• Maybe the real value of Mardi Gras lies in the door it opens for those who need it. (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
Mardi Gras should be understood as a spirit and attitude that, hopefully, anyone can tap into and rework if they feel that they need it.
By
Jonno Revanche

14 Feb 2019 - 9:52 AM  UPDATED 22 Feb 2021 - 3:45 PM

Follow the conversation on SBS Australia socials #WeRiseFor #MardiGras2021 and via sbs.com.au/mardigras

The 2021 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras live Saturday 6 March 6pm AEDT on SBS On Demand or catch the full parade at 7:30pm on SBS and NITV.


 

For many young people without the cultural literacy taken for granted in major cities, the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras can be one of the first touchstones of LGBTIQ+ visibility.

For just one merciful month a year, Australia allocates a space to prioritise the faces, voices and bodies of those who are undeniably and proudly  “queer.”

The colour and spectacle is vital and loud. It’s real proof of our existence and longevity; that a proud and sustainable life can be lived somewhere in our own country, beyond hetero-centric enclaves.

It feels surreal that it’s even permitted, given that we live in a country that romanticises blokeyness and Catholic style conservatism at every turn. Some of my first understandings of queerness were shaped by seeing these momentary disruptions in normality, sitting on the floor as kid in my Grandmother’s rural home and catching it on day time telly and in select media spots, or passing billboards advertising the event, beckoning those from interstate to travel beyond their suburbs to reach the so-called gay Valhalla. Even if these image  were fleeting, something about it broke a kind of web of silence for me. It helped to clarify what possibilities were available beyond my comparatively tiny world.

The colour and spectacle is vital and loud. It’s real proof of our existence and longevity.

It should be said that the reality of being suppressed, or unready to accept one’s queer identity, means that only a certain type of LGBTIQ+ person can be tempted to the Mardi Gras. But even if we’re traveling to the same destination, and have similar goals, our paths are all necessarily varied and shaped differently. I didn’t feel pulled to gay clubs during my late teens, for example, or pride events (I think internalised homophobia is probably to blame for that). I did find meaning through the music and film, the kind that offered messages of outsiderism without ever explicitly relying on labels or abiding by identity politics. That was what felt safe to me at the time, and still does - because it speaks to a wider idea of identity than merely sexuality. But I feel more capable now, more confident in my own complexity, to be at home in multiple worlds; knowing that the idea of “stereotypical” gay interests are actually pretty enjoyable, and the stigma surrounding them often speaks to a wider distaste of feminine sentiment.

I experienced my first Mardi Gras tangentially. I packed a small backpack and checked out the parade out of curiosity on my own. The hugeness of it all was undeniable. But I didn’t feel a pang of recognition when I finally reached the crowds, just loneliness. This can happen when we don’t move beyond one-dimensional and performative ideas of what “queer” is. I think disappointment can be averted by decentreing “Mardi Gras” from an organisation, a group of people, or a single event. It should be understood as a spirit and attitude that, hopefully, anyone can tap into and rework if they feel that they need it. As the window of opportunity opens for us to claw through the social fabric, anyone who needs that platform should fight for the opportunity for their concerns to be heard. They are deserving of that space.

I didn’t feel a pang of recognition when I finally reached the crowds, just loneliness.

I used to drink the kool-aid served to me by cultural myths, that there is only one essential “self” and that to be authentic we need to embody those characteristics at all times. Now that I live more fluidly and comfortably, I can accept that I can be multiple people at once, and let different aspects of myself come to light depending on who I’m conversing with, or where I am at any given time. I’m slowly beginning to appreciate Mardi Gras for the messages it purveys to the world, and the what it brings out in people, even if I’m not immediately drawn to the more mainstream events.

Beyond being a well-known lure for international travelers, the Mardi Gras also beckons regional queers and LGBTIQs out of hiding - who, we need to remember, are 66 per cent more likely to attempt suicide than those living in cities. It remains integral that it can be an access point to a broader idea of what “community” can be, even if it’s just a stepping stone to something more consistent.

Many “woke” queers are quick to denounce Mardi Gras as a whole, as now too corporatised and mainstream, eager to cast it aside as a thing of the past. The problem is they aren’t interested in creating anything in its stead. I’m understanding of that, and have been that person too. But the reality is that not all of us are born into the world with a spotless track record of political insights and irrevocably curated set of tastes. It's easier to criticise something and put it in the “too hard” basket instead of constructing alternatives or putting in the hard and sometimes unsexy work of community building.

Many “woke” queers are quick to denounce Mardi Gras as a whole, eager to cast it aside as a thing of the past, but aren’t interested in creating anything in its stead.

Often, we have to reach for what we can, at least until we can decide where our next move will be. We can appeal for change, and politically campaign for causes, like the “no pride in detention groups” (link) have been bravely doing over the last few months. Even if that ends up falling short of expectation, that might not be a point. It’s important that we believe that hope is a renewable source of energy, that there’s something worth moving toward in the first place. Perhaps, as the movie trope goes, “the real Mardi Gras is the friends we made along the way.”

Over time I’ve begun to democratise my view. Even if the mainstream media representation tends to fall on those voices who are considered more palatable to middle Australia, who aspire to normative goals, simply because that’s the way our country often works, I’ve found joy in those weeks by seeing my friends express their most realised selves in a way that they might not have had the occasion to do otherwise. We can choose to live vicariously through others freeness.

If anything, I thinks that’s where the real Mardi Gras spirit lies.

Jonno Revanche is a writer/editor, cultural critic and multidisciplinary artist originally from Adelaide/Kaurna land. You can follow them on Twitter here.

Follow the conversation on SBS Australia socials #WeRiseFor #MardiGras2021 and via sbs.com.au/mardigras

The 2021 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras live Saturday 6 March 6pm AEDT on SBS On Demand or catch the full parade at 7:30pm on SBS and NITV.

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