28 May 2015

Remembering Sydney’s ‘Drag Queen’ scene of the 70s

It seems little known now that back in the late 1970s our little part of the world here in Sydney experienced a phenomenon with a large subculture of transgender women that remains unexplainable. Why did so many choose to live in just several postcodes spanning from Kings Cross at this moment in time?

This phenomenon was coined the ‘drag queen’ scene by Roberta Perkins. Now a Senior Lecturer in Sociology at UNSW, it was part of her research for an honours degree in the early 80s, eventually writing a book called The Drag Queen Scene. It remains the best and most complete record of that time. Only a few seem to be around now, but thankfully, the City of Sydney’s libraries has copies.
 The 'Drag Queen' Scene. Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 1983
I was an active participant of this subculture from which I learned I could live the life I wanted for myself and was blessed with influential and considerate role models. It was a wonderful environment for my chosen self to grow up in.
This subculture was made up of differing social groups all trying to live in what was still very much an oppressive and ignorant time. To be trans was often to be seen as a freak and came with all the dangers and fears of an un-accepting public. But from the bashings and name-calling this subculture gave us our strength and courage – our sisters gave us love and security.
While we were all individuals, we all looked out for each other in social justice terms and shared a sisterly bond. Sometimes we would mix socially, although generally we were rivals for the many trans-curious men that came to the Cross or the Taxi Club in Darlinghurst.