We caught up to talk about growing up in Redcliff, old school drag queens, and the impact of the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Brisbane in 1991.
Find out more about Fat Gay Vegan at his website.Transcript
Fat Gay Vegan 0:00
Having my childhood lived out somewhere like Patches was in some ways wonderful. But in other ways, it was incredibly risky. And it was born out of trauma, like my trauma to escape my family, my trauma to find a place in a homophobic society that legislated against me. It was my way of rising up out of that trauma. And I was actually experiencing trauma at the time, through all of those years. So I don’t really want to go back there. I appreciate what it was. I’m thankful for the experience. I wish everybody that I ever met there. Even the people who weren’t kind to me, I wish them well, and I hope they’re happy and productive people if they survived, but it’s not something that I need to go back and try and reclaim.
K Anderson 0:46
I am K Anderson and you are listening to lost spaces, a podcast that mourns the death of queer nightlife. Every episode I talk to a different person about a venue from their past, the memories they created there and the people that they used to know. Sean Callahan, best known as fat gay vegan, is a freelance writer and one of the world’s most popular vegan bloggers. We caught up to talk about patches and nightclub in fortitude Valley, Brisbane, Australia, which provided an escape and an opportunity to meet his tribe when he was growing up in Red Cliff in the 80s.
Fat Gay Vegan 1:52
Well, before we would go into patches, we even though we were going to go in before 9pm to get in free and to get the free drink voucher. We couldn’t afford to drink much or at all inside the bar because we had no money being children. So we would go to a parking sort of lot around the corner. And we would buy bottles of cheap sippy Manti, there was a drink that we used to drink called passion pop. And it was a very, very famous drink around the time for anyone who was a teenager in the the 80s, early 90s. And it was usually 99 cents a bottle. And it was like the size of Bella champagne, but it was the cheapest sparkling humanity. And you could sometimes buy a case, like 12 bottles for $10. And it was just ridiculous. And we used to go and drink around the corner. So pre drink before we went into the club since then, and it’s where we would hang out. And one evening we were there. And I mean, we looked really gay. Like I was in makeup. I was in shorts and makeup and a blouse, like a pink chiffon blouse tied up my waist and have nothing on underneath it. And I had like one of those. Do you remember those Indian style? woven bags that were like you’d wear over your shoulder and they were all the rage in Australia. Okay, yep, multicolored woven bag. And I had that with me. First of all, the police came and made us tip all of our alcohol into the gutter down the drain. They said How old are you and we were like all saying we were 21 when I was 15. And we were lying to them. They tipped my bag out onto the the front the bonnet of the cop car. And all my things went over. And they were all like signifiers of how gay I was. The police officer was like picking up my makeup. And one of the women I was with settle. That’s my makeup. He’s holding it for me. And then I had a copy in there because I thought I was so romantic and ridiculous. I had a copy of the Happy Prince and other short stories by Oscar Wilde. And this police officer picked the book up and waved it in my face and said, the Happy Prince say I was like, yeah. And I was so scared because you know, it’s like this, this massive signifier that I was like a screaming Queen and this police officer had every right to arrest me because it was illegal to be gay. So anyway, eventually they bought all our alcohol into the drain. They gave us out things back and told us to go away. And they didn’t believe we were 18 but they couldn’t do anything about it. And they sent us on our way and we ran straight to the club. And went went into the club.
K Anderson 4:46
Yeah, but but like also kind of what kind of dickheads where the police like to terrorize kids like that. Like what? Yeah, well,
Fat Gay Vegan 4:55
they had, they had power and at the time, it was illegal to be gay. In Queensland, it was homosexuality was decriminalised in 1990. So when I started going out in 1988, it was against the law to be gay. So not only could you be bashed for, you know, looking to gay or to a feminine, the police could also harass you. And we used to get harassed by the police all the time on the way to the clubs.
K Anderson 5:22
And so yeah, so like, even just being on a train dressed up ready to go out meant that you would attract lots of stairs and attention from other people.
Fat Gay Vegan 5:37
Yeah, and we lived in a bubble at the time I lived in a very it was kind of like it’s a big city, but it’s kind of got a country town, feel I know you’ve had another guest on talking about the terminus. And it’s very hard to describe to people who didn’t live through that. But we had a very right wing, extreme right wing government. And the police department at the time in Brisbane, and Queensland, was considered one of the most corrupt in the world. And there was just a lot of police violence, a lot of black deaths in custody, like young black people, young black men, especially Indigenous Australians, were killed by the police in custody. And there was a lot of targeting anybody who didn’t look, you know, inverted commas normal. And so that carried on from obviously, if you’ve got a police force like that it gives people license to, you know, be more aggressive themselves. You know, you don’t you only have to look what’s happening in the US with their politics, and how, you know, if you have an outspoken leader who attacks immigrants, more people feel emboldened to attack immigrants. And so we really lived through a time where, if you were anything other than, you know, a white average looking suburban person, you were up for ridicule. I mean, we used to get chased by people who said they were going to, you know, beat us up. We’d have been all my memories of being a you know, sort of as a young teenager is running away from something.
K Anderson 7:12
So on that first train journey, I know you said you don’t remember the first time that you went there. But you know, generally there is that when you’re going to a club, when you’re going out for a night out. There’s a feeling of kind of excitement and anticipation when you were on the train. How, like, I don’t know what I’m asking Really? Did you have to play that down? Did you have to try and act less conspicuous.
