The perks of being a “power lesbian” in London


According to a column in the London Evening Standard, the British public is obsessed with “power lesbians.” Standard writer Liz Hoggard notes that all of London is captivated by the romantic proclivities of retail consultant Mary Portas (host of the BBC show Mary Queen of Shops), writer Jeanette Winterson (Written on the Body), and other high-profile lesbians.

Mary Portas and Melanie Rickey

Portas is planning to “marry” (the quotations around the word were provided by Hoggard, not me) her journalist girlfriend Melanie Rickey, and Winterson’s “close friendship” with feminist therapist Susie Orbach (Fat is a Feminist Issue) is garnering attention as it coincides with the end of Orbach’s 30-year marriage.

Jeanette Winterson and Susie Orbach

Hoggard writes that Winterson’s romantic “track record” has always invited public scrutiny, as she’s dated high-profile women like theatre director Deborah Warner, late literary agent Pat Kavanagh, and author Peggy Reynolds.

Other power couples referenced in the article include, BBC sports commentator Clare Balding and the radio personality Alice Arnold and novelists Joanna Briscoe and Charlotte Mendelson.

Alice Arnold and Clare Balding

The column is more than a series of romantic status updates for some of Britain’s most well-known lesbians. Hoggard wants to know the reason for the “sudden interest in rumours of the latest A-gay relationship.”

Why it’s jealousy, of course. Her theory is:

… A new generation of rich, successful gay women are smashing stereotypes with their glamour and spending power. These Power Lesbians simply have a nicer life than the rest of us.

The perks are evident — uncomplicated sex and great conversation, financial independence, foreign travel, probably a second home in the country, plus an introduction to the movers and shakers of London society.

In defiance of the stereotypical male earner and his stay-at-home-with-the-kids wife, still prevalent among the middle classes, both lesbian partners are often influential in their own right … And thanks to advances in fertility treatment, these couples increasingly also have children, creating a whole new class of yummy mummies.

Well, (except for the “yummy mummies”) it certainly sounds fabulous. Though I’m not sure how many stereotypes are being “smashed” if the perception of lesbian relationships is that the mere presence of money and social stature immediately signals “uncomplicated sex.” (She’s obviously never seen The L Word.)

Hoggard also notes that part of the appeal of high-profile lesbian romances is the, um, closeness of all of their circles. She writes, “Like any elite group, London’s Power Lesbians are often intimately connected,” then rattles off a list of intertwined power-exes that would make Alice Pieszecki proud.

Regardless of social class, most lesbians will admit that their social/romantic circles are woefully small and prone to entanglement. So is it really the “elite-ness” of “London’s Power Lesbians” that lashes them together, or simply the “lesbian-ness” that does the trick?

And the tabloids are also joining in on the festivities. Hoggard writes “Now British gossip mags are totally sympathetic to the relationships of couples such as Lindsay Lohan and Samantha Ronson, or Beth Ditto and her girlfriend Freddie.”

While I did appreciate learning new gossip about British celesbians that are less well-known here in the U.S., even after reading her upbeat, breezy column a few times, I’m still not sure of Hoggard’s main point.

Is it that London Power Lesbians are worthy of admiration simply because they’re rich and famous? (She lists the material assets of a handful of the Power Lesbians and heralds the fact that their ranks are growing.) Or that the tabloid “sympathy” lavished on Power Lesbians is proof of some greater social progress?

Ultimately, Hoggard concludes, “Lesbian culture has never been as visible and confident. … There’s no denying that the new A-gay couples – wealthy, cosmopolitan, assured – are just a damn sight more fun than anyone else.”

Of course, that’s good news. But I was left with a question of my own: Will the “fun” factor extend itself to even greater acceptance of all the other non-famous lesbians, maybe even to the degree that their “marriages” won’t require quotation marks?