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The Village and Women

Debs Trickett and J Clegg with part 4 of the Village examined

Published on March 9th 2011.


The Village and Women

SIBBY, a lesbian in her thirties, is clear what the Village meant to her when it was exclusively known as the Gay Village.

“I first visited in 1991 and it was brilliant,” she says. “To be able to be in a place where it was OK to be gay, where you knew everyone else was - or at the very least didn't care - was extremely important. Every gay person has their own coming out story, and I'd hazard a guess that most don't find it easy. Going to the Gay Village was like turning a light on for me, and I'd be surprised if it still doesn't have this effect on others.”

I like the idea of a Village as a place of refuge, but it needs to spread its appeal. Sometimes it just appears like a place for gay men to get off their heads and off with each other.

Grand sentiments, but in 2011, what is the Village like for women?

It often seems – and many Confidential readers have commented on this - that the Village is perhaps in danger of losing its mojo as straight people un-do the magic of this strip of bars and businesses.

“Post Queer as Folk in 1999 and the advertising of Pride by the city and in the media, the Gay Village became less of a safe, comfortable gay place,” says Sibby. “I remember being in Via Fossa and seeing a set of three 50 plus couples arrive. They’d obviously come to see 'the Gay People'. They didn't speak or look at each other for about 10 minutes, apart from much elbow-nudging, but were mesmerised by the people around them.

“The place had changed. I used to get so annoyed at having to queue up to get into gay places,” she continues. “Stuck behind numerous groups of straight women on a hen night or a let's-go-out-knowing-we-won't-get-hassled-by-blokes night.

“They wouldn't have been seen dead down here in the 60s and 70s and most of the 80s, (pre-Manto and Metz), and I objected to them stopping me getting into gay bars and clubs. What's interesting is that hen nights seem to ‘luuuurve’ gay men, but lesbians and especially butch dykes get abuse.”

The hen parties are a big source of disapproval.

Angela Campbell, 40, agrees with Sibby: “There are a lot more such parties on Canal Street which can sometimes feel like a piss-take, and that they are just coming to look at people and make fun. It’s insulting.”

There are other issues though, perhaps more deep-seated ones.

“It’s not just the hen-parties that are a problem though,” says Melissa Pollock, 29. “The Village feels very male generally. Just look at all the advertising posters of half-naked men in the bar windows. Clone Zone (the sex shop) doesn't feel comfortable for women either. Perhaps the men just want it all to themselves, want that exclusivity. Want an area to go wild in and get drunk.

“While I visit the Village once in a while, I don’t prefer it to the Northern Quarter and other areas of Manchester. It can be fun but it can also seem a real strain. As though you have to be extra-gay to really get it.”

Anecdotally a barmaid from View, Canal Street, confirmed the male bias: "The punters are far more likely to be male than female," she said.

But it’s not all bad for the fairer sex as Vanilla, Richmond Street, is allegedly the UK's leading lesbian bar and boasts a decade of trade. The newest addition to the scene, the Molly House, welcomes gay men and women with open arms, as do the older venues such as The New Union, Taurus and Velvet. There’s still plenty of choice, but another question rise over whether it's engaging enough?

One gay female, 21, (who wished to remain anonymous) thought nights out in the Village may be losing their spark, playing the same music and the crowd becoming more student orientated.

She was impressed with Coyotes Bar with its recent themed night ‘Take Me Out’, named after the popular Saturday evening TV programme, saying she’d definitely be there more often if the scene were more interesting.

She said:”We need nights which are different and more modern, that keep up with the times.”

Hen parties and testosterone atmosphere or not, the Lesbian and Gay Foundation’s Director of Organisational Development, Sian Payne, takes a longer view.

She thinks the venues and the community should work together to shape a future for both women and men.

“The history of the Village area of Manchester is itself fascinating and inspiring, but change happens,” she says.

“As society moves forward there is the opportunity to take advantage of this and encourage mainstream venues and service providers, like hotels and pubs, to become more open and aware of diversity.”

Very diplomatic but Melissa Pollock isn’t so sure: “The struggle for gay people was harder in the past and as younger people we have to appreciate that. Times are probably more accepting now though in other areas of the city where lesbians want to go out. I like the idea of a Village as a place of refuge occasionally, but it needs to spread its appeal. Sometimes it just appears like a place for gay men to get off their heads and off with each other. We need more places where you can tone it down, chat, have a meal.”

Sitting on the Canal Street wall in the sun, Melissa Pollock, squints as the light leaps off the Rochdale Canal.

“I suppose for that to happen we need more lesbian businesses here, creating a different mood. But if gay women don’t support those businesses then in the end we can’t complain if the boys have it largely their own way.”

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18 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

AnonymousMarch 9th 2011.

Is there a reason why the pictures are of non-lesbian Corrie cast members?

EditorialMarch 9th 2011.

Nope. Just taken from our Pride Gallery of 2010. We'll find one more appropriate. Sheer bloody stupidity.

TrishaMarch 9th 2011.

Interesting piece, especially the comments about lesbian women supporting lesbian businesses or maybe just going down there and trying to be as active a part of what should be our space as the men.

Lesbian loverMarch 9th 2011.

