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Transgender Friendly Places - Manchester Village

England is one of those very strange places; all it takes is a turn of a corner and you can be in a completely different world. Late one night, I'd rigged up a net connection over a mobile phone and MSNed with an absolute charmer of a friend, the wonderful Jayne. Wednesday is always TGirl night in Manchester Village and this coming week was the birthday celebration of another friend, Joanne Starr. Beyond being hotter than a weekend in Majorca, Jayne is endowed with an exceptional sense of hospitality and duly invited me to stay at hers if I'd come along. Where would I be if it wasn't for friends, eh? Stood in front of the mirror more than likely...

The drive up North was, well boring to say the least. I amused myself a little by pulling over into a lay by and transforming into my usual glamorous self, much to the shock of the truck drivers milling around. Convention? Ha, I laugh at it. Give me ambiguity or give me something else!

So it was I arrived in a reasonably beautiful state at Jayne's place. Jayne was still awaiting to be able to go out as she was babysitting and wasn't dressed. Her young boy came over, and totally unassumingly asked if I was a boy or a girl. Not wishing to totally mess his head up, I replied both. Later, as he attacked me with his plastic He-Man sword, I questioned the wisdom of my answer...

Joking aside it's amazing how children react. It's so honest as we don't instinctively know how to hate or discriminate. That's something we get from schooling, from seeing the odd one out get bullied. He was too young to have that drummed into him yet and he just wanted me to play games with him. I find that hugely reassuring as to the fundamental nature of humanity - our basic state of mind is that of loving and purity and all that comes later is an artificial contamination. If we've learned to hate, so too, we can easily learn to love. Within minutes of me arriving we were playing let's pretend! From policeman to cowboy we went through several changes. And to prove the point, when I went to leave he not only asked if he could come with me, he insisted on giving me one of the best snogs of my life! That handsome boy is going to be a real heartbreaker one day... if only grown men were as sweet as this three year old!

Kids play over, it was onto the adult fun. Jayne, as ever, emerged from the bathroom looking most delightful and devilishly tarty too. Bitch, making it look so damn easy... I got on the mobile to Jo and the others and although we were arriving unplanned we were treated to a right honour by having seats made available for us right next to the birthday girl herself. After last time me and Jo had tried to meet and missed each other at Transmission in London, I was looking forward to this!

Manchester Village is a collection of pubs, bars and restaurants right in the heart of Manchester itself, and is only moments from Manchester's Chinatown and main shopping centre. It's always been known as a gay area but in recent years media attention has caused it's popularity to grow and the village now plays host to many heterosexuals who come in for the lively atmosphere. Wednesday is famously trans there, with many groups like Northern Concord running regular meets. Keep an eye open for the rainbow signs that adorn the area and you'll know when you are in the right part of town. We met up with our party of near fifty TGirls at Velvets restaurant.

Dinner at Velvets
Awwww, that's my lil sista! Ain't she cute? Hugging Nicci is Sarah and then there's my good friend Karen next to them while we wait for food at Velvets.

Joanne Starr is no stranger to Manchester Village and so many people I knew were there - we took over most of the restaurant! Whether or not she actually was 21 was a matter of some conjecture, but Jo has the type of magnetism and grace about her that prevents ageing more effectively than Botox. As Eleanor Roosevelt so rightly said, "Beautiful young people are accidents of nature, but beautiful old people are works of art."

Me & Joanne Starr
Having had to cross a sea to be with us that night, Jo continued to show how good she is at breast stroke...

Velvets does a pretty mean menu and I opted for Duck pancakes with Hoisin sauce and mmmmmmmmmmmmm yes was it good! In fact it was a proper "American style" portion that had me so full I needed to find help to finish it! As a testament to how trans-friendly the restaurant and it's staff are, I asked the waiter where the bathroom was and he immediately replied that the ladies was over there. Everyone on our table dined heartily and enjoyed wine too; when the bill came I was asked to put in a little over £12 which really was good, though I half suspect someone had very generously footed the tab for the wine. Places like Velvets can be great if you're looking for a night out dressed without the worries or loud music that goes with being at a club. You could easily have a romantic night there or a good gas with a girlfriend or your wife and you'd be assured of a warm welcome. Good for posh frocks and looking well presented, fetishwear like leather or PVC would be out of place but hey, it's like, just a restaurant.

