Secret diary of a door girl: #5 Lemon Juice
Working on the door at queer female events across the capital, this week, the return of east London’s legendary Lemon Juice
“Lesbians go to bed early,” said Jo, Dalston Superstore’s doorperson, as I supped on a pre-Lemon Juice pint. It was 9:30pm and though the party had started half an hour ago at VFD – a five minute walk down the road – I’d decided it was better to dawdle in Superstore, than rock up to one of east London’s most hallowed queer female parties alone, before anyone else arrived.
“It is always early doors at lesbian nights. Literally, the clock strikes 9pm and they’re there, tapping on the door. Then everyone is out by 1am. It’s like no other night,” said Jo, as I downed my pint like a peer-pressured fresher and hotfooted it to VFD.
Lo and behold, when I arrived at Lemon Juice there were about 10 people there and the party was definitely not in its full zesty flow. Thanks Jo, I thought to myself as I settled into what someone later dubbed a “lesbian networking event in an art gallery”.
Though I initially took this as a joke – bordering on a snub – I soon realised that it was in fact a very perceptive compliment. VFD, the small basement bar and arts space, had been consciously curated. It was lined with pink lilies, posters for anti-fascist marches and fundraising buckets for a host of LGBTQ+ charities. The dancefloor was cleared, save a couple of benches laid out on either side of a mesmerising projection by Claudia Mallart. Balearic beats were seamlessly mixed in the background and people stood in small groups talking about the art, their current collaboration, their next project.
Meanwhile I was sat on a bench watching the projections – clearly not working enigmatic loner as well as I’d hoped – a couple came over and chatted with me, another invited me to join their friends. Everyone seemed to know each other, but that wasn’t isolating. It felt like the invite was always there to join the conversation. The capital’s finest unintentional lez/bi networking session struck the perfect chord between east London cool and welcoming community space.
The artsy yet unpretentious atmosphere can be traced to the fact that Lemon Juice is effectively the celebratory, hedonistic wing of the queer arts collective Beyond Beyond. Created by couple Giulia Astesani and Roshana Rubin-Mayhew, their work seeks to promulgate the voices and visions of queer and female artists so as to "destabilise the current hegemony that has formed the foundations of our present mainstream thinking and cultures".
Giulia and Roshana live between Milan (where they lecture at Istituto Europeo di Design) and London. They dart between the two, running workshops, exhibitions and shows. When they’re back in the capital for long enough, they get their party planners out and start well, squeezing lemons. Since the night’s inception back in 2014 (alongside fellow artists Lalu Delbracio and Jessie McLaughlin), there have been six Lemon Juice’s. It was initially held as a means to raise money for the production of arts projects and since then, every penny from each party has gone straight back to the same cause.
As such, the party-cum-fundraiser has healthy underlying foundations; this channels through the entire evening’s frivolities. Lemon Juice is a night created by talented queer female artists, in order to immerse a room full of queer people in either fruitful conversation or sweaty, mindless, liberating dance.
And dance we did. As the clock struck midnight, east London’s creative massive had most certainly come out to play. Our little networking sesh had transformed into what felt like a poppin’ lesbian house party. Thanks to tantalising tunage delivered by DJ Michelle Manetti (aka lesbian mother hen), DJ S/HE and Ubuntu, the venue was soon heaving to the point of impenetrability. Sweaty people squished between sweaty walls; one of which someone had taken great pleasure in smearing a couple of Titanic-style handprints down.
And yes, my time on the door; maybe it’s a VFD thing, maybe it’s a Lemon Juice thing, whosever thing it is, it felt highly inappropriate to ask about people’s sexual or gender identity on the door. The venue is more inconspicuous and lesser-known than say, Dalston Superstore. Simultaneously Lemon Juice has an open door policy; their poster bills it as a night for “deviants variants theys thems” as much as it is for “curious feminists androgynes”. That said, it was born a lesbian event and as such “lemons lezzies dykes tabbies” take priority.
Despite the queer open house policy, one of the most mystifying interactions I’ve ever had with a bloke on the door occurred at VFD that night. As I emerged from the venue I was met by a disgruntled man attempting to get inside. He was confused by Alessandra’s (the other door girls) assertion that Lemon Juice is a female-priority night. “That’s not what the event says,” he said, correctly. He turned around to make a phone call. Returning shortly after, he retained his conviction that he wanted to come inside, though made it very clear that he didn’t want to enter a space that wasn’t meant for him. “I just want everyone to enjoy their night and don’t want to intrude,” he said as he eventually, hesitantly, decided to come in.
I was about as confused as he was. Nothing he’d said felt as though he would disrespect the space. As he headed downstairs I asked Alessandra what all the hoo-ha was about. “He asked if a couple of his male friends could come in naked,” she said, cracking up. “I told him, you are welcome to come in, it’s an easygoing night but also it’s a lesbian night and it might not be so well received.” I didn’t spot him inside and saw no naked blokes in there either. Hallelujah.
Next year, Lemon Juice aim to get into a more regular rhythm with their nights. Guilia and Roshana are planning on hosting three or four a year. They will continue to change venues, showcase queer artists and put all proceeds back into their artistic practice. My only advice: get there early, there’s a lot of fun to be had at an accidental lesbian networking event in a semi-art gallery.
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