Fat Gay Vegan 7:39
I was probably too excited to play it down. And I can remember what I wore to the first time I went to the club. And I can remember wearing white knee length shorts. White knee like socks, black canvas, slip on shoes, and a black and white striped, sort of like a sailor shirt. So I look like, you know, like a 14 year old child dress like a four year old child, but it was like, the fashion at the time was, you know, it was like you think back to what like Bananarama would have worn in a video or, you know, even like, like a T shirt that Rick Astley might have worn for a photoshoot. You know, it was like very camp. You know, it was very influenced by gay and house music culture from around the world. And then very influenced by pop stars coming out of the UK. And so I think I might’ve even had slightly longer hair and I had my hair back in a like a bandana sort of blonde. I you know, it was every week, it was like a fashion show, we thought we would like the height of fashion. And it was whatever we could get for free or steal or borrow from older siblings or friends. And I sent a photo through to you showing you one of the outfits that I wore. And now that shirt I was either stolen from like a secondhand clothing store. You can’t really see the detail in the photo, but I was actually wearing a crucifix and rosary beads. At the same time probably influenced by Donna. May, you know it just maybe Yeah. And so, you know, I was like, you know, we used to go out one week and say, Okay, we’re Madonna. And the next week I’d go out I’m like, Okay, I’m Pete burns, or the next week I’d go out and I’d be like, Okay, I’m Kylie. I’m in like a cropped denim jacket and five oh, ones that somebody like makes I had no money to get them myself. And so I could be that for one week. And it was really a way for us to play out all of our fashion fantasies because we’re poor kids. We were queer kids. We didn’t have that world at our disposal. So we just do it by dressing up
K Anderson 9:57
until you said earlier that the friends that you had at the time, were bit older, how much older is a bit older?
Fat Gay Vegan 10:03
I would say they were if I was 14, they would be 17.
K Anderson 10:06
Okay. And what was your tactic then for getting into the club?
Fat Gay Vegan 10:13
I was told that there was no hassle getting into this club that you could just go in. And I don’t think I was ever stopped going into patches. I don’t think anyone ever asked me anything. So many underage people in there. I knew so many other people my age are slightly older. I mean, certainly there would be nights where you could get in there and free before 9pm you could look around and it was all just the kids who had no money. Before 9pm I think the owner or the manager of patches was Nolan has possibly done this. I’m not trying to get anyone in trouble here. But we always we always saw him with younger boyfriends. Okay, I’m not saying he dated underage people. Like there’s no evidence of that. And I’m not saying that. I even think that, but he had younger looking boyfriends. And it was I don’t know if that informed his door policy that he wanted young people have a safe place to go. I’m not sure.
K Anderson 11:19
And can you describe the venue to me them? Okay, so
Fat Gay Vegan 11:22
the venue was on a street called Brunswick Street. And it was like the nightclub district, but really seedy. So people who wanted to go to like, a nightclub that felt a bit safer would go to those sort of central business district of the city of Brisbane. But this area was called fortitude Valley. That’s the name of the suburb, and it’s still there. And so it’s where a lot of the queer and punk clubs would spring up, sometimes illegally. There were a lot of empty buildings. And so you know, we would sometimes sleep in some of the empty buildings if we were tired of the club, and we had to wait for the train or we had nowhere to go. And patches was part of like a mega club. So there was a big club downstairs called the Roxy. And it was some time it would have big dance parties there. And it had an internal staircase that led to the upstairs Club, which is where patches was and they would open that doorway up that internal stairwell for special occasions, like if there was a huge Dance Party, which I can talk about later. But so it was a smaller club upstairs. It wasn’t tiny, you could probably fit a couple of 100 people in it. And it was just a run of the mill. seedy nightclub like it had Sticky, sticky carpet. Everything was dreary and dirty. I remember one night being on the dance floor with my friend, Peter and she was wearing like a fake the fake fur Bolero jacket. And we were dancing to whatever we were dancing to like. I can’t remember at the time but the disco light above us. There was like a strobe light caught fire. And like this plastic started dripping down that was on fire and someone on a jacket never on ran for the door. Like all these underage kids. This like illegal sort of like dingy nightclub, ran for the door. And then somebody put it out with the fire extinguisher and we all came back and started dancing again. You know, probably dancing to new or a Pet Shop Boys or something thinking were the coolest people on the planet.
K Anderson 13:30
Actually, at the time, everything would have smell of cigarette smoke. So the plastic burning smell would have been covered up quite quickly.
Fat Gay Vegan 13:36
Oh, yeah, exactly. Right. You know, there was always a mixture. The smell in patches was always cigarettes, or the drink of the day was vodka and orange juice. But everyone just used to drink that. I don’t know if it was cheap. Or if it’s what kids teenagers would be used to drinking. What you could make at a party. Everyone used to just drink vodka and Orange Is The place was sticky with it.
K Anderson 14:04
So can we talk a bit about your life in Red Cliff? And I guess first of all, can you give us a bit of an indication of what Red Cliff was like at that time?
