In some ways, this is a lesbian wonderland: sitting on the grass in a packed Dolores Park on the first day of San Francisco Pride, the city dubbed “the clitoris of America” by legendary sex artist Annie Sprinkle.

It’s certainly a spectacle. Everywhere I look, there are visual representations of the concept of freedom: two topless young women, glitter patches on their nipples, flashing underarm hair as they raise joints to their lips. A butch with a daisy chain in her hair and a banner declaring, “My pussy, my rules!” A plump, brown-skinned nymph in a green bikini, dancing her way through the crowds to rejoin her tribe.

This is my second Pride in California this month but still not, well, a sausage. I want to be cruised like the beating of hummingbird’s wings, ie 53 times a second. But I’m just sitting on the grass writing all this down in a notebook, hoping I look cool, in a Patti Smith kind of way. Or am I just the very image of someone not getting laid at Pride?

I find myself single for the first time in years. Plus, I’m now 55. Oh, and I’ve been living in a cave for the past two years in the Mojave Desert so I’m a little out of the swing of the Nancy Drew business of learning how to find lesbian love in 2022.

I used to joke that the LGBT letters sounded like a BLT sandwich. But now there’s a whole new platter of sandwiches being brought out. From apps like Bumble and Hinge, I learn that alongside lesbian and dyke there’s a mind-boggling range of ways to put yourself on the Sapphic market. Many of them encompass not just who you desire (your sexuality) but what gender you consider yourself to be (the new obsession of our times). Popular concepts include queer woman, non-binary, boi, pansexual, poly, asexual, aromantic, two-spirit, gender queer, gender non-conforming, trans fem, trans masc, zie (gender-neutral singular pronoun), AFAB (assigned female at birth), cis (the opposite of trans), sapiosexual (if someone’s brain turns you on) and demisexual, meaning, I think, that you’ll only go to bed with someone if you’ve become friends first.

I’m fed-up with seeing the same images of kink & queer sexuality: tall, skinny white women wearing leather or latex

This is the age of retooling sexual definitions. Heteroflexible is a common one seen on straight swinger sites now (the new bisexual?). But the “Lesbian Nation” (as Jill Johnston termed it in her famous 1973 book) now seems to have divided into a series of islands. At Dyke Day LA, the women-specific gathering at Los Angeles Pride two weeks before San Francisco Pride, there was a general feeling that “dyke” is coming back because it’s apt for the anti-woman political climate currently at large in America: ie it’s both combative and “inclusive” (a big imperative in the new Lesbian Nation.) Of course, the mainstream hasn’t yet caught up with all this. I posted “dyke” in a Facebook message on the morning of SF Pride and got a message back saying I’d been banned for using “hate speech”.

Another headline in lesbian land these days is that there are no more bars. Of the 63,000 bars in the United States, only 21 are lesbian. Thankfully, a new initiative called the Lesbian Bar Project, fronted by actress Lea DeLaria, is raising money to keep struggling lesbian bars open and help fund new ones. Over $151,000 has been raised so far.

Inspired by this project, three New Yorkers, Rachel Karp, 26, Sarah Gabrielli, 26, and Jen McGinity, 42, set off on a lesbian bar road trip around America and reported back via a podcast ( The three women declare Oklahoma to be an unlikely hot lesbian spot, although Karp admits that that there are currently “zero bars exclusively for lesbians” but “many that are exclusively for gay men.” She adds, “It’s strange and sad that gay male spaces don’t focus more on inclusivity as an active goal.”

“What, you mean there’s no lesbian Grindr or Scruff?” my gay male friend, Dirk, 51, said later, showing me the hot dates he had lined up for that night alone. Things seem much simpler in the Homosexual Cis Male Nation. “We swap dick pics and agree to meet for coffee,” he shrugs. I tell him it’s way slower on the lesbian apps. I finally met up with an “LLL” (Late Life Lesbian) after two weeks of texting. She was a traumatised former Mormon who still lived with her husband for security and financial reasons. “What happens if my legs get cut off?” she demanded to know twice during our date. “Who’s going to come visit me in hospital?”

LA-based Elena Rosa has set up a virtual nightclub project called Last Butch. She has reconstructed lesbian bars of the past, dating back as far as the 1950s – with voice recordings from historians and former bar patrons. “These bars are birthing grounds to explore and frame our identity, history and activism,” she says. “Because of this I believe they are sacred spaces.” The next virtual bar night is on 13 August.

In the UK, there’s still one remaining lesbian bar in London, Girl Soho. But it’s underground with no windows. Filmmaker, writer and former commissioner at Channel 4 Jacquie Lawrence (currently working on a script called Triple L about an LLL in Newcastle) made a successful documentary this year called Gateways Grind. It’s about the historic lesbian club on the King’s Road. She’s now looking into creating a lesbian members club. “A lot of us are older now. We don’t want scuzzy clubs with blaring music.”

Yet Siobhan Fahey, 56, the award-winning producer behind this year’s smash-hit outsider-lesbian documentary, Rebel Dykes, about a group of underground punk feminist lesbians of the 1980s, likes the rough and tumble summer festivals that make up the queer women’s social circuit these days. She uses the word “queer” about herself (“I love it for being such a vague word”) and doesn’t particularly care for women-only spaces.

She doesn’t mind laughing and dancing in muddy fields at the likes of L-Fest or Oban Festival, where she’s going later this month while the gayboys are sipping their cocktails in Mykonos.

