It was only a month before the event that I’d ever heard about the London Lesbian Film Festival, which is in their 26th year. Since 26 is my ‘birthday number’, I’ve always considered it to be good luck, so I decided to try to figure out how to get there.
I invited my two best friends and my sister, hoping to make it my birthday celebration. Only S could come—J and my sister were unable to make it work. I bought the tickets at a good time, considering I am currently more broke than I have been in years. The last time I was in a mostly-lesbian space was Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival in 2015, so I was adamant I would get to London.
Leading up to the event, I became very anxious and self-conscious. I often experience this sense of being so tightly bound to myself that I can’t move in my own skin when my anxiety is high. It’s this place of hyper-self-awareness where it seems as though time slows down and I am a pinpoint of especial focus—therefore I feel acutely judged and off, unable to normally express myself or engage in a casual way. I think I am pretty good at containing these feelings—I’ve been told I don’t come across as someone about to break through their skin—but in the moment it feels unbearably raw. I tried to manage these feelings with communication and levity, and truly I was excited to be with my people so it was worth the negative aspects.
S and I left Huntsville around 12:30pm on Friday. I packed my plaids and a foxy black tee for the dance night and felt prepared. In Barrie we stopped for some food but we took much longer than the timeline allowed, so by the time we hit Toronto and the traffic, we were running late, which if you know me or my archetype at all, you know that is unacceptable (if you’re not early, you’re late!).
We sang to Tegan and Sara and talked, and every time we’d drive under a ‘London’ sign on the highway, I’d do the wave. We got to the hotel and I gave them the completely wrong licence plate number (I gave them the van I’d had for like 6 months in my early twenties). The room was questionable at best but it had beds and we knew we wouldn’t be spending much time there anyway.
I know one woman in London who I’d met at Michfest and had been in contact with over social media, so we were texting and she’d saved us space at a table at one of the theatres. In previous years, the Film Festival had been located in one large theatre, but this year it had been divided and we took up two theatres that were near each other. Since this was my first year, I couldn’t compare, but personally I didn’t mind it too much as I was overwhelmed enough without having that many people in one place. But I heard others were disappointed at the arrangement, which I understand.
S and I walked to the theatre, which was about 10 minutes from the hotel. I really loved the Old East Village area, there were great restaurants and just a really neat feel to it. We started to come upon The Lesbians and knew we were at the hall! Once inside, we got our tickets and found my friend N—she got us great seats!
If you want to see all the films we watched, you can check out the line-up here. I really enjoyed Blind Sex, which was the story of a blind woman who is vacationing with her family and she comes upon a camp of nudists. It had some bittersweet moments, many sad ones, and a strong ending. The main feature of the night was Below Her Mouth. I felt like this could have been more powerful if they’d strengthened the relationship of the main characters rather than focusing as much on the sex. Listen, I enjoy a lesbian love scene as much as the next dyke, but this approached porn and the character development got lost in the mix. I didn’t get a strong enough sense that the characters were actually falling in love—just that they really liked fucking each other. But I liked the ending of this one too, so I was happy for an evening of lesbian films were no one died. However, there was way too much penis. Honestly. Is there no escape?
After the films, N, S, and I headed over to the Delta London Armouries for the reception.
This was a super fanceh hotel where I felt distinctly out of place, but became at home with the lesbians. We mingled and met some amazing dykes with cool stories from all over North America. I took a bit of a time out because of the noise level and that tight-skin anxiety feeling, but my friends came with me so we sat together and discussed the films, which was really nice. Time actually went quickly and it was after 11pm when we started the walk back to our hotel. It was a long walk but a nice one. We passed a strip club called the ‘Beef Baron’ (yes, women literally being called meat) so I dropped a message.
Strip Clubs are often hubs for forced prostitution and sex trafficking. Anyone who goes to one is complicit in women’s oppression. It sickened me to see this windowless brick building where men enter to feed the hierarchy between men and women caused by patriarchy. These brotherhood stations must be destroyed. Consent cannot be purchased! Fuck, it pisses me off.