Fat Gay Vegan 14:15
Red Cliff is the seaside town. And you know to quote the famous racist Morrissey it’s the seaside town that they forgot to close down. And it really was a brutal place to grow up. Like especially if you’re a queer person. It was like a lower socio economic neighborhood with a lot of really rough people. majority white and they just hated anything that was different. So yeah, we would get chased out of parties. We would get chased just from sitting at the beach all the time. So it wasn’t a nice place to grow up. I had a very unhappy home life as well. I moved out of home when I was 15. I left school when I was 15 I started full time employment. And it just doesn’t have very good memories. For me, I visited for the first time in decades. Last year, I visited Australia, I hadn’t been to Australia in 10 years. And I went back and my sister took me for a drive around Radcliffe, and I was just, it triggered me so badly. I don’t have very many good memories of that. And it was the sort of town where, you know, obviously, it was illegal to be gay. And so people that created a culture where it was very hard to come out to friends. And so a lot of the gay things that happened were very underground. Or I often found myself gravitating towards older people, sometimes to my detriment, you know, older people who didn’t have my best interest at heart. And, you know, it’s typical for a lot of young queer people, they get taken advantage of, or coerced into situations. And so but I did have some good friends as well. And they were the ones who kind of steered me away from the town. And, you know, to the city that was, you know, half an hour, 40 minutes away. And that’s where we, you know, sort of built our own scene on the, you know, with the the underground nightclubs and the queer spaces, we didn’t really have any queer spaces, other than, you know, the public toilets at the local beach,
K Anderson 16:23
in every town, as I
Fat Gay Vegan 16:27
say, you know, finding queer identity I don’t think I could really do. I couldn’t create a full queer identity in Radcliffe, it was kind of going to the next biggest city to do that. And I think that’s true for a lot of young people around the world.
K Anderson 16:42
Yeah, but it’s kind of surprising. Maybe that’s not the right word, that you were able to find some kind of allies, you’re able to find some other queer people there in the town. Did you meet them through school or in other ways?
Fat Gay Vegan 16:57
Yeah, so I was the youngest of four children. And my three sisters are older than me, but we will all within the space of about five years. And so a lot of my musical tastes and the people that I hung out with were informed by my sisters. And I remember one day, I don’t know I was raving about Morrissey, or I was raving about Madonna. And I was like, being super gay listening to dead or alive. And my sister, my eldest sister, Michelle said to me, oh, you should talk to this guy. You know his name. I won’t say his name. But he hangs out with our group and he’s a big Madonna fan. And that was her way of saying to me, I think his query Okay, and I think we should hang out. So it was through my oldest sister’s friends. And so my sister is about four and a half years older than me, it was through her friends that I started to hang out with and go to parties and start to go to the clubs like patches and Terminus with and, um, you know, she was she was able to introduce me to people that she knew. She knew to be kind of like more mindful or safer people to be around because they all hung around together.
K Anderson 18:12
So Madonna bringing bringing queers together for decades. Maybe we need to let her know. She probably knows already, doesn’t she?
Fat Gay Vegan 18:23
She knows and she doesn’t care.
K Anderson 18:25
She’s too busy in her bathtub baking videos. Yeah, she’s too busy wearing her jewels. Without without going too far off topic, I do quite enjoy the approach that she’s taking now. Where zero fucks given that so like, without being I know, this is gonna sound like a really weird, dumb question. But what does his 17 year olds see and a 14 year old?
Fat Gay Vegan 18:56
Well, you know, to be, you know, openly, you know, brutal about this. There were people even in that group that I hung around that probably weren’t acting in my best interest, like I was coerced into sexual situations, from the age of 13 and 14, that I wouldn’t, I probably shouldn’t have been in. And if these people had been educated and had been mindful and and being compassionate, they would not put me in. But often as a queer child, you find yourself drawn to the underdog, or the outskirts of society or the the underbelly, and you It puts you more at risk. And so some of them just saw a kindred spirit in me and wanted to be my friend and look after me. And some of them saw me as someone to have sex with. And I think that happens to a lot of young queer people. And it’s really a story that we don’t tell a lot of, and that we need to even these days talk to young queer people about self determination around their own sexuality, and that how it’s it should be on their terms. But saying that growing up in a state where it was illegal to even be a homosexual adult, there was nobody for me to go to and say, Hey, is this okay that somebody wants to have sex with me? Is this okay? that somebody wants to have unprotected sex with me, even though Madonna’s telling me to wear a condom? You know, it was a very difficult situation for me, because I had run away from abusive parents, that I was looking to older people for guidance, and I didn’t always get good guidance from people.
K Anderson 20:34
And that’s the kind of hard thing as well, isn’t it because people who that have a problem with queerness, are always focused on sexual acts and are always focused on genitals. And so when you’re growing up in homophobic environment, that that that is what you equate your queerness with, it’s or it’s very easy for you to equate your queerness with sex and the act of sex. And so, I mean, you know, on top of all of the pressure that you might feel, in a note, like to make people like you, there is that kind of thing at the back of your mind about like, this is what I need to do, because this is who I am, because this is what society tells me.
Fat Gay Vegan 21:16
Also, I mean, if you place it historically, within a queer context, 1987 and 1988, think of where that was within the HIV and AIDS calendar. And there was so much shame and stigma, that if you were gay, I mean, my, my first memory of ever hearing anyone talk about HIV was when I was very young. And I was sitting on a balcony with my mother and my auntie and some cousins, and they were talking about our gay cancer, and that faggots deserved it. And that’s what happened. That’s my first memory. And so, growing up in that environment around people had that mentality in an environment where it was state sanctioned, that it was against the law to be gay. Plus, there were adverts running on TV with the Grim Reaper, saying, you know, this is what aids does to you, in the Grim Reaper would bowl a bowling ball and knock people over. That’s where I came of age. And I, you know, it was very hard to I mean, there was zero people to turn to to talk about my sexuality, or my queerness. And the only people that I would often find willing to talk to me about older men who wanted to have sex, and that was it wanted to have sex, young boys. Yeah.
