Thursday, 11 August 2011

Riots, Queer Space & The Ties That Hold Us Together

The story that has dominated the media in the last few days has obviously been that of the UK riots and one of the last phases of this mass disorder were the Manchester riots. The new coverage focused on Market Street and Piccadilly Gardens with Sky (I think) featuring a live feed opposite the Britannia Hotel as they moved into Portland Street. Off camera, they went on to near-by Canal Street, the centre of the gay village in Manchester.

Twitter and Facebook swirled with rumours that Canal Street was under attack with conflicting reports. Some saying they were there and could see it being attacked, others saying they could see Canal Street and it wasn't. Once I saw a photo (which I can't now find online), I tweeted that it did indeed look as if it was under attack - but others remained unconvinced.

Nonetheless, I was immediately struck by the tweets from all over the country from those who regarded this as attacking 'their' space. Gay men (and it was just men but that probably reflects my followers) and seemed to say "oh no" in a way that other riots around the country didn't cause the same personal attack. The Village acts as not only an attractive tourist destination for many gay men and women but also acts as a symbol of queer space. There is a sense of ownership that crosses geographical boundaries and says something about the queer ties that hold us together.

Manto's on Canal Street was my first gay bar and I remember bravely going in on my own, feeling I had crossed some invisible but powerful force-field into another world. I remember sitting upstairs in what was an ultra trendy venue with tall lime green tables upstairs (remember them?) in the very spot that had featured weeks earlier in Channel 4's Queer as Folk. As I paid, I was given the bill on a saucer with a mini bar of dairy milk (these seemed like opulence gone mad to the Lancashire lsd that I was) as a slightly rotund older man said words along the liens of "There's something to have a suck on, I bet a young lad like you would love to suck on other things". I was a slim, tanned, mildly cocky teen and as disturbed as I was, I also immediately wanted to go back to this magical space. It was a space that combined humour and wit with sexual tension. It was, and is a hunting ground of intense looks, subtle gestures and tantalising promise.

The important symbolic visit of a gay bar means that these spaces hold a special importance to us as gay men and women. Even today, there is something about crossing that threshold into queer space and feeling a sense of belonging, of community. When it is attacked, we are attacked.

The Lesbian and Gay Foundation reported that Village venues: Churchills, View, Via, The REM Bar, and Tribeca all sustained damage. Olive Deli on Sackville Street was the victim of widespread damage and looting and the Probation Centre at the very top of Canal Street also had windows put through, whilst a burnt out shell of a van on was seen on Minshull Street Car Park opposite Essential night club.

Businesses were quickly back to normal and Bent magazine reports today that plans continue as normal for Pride alter this month.

Meanwhile, I have a suggestion for what the gay 'community' should produce the next time someone threatens our space. Check it out below...

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Elly said...

I went to Mantos and Velvet as a youth too, but I am not gay. But they allowed me in. And I'd be gutted if Canal Street was seriously damaged, not because it is a 'gay' space but because it is a friendly and accessible place in a big city that can be alienating.

I dunno. I think we are beyond 'Gay villages' now. Well I am trying to tell myself that anyway.

I really like this blog and your complex approach especially to legal issues. But sometimes it sounds a bit quaint! :D

Chris Ashford said...

lol. Well I can't help that Elly. I do wonder why it is that you find the 'gay space' (and yes, I certainly accept the complexities of that label) to be friendly and accessible in a big city?

Elly said...

Well Canal Street is pedestrianised and has the canal and open terraces etc, I think it is partly the layout that makes it accessible. There have been 'gay' areas in cities that I have found less welcoming. Birmingham springs to mind with its dark side streets off Hurst St. Though that area has opened up too recently.

But also yes the variety of people and a sense of people who may in other areas/contexts feel threatened, e.g. trans women. But trans women to me are not 'gay'!

I expect like you I like Canal St as I was there at the start. I haven't been back for ages though.

Chris Ashford said...

I think it would be interesting to see what you make of Canal Street today. I'm much less comfortable there now, but that could be the fact I'm older and fat. lol. To be honest, I tend to choose to visit other parts of the city. Young gay students visit it from the North East as a sort of 'promised land' today in much the same way I did in the late 90s.

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