I am a straight 28 year old lad and I have a few lesbian friends. Last year we went down to the village to see what strange and exciting people turned up for tranny pride. It is human nature to take interest in someone/something that we do not understand or is different to us whether straight or gay. I would recommend it though. Some trannies had beards!

AnonymousMarch 9th 2011.

If I suggested that gays not be let into normal clubs there'd be an outcry, but a gay person saying straight people shouldn't be allowed into the village is fine is it? What an utter hypocrite - there's little wonder there's still such an us and them attitude, once you're out of the closet aren't you supposed to be proud and inclusive instead of insular and protective?

paul10954March 9th 2011.

Totally agree with Anon above,I had this argument with a bouncer in the village when they told me and my girlfriend we couldn't go in a bar because we was straight

J E SibberingMarch 9th 2011.

Where in the article does it suggest that straight people shouldn't be allowed in the Village, anon?

C HarperMarch 9th 2011.

Thanks for doing something with this angle. You do get sick of the maleness of the village but as Melissa says that's because its mainly the men who go there.

AnonymousMarch 9th 2011.

Good article - love the use of the term bar maid!

clonezoneMarch 10th 2011.

Just read the article and I am sorry to have read the comments from Melissa Pollock regarding the Clonezone store in Manchester. It was never the intention of Clonezone to alienate any member of the LGBT community. We have taken the comments made on board, and we would like to work alongside the Lesbian community in Manchester to make improvements to the CZ store. We welcome all comments, and hope to make all Lesbian women in Manchester feel as welcome in Clonezone as any other member of the LGBT community. Please get in touch with us on info@clonezone.co.uk

BravoMarch 10th 2011.

Well done Clonezone. If only all the businesses around Canal Street had your open minded attitude

Tony ViaMarch 10th 2011.

Having read this article and the way it portrays Via i would like to point out that at Via we do not allow Hen parties Stag Parties Fancy dress Bunny ears or anything similiar we do cater for all sections of our wide community and have benn making extra effort over the last year from drag queens to Drag Kings(the only place on the village to have such an act on regular basis)We will always try and cater for all members of our community

AnonymousMarch 10th 2011.

I don't know what kind of hang-ups the writer of this article has.

I'm a gay man who goes to the village all the time and don't have any issues whith who's there. The more straight people mingle with us, the better they will realise that there is nothing that we are/do that's different from them.

For me, the Village is not a place where I go to hide and seek refuge, because i don't need to hide and I don't need refuge. Times have changed a lot and I do understand that older generations might still need that kind of feeling. But it is not that necessary for younger people any longer.

I lived in Brighton for a few years, and I always described it as the time when I "forgot I was gay", because it doesn't matter who you're with, or where you go: everybody mixes with each other regardless of sexuality.

And I believe this is what we should be aiming for: the day when the Village is more a monument to the past and an integrated future, rather than a living institution that's necessary to protect us from fear and repression.

user98858March 10th 2011.

Totally agree with anon above, the village should be all things to all people, gays, lesbians, bears, twinks, dykes, and straights too... there is enough variety in venues to appeal to all types of people, and straight people joining in only helps to normalise being gay as part of everyday life - and don't try to claim that there aren't groups of lesbians getting hammered and wearing flashing bunny ears in amongst the rest either, i've seen them...

thebirdisthewordMarch 10th 2011.

Totally agree with Anon and user98858 - the Village should be about embracing people of different sexualities, not segregating people into different groups and having each group drink in a different venue. I was in a bar in the Village a couple of years ago with my then boyfriend, we had a very innocent (and quick!) kiss in the corner of the room, when a member of staff marched over and asked us to "refrain from kissing as it offends our clientele". When we questioned it, we were asked to leave. It's not like that in every venue, but I still find it shocking that my sexuality was considered 'offensive'

AnonymousMarch 11th 2011.

And also I have to say that that line about "gay men getting off their head and off with each other" reeks of sexism and gay-phobia.
What would be the reaction if my retort was: "I'd rather have that than the Village becoming full of petshops and outdoor stores for lesbians to buy cats and hiking boots".

In Which Case AnonMarch 11th 2011.

I'll be down there in a shot

HHavocMarch 11th 2011.

I am horrified by the close mindedness of Sibby.
Yes the Gay Village has changed, yes there are straight people who wouldn't have been seen dead in the Village in the 60's, 70's and 80's now opening up to the idea, and yes you will find queues outside great bars and clubs in Manchester City Centre (shocker). But exactly what is she offended by?
The gay village has changed because people's opinions have changed.
But would you rather live in the primarily bigoted society of the 60's, 70's and 80's or would you rather be able to live as an equal and openly express your sexuality and feelings? Well I'm afraid you are going to have to embrace all of the change then - not just the bits that suit you.
And as for objecting to straight people stopping you get into gay bars?? I couldn't believe what I was reading! I'm as outraged by that as I would be if I heard a straight person objecting to gay people queuing to get in a 'straight bar'.

And for the record - I rarely, if ever, go out in the village, but if I wanted to I damn well would and won't be told that I shouldn't. And I'll fight the corner of any gay or lesbian being told that they can't go into somewhere on the grounds of their sexuality too whilst I'm at it.

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