K Anderson 22:35
That that is shit. I’m sorry that you went through that? Yeah. And so if we go back to patches, you obviously went there? It sounds like you went there with kind of a gaggle of people, a group of people. Was that quite an insular group? Or did you make new friends in the venue?
Fat Gay Vegan 22:57
Yeah, we would make new friends. So we would go, I would go with people from Red Cliff. And then we would branch off, we would meet other people, like remember, one of my friends made a boyfriend who lived in the sort of gayborhood, which is called new farm. It’s the next suburb Bible from where patches was. And my friend Jeffrey went off, and, you know, moved in with his boyfriend, and we were all jealous that he was living this, you know, cosmopolitan, you know, ridiculous lifestyle, living with his boyfriend, who I think was a flight attendant. And we were also jealous. I mean, I was 15. At the time, I’m not sure what I thought was going on, like, I was somehow going to move in with a middle aged man in, you know, the gayborhood. And so a lot of people would just disappear, of course, now, I know that a lot of that would have to do with HIV and AIDS, because it was really at the height of that pandemic, and when it was really affecting queer communities all over the world, and that we would often lose friends without even knowing. And because nobody spoke about it, especially like 8788 8990 when it was illegal to be gay. You didn’t hear about it, people’s families wouldn’t contact you or they wouldn’t come to the queer club to look for friends have their family, you people would just disappear. Oh, gosh.
So yeah, we did make friends. And you know, patches only really lived a short while it had for me It had a big explosion. It was really popular. But then other clubs sprung up and we moved on. And so it was like this snapshot in time, where it was like all these young Andre mostly unraised queer dads into Bananarama, you know, dressing like Kylie’s first album, and then then it kind of we moved on to other clubs. And you know, especially as music styles changed, there was another club down the road about a five minute walk called the beat, and I think it’s still there. And I think it’s now called the mega beat. And the beat has been there decades, and it was like the I think maybe the longest running queer club or gay own club? I’m not sure who owns it now. But their music started to be a lot more dance orientated and less pop or avant garde or new wave, which patches was more of that. And so,
K Anderson 25:13
if you were to call for pop, is that what happened?
Fat Gay Vegan 25:20
I think patches was just always on a knife edge. Like, it couldn’t last, I mean, with the amount of under aged kids in there. And you know, it was very dependent on a certain trend of music. And when that trend shifted radically, I mean, when things like black box started hitting the mainstream, and like, went to number one in Australia, like songs like right on time, and things like that. They didn’t, they weren’t an underground concern anymore. I mean, that’s what we thought made us different listening to house records, that sounds a DJ, it’s not getting from, like New York, or LA or London. And so then when they started to become big hits, and then like, later around 1990 was like bands like snap, you know, and that those sorts of sounds that were ours. And when the underground and where the queer became the mainstream, something like patches just kind of faded away.
K Anderson 26:13
It didn’t. It didn’t adapt to me at the times.
Fat Gay Vegan 26:17
Now, and I just don’t think it could add, you know, there were probably other problems there as well. I can remember the the owner of the bar. Towards the end, when the clientele started to dip in numbers, he started to get a bit angry with people and he would be we became famous for banning people from his club.
K Anderson 26:37
On one grounds, just very tenuous ones.
Fat Gay Vegan 26:40
Anything, he banned me, he, I made a joke about him with his boyfriend, he was with one of his young boyfriends. And I said something flippin or can’t be like your boyfriend’s Can I have his number or something? And he said, You’re out of here, Queen, you’re banned for life. And for years, that was my catchphrase, like people used to say it to me, you’re out of here, Queen. So I got then and then, you know, it was probably only a month or two later that the club closed down. I can’t remember what year that was. But it was probably still under it.
K Anderson 27:18
Okay, so you first went there when you were 14? And then you said that you moved out of home when you were 15. And so did you move to Brisbane, then
Fat Gay Vegan 27:29
when I first moved out of home, I moved into had no a house in Red Cliff. Because where I worked was kind of halfway between Red Cliff and Brisbane. And I also couldn’t afford, you know, I was I was working in a shop so I could afford the rents in the inner city. So I actually moved in with one of my sisters who had also moved out of home because of our bad, bad family life. And we also had another friend that we used to hang out with, who was just one of the neighborhood kids who was, you know, also queer, and, you know, hung around us. And so we all shared, we all had full time retail jobs. And we all you know, shared like this crummy little house, in the suburbs near the beach. And I used to have to walk to work, I worked in a shoe store. It was quite awful.
K Anderson 28:27
But added, like skills for life that you got out of that. Like Could you tell me my shoe size? Have you met me?
Fat Gay Vegan 28:33
I might not be able to tell you your shoe size. But I there are things that stick with me like, you know, the best way to treat certain types of leather or I mean, it’s just ridiculous.
K Anderson 28:45
Well, that’s that’s very useful for you now, isn’t it?
Fat Gay Vegan 28:48
Yes, as he goes nowhere near leather.
K Anderson 28:54
There was it. I worked in retail for a while and there was a time and maybe I just haven’t actually tried. But there was a time when I could just tell any man what waist size he was actually maybe that’s not that impressive. No.
Fat Gay Vegan 29:10
I think he’s just like looking at people’s ways.
K Anderson 29:13
Yeah, it’s just like a you know, I know that I’ve got this euro 34 Yeah, anyway. So what was that like that? And that first, that kind of liberation of having moved out of home? It was terrifying.
