To celebrate LGBT History Month, MM talk to LGBT figures from across Greater Manchester about their experiences of coming out and what progress they think the city still has to make towards equality.
Yesterday we caught up with Paul Burgess, the creator and director of Pink Triangle Theatre, who was born and bred in Oldham, and runs Performance Plaza and Cycle Club Oldham with his partner of 18 years Jason.
Today’s insight into coming out, going out and day-to-day life as a member of Manchester’s LGBT communtiy is actor and drag artist Dan Wallace aka Anna Phylactic – often described as ‘a shock in a frock’.
Dan is a fierce party socialite, who hosts a ‘fabulous’ night called Aftershock in Manchester’s gay Village.
How old were you when you first realised you were L/G/B or T?
I think I realised I was different quite early on but I’m not sure if that was something that was highlighted by others first or whether it was something I came to realise myself. It gets foggy.
I was always effeminate and camp which got me into a lot of trouble at school. I was no good at ‘boy’ things like football and much preferred to be Helen Daniels when we played Neighbours or Cheetarah when we played Thundercats.
I told everyone it’s because she could run really fast and I liked her super power but really I quite liked her outfit – not a lots changed.
I was bullied quite a lot for being ‘girly’ at first and then later on for being ‘gay’.
I think I’d kind of worked it all out by the time I went to secondary school though I still had girlfriends for a while. But even then it was a deception.
I’d hold their hands at break time and kiss at the school disco but would never do anything with them out of schools hours.
Could you tell us your ‘coming out’ story?
I came out or was outed when I was 15. I’d been seeing a boy in secret at school and kept a diary. My brother thought it would be funny to take my diary to school and before long everyone knew my secret. Needless to say life got a bit more complex!
Cue more bullying, running away, self-harm. It was a horrible period of my life but all character building stuff. In a way he kind of did me a favour. It was very difficult at the time though of course.
How does being gay impact on your job/career?
I do a few different jobs and have fingers in lots of pies so I think it influences each one differently! I experience positive and negative!
I love all the drag work I do and I think that we have a thriving arts scene and a real creativity within the nightlife and clubbing scene which doesn’t really happen in the straight scene.
DEADLY SILENCE: Dan says we need more information and discussion at shcools to end homphobic and transphobic bullying
I guess from an actor’s point of view (I tread the boards occasionally)there is a peculiar thing that happens when casting directors find out about your sexuality – you will only ever be seen for gay parts which is frustrating as there are not as many out there. So I guess that’s a negative.
It was drummed out of me at drama school and interestingly I didn’t play a gay character or get cast as a gay character until 2010 – seven years after leaving drama school. Then my castings were all for gay characters.
What are your thoughts on Manchester’s LGBT scene? Is the Village still the heart of it in your mind?
It’s odd I don’t think the Village is the heart of the community anymore. It’s a real shame but I think that a lot of the venues have given into cheap drinks offers just to survive which in turn attracts a crowd that you don’t necessarily want.
I wouldn’t spend time in half the venues anymore and walking down Canal Street can be quite a scary experience. I think most of the scene and community spend time in the venues off Canal Street and at Alternative events which are much friendlier and community focused.
I think there is still a need for our own space – times are changing but I don’t think we are there just yet.
The Village how it stands at the moment however is not the beating heart it should be! There is definitely room for venues that cater more for the arts – live bands, good cabaret, comedy, drag etc. We also need more restaurants and places to eat and places that are less focused on just going out and getting smashed.
What makes Manchester a good place to live in for members of the LGBT community?
Manchester is just fabulous isn’t it? People always ask me why I’m not in London and as lovely as the big smoke is to visit it’s just not Manchester is it?
I love Manchester for a number of different reasons – I think it really is one of the best cities in the world! There’s something about the people! People always say that the North is friendlier and I think there’s a truth in that!
It’s a city but it feels small as well! I think that bleeds into our LGBT community. Manchester has a real mix of communities and a lot love!
What are the biggest challenges still to overcome in the UK for the LGBT community?
I think it starts early. There needs to more education and information at schools. A lot is changing but there is still a long way to come.
There are some fabulous companies doing some great work at schools – Hope Company a Manchester based theatre company being one of them!
Silence is a real killer and unfortunately we still have lots of suicides due to homophobic and transphobic bullying and this needs to stop. I read recently about a school specifically for gay children – it is an interesting concept but I don’t think it addresses any problems really. I don’t think segregation is really an answer.
And what about for the rest of the world?
Don’t even get me started on the rest of the world. Ha! Just when you think the world is changing and moving on it takes several steps backwards.
What would you say to your young self or a young LGBT person with the knowledge you have now about coming out?
I’d give them a big hug! I’d tell them that they are valued as a person and deserve to be here just as much as the next person!
It’s a scary place to be growing up and to feel different or wrong and to not fit in and I think people just need more love and less hate!
You are not alone! There’s that brilliant campaign isn’t there? Things get better! And they really really do!
Main image courtesy of Stephen Conolly and second image courtesy of Lee Baxter, with thanks.