Well, welcome boys and girls to my little corner of opinion and honesty here at Gaylife. So let’s get on with it!
Over the past few months, I have hopefully taken you on a journey through the decades and mentioned some of the most important changes to our gay community and the fundamental changes to gay rights in particular. I left you all at the end of last month’s column asking “THE BIG QUESTION”, and it’s been something people have been mentioning a lot of late!
Do we still need a gay scene? And why are some suggesting that it’s died on it’s arse? People are comparing it to five, six or seven years ago? You hear the “It’s not what it used to be” comments over and over. And that, to a level has even translated lately to mainstream writing on the recent TV series Cucumber, with characters on more than one occasion mentioning “Canal Street isn’t what it used to be.”
I hear a lot of different opinions from customers to bar owners and people who know me, through to suburban tourists who don’t. So I like to think I have a fairly rounded view of the scene. Not just in Manchester but I pretty much work in and on every major gay scene throughout the UK, as well as major holiday gay destinations throughout Europe, and have done for nearly twenty years. So when I say I have seen things change, I see it from a customer’s point of view as well as a performer.
I first started to see the change in Gran Canaria about ten years ago, where the gay season started getting shorter and shorter. It was only busy for about five months there, and the bars seemed pretty much empty for a large portion of the year. The gay men and the few lesbians that visited, seemed to stop going in the numbers of previous years. But then Gran Canaria did something very clever to put it back on the map. Gay Pride! Not just a day, but a week of parties, boat trips, pool parties and acts from all across the UK and Europe, in bars as well as on the main stage. It helped to rejuvenate the gay holiday scene there, but still for a large portion of the year, the ever crumbling Yumbo Centre remains quiet. Other than the cabaret bars which survive primarily from the straight entertainment starved curious couples, the centre is pretty quiet for its size!
I also started seeing the change about this time in Soho in London which has now become a mix of Theatres, Cafes and more Cafes. It wasn’t really a gay scene as such, London’s gay scene has always been very spread out. But with areas like Earl’s Court (which always had a gay vibe), have pretty much disappeared now.
And then we move onto homo-sweet-homo, our very own Canal Street. The other week a couple who used to live in Manchester but moved to Brighton six years ago came back to say hello to me. And one of the first things they said to me was, and I quote, “What the fuck has happened, this village used to be rammed on a Thursday?” And that says it all. It makes the statement that a lot of people are asking, but nobody is answering. I think it’s an obvious question though.
So what are the reasons? Well I have pretty much heard them all!
“Canal Street isn’t safe anymore.”
“There are too many straights causing trouble.”
“There are too many hen parties.”
“The entertainment is always the same old shit.”
And yes, whilst some of the above are contributing factors, there are other reasons. Gay men and women don’t just want to be in gay bars any more. They want to be with a diverse mix of friends who are both gay and straight. But they’re are not always welcome in large groups on Canal Street, often hearing the well known phrase “Sorry guys it’s members only” or a “private function tonight” from the door staff.
So where will they go? Well, where as many of you just love being LGBT through and through, and you work out at gay gyms and only socialise in the village, there is a massive new generation that has been mixing with their straight friends for the past decade. This has always been the case but more recently they have embraced being anywhere and everywhere with their eclectic mix of friends. And if they, as a group are not catered for in an all inclusive scene, then they will go and find somewhere that they can.
Another reason is twenty-four hour licensing. I saw it coming to Manchester and I warned people about what would happen, as I saw it happen elsewhere in the UK. But everyone ran towards this land of opportunity and in my opinion, they didn’t really think about the consequences.
So what are these consequences?
Every bar became a club. The clubs were no longer used in the same way as they were before. and the queens came out later in the evening. Some of ‘em get pissed at home, and then get a taxi into town at 11pm! If a bar is open all day until 4am, who is going to have the money (or stamina) to start at 7pm and stay until the end when all the good shit happens? So the bars aren’t super busy until later, and nobody wants to be out early on their own, right?
And of course, we all know that the biggest killer of the worldwide gay scene is social media! And that is something that cannot be reversed.
Why go out to meet people for a shag when you can pop onto any number of apps like Grindr or Recon and sooooo many more I won’t mention. The art of conversation and getting to know someone is dead. Welcome to the world of “Hey nice bod” and “Hey, you got a face pic?” Why go and have a drink and meet people when you can see pics of exactly what you’re getting in graphic detail from the comfort of your own sofa? Could you actually imagine walking into a bar, and going up to someone saying “Show me your body and cock.” So they show you, and then you walk away and never talk to them again, EVER?! The proverbial block! You don’t actually need to go out anymore to speak to friends and find out what they are up to? Just go onto your news feed?
The gay scene has changed forever because of everything I’ve just talked about.
Bars aren’t full midweek when the hen-parties aren’t out so are you seriously telling me it’s keeping the queens away for that reason alone? No I don’t think so either. It’s just one of the MANY factors that has changed the way the gay scene works. The reason for the lack of people coming to any gay scene is a combination of many things and not just one!
Social media. A more open generation. Dating apps. Idiots out on the weekend. Twenty-four hour licensing. All of these and many more are changing the face of the gay scene not just in Manchester but all over the country.
I predict that in the future, ten years from now, that is Canal Street as we know it will become a destination for Restaurants, apartments and boutique hotels with a few actual gay venues thrown into the mix. It will be a destination area for eating out in Manchester.
I probably won’t miss the gay scene as we now know it? but I remember the fun I had in the 80’s and 90’s, so I had the very best of it! One thing I miss now and that we did have as a community, was community book shops, drop in centres, and venues where all the different fractions would mix. Bears, Clones, Queens, Chickens, Drag Queens all dancing in one club to one lot of music. We had cafes, bars, bakeries and barber shops.
There is still a massive community spirit in and around Canal Street and the village, but remember that you need to get involved in other activities too, other than looking for cock on Grindr! How many of you turn Grindr on when you’re on holiday or in a bar? On the beach or whilst shopping?
There is a gay community out there but you have to want to get involved?
Will Canal Street ever be the same as it was? The answer I’m afraid is no I don’t think it will. We have fought for years for equality and for gay people to be more normalised and actualised in society. And thanks to five decades of fighting for gay rights (as my columns in Gaylife over the past few months have shown), and it is getting there. There’s still a long way to go, but more diversity and acceptance in society, brings with it some casualties. The big protective gay scene that was once just ours, the place where we could be to ourselves, has evolved along with our acceptance. Now we can be ourselves almost anywhere?
I hope you’ve enjoyed this trawl through the decades as much as I have investigating it for you. It brought back floods of memories, good and bad – and that’s what life, as they say, is all about.
Thanks for reading.