Ask any elderly gay man about Sydney’s gay scene today and they’ll tell you it’s not as big as it used to be. You’d hear about grand drag shows at Capriccios and the fabulousness of Patchs. If you walk down Oxford Street today, you will find only a few longstanding legends like Stonewall Hotel and The Shift (formerly Midnight Shift), with many clubs remaining a distant memory.
And this story is not just seen in Sydney, but also in many other gay scenes across the world. It’s noted in New York’s Greenwich Village, in London’s Soho, and in San Fran’s Castro district. It’s as if the more accepted we queers become, the less we are in need of safe spaces.
“There will always be a place for gay venues because we will always be the minority,” Verushka says. “So we will always need to find people like us who we don’t need to explain anything to — who instantly get us on a basic level.”
“Some people should understand that the gay scene is a place to meet people like us.”
On top of this, while queer acceptance has made leaps and bounds in recent years, we still have to accept that we aren’t completely accepted. And some of us are less accepted by society than others — just look at the ongoing discourse around trans women in sports or anything gender-related.
Hell, even biphobia is running rampant.
And many of us still need that safe space; not to feel secure, but to simply feel comfortable. Some lesbians would prefer to take their girlfriend to a lesbian bar than another straight establishment to avoid getting ogled at by seedy men.
And not to mention the questioning people who are trying to understand their identity. For them, the gay scene is their playground to explore. To find their subgroups; their people. Or as Verushka explains:
“I think gay venues are relevant to gay people in the same way that straight venues are relevant to straight people. You know, the socialising and meeting each other, and establishing community and social networks.
“And to find partners, fall in love and have sex.”
The Gay Scene Is You
If you wander through any gay community, you will undoubtedly come across queer people who think the gay scene is unwelcoming. That it’s full of cliques, scene queens, and shallow twinks.
They say things like, ‘I went into a gay venue and I didn’t feel welcome. I just didn’t feel supported.’
And so you ask: ‘well, did you go and talk to anyone?’
‘Oh, no no no, I didn’t do that.’
Then you think, ‘well if you’re not being friendly, and you’re not being welcoming, why do you think other people will?’
As the saying goes: you attract what you are, not what you want. If you’re going to pre-judge others for being superficial, you’re going to attract superficial people. And this is precisely what Verushka believes:
“I always get really upset when they think that because that describes none of the people I know,” Verushka says. “So maybe it’s saying something about you, or maybe the way you get out and meet people.
“If you want the gay community to look like you, then be there. If you want to be represented in a gay venue, then you need to be there representing you.”
At the end of the day, the gay scene is what you make it. If you think a gay venue is for young twinks and you refuse to go there, then that place will forever be a venue for young twinks.
“And vice versa,” says Verushka. “If you’re an alternative queer and think, ‘that venue’s not for me, I don’t see myself there,’ then you’re not going to be represented if you’re not there,” Verushka says.
“What is it about the scene? The scene is for you. You are the scene, you are the club, you are the venue, you make it what you are and what you want it to be. So get out there and support it.
“The community will support those who support the community.”
When The Pandemic Ends…
Gay venues across the western world are struggling to stay alive during the Covid-19 pandemic. In Sydney, the prominent gay venue ARQ is now on the market. In New York, revered gay bar Therapy, loved by Ru Paul’s Drag Race contestants, shuttered up shop in July last year with no hope of being reopened. In fact, across the world, there is a growing fear that more gay bars are set to close thanks to this ongoing pandemic.
It’s a stark reality, and the uncertainty is draining. But there is a little hope, and it must come from you. As Verushka explains:
“It’s more important than ever to get out and support your gay and lesbian community. And your venues, and your gay bars, and your gay pubs, and your drag queens, and your drag kings. Because if you don’t support them they will not be there, and you won’t know what you had until it’s gone.
“So get out there! Because the more we support them, the more businesses there will be.”
Verushka Darling has been on the gay scene of Sydney since the 90s and has even showcased her drag queen charm in film and TV. Her recent work includes hosting her own show Let’s Talk About Sex and critiquing art at the Art Gallery of NSW.