Fat Gay Vegan 29:27
I mean, I had I was dating someone who was 19 who was a he was just awful. He was a hairdresser. And he was an abusive relationship. I mean, I’m sorry. I don’t mean to make this sound like oh, this is like the biggest downer ever. I know your your discussions normally always revolve around, you know the importance of queer spaces.
K Anderson 29:54
So sorry, sorry. Do you feel uncomfortable talking about this?
Fat Gay Vegan 29:58
No, no, I don’t think So because I think it’s important to have clarity and truth about what it was like for young queer people, especially at that time, it was very difficult for a lot of us, we didn’t have support networks. And I know that it’s still difficult for queer people now. And even for me, as a middle aged queer person, it’s difficult that the younger people I’d like to believe, and I’d like to support organizations that look after young queer people. And I think there’s a lot more of that, but at the time that didn’t really exist.
K Anderson 30:29
And yeah, I just want to be like, yeah, straight up with you, I suppose that I don’t have any expectations for this being like a fun interview or anything. So I’m happy for it to go wherever it goes. And I don’t want you to feel any kind of like, you have to apologize for that or anything.
Fat Gay Vegan 30:47
Okay. Well, now that you’ve given me the green light, grab the tissues, because we’re getting really deep.
K Anderson 30:53
Okay. Sorry, I just went off into like a pep talk then didn’t I? fd, right. Yes.
Fat Gay Vegan 31:00
But, I mean, going back to that, you know, that house and those first sort of share houses that I lived in, it was really a difficult time, because I was working full time. I was, you know, a teenager, a child. And I was going clubbing at least one night a week I was drinking beyond what a human should drink. I mean, before we went out, I would do things like drink two bottles of wine or drink a bottle of vodka on my own, at, you know, 1415 years of age, and then go out clubbing until 5am. And I would find myself in dreamily dangerous and risky situations because of that. And, you know, there are people that hang around young, vulnerable people to take advantage of that. And so it was dangerous. And there are other people. In my circumstance that didn’t survive. I wrote a book two years ago. And in the book, I talk about how I think I’m still alive because of my privilege, whether that be, you know, my white, white privilege and male privilege are my non disabled privilege. And there were other people my age, who I knew in my town who got killed in hate crimes, because maybe they didn’t enjoy some of the same privileges that I had. You know, I didn’t, they didn’t present the same way as me. And so they were targeted more. And so I did grow up in a very violent area. And I was part of a demographic that was very targeted by violence. So yeah, it was tough. But there was also there was also good things about it as well, if you want to try and say some positive things.
K Anderson 32:46
nairabet. So like to say, I grew up in Adelaide, and Adelaide is not, you know, it’s not a small town. And I never had any kind of incidences of violence or anything like that in growing up. But it was still like, hugely, hugely oppressive for me and felt very, yeah, just I felt very unwelcome in most places that I was, and that would even kind of seep into where I live. And so I guess, yeah, it’s just, it’s interesting that you’re in this sharehouse, kind of in the town, that didn’t accept you, and trying to, to transition, I suppose from that, that child to an adult, and sorry, we living with your boyfriend, or you were just dating.
Fat Gay Vegan 33:36
No, I was just dating him. And, you know, I don’t even know how long that lasted. He he was just not a very nice person. And he probably had a lot of problems of his own. But, you know, we were kind of caught in this really weird space, like young queer people my age, who growing up in Red Cliff and Brisbane, we were caught between. So you know, we had all these pop stars and, and sort of fashion people that we looked up to, that made us believe that a career was okay. And I knew that, you know, being camp and listening to music and going dancing, and that was meant to be celebrated. But then we were also caught between a really homophobic, overarching culture, and especially with the right in the thick of everything with HIV and AIDS. It was it was very, we were terrorized by the mediocrity of where we lived. And we were punished for not fitting into those molds. And then we would also go out to these gay bars where we were to find solidarity, and with other young people our age, but then there would also be the old guard of the queer community that resisted us as well. So we would go to patches and they would sometimes be like, sort of the older drag performers. And I can remember there was a drag performer called Hazel LaBelle. And she was much older. I mean, she would have been in her 50s or 60s. And he was part of the really old underground drag scene in Brisbane. And there was a party that used to happen once a year called the Queen’s ball. And it was a big drag pageant. So you know, you hear about, you know, old fashioned drag pageants that used to happen in like Harlem. And this that we had one in Brisbane that started in the 60s, I think. And it happened every year, right up until the early or mid 90s. And it was called the Queen’s ball. So all of us young, queer kids would go along. But then there’d be all the old, old school, Old Guard drag queens, you know, in their pageant gowns, and the old fashion names and the movie star names. And so we had a real culture clash, even there. So we were running away from the mediocrity and the danger of the suburbs, but then also clashing with the old gay guys who are, you know, the old fashioned drag performance?
K Anderson 35:57
And so these are old guards. Do you think that they were resistant to you being there? Or was it like, more of an older generation younger generation, we don’t really get each other kind of thing?
