Every marginalized group be it ethnic, religious, social, sexual or whatever creates folklore, usually as a self-defense and identifying mechanism. This is even more obvious if that group exists in a normal community yet is still outside of that community. The gay and lesbian community of Sydney is a large, vibrant and in some ways vocal group with a long public history. It is internationally recognized for the annual Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras that is staged every February and includes a massive public parade.
Gay, and I use that descriptive word to also include lesbians, are particularly tribal. They are seen as being at the forefront of some social change and this, of late, has been reinforced by the popularity of television programs like ‘Queer Eye For The Straight Guy’ where gays are seen as tastemakers on food, décor, wine, personal hygiene and the modern look in hair and clothing. Public acceptance of television programs like ‘Queer Eye’ reinforces how gays and ‘straights’ see themselves and also their tribal set. Often these views are based on stereotypes and far from the mark.
Gays are more tribal than any other group of the community. There are obvious distinguishing looks, word usage and recreational pursuits that define their unconscious or conscious membership. Tribes include skins, leather, preppy, camp, punk, pussy and suburban. Some see themselves as ‘manly’ and follow sport, particularly the AFL, and usually wouldn’t be seen in a ‘camp’ club. The same applies to the usually younger crowd who view the ‘leather queens’ as a race apart who frequent clubs like Manacle and Signal while they stick with Clubs like The Stonewall and the Columbian. Dress usually defines the tribe: skins shave their head hair and leave the rest to nature while, on the opposite side, the camps will ‘torture’ or ‘burn’ their hair into the latest look and wax most parts of their body to achieve a ‘buffed’ look. The leathers will wear camouflage pants and the camps designer wear. As they say: horses for courses.
History shows that these ‘looks’ come and go and, in some way, emulate the current look in America or Britain. In the nineteen fifties it was velvet jackets and paisley frilly shirts, sixties saw the heyday of the James Dean Levi jean and white t-shirt, in the seventies the clone look was popular – moustache, check shirt and blue jeans, the seventies saw a strange mess of every style including the dreaded safari and zoot suit. It was in the eighties that the British look evolved with gay ‘bovver’ boys in heavy black lace-up boots, tight t-shirts and workingman pants. The nineties showed that it was okay to go ‘designer’ again but one simply had to also maintain a jeans and t-shirt collection reflecting the popularity of street and dance wear. Message t-shirts au go go.
In Sydney the gay community historically tends to live in what were previously low -income homes, apartments and terrace houses. Suburbs like Paddington, Glebe and Surry Hills were ideal being close to the inner-city and Oxford Street and ripe for creative renovation. Having two disposable incomes didn’t hurt in the renovation scramble.
There is an active Gay History Project that has documented Sydney’s homosexual history and there have been a number of books published although none specifically venture into folklore.
It has been said that Sydney-siders are obsessed with property and that can also be said of the gay community. Gays have a particular wit that has affected our overall language although, like all language, it is a slow process of transmission.
Particular streets, suburbs and even buildings are given ‘gay names’ to distinguish them from suburbia. Oxford Street, home to many of the gay hotels, shops and clubs is known as ‘The Gay Mile’ or ‘The Golden Mile’ when talking about the power of the ‘gay dollar’. The clubs on the strip are also given names: The Midnight Shift becomes The Midnight Frock, whilst its street level hotel is referred to as ‘chopsticks and walking sticks’ because of the older and Asian clientele; Stonewall becomes Stonewash (after the jean wear of the same name) or Stonehedge (referring to older gays where the overall crowd is predominately quite young. Arq, a popular disco, becomes ‘Farque’. The Exchange Hotel becomes the Sex Exchange because of its drag show history.
One apartment block at the back of Paddington’s Trumper Park is referred to as the Valley of The Molls because of the number of gay people who reside there. The building itself, a tall apartment block built in the seventies is referred to as the Hanging Gardens of Fabulon because of the washing seen on the many balconies. Cook and Phillip Swimming Pool is Cock and Feel It because of its large gay clientele. The Palisades Building in Darlinghurst is often referred to (even by homosexuals) as The Palace of Aids whilst the suburb of Darlinghurst itself is known as Darling-it-hurts. Pott’s Point is Poof’s Point and Elizabeth Bay is known as Betty Bay.
Homosexuals refer to themselves by a number of derogatory names much in the same way other minority and persecuted groups do (such as Aborigines will call each other Abo’s) however these pejorative names are not acceptable from straight people. Some of these names include Queen, Faggot, Poof, Fairy and Fruit. The following names are usually not used in colloquial language but are used by straight people, mostly as vindictive insults – dung puncher, ring pirate, pork & beans (ie queens), prissy, ponce , pillow biter and poofter.
© Warren Fahey