all the drunk people there, but this is a safe space. There will be non-alcoholic drinks companies coming in for women who don’t want to drink. We’re also bringing in specialist LGBTQIA+ sports coaches to do taster sessions. It’s important, because they make women, especially trans women, feel comfortable.”

Sober and safe events are what gay women’s group, Sappho, have found gay women are looking for right now, too. Founder Maryann Wright said the charity was born from her own desire to meet other gay women at events that didn’t involve alcohol. “I’ve lived in London for four years and I was shocked at how little there was for gay women,” Wright tells Vogue. “We did our own survey, and out of the 300 women we spoke to, 80 per cent said they wanted to meet women at non-club environments. A lot of gay women are going through lifestyle changes, too, and don’t want to drink alcohol.”

So what are their most popular gatherings? “Our pottery classes always sell out within 24 hours. Women bring dates, they bring friends, or they come alone, too. It’s a lot less intimidating than going to a bar to meet someone. Unfortunately, outside the main Pride hubs, there’s not much around for gay women. We’re hoping to take our events on tour around the UK this year. There are digital events, so through lockdown we did a gay films club and book club online. But there’s no substitute for meeting people in person.”

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