Iain North speaks openly about his perspective on Manchester’s Gay Village and what bringing together different communities from across the city could do for it
I read an article not so long ago referencing Manchester’s Gay Village. The author, Andrew Collier, described a Village that had once been an almost idyllic setting of progression and safety; one which, through my own perception and tinted idealism, was inclusive and accepting; one where you’d expect to find an eclectic blend of subcultures unified, but not defined by, their sexuality.
This is pretty much the image I had in mind when I excitedly planned to move to Manchester 7 years ago to study at university. In fact it was, secretly, the main reason I picked Manchester over my other potentials. My knees were trembling as much from the nervousness of leaving the family home cocoon, as they were from the excitement of experiencing a freedom to express that part of me that had become so angrily repressed throughout my teens. To be gone were the days sitting awkwardly in the room watching one of those ever controversial gay scenes on T.V., or the awkward moments when my parents would grill my brothers about current and previous girlfriends without addressing the luminous pink elephant that was, by this point, so large it practically protruded from the windows of the room. I was to be free to hang around with another bunch of people who had also probably felt a similar awkward isolation, all in one neat little village community. What could be better?
And I was free – at least, I felt free for a little while. I enjoyed what was on the surface: the cheap drinks, the busy student nights, and the chance to mingle in a community that felt, at least at a glance, accepting and diverse. I could be “me”.
“It hurts being rejected for not normalising by a community that prides itself on accepting the queer”
However it became more and more apparent that what I was enjoying was actually an idea I’d created of the Gay Village – an illusion, or at least, an augmentation of what was actually there, and consequently I started to get bored as I began to realise it wasn’t quite the diverse, accepting haven I once thought. I hardly ever felt I could go there with my straight friends as they felt unwelcome and the music was not to their taste. I have been rejected from gay clubs with the old “members only” line, which essentially means “sorry you don’t conform to our idea of gay people” and I’ll tell you it hurts being rejected for not normalising by a community that prides itself on accepting the queer. I apologise if this all sounds a bit dramatic, but it really started to feel like there wasn’t anything unifying beyond the fact that there existed a more dense population of gay people. To make matters worse, “the Gay Village has the ignominious title of winner of the most reported thefts and assaults in the 67 divisions of North Manchester” as Collier points out which he suspects may be a knock-on effect of the economic crash back in 2007, with bars loosening door policies, as well as the Village becoming a prime destination for flocking hen parties.
Thankfully, there are venues in the village that offer something a little different. The Molly House is exactly the kind of venue that I feel there should be more of in the Village: great food and drinks, lovely staff and an eclectic playlist. It feels like a bar that happens to have gay people in it, not something marketed around some offensive, corporate stereotype. Then there’s Taurus, which not only offers top-notch food and drinks, but is also one of the leading venues for fringe performance and theatre in Manchester. The tagline on their website reads: “situated in the heart of the Gay Village on Canal Street, Manchester, where the canal meets the community” which perfectly fits with the M20 event I’m helping to happen on 15 November.
With the help of Taurus, I can start to contribute something towards change rather than bitterly moan, which is very liberating. This idea I’ve had for some time has been to bring more alternative/live music and arts to the Village, and something both the M20 Collective and LGF community organiser Polly Steiner have been more than happy to help initiate. The event is intended to be as much about simply sharing music as instigating a local cultural change and as such, everyone is welcome.
With gay nights happening outside the Village such as Rock Hard at Retro and the nights that used to happen at Legends before it was sadly closed down, it’s clear that there is a demand for alternative events for gay people (who knew?). So: why not bring it to the Village and make the place stand for the acceptance and integration that it once did?