Living in a city is arguably an ideal way of life for many of today’s gay men. Clubs open all night, huge choice of quality restaurants and bars, lots to do at weekends, ranging from concerts and theatres to art galleries. All of it within walking distance or a short bus ride. Sounds great to me!
But what about those of us who don’t live in a city? The people who live in towns, small villages or even the countryside? These places are ideal if you’re raising a family, but if you’re not a parent is it possible for today’s gay man to settle miles away from their nearest city? I say yes, but let me explain why.
I currently live in Eastbourne, after relocating down south eighteen months ago. I know a lot of friends in nearest city Brighton (where I sing in a choir) think I’m mad for choosing the supposedly old-fashioned seaside town over arguably the gay seaside capital. Why choose grey over gay, I’m sure they wonder.
It wouldn’t be the first time. Until I was 29, I lived in Wigan: the northern mining town you may know for Wigan Pier (no, we don’t have a seafront!), Wigan Athletic football team or – more likely if you’re reading this website – Kym Marsh from Coronation Street. For many years I commuted to my job in Manchester, and like their Brighton counterparts, years later many of my Manchester friends wondered why I didn’t make the leap to city life (which I eventually did). Both of these viewpoints are understandable as neither Eastbourne nor Wigan seem like typically ‘gay’ places to live, but is there more than meets the eye?
After all, both are among the many UK towns that have attempted to cater for gay nightlife in recent years. A few years ago, my best gay friend and I were excited to go along every Thursday to Wigan’s first gay night in the upstairs room of one of the town centre bars. However, after a month or so my friend announced he was bored of going and wanted to go back to Canal Street in Manchester; seeing the same few people each week (whose number you still didn’t want!) was getting boring. I think many others followed suit as there are now no gay nights – let alone gay bars – in Wigan at all. There lies an argument for living in the city: elsewhere, there are only so many gays to go round.
However, my current town Eastbourne has a lovely and very popular gay bar which has a good crowd at weekends, with its own small nightclub venue open til 2am Friday and Saturday. My partner and I don’t go there all the time, and also enjoy all the other town centre venues, but it’s nice to know it’s there when we need it. In fact, we only discovered it existed after we’d decided to move there, so it wasn’t a key factor in our decision.
This leads me to one of my key points. Wouldn’t it be superficial of me to choose somewhere to live based on the local gay scene (or lack of)? It may be important to some – particularly if you’re single – but it depends on what works for you personally.
In my late twenties and single, I was itching to move to the bright lights of Manchester. And it seems that decision paid off, as a week after I moved, I met my partner. Would I have still met him living in Wigan? As it happens yes, as it was through a work friend, but dating would have been much more difficult living thirty miles apart when neither of us drive.
That doesn’t necessarily neatly equate to single = city living and couples = living further afield. The friend I mentioned before who ditched the Wigan gay night actually bought his house in Wigan and wouldn’t change it for the world. He has all his family and friends around him and loves it (but bizarrely, despite the absence of ‘the city’, still declares himself the real life gay Carrie Bradshaw).
I too had some of the best years of my life living in Wigan, and I love going back to visit there and also really enjoy living down in Eastbourne now. So why did I choose Eastbourne over Brighton when we relocated? Well, in addition to Eastbourne being much nearer to my job, it was much cheaper and is actually a lovely place in its own right. No, we don’t have a ready-made gay scene on our doorstep, and no, we don’t have all the benefits of living in a city. But we do have a beautiful seaside town, where there is still plenty of things to see and do every weekend: a gorgeous seafront, beautiful country walks, several nice bars, a handful of theatres, lots of nice restaurants. If not, then Brighton is only half an hour away on the train, but to be honest we like going out locally just as much.
I suppose it really is down to personal choice and what works for you. We all have different reasons for choosing where we live: close to work, family and friends around us, cost of housing, nice facilities in the area, and so on. Even the smallest village or rural area will usually have a pub to drink in, a takeaway to order from and bus or train links to go further afield when you wish to.
And I may be overly optimistic, but I believe that in 2013 LGBT people are integrated as such that the gay scene and/or lively city living isn’t our only social option; today’s gay man can easily slot in anywhere and be happy. Of course, the city still works for some of us, as it also works for many of our straight friends. Or it may just be a nice place to visit on the train every so often. One of the great things about our society is that there really is something for everyone.