Next on the agenda was liquid flush to help all that food down so what better than a stint in Churchill's. Churchill's is a pub on the corner of Canal Street and Chorlton Street and is also very friendly with a resident drag artiste most Wednesdays. If you're new to going out dressed it's a good place to start with as it's bright and lively inside having been recently renovated in 2002. If memory serves me correct, it was in here that the world's worst transgender jokes started to let loose like:

  • What do you call a tranny with one leg? Illene!
  • What do you call a tranny with one foot on either side of a river? Bridgette!
  • What do you call an admirer with paper underwear on? Russell!

OK, OK, I'll have mercy on you...

Me and Briony in Manchester Village
Me and a dear soul, my friend Briony, getting bevvied on behalf of Jo in Manchester Village

Soon our entourage was feeling much more the merrier and the excess energy turned into a jaunt over to Napoleon's or Naps as everyone knows it. Naps is a nightclub just round the corner and if you go dressed, entry is free! Catering for all tastes, most people are quite reassured by the wide variety of ages and dress tastes in evidence - the oldest girl I've met in Naps was in her 80s. Typically, 40% or more of the place is TGirls and it is known as being the place to end your night out with it's mixture of 70's, 80's, Kylie and Madonna playing till 2am. You'll also often find quite a number of admirers in here and whilst the majority are no trouble whatsoever you might find you get the occasional pinch. I guess if you're straight it'll be a lesson for you in the way that many men treat women and if you're not straight, enjoy!

One of the best things about Naps is that no matter how ill at ease you feel, you'll always get a warm welcome and will soon feel much more comfortable. Whilst at Velvets for example, you'd probably feel slightly out of place if you weren't dressed to be presentable, in Naps you needn't worry at all about how passable you are. Probably the worst thing about Naps is the lack of air conditioning that can melt your make up on a hot night, but that aside the people are friendly, the toilets clean and there are three floors to enjoy.

Directly opposite Naps is another nightclub which had intrigued me since Angel and I first did Manchester Village several moons ago. Bar Baa has bright lights outside and plays loud techno music, and as anyone who knows me will tell you, I'm an addict to banging dance clubs. Whilst the main party was sweating in Naps, me, Nicci and Sarah decided to stick our head around the door, just for a quick look.

The doorman was gay and got chatting with me straight away. From the door you can't immediately see what's inside as you need to go downstairs. He started to warn me that the place was full of drunken skinheads who'd been in all day - he was just looking for an excuse to kick them out and he assured us that if anything happened, they'd be right behind us. I saw Nicci and Sarah go a shade whiter, but what the hell, I don't suffer from insanity, I enjoy every minute of it and no-one is going to make me feel bad about it.

Reaching the floor I felt the temperature drop immediately - this place was a 100% straight meat market inside and was filled with drunken men and young girls. And just to add to it, Nicci and Sarah ran for the toilet immediately leaving me to do my best Dani-no-mates impression at the bar alone. This was bad, real bad. If you're not confident with how you look dressed and not confident in yourself as a person, do not go to this bar under any circumstances, no matter what the doorman says, how much you've had to drink that night or how good your flying kick is when you're out of your heels. It just ain't worth it for it for a drink.

What do you do when you're in a bar full of drunken louts giving off a hostile vibe? What else? By a drink and go sit down with them! C'mon boys, I wanna see how big you really are!

I'm very serious when I say I bought a round and took the two younger girls with me to sit down next to one very drunk skin head. I've had more than this lifetime's quota of beatings and abuse so I'll show a dog no fear. I know my own worth and hold my head high because I know I'm a good person regardless of how others may judge me. I truly believe with all my heart and soul that love is the supreme weapon which dispels all hate and whenever I'm confronted by a scary situation I send out so much loving energy it changes.

