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Nottingham Castle

Queer in Nottingham City

19 February 18 words: Caroline Barry
illustrations: Dolly Loves Dallas

"There are pockets of support in Nottingham, you have just to know where to look for them"...

I’m never really sure how to explain Nottingham’s gay scene to anyone living outside the city. Arriving here in 2012 from rural Catholic Ireland, I often wondered if I missed the height of it. I heard there was a large choice of clubs and support networks years ago and I wondered if I would ever find any other queer women here. The scene seemed so fragmented, diverse and secretive, but stashed away there was choice.

As a female drag queen, I've settled into the DirtyFilthySexy crowd, the Fan Club safe spaces and – as a music obsessive – JT Soar events. The freedom to choose your queer experience is one of the reasons I love this city. There truly is something for everyone here. You just have to find it.

With that in mind, I decided to ask five Nottingham-based LGBTQIA+ people about their experiences here, and find out what their tips are for getting involved in the local scene as it exists today...


Queer demi male

I was born and raised in Derby but used to get the bus to Nottingham with a friend to hang out with other greb kids. In fact, my first boyfriend was from Nottingham.

I think I knew from about thirteen or fourteen that I wasn’t cishet.  The first time I really felt part of the community was at the Rose and Crown in Derby, where my two aunts took me under their wing; one was manager and the other a drag queen. I made some amazing friends and we would often have Sunday lunch together. I remember those days fondly.

My first impression of the Nottingham scene was us all travelling to NG1 for Poptastic every last Friday of the month, it was amazing. We’d have chips and cheese from the fast food place inside the club and the music was so much fun.  The city bars and clubs seemed safe. There was a feeling of community and friendship.

I first did drag aged seventeen which felt like a right of passage. When I was at college, I helped set up the LGBTQIAP+ youth group.  After living in London for a while, I came back to the area and moved to Nottingham.  I’d just been diagnosed as HIV positive so being closer to family felt like the right choice.

Now, I’m a member of the LGBTQIA+ Young Greens. I’m on the committee for Nottingham Green party and the Standing Orders and Procedures Committee for Young Greens. While they are not an LGBTQIA+ group, I am able to bring a queer experience to them and ensure our community voice is heard. I am also a member of a twelve-step support group and do the same there, ensuring the queer voice is recognised and heard in what can be cishet heavy environments.

When the trans community came together for Transgender Remembrance Day I was moved. There are pockets of support in Nottingham, you have just to know where to look for them. 

I would like to tell younger LGBTQIA+ persons that your life doesn’t need to be defined by a relationship with a partner or partners. Surround yourself with loving and supportive friends and they will become your family. You will come to love each and every one of them more then they will ever know.

My Top Five Places in Nottingham:
Bromley House Library
Broadway Cinema
Arboretum Park (especially in spring) 
Nottingham Contemporary
The Orange Tree


Sister, student, cake-loving queer girl

I grew up in Europe and so I’ve spent a lot of my time in between countries. However, I had a gut instinct when I walked on Nottingham University campus for the first time. My first impression was how inclusive and accessible everything was. The LGBTQIA+ network at my university had thought of everything — secret Facebook groups and all. My first experience was Propaganda which was incredible. I love to see people living their truth, and flirting without fearing any repercussions like angry boyfriends.

The LGBTQIA+ scene is virtually non-existent where I'm from. I grew up in a conservative, rural Catholic area where even feminism is viewed with suspicion, outdated jokes and offensive language is accepted and people like to make fun of students for being ‘‘overly progressive’’ or  call them ‘‘precious snowflakes.’’  There’s very much an ‘’us’’ and ‘’them’’ mentality there. I like to start conversations with people back home and try and get them to see the bigger picture. Spaces for LGBTQIA+ people are rare there.

I love Nottingham for the clubs and pubs which I took full advantage of in my first year of university. However, in terms of LGBTQIA+ places to go out, it does leave a lot to be desired. This may just be me stumbling around in my naivety and ignorance but I have found that you have to try very hard to find somewhere that is queer-friendly. I have attended Nottingham Pride before, I was walking through town with a homophobic relative and was both elated and cringing at all the rainbow flags. The person I was with was radiating disapproval and I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

I do find, however, that there is a lot of support here, and not just as a student at the uni where there are dedicated welfare officers and plenty of socials. What is particularly great is that I have been given support numbers to ring, for example a counsellor. My GP gave me numbers for charities in Nottingham that support specifically LGBTQIA+ people. I would never have had that kind of opportunity and help back home.

Top Five Places in Nottingham:
The Castle –  I am a history nerd and I love love love it
The Pudding Pantry 
Kitty Cafe
Nottingham University Park –  the lake in Spring is break taking


Thom, a.k.a. "Nana"
Nottingham’s premier bearded lady

Growing up, I visited family in Nottingham and as I lived in a small town of 2000 people in Scotland, it was always terribly exciting. I remember seeing people with piercings, tattoos and brightly coloured hair.  It made sense to move to Nottingham eventually.

My first impression of Nottingham’s gay scene was that it was all rather above my head as a little queer goth punk kid. I dismissed it until my late teens. There were plenty of queers and weirdos knocking about on the alternative scene so really I just stuck with places like Rock City, Nightmare and Obsessions. Later on, I became aware of places like NG1 and AD2 and gave them a try. But they never really tickled my fancy — nor my fanny for that matter.  A new monthly night called Magenta at Bunkers Hill became my little queer outing alongside the usual haunts.

I have a love/hate relationship with the scene sometimes.  I really enjoy the odd night at propaganda and the Forresters –  but have to be in the right mood.  I am forever biased towards the little queer collectives that are DirtyFilthySexy and Shady Cow, as it’s where I feel most at home. I love the people, the music and atmosphere. We could do with more venues and coming together a bit more frequently to support the smaller or newer ones and breathe a bit of life into them instead of allowing the scene to dissolve.