Fat Gay Vegan 36:09
Yeah, no, I think people supported each other and looked after each other. But it was really a clash of cultures. So not not so much a deliberate thing. I could, you know, I can remember the guy who ran patches. He started he started a dance party and annual dance party called the sleazeball. Now, the sleazeball had been going in Sydney for a few years before this. And he wanted to bring sort of a touch of that, you know, whatever it was like that. The vibe of a sleazeball, which celebrated more fluid, sexuality and more queerness instead of like gay and lesbian identities, he wanted to bring that to Brisbane. And I remember there being a bit of resistance to that, like some of the older queens thought it was a little bit improper. And the Queen’s ball when I remember going to them and the sleazeball as well happened in patches and the neighboring nightclub called the Roxy and they would have the internal staircase. And we would be able to go between the two venues and they’d have different type of music, you know, you’d have drag, and you’d have the pageant. And then they brought in, like, for the sleazeball, they brought in like Mr. Letterman, Australia competition, and they would have that on the stage, then there’d be drag queens, and then upstairs, there’d be sort of the more, I suppose younger or more modern music DJs spinning. And so yeah, it was a for a few years, it was a really nice combination of everyone coming together.
K Anderson 37:43
Do you remember then your first drag show or kind of what your first impressions of drag were?
Fat Gay Vegan 37:49
No, I don’t remember. I don’t remember I can remember drag being, you know, like, when you see drag now. And even in the last 10 years, drag has evolved a lot. It really was my first memories of drag was very old school pageant style, drag. And, you know, when I remember seeing drag in 1988, it was drag, drag performance, who’d been doing it for years, you know, maybe some of them had a mean dressing and drag privately or at parties for decades. I I when I was a teenager, an older man started a relationship with me and he was much older, he would have been in his 30s or 40s when I was a teenager. And he was a female impersonator. And he was a dame Edna impersonator. And that’s the sort of old school drag I’m talking about people thought that that was, you know, that was clever, you know, gender illusion. And then, you know, like in patches, we used to have different types of entertainment that would come up and through like younger people who especially younger people who traveled or they’d read magazines, or heard about things would try and bring outside influences to our dance floors, in patches. And I remember there was a man and a woman. I can’t remember their names. I think one of them was called Michelle. And they had a fashion label, like this avant garde fashion label called dressed for sex. And I remember one night in patches in 1988, where they did a fashion show, and they were voguing. And though it was like, you know, two years before Madonna did it. And so we really had no concept of that as a movement or as an art form in Australia, as some people would have and you know, things like that springing up all over the world, but it was really born and made popular in the black and Latino neighborhoods of New York and inner city, USA. And so these, these two people were with their horrible, horrible clothes that were hacked together out of fashion or something. We’d like you know, outrageous words. Like I think it was kind of inspired by you know, like sex by Vivienne Westwood and, and and it was all that and they call it dress for sex and they were Woking
K Anderson 40:13
dressed for sex in Hessian.
Fat Gay Vegan 40:17
I know right, a little uncomfortable. It might have been Calico. It was a stiff material. Let’s just put it that way. And, and so I can remember saying to my friends, what are they doing? Like what dance is that? I do on the floor. They were good. They will Woking and I was like, that’s really fascinating. And then, you know, so a few years later on, Madonna came out. And like, stole the concept and repackaged it and made a lot of money from it. And we were like, Oh, yeah, that’s what Michelle and dress for sex were doing, like two years ago. And, you know, so we, we were really, we felt like we were really underground. We felt like we were stuff that was just being forced through. And through innovation. And, and also, like, I was a kid like stuff like that felt amazing to me because I never saw anything like it. You know, if I stayed at home, my cultural influences were like, in excess, or maybe Kylie, Kylie, his first record or neighbors or Danny Menard being on young talent time or, you know, they, they that was the cultural Apex for me. And so going to these underground clubs, were lights were catching on fire, and people were voguing and, you know, I could dress however I wanted to. It was amazing. To me, it was very liberating. And it did give me as much as much as bad things happen to me. And as as much as I was at risk, it was a very liberating and explosive time in my life.
K Anderson 41:49
And is that at that age, as well as a nerd to like when you know, when everything else is shared, there is always Saturday night.
Fat Gay Vegan 42:00
Yes, and we would work in dead end jobs for next to no money. And it would be just to get to the club, it would be to and near patches. And opposite actually directly opposite the terminals, which you’ve spoken about before. There was the Brunswick street train station, and that’s where we used to come out of the train on our way to the club. And that’s where you would say you’d meet people on the concourse near the shops. And so it would be kind of like the Saturday night Saturday evening fashion parade, you’d like walk out in like the latest thing that you’ve stolen from the charity shop or, you know, your new haircut that you got done for free or someone’s dyed your hair.
Unknown Speaker 42:44
Fat Gay Vegan 42:46
I remember one night walking out in a pair of tartan trousers, but they were like balloon leg, they were about three foot wide the leg and I put elastic tape up the sides. So when I walked they bounced. And I had a ribbed like it was like a pearl white ribbed turtleneck sweater on with these tartan trousers, I had half my head shaved. The other half was spiral permed really, like pat down to my shoulder and dyed bright red, like fire engine red. And I remember walking out into the, you know, the concourse, that was like our little fashion parade before we went into the club. And I remember like, so people said, I looked amazing and gave me a round of applause and I got my, you know, people Kiki and I felt like, oh, like I’ve got a little bit of attention. But looking back now I must have looked like a circus clown. You know, you know, and I didn’t know how to do makeup. So I would like pluck my eyebrows and put like, eyeliner on. All my cosmetics was stolen from the local pharmacy. Terry white chemists, I’m sorry, but you got me through some rough years and some bad skin situations as a teenager and I would have pancake foundation on eyeliner, just whatever color eyeshadow I could find didn’t know how to do it. And I just thought I was fabulous. And we these outfits would like you know change like this all the time. I’d had like, you know, lace and chiffon midriffs, I would have sometimes like white t shirt and fiber ones and a, you know, a leather jacket and thing I was Kylie and other times I would dress like like I was in dead or alive. Sometimes we just like really punk. And it was a really fun experimental time for our fashion. And I enjoy that element of it looking back.
