Sydney’s Changing Gay Scene

“It’s funny. We all sit around mindlessly slagging off that vile stink-hole of a city, but in its own strange way it takes care of us. I don’t know if that ugly wall of suburbia’s been put there to stop them getting in or us getting out…” – Bernadette Bassenger, Priscilla: Queen of the Desert

Acceptance is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, you become liberated; on the other, your values change. Not only has the gay community accepted itself, it’s also been accepted by the rest of society, and this surge in acceptance is slowly making our safe spaces redundant.

“I guess that’s the way it works,” says professional Sydney drag queen Laydee Kinmee. “If you hear people just five to ten years older than us, the amount of clubs were nearly double back then. Because it was the only place you could go to feel safe. But I can walk into my local RSL or a local pub – in drag or as myself – and I could feel fine.

“I don’t have to go all the way to the city to feel safe.”

Laydee KinMee performing at Mounties in Western Sydney

Today, it’s not uncommon to find a drag queen hosting trivia or bingo in bars and pubs across Greater Western Sydney. Laydee KinMee runs three weekly trivia events; one in Penrith, one in St Johns Park and one in Wyong. She also runs monthly bingo nights in Campbelltown and Como, as well as regular production shows. You can even find drag events down in Wollongong thanks to the likes of Felicity Frockacinno and June Richards, not to mention the Broken Heel festival in far west NSW which brings international drag acts to the country. It seems there’s no greater time to be queer in Sydney.

“But we have to remember that there are still people out there who are willing to hurt others,” says June Richards who primarily performs on the south coast of Sydney.

“I’ve met and talked to a lot of people who have wanted to start drag or cross-dressing for example, but have been held back due to being in straight relationships or have been brought up with traditional values. When you talk to them about what they want out of doing drag, you can tell they have reservations because of what they have been brought up to believe is normal.”

June Richards. Image: @fourminutestomidnight [instagram]
The fact is sexuality and gender transcend each other. They also transcend race, family, culture, age and traditions. And matched with this growing acceptance means most of these drag queen events are not exclusively for the LGBTQI community anymore.

“The heteronormative community is ever changing,” continued June. “There are plenty out there who don’t accept but rather tolerate the goings on in the Sydney queer scene.

“However, I do see a lot of the straight and cis-gendered community out and about within the gay scene as they see it as a bit of a novelty.”

Even Laydee KinMee agrees.

“Straight people love us,” she says. “They feel more comfortable seeing drag shows – I guess – in their own territory. Sometimes it might be a bit daunting going to a gay club when they’re a minority.”

But while the acceptance is welcomed, an issue here is how that changes the way we see LGBTQI events.

The Pollys Club. Image: Craige Juratowich

When you’re coming to terms with your sexuality, an important thing to do is find people just like you. That’s how we learn to accept ourselves. But this can be hard when half the people in the room are straight. And if going to Oxford Street is a little daunting for blossoming queer people, or even just a little too far to travel to, where else can they go to meet their people in a safe environment? Well, they go to a charity drag show and social dance, of course. These include places like The Pollys Club in Sydney’s inner west and Heaven Social Dance in the outer west, which both run social events six times a year.

My initial aim thirteen years ago was to start these places for people like myself to perform in and have a safe place to meet on a regular basis,” says Beverly Buttercup, who runs Heaven Social Dance. “But over time the people we meet have dropped off.”

Because the gay community in Western Sydney’s ageing, I think a lot of the older ones don’t come out as much now. This means you’ve gotta try and keep reinventing and coming up with ways to encourage young people to come out to them.”

Beverly Buttercup. Image: Supplied

Beverly describes these charity drag show events as “blue light discos without the teenagers,” which are very different to a bingo or trivia evening at the local pub, or a night out on Oxford Street.

You can come along, do whatever you want, dress the way you want and not be judged for that,” Beverly continues. “We get a lot of cross-dressers that come to Heaven with their partners. Straight partners.

“But we have to encourage our patrons and open our arms to support these people because they’re the future of gay social events in Western Sydney.”

Like anything in life, if you want it to thrive you have to support it. This is true for the gay scene of Sydney. Not only will you be helping these events grow and thrive, but you’ll be giving the vulnerable people in Sydney a place to go and learn who they are.

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