The people I spoke to about my first journey to Sydney's Oxford Street strip were unanimous that it is not the place it once was. When we first arrived at Taylor Square, my first observation was that the streets were far less crowded than I’d anticipated. Granted it was not even 10pm, but this little spring chicken was already feeling dozy. Cue wine.
I must admit, the nerves weren’t keeping themselves hidden. Despite being the city’s undisputed gay-bourhood, I still felt out of place. Generally speaking, I think the primary reason people go to clubs and hotels is to find themselves a hook-up. While I’m not saying that there is a single thing wrong with that, it’s not my style. Call me old fashioned in that sense.
Sitting down at the Oxford Hotel with my go-to order in hand (cheapest sauv-blanc on the menu, thanks), the place struck me as being surprisingly relaxed. Cosy, even. In fact, there was nothing extraordinarily “gay” about the place. You’d be forgiven for thinking it was just a "regular pub", for lack of a better phrase. A couple of groups of friends having a casual night out, sitting around having a laugh and a few drinks. Nothing ground breaking, but nonetheless, nice.
Amidst the early onset of tipsiness, I noticed a man looking at me with quite a puzzled look on his face. I overheard him saying he recognised my face from somewhere, and naturally, it wasn’t until someone reminded him of my recent Bogan Gate Tour video that it clicked in his head who I was.
Perhaps alcohol was a major player in the piece, but he was oddly excited to be meeting me; something I hadn’t even thought to brace myself for that night. Despite reaching an audience of more than 3 million, I’d thought of the city as a separate, superior universe than my humble YouTube video could not possibly have reached. Crazy stuff.
We moved onto the Colombian Hotel, which had male pole dancers on show. I think it’s fair to liken them to lava lamps - you can’t help but stare. The Colombian had clearly cranked things up a notch on the wild front in comparison to the Oxford Hotel - too much, I dare say.
Don’t get me wrong, everyone looked like they were having a grouse time, but I struggle to see the appeal of music that’s so loud you can’t converse with the person next to you. Again, call me old fashioned.
We moved onto the Stonewall Hotel, where the definite standout of the night was becoming acquainted with its drag queens. They are honestly the most under-appreciated performers around. You might think that you’re the most collected and self-assured version of yourself that you can be, but until you become a drag queen, you will never achieve peak levels of unapologetic confidence. Truly inspiring stuff. I even felt 10 times safer after drag queen Charisma Belle assured me that if anyone gave me trouble, I could set Aunty Charisma onto them. Bless ‘er heart.
Charisma called me up on stage during the drag show. That’s right, timid little me, on stage, in front of everyone, at a drag show. It sounded like a recipe for awkwardness and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t tempted to seek the nearest sandpit to bury my head in. But guess what? It happened. And it was a hoot.
Charisma introduced me as the boy from Bogan Gate, which was met with lukewarm applause and a few raised eyebrows. But once the crowd was informed that it was my first time ever visiting Oxford Street, the applause really amped up. Everyone was keen to congratulate me on that milestone because they’d been there. They knew what it was like to feel like a fish out of water.
I can honestly say that everyone I spoke to was nothing but welcoming. Make no mistake, the crowd at the Stonewall were rowdy, but nobody was obnoxious. I was told I must’ve encountered the few diamonds in the rough because the gay scene isn’t notorious for being 100 per cent pleasant. But hey, I’m happy to take them at face value. I thought it was an amazingly fun and positive environment.
Overall, I was bloody surprised with how much I enjoyed the night. As someone who has no grounds for comparison, I was impressed. It did beg the question as to why Oxford Street is not as popular among young LGBTQI people as what it used to be. I may sound naive, but I have the theory that there’s less of a need to seek refuge in a “safe space” because now more than ever, everywhere is safe. Are LGBTQI folk now perfectly comfortable to express themselves outside of the gay-bourhood? I’d certainly like to think so.
Presenter: Patrick Abboud
Video/photography/editor: Daniel Hartley-Allen
Producer: Drew Sheldrick