So we get back to the hotel and we try to find the Game Room, where it was advertised there were arcade games (a la San Junipero!). I was irresistibly drawn toward a giant fake orange flower, so I deftly (or not) removed it from its arrangement and stuffed it into my vest. Then S helpfully noted the location of some video cameras, and we heard the concierge come down the stairs. We asked where the game room was and were shown to a large, windowless room with the far end littered with children’s toys and a play kitchen. Not exactly what we had in mind. As the concierge stared at the flower popping out the top and bottom of my vest, we thanked him for his help and went to our room.
We awoke to the sounds of construction and a very distinct but apparently uncommon aroma of sewage. The films didn’t start until a little later so after I greedily drank all the hotel coffee, we decided we needed breakfast. We went to The Root Cellar and I absolutely fell in love with this spot. The food was all local, mostly organic, and really different. Unfortunately, their GF options were limited—S ordered an egg sandwich without the bread and got a side of tempeh that she didn’t like, sad for her first time trying it. I got an amazing eggs benedict with in-season veggies, home fries that I could have eaten for hours, and some tempeh as well. I admit the tempeh wasn’t that well done—it was just grilled with no marinade or anything, so a little plain. The coffee was delicious.
This day for the films we decided to sit on the balcony instead of the main level with the tables and chairs, and it was quite nice even though we did have to beg women to move so we three could sit together. The main feature was Heartland, a film about a woman who is grieving the death of her partner and moves in with her mother, while her brother and his girlfriend come for a visit—and the woman and the brother’s girlfriend begin an affair.
So, both the main features were about 1 lesbian and 1 woman who may or may not be a lesbian but decides to sleep with the lesbian while she is in a relationship with a man. This must be one of the most tired and overwrought plotlines in lesbian cinema. It is so heartbreaking to constantly see (and experience) this trope as if it is just the normal way of being in love with another woman. I really wanted to see a movie about two proud and out lesbians and their journeys. I need to know that exists. I saw countless dyke couples at this event. I want to know their stories, not just how they got together, but how they live and love now! I need hope.
The rest of the films on Saturday were excellent—I really enjoyed them. After, we met and chatted with some women I knew from facebook, and then made a plan to part ways and meet for dinner before the dance. There was some back and forth and eventually we decided to do dinner on Sunday instead so we could meet at N’s home and hang out before the dance and meet her housemates and friends. S and I took forever to get ready—okay, S took forever and I just pouted because it turns out I did not pack my foxy black tee so was relegated to wearing the plaid I wore during the day. Shame!
So we decide to head to the grocery store to grab something quick to eat and some snacks for later. We are already running late and we get stuck as a train is going by. I’m still grumpy because of my outfit and now I’m getting hangry. The train comes to a complete stop in front of us, with the end of the train literally halfway through the intersection we are trying to get through.
Then the train starts moving backward.
And I almost died laughing—if there is anything that will cheer me up, it’s seeing other people get frustrated beyond reason. All the other drivers were so done, but S and I couldn’t stop laughing. Finally, the train gets going and we get our food and snacks. We make it to N’s more or less on time and play a really cute game meant to help you get to know people.
From there we walk over to The Music Hall where a DJ is playing like 90s remixes with modern stuff that I didn’t know. It was so awesome to be in such a space with other lesbians. I felt so safe and happy to see all my lesbian peeps have fun together in this space just for us. I’ve never been to a gay bar of any kind, so this was the closest to that besides Michfest. I had such a fantastic night. It was so fun to see my friends enjoying themselves and seeing the dyke drama unfold and feel a part of a community. We closed out the night—it was amazing. S hailed a cab for us—a first! And we got back to the hotel happy and exhausted.
After the late night, we were not thrilled about the early morning. Early being relative—I think the alarm was set for 9am. However, there was a ridiculous noise in our room that would go off randomly and wake me up. At first I thought it was the heater/AC so I unplugged that and happily the sound disappeared for about a half hour, so I thought it was resolved, but alas. It started back up and sounded like an avocado-sized bumble bee banging around. I had gotten a white-noise app the night before to help me sleep, so I had that cranked up to try to drown it out, but it was too loud and random. Oh well! It was time for brunch anyway.