Photo: Imogen Cleverley

Part of the problem for lesbian bars is that lesbians don’t drink enough cocktails. Maybe it’s because they’ve all settled down to get married and have kids. But ever since Lisa Cannistraci, the owner of Henrietta Hudson, one of New York’s three remaining lesbian bars, changed its tag line to “Queer human space built by lesbians,” in 2014, she says business has been booming.

Plus, you get the queer, non-binary kids talking to the older lesbians up at the bar. This real-life communication seems crucial. Lesbian film maker Kanchi Wichmann, 48, says that the TERF debate and the media focus on it is another way of “disempowering women by trivialising our real issues and of distracting from the fact that actually we all suffer under patriarchy.”

Fayhey is a good judge of the current state of the lesbian nation as she’s been touring the UK with Rebel Dykes. She noticed that a lot of the non-binary kids “had never met older lesbians. But they’re thirsty to learn their own history.”

I noticed this too during my Pride outings. It’s as if there’s a need for a kind of lesbian mentoring. The new rainbow-flavoured sandwiches on the modern queer platter need to be stacked up to make one huge Scooby Snack to help us move forward. Sarah Gabrielli from the lesbian bar road trip, said one of her highlights was the podcast episode where she learned about Women’s Land in the US. “In the 1970s it was apparently common for queer women to buy plots of land and live off the land and completely sustain themselves,” she comments.

There was a gathering of lesbian elders this June at Cornell University in New York State to an exhibition called “Radical Desire: Making On Our Backs Magazine.” The show celebrates the world’s first lesbian-made, lesbian porn magazine (tag line: “entertainment for the adventurous lesbian”) which first came out in the middle of the so-called Lesbian Sex Wars of the early 1980s. The magazine challenged the blanket claim of anti-sex feminists such as Andrea Dworkin and Catherine MacKinnon, that pornography was degrading to women. Erotic veterans at an inspiring opening talk included writer and editor Suzie Bright as well as pioneering sex-positive photographers Phyllis Christopher, Del LaGrace Volcano, Jill Posner, Morgan Grenwald and Jessica Tanzer.

The Dyke March is a protest about lesbian visibility, with the spirit of the old Gay Pride marches

And lesbian mentoring is a two-way street. Asked who was taking on this transgressive sex baton, photographer Phyllis Christopher enthused about a London-based magazine called Rub, run by a 28-year-old called India Jaggon.

Jaggon describes herself as a “non-binary dyke.” She created Rub ( because she was “fed-up with seeing the same images of kink & queer sexuality: tall, skinny white women wearing leather or latex.” On Our Backs was her initial inspiration, but Pink Label TV (“like the Netflix of queer indie porn”) was also key.

On Our Backs Magazine cover Spring 1985

“I have always viewed lesbians as trailblazers, queer explorers, identity expanders and fierce protectors of each other,” she says. She calls for “freedom from fear” because “I think there’s a worry that everything that has been fought for will disappear. But that’s a scarcity mindset. We need to concentrate on queer abundance.”

And that’s when I remembered my highlight of San Francisco Pride: the “Dyke March”. It’s a protest march about lesbian visibility, with the spirit of the old Gay Pride marches before the corporations came in. The first one was organised by the Lesbian Avengers in 1993 in Washington DC. It fosters queer female unity – as well as cruising. As Siobhan Fahey points out, “I advise people to get into activism. It’s a great way to meet lovers.”

“March with us!” said a young woman up front holding the “San Francisco Dyke March” banner. My ego was suddenly switched on again after my day of dolor in Dolores Park. It reminded me that the lesbian hunt can have lows, but the most incredible highs too.

Photo: Imogen Cleverley

Amazons on Harleys (San Francisco’s famous Dykes on Bikes) revved their engines as a leather-clad dominatrix strode up and down, cracking a whip to made sure the awed crowds kept back. The rush felt more thrilling than the opening sequence of Wonder Woman when invincible warriors on horseback somersault into the air in armed combat practice on an idyllic women-only island. And it felt genuinely moving to set off behind the unapologetic banner. I thought of dead Harvey Milk, of all the people who’d ever dared come out of the closet to stand up and be counted. It was a moment of belonging, of feeling at “home,” like the first time I ever walked into a lesbian bar. Henrietta Hudson in 1987 in New York (back when it was called The Cubby Hole) the summer I turned 21.

The noise was incredible, we were 50 feet high. Our limbs were mountains, our hair was forests, our voices were hurricanes, there was no stopping us now. Soon I was joining in with a series of chants: Let’s go lesbians, let’s go!” “No justice, no peace!” “Fuck Clarence Thomas!” “Trans rights are human rights” and my favourite, “Dyke Power!” There was even a spark with a woman of my age who said she was trying to think of the old chants of the 1980s and 1990s. We brushed bodies and our sides seemed to fit. And then I lost her in the crowd.

One spark can go a long way, though. Recharged, I did my own bit for lesbian mentoring that night at Jolene’s (San Francisco does still have a dyke bar). I slid my way to the front of a group of young women looking timidly up at the topless go-go dancer grinding on the bar. Knowing how to effectively place dollars in a G-string takes a few years of practice. I took out my dollar bills and aimed for a sweating butt cheek. When I turned round, there were eyes fluttering at me as if I’d just rocked up in an open-topped Mustang.

Stephanie Theobald is a British journalist, novelist, and broadcaster known for her playful and thoughtful work around sexuality and alternative feminism. She is the author of four novels and a memoir, “Sex Drive”. Her upcoming book is about living in a cave in the Mojave Desert

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