I am unashamedly part of the drag queen baby boom and was inspired by ‘’RuPaul’s Drag Race.’’ I have always been an entertainer, performer, writer and artist in various forms and drag is a medium where all these things meet.

My drag name was given to me by London drag queen, ‘’Cybil Wars.’’  After a heavy night, she likened me to a ‘’jittery old nana wondering where the next gin was coming from’’, which is why you will never catch me in a wig that isn't silver, grey or white. Eventually I became a resident at the best gay party in town - DirtyFilthySexy –  and ‘’Nana’’ really started to thrive.

She’s a cross between Ursula the Sea Witch, Linda LaHughes from Gimme Gimme Gimme and Nancy from The Craft. She’s ridiculous, rancid and beautiful. She can sing live, do stand up, produce music, lip-sync, host, act….You name it, she’s convinced herself she can do it.  

My Top Five Places in Nottingham: 
Broadway – for a film and a cuppa
The Angel – for a pint
Rough Trade – cool events
The Peacock – a vegan feast
Luvyababes – last minute drag supplies!


Ibtisam Ahmed
Gay male

I’m from Bangladesh originally.  I came here as an undergraduate student where I fell in love with the city and its acceptance. I have been here since 2010 and I am currently doing a PhD with the hopes of getting a job here afterwards. I have a life here now so it would be great to be able to stay. 

Dhaka – the capital city of Bangladesh – has a thriving but deeply underground scene based on sexualities and a very open but stigmatised one on gender expression. The former is illegal and the latter is strictly cisgender.  I was not abused openly because I was closeted but, at the same time, I struggled to find other people. When I travel back home for the holidays now — having come out five years ago –  I know about some of the social gatherings and activism that takes place. But it is really quiet because there has been a recent violent backlash against the community so we try our best to be careful.

I grew up deeply closeted and in heavy denial because being gay is illegal. So the first time I came to terms with it was at university, here in Nottingham. Having a student support network at the university really helped because it let me open up in a safe way.

My first impression of the Nottingham scene was that it was really focused on the clubbing and nightlife side of things which is an impression I have realised is not entirely correct. Although the nightlife is a massive part of the queer scene here, there is now so much more to do and it is nice that a city that is comparatively small has such variety and also such strong activism.

I am really involved in QTIPOC – Queer, Trans, Intersex People of Colour –  and helped out with Nottingham Pride. I think both are really important groups because they are about celebrating aspects of the community - PoC in one, protest and activism in another.  These are being ignored in the mainstream or being discriminated against. It feels great to meet likeminded people and further an important cause.

I love that the Nottingham scene has so much variety.  There are so many queer friendly cafes like Lee Rosy's, bookshops like Five Leaves and other venues like Rough Trade that massively support the community. The drag scene is amazing, especially the DirtyFilthySexy collective.

One of the biggest issues of the LGBTQIAP+ Nottingham scene is accessibility. A lot of venues do not have a lift and properly accessible toilets so it gets really difficult for a large part of the community to enjoy them. If people could work on that and keep up the variety and diversity, it would be amazing.

My Top Five Places in Nottingham:
Lee Rosy's – best tea in the country in my opinion
Page 45 – I love their LGBTQIA+ character selection
The National Videogame Arcade –  floors of games for one entry fee
Wollaton Park – especially the deer
DirtyFilthySexy nights


Intersex and pansexual

Where I’m from in Lancashire, there isn’t anything much for the LGBT+ community. Then again, I didn't really go looking. I am a student at University of Nottingham, but I truly feel at home in Manchester in the delightful gay haven that is Canal Street. 

I identify as pansexual and intersex. Pansexuality means I don't feel attraction to one particular gender, but instead can feel attraction to any/all genders.  This doesn't mean I automatically fancy everyone, and has nothing to do with being attracted to kitchenware.

Intersex means that my physical expression of sex – ie. My 'bits' – don't align with my genetics — my chromosomes are technically XY but they malfunctioned in the womb so I appear physically female.  I have to be on constant HRT – hormone replacement therapy – in order for my body to function properly.

I never really came out properly –  I wasn't fully comfortable in my sexuality and still am not – until I got to uni. All my friends here are really accepting and diverse sexuality-wise – so there was no need for a big fanfare about it. It's very much something that just gets said in passing and no-one really minds. Plus, I've been in a straight relationship since before uni, so I haven't had much reason to play the field.

My first impression of the Nottingham LGBTQIAP+ scene has been really good. There seems to be quite a lot of emphasis on drinking and clubbing when it comes to LGBTQIAP+ spaces, but there is a lot of variety and choice. Everyone seems to be open and accepting  - or maybe I've just fallen in with the right crowds. It feels like there's a lot of love for the LGBTQIAP+ crowd in Notts.

That being said, there's always a need for more campaigning in support of the LGBTQIAP+ scene, and maybe a scheme that promotes different spaces, like restaurants, bars and clubs, as being accepting of LGBTQIAP+ patrons and not tolerating any hate shown towards them.

I would love to tell younger LGBTQIAP+ persons that those that matter don't care, and those who care don't matter. There are people out there who love you regardless of your gender identity or sexuality, and there are plenty of those people in Notts!

My Top Five Places in Nottingham:
Handmade Nottingham – I can easily spend far too much money here
White Rose – charity shops full of great fashion finds on a budget.
The Peacock – amazing food from a wonderful, 100% vegan pub! I love their macaroni burger.
Weir Field Recreation Ground – can't help but think that this would be a great place for a corn maze.
Hopkinsons – a great shop to pick up some amazing furniture and decor.

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