Sydney’s gay nightlife is best described as Toronto’s scene on steroids, writes new Aussie resident Mark Keller.
My first thought in venturing through the urban landscape of Sydney: “I could have sworn I was on a plane for twenty-six hours…” My first thought in venturing through the homo tundra of Stonewall: “Am I in an excessively international version of Woody’s?” And my first thought in venturing into the sandy wonderland of Bondi: “Oh my god. I’m not in Canada anymore.”
Sydney is very similar to Toronto’s downtown core, with the lovely addition of some more breathtaking real estate and scenery.
Stonewall is fairly comparable to Woody’s on Church St. in the T Dot, but with two added stories and a lack of 2am last call.
And yes, Toronto has nothing comparable to Bondi Beach.
Hi, my name is Mark, I’m twenty-six, and as you may have guessed, I’m from Toronto. I’m the kind of gay that likes to have one hand waving to Britney in the clubs and the other fist pumping to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs in a mosh-pit. I’ve been in Sydney for five months and my friends are ninety-five percent Aussie. Which I’m told can be rare for a foreigner. I’m writing this piece on my experiences of culture swap on the other side of the world.
There are the obvious physical comparisons: your tower/my tower, your Oxford St/my Church St, your Arq/my Fly (‘Babylon’ in the first few seasons of the American QAF), your Newtown/my Queen St. West, your Minnie Cooper/my Miss Conception. And both cities have comparisons to their neighbours. Like Montreal in Quebec, Melbourne is the competing urban centre for which gay crowd is preferable. A perfect description, and an appropriate fit for this website, is the international adage: “Same, same, but different.”
While you will find an intense focus on physique anywhere you go, Sydney takes it to an extreme. There is incredible eye candy in Toronto, especially in the after-hours Mecca of Fly, but being a beach borough, I found the body fascism here to be all-consuming. Within minutes of landing, I looked down at my winter ravaged body and thought, ‘This will not do.’
I discovered fellow Torontonians at the Harbour Party, and our main topic of discussion was how a perfectly acceptable body in the Northern Hemisphere seems almost grotesque here. I’ve never felt more insecure about myself. It took me three months to be comfortable enough to go shirtless at the Daywash Easter Party. Hooray for me.
But this is from a strictly Oxford Street point of view. I was first introduced to Sydney during the hyper-homo atmosphere of Mardi Gras anticipation, but I’ve since explored other facets of fruity life in this city. I live in lovely Erskeneville, and enjoy the queerness of the Innerwest, where body-type hype is almost nonexistent.
Bonus points to Sydney for putting Toronto’s drag scene to shame. I mean it. Shame. From talent to promotion, I praise the Sydney queens serving it in all style. There’s also many more LGBT community programs to be involved with here. Our 519 Community centre does amazing things, but it’s lacking in the sheer volume of outreach tools that ACON has. I volunteered in a six week Start Making Sense course offered out of ACON, and only wish something like that could have been available to me when I was a teenager in Toronto.
The similarities that run the deepest are those between the people. The benefits of being a foreigner grant you quick insight into how the scene is viewed by its inhabitants.
Everyone loves to bitch. I wanted to prove this, so I asked three Toronto friends and three Sydney mates (note the lingo!) for three sentences describing their respective ‘gay scene.’
I like to think I gravitate towards positive people wherever I go. Mainly because I can’t stand Debbie Downers. But when the topic turns to the ‘scene’, opinions turn treacherous. My Sydney mates all commented on the superficiality, one even providing a recipe including “two cups of arrogance, one and a half cups of ego and a table spoon of genuine.” Another mate bemoaned: “hyper body-conscious, and somewhat shallow – we are generally unconcerned with things of deeper significance which extend beyond ourselves or our looks.”
Likewise in Toronto, my best friend commented: “At times the Toronto gay scene seems segregated and bitchy, with attitudes and egos that are bigger than their looks.” It is true that Church St is more isolated in its gayness than the mixed Oxford St. But I almost prefer that. A street to call one’s own. But this prompted one friend to state: “It’s isolated, there seem to be very few forums or events that collectively blend the gay and straight scene.”
So it seems that both communities have an intrinsic divide within it. A love/hate relationship. Frenemies, if you will.
But there are beacons of light at the end of the dark gay tunnel. As one mate describes Sydney: “Regardless of where you live, Oxford Street is where we really shine. A blend of our ‘community’ and our ‘scene’, which is the perfect balance for diversity and acceptance.”
And from my Toronto best friend: “You can find cute slutty twinks, an abundance of dirty sexy otters, and all the bears you could imagine. The clubs are minimal and the pickin’s are slim, but you can always find a fun and comfortable place to party the night away with your closest friends.”
Because wherever you go, ‘The Scene’ is what you make it and what you want out of it. Why can’t we take that adage more to heart within our own communities, whichever side of the world you live? “Same, same, but different.”
Photos: Toronto’s Gay Pride Parade.