K Anderson 44:45
So that said the obvious question I have to ask now is when I’m going to see more photographic evidence of this.
Fat Gay Vegan 44:53
Do you know I was a really poor kid and I grew up in a time where we didn’t have technology, obviously Didn’t have phones and
K Anderson 45:02
sounds like an excuse is coming on,
Fat Gay Vegan 45:04
man it is. And it’s like, I just don’t have those photos and I moved around so much as a child. And then in my 20s, I moved out of Australia for over 10 years. And I lost everything. I don’t have many photos. There are a few. There’s a handful of photos floating around mostly with friends.
K Anderson 45:25
And isn’t it? Isn’t it this like it’s kind of like base a relief and, and a shame that there are not that many failures?
Fat Gay Vegan 45:33
Well, I’m not, I’m not embarrassed. As you can tell by my, my, you know, my storytelling. There’s nothing that I’ll hold back with. If the photos are out there. I’m happy for them to be spread around. But yeah, I think it’s a shame for queer culture, that a lot of this wasn’t documented. I mean, before we spoke, and I told you the name of the club, you said there seems to be very little online about it. I think there is one listing online about a club that was so important to queer Brisbane, and that nurtured so many young people, and it’s a shame it’s a crying shame that it is not somewhere in the archives, I’m sure there must be. There must be photographs, there must be flyers from club nights, there must be flyers for the Queen’s ball on the sleazeball. There must be news articles about when the place was rated for having children in there. You know, there must be content out there rated. Probably I’ve made that up no dramatic effects.
K Anderson 46:36
Sorry, I was like, Okay, this, I need this story.
Fat Gay Vegan 46:38
And no, but what I’m saying is like this stuff must exist, but it hasn’t been digitized. So we’d need someone to go back through archives, like newspaper archives around the time, we need people to get in contact with like, gay and lesbian archives in Australia to find out about it, because it just doesn’t exist. Like, you know, some of your other guests that I’ve listened to. They’re like reeling stuff off the top of their head. And I’m like, okay, they must have looked that up online before they were chatting to you. And I don’t have the pleasure of doing that everything that I remember or miss remember is on my on me, because this stuff doesn’t exist out there.
K Anderson 47:16
Do you remember when homosexuality was decriminalised?
Fat Gay Vegan 47:22
Yes, it was in 1990.
K Anderson 47:24
And do you remember what that felt? Like?
Fat Gay Vegan 47:29
I can remember thinking, well, that just chips away a little bit of someone’s reason to hate me. You know, like, it’s not state sanctioned. So they’ve got less reason to hate me. And it was, I can’t remember feeling very begrudging. Like I can remember the government at the time. And the public sentiment was, look, we understand that whatever anyone does, in that the privacy of their own relationship, or their own home, shouldn’t be a criminal offense. But we still hate facts. You know, like, that was the feeling I got. Now, I’m not saying that all queer people felt that was the sentiment, but certainly for me, it felt like that. And, you know, we still hear those sorts of things now, like, you know, guys all around the world, people all around the world. So now you can I don’t mind you being gay. Just don’t ram it down my throat. It’s like, that’s what it felt like it felt like hey, will will not lock you up for being gay. Just don’t do it in front of us.
K Anderson 48:26
Yeah, I have a real bugbear with the word tolerant as well. Like, we’ll tolerate you. It’s like, yeah, okay, thanks. Yeah.
Fat Gay Vegan 48:35
So when people say that to me, and I like a lie, tolerate, you know, queer people, or I tolerate gay people. And I’m like, Yes, but do you celebrate us? two very different things. I want to be celebrated. not tolerated.
K Anderson 48:48
Yeah, tolerate mix. Yeah. It’s just such a horrible word.
Fat Gay Vegan 48:52
Yeah, like, I’ll tolerate you, I won’t kick you to death.
K Anderson 48:56
Good news, everyone. And so did you. Did you notice any kind of difference in your day to day life?
Fat Gay Vegan 49:04
I sometimes wonder if the demise of patches was related to the decriminalization of homosexuality, in that such a dangerous underground place that was on the edge of society didn’t need to exist anymore. Because after that happened, more sort of, they were still queer, and I was still part of the queer community, but more mixed, gay and queer clubs started opening. Like, there was a place called options. And it was a gay nightclub in the Spring Hill neighborhood of Brisbane. And that opened up shortly after the demise of patches and the terminus and you would go there and dance. And that would be a lot more of a mixed crowd. So it was identifiably LGBT. But I would meet friends there were straight identifying, okay, and, and so you know, instead of just dancing to Bananarama and, you know, in watching, you know, early innovators Vogue, you’d be dancing to George Michael, you know, solo dance records that were more palatable to straight audiences.
K Anderson 50:13
No, he says,
Fat Gay Vegan 50:15
No, we’d never done again, we would have burned the place down at that list and I love in excess. But there’s a place in a time. A queer club is not one of those. And so yet the gay club started to change. And so you’d go to the club that I mentioned, called the beat, and the beat would be a lot of straight people in there. And a club called the Wycombe opened up, which still exists there today. And, you know, it would be like your straight friends would say are Do you mind if I come to the weekend with you this weekend? You know, for a Sunday session or whatever. And so it started to be more accessible because it It must have been directly related to the decriminalization of homosexuality.