So I slid right up next to this rugby player who was, well, pished out of his head to say the least and went straight into conversation with him. No fear! Before we'd finished our drinks, he was asking me to feel his abs, pecs and biceps! What had felt like we'd turned up to a Klu Klux Klan meeting in a Dr Dre t-shirt and cap quickly turned into an adrenaline rush and subsided into a giggle. We left amicably, having all three of us had a good grope of him and although it all worked out, I have to say I'd never take my sister or her friends to Bar Baa again, nor would I advise others to go there. There are plenty of other places to drink where you'll feel far more welcome and even if you are totally passable this place is just shite anyway!

2am crept up on us like the creepy thing that closing time is and as most of the others were staying at the same hotel we accompanied them back. The Hotel International is right by the train station and is one of the most trans-friendly places you can go in Manchester. Affordable and with great staff, it's well worth booking if you are planning a big night out. As we arrived the bar was still open and yet another round of carnage ensued with people falling off of chairs, frightening innocent men and generally behaving like a bunch of eighteen year old girls on the bottle...

Me, Sarah and Nicci try to look like nice girls who aren't really shit faced while the T-paparazzi shoots away... I think this was at the International but I can't honestly remember!

The alternative for most people to the International is Rembrants, a gay run hotel and pub that's actually right on Canal Street in the Village. Personally, I loathe the place and strongly suggest the International as a better choice. I usually stay slightly out of the Village, being posh trailer trash that I am, I prefer to sleep with Harvey Nics in sight, but one time I persuaded Angel to stay at Rembrants with me. For those of you who've no idea who Angel is, she's a genetic woman, 100% straight but open minded and friendly to all. Big mistake...

We got to our room to find what one can only describe as a "businesswoman" plying her trade next door. The shower head in our bathroom had been removed, presumably to clean where the sun don't shine and there was no hair dryer for Angel's extremely long hair. Naturally we told reception who said we could "use the hand dryer in the men's urinals" to dry our hair. They refused to give us our money back and were totally unprofessional, leading into a big fight... As anyone can tell, I've nothing against gay people whatsoever, but I do have it in for rotten people whether they are gay, trans or straight. Whilst other people I've known have stayed there and had no problems, the place has turned hardcore gay recently. Maybe they mistook us for a straight couple or they don't like women, but along with Bar Baa, it's another place I think needs new management - stay at the International, it's friendlier, cheaper, cleaner and superior in so many ways.

As a final note, it's been widely remarked that Manchester Village is a changing entity these days. As it's become more and more popular, it's gotten more and more straight and unfriendly sorts visiting, who've chased away some of people who gave it it's warmth before. Compared to the facilities and welcome one can receive in England's Southern contemporaries like Brighton and London, it can seem old, dilapidated and at times a little ingrown. If you've been to some of the big trans-friendly cities like San Francisco, Rio, Paris or Vancouver you'll feel that you've stepped into the dark ages! Yet it is still a fantastic place where anyone can be who they want to be in relative freedom and there's something for almost everyone there. It's largely safe to walk around and there are so many organised group visits going on you'll surely be able to find someone to tag along with. With plenty of places to go, safe streets and so many people going there, it's well worth getting to know, especially if you are just starting out and gaining your confidence.

Manchester Village Review:

  • Type: A number GLBT streets on the edge of Manchester city centre
  • Location: Manchester, England
  • Entry: Depends where you go, but many places will let TGirls in free
  • Facilities: Restaurants, pubs, clubs, fast food joints, hotels and it's own GLBT friendly taxi company, Rainbow Taxis.
  • Plus Points: Plenty of places to go and you can walk around without much hassle although due to the reputation of the area people will "tranny spot". Generally friendly and, being up North, a damn sight cheaper than a night out in London or Brighton!
  • Minus Points: More straight people are seeing it as a party zone these days which damages the otherwise friendly reception. If you're a straight TV you might find that there are more men looking at you than you are comfortable with although most are well behaved. There aren't any cash points in the Village itself either and parking can be hard to find.
  • Overall Rating: 7 out of 10

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