We started the walk to the London Convention Centre. It was bitterly cold and the long streets with no trees to break the wind made us uncomfortably chilly. We passed some of the lesbians we’d been dancing with and said hi before making our way inside. (Oh, I also tried to sass a goose, and it almost didn’t end well for me).
The brunch was lovely and had lots of vegan and GF options for everyone. The tiny coffee cup tried to foil me but I just had four cups of coffee and won that battle. N arrived and when she and S went to find the bathroom, they actually found Sabrina Jalees, the comedian who would be performing! They got amazing photos with her. We sat with the owners of a sex shop who had sponsored the LLFF. There had been a major theft at their store on the Friday so we got an update on that. There was an auction and another presenter before Sabrina, and while that presenter was on the strange, Sabrina sat with us! It was so exciting because I used to watch her on MuchMusic and especially Video on Trial and her stand-up when I was a teenager, so to be able to meet her was really special. And she was SO FUNNY. I really loved seeing a lesbian feminist comic. It made the entire weekend. It’s rare to experience media that is both lesbian and feminist, but it’s so important.
After the brunch was over, I did have a moment where I cried a bit. I watched the lesbians file out and knew that was the last time I’d be around so many of my women for a long time. I didn’t want to go. I didn’t want them to leave.
We took the London Transit to a shop that N recommended, basically a thrift/vintage shop. It was so cool! S went through all their pins and buttons and found some neat London ones. N got a retro bread box and a rug. I got an iron/ceramic wall hanging with mushrooms on it that I am using for a plant stand. We were there a little late so we hustled back to the hall for the last films.
N sat with another friend this time so it was S and I up in the balcony. Although this day was open to the public (all the other events were women-only), it was pretty quiet. The lesbians sitting next to us won a door prize for being together the longest: 32 years. It made me so happy to see.
The films were okay on this day. There was one about a woman with Alzheimer’s on the day of her love’s funeral. I cried. I hate Alzheimer’s. There was a film about a trans guy who found himself unable to cry since taking T, and although I enjoyed the film, I didn’t understand why it was included in the festival. The trans guy was attracted to women, so wouldn’t that make it a straight film? Isn’t it ‘misgendering’ to include it in a lesbian film festival? I am not being facetious; this is a genuine question. I do believe that trans guys can be included in women-only space due to them being female, but it seems that most trans people would not be for that. So that’s a conversation that I believe needs to happen. If someone identifies as a straight guy, should they be included in a lesbian film festival? If someone is male but considers themselves a woman but makes no transition or ‘passing’ attempts, what about them? I know that identity is not what makes me female. Is identity the arbiter of belonging? What about biology—that which the majority of women’s oppression is based upon? Are we willing to see this erased?
After the films, I watched the lesbians leave one by one. There were no closing remarks or anything and I felt a little abandoned. I really didn’t want to leave. I actually really like London—it’s beautiful and interesting and it has a community that I just don’t have where I live.
N, S, and I made our way to Zen Gardens, a Japanese vegetarian restaurant that had THE BEST veg food I’ve ever eaten–and we ordered blooming flower tea (it was anticlimactic). During dinner, we talked about the weekend, the future, astrophysics, witchcraft, and coming out. It was wonderful.
N had to head home in a different direction, so we said our goodbyes.
S and I walked back to the hotel where the car was parked. It was so much to take in; we couldn’t seem to express it. We grabbed some large coffees and headed out of London for the 4+ drive home.
I am having a hard time closing this. Maybe it feels like once this piece is finished, the experience is completely over and irretrievable. I know that I will remember this weekend. It is beloved. Hopefully Alzheimer’s doesn’t steal it from me one day, because I think I need it. I need to feel understood and loved, not like a token or an alien—I need to feel like I have a home. Like I belong.