K Anderson 50:58
That’s quite I mean, it’s kind of remarkable if that was happening, like within, within a year or whatever of decriminalization if, if heterosexual people who have been conditioned their entire life to be like, gay, bad, were suddenly like, Oh, hey, can I come to this club with you?
Fat Gay Vegan 51:15
Yeah. And I mean, people who I worked with in the shoe stores and the department stores that I worked with, who were really straight laced, sort of straight down the line, you know, weren’t queer in any sense of the word, were willing and wanting to come to gay clubs, because they heard that they were found. And then yeah, it was no longer dangerous. It was no longer seen as an illegal thing to do, like literally an illegal thing today. It will. Yeah.
K Anderson 51:44
That’s, it’s kind of mind blowing. But yeah. And so was it kind of treated like a kind of queer tourism? Or was it in a respectful way?
Fat Gay Vegan 51:55
I think most of the people I hung out with it was very respectful. Because, you know, to me, like queer identity is very blurred. And I think some of these people found a refuge for the queerness that was in them in a way. So I’m not trying to diminish, like, our queer identities or our realities, or our lived experiences. But I think a lot of people have this, you know, this blurred identity, where they’re not just straight, even though they identify as straight and they present a straight, they still felt some sort of kinship in queer clubs. And so I don’t think, you know, people wouldn’t go there every weekend like I would, but they would come like once a month, or once every two months. And it was a way for them to be around their queer friends. It was a way for them to be an ally. And it was a way for them to do something really fun.
K Anderson 52:46
Like that kind of thing was tough for me, because I’m here because of the privilege that I suppose heterosexual presenting people had. And coming along to clubs and dipping their toe in, felt a bit. Like they were trying to get a thrill.
Fat Gay Vegan 53:04
Yeah. And that that happens to most minority society, you know, minority communities, that people do come in, try and slum it for a while and see how the dangerous people live. And that does happen. But speaking from my own experience, yeah, there were people like that. But there were also people who I genuinely felt an ally ship from. And I didn’t mind them coming into the space so much. But of course, you know, straight people coming to gain places often spells the end of it. It kind of like loses its edge. And it’s like, all Becky’s there every week. Yeah.
K Anderson 53:49
Becky, poor Becky. And do you remember hearing about patches closing? No,
Fat Gay Vegan 53:57
it kind of just disappeared. And I was in Brisbane at the time it would have been not long after I went there. But it just kind of disappeared.
K Anderson 54:05
And you said before that you’d kind of moved on to the next club
Fat Gay Vegan 54:09
anyway. Yeah. Well, I’d been the last time I was ever in there was when the manager banned me for life, your ad. And, you know, I’d moved on, like going down to the beach, and then to the Wickham and then, you know, a little bit later, two options up in Spring Hill. And then we just never heard of it again. I don’t know. I’m sure there are people around on the scene who knows exactly what happened. You know, there were rumors that the owner went and opened a cafe or a garden center in North Brisbane, but nobody knows. You know, that was all just, you know, clear rumors on the scene that he opened a cafe. I mean, it might be true. Like it might be that he he got out of the whole nightclub business completely. But yeah, we don’t know what happened. But you know, with the demise of patches, we really lost An alternative queer scene, we really lost that where you could be dangerous with how you looked, you could be dangerous, was exploring your sexuality. And it lost that underground edge. And then it became a lot more sanitized. And with the decriminalization, it became a lot more commodified.
K Anderson 55:21
So this kind of watering down of the culture in the city. The anything that’s a direct that has a direct relationship with the decriminalization?
Fat Gay Vegan 55:36
Yeah, I think so. I think it was. So it was around the time there was an investigative report into how corrupt the police force was. And around the same time, there was a change in government from the extreme right wing government to a more left leaning government. And things started to feel a little bit more progressive. And so I suppose queerness was able to come out of the shadows a little bit where it had been forced. And when something comes out of the shadows, it often becomes, you know, sanitized a little bit was made to be more palatable. Or, you know, when when people outside the queer scene wanted to experience the Queen’s that queer scene, it brought in influences that weren’t as extreme or isolated. There were more mainstream influences.
K Anderson 56:33
Yeah, it’s a tricky one, isn’t it?
Fat Gay Vegan 56:36
Yeah. It’s tough. And making also making people understand why you need self determination, or why you need to steer and control your own spaces. As a queer person, it’s very hard to get people to understand that. And it’s hard to make young people understand how crucial those spaces were, like 30 years ago, what it meant to be like an outlaw, what it meant to be someone who was considered, you know, the reason why there was HIV, HIV and AIDS sweeping the world, why it was considered, you know, why we needed these safe spaces that weren’t always completely safe. But why we needed these self determined spaces to explore our queerness. And it’s very hard to even get young queer people to understand what that meant to us.
K Anderson 57:31
Did you ever go to patches? Well, if you did, I would love to hear from you. Tell me your stories and share any anecdotes or photos through social media. And if your photos are half as good as Sean’s, then I want to see them. You can find me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, under the user handle K Anderson music. You can also find out more about Shawn at WWW dot bak gay vegan calm and read his book, fat gave him eat, drink and live like you give a shit. Last basis is not only about cost, but a concept record as well. I’ve been writing songs about queer venues and the people who used to live their lives there. And we’ll be releasing songs over the coming year. You can hear the first single, well groomed boys, which is also playing underneath my talking right this very second on all streaming platforms. If you liked this episode, I would really appreciate if you subscribe, left a review on Apple podcasts or just told people or someone or something who you think might be interested as well. I am K Anderson and thank you for listening