• The author and SBS dance captain Ace. (Supplied)Source: Supplied
I am admittedly an unusual candidate for a float at Mardi Gras, as a straight Muslim girl from Sydney's Western suburbs.
Sarah Malik

2 Mar 2020 - 11:50 AM  UPDATED 3 Mar 2020 - 8:23 AM

I am admittedly an unusual candidate for a float at Mardi Gras. 

I am a straight Muslim girl from Sydney's Western suburbs, who still remembers blushing at kissing scenes in films as teenager. 

Enter the most raucous, fabulous parade in the world - thousands of joyous spectators snaking along two kilometres of Sydney's Oxford Street, broadcast across the world in a show that exceeds every Bollywood movie I've ever watched in glam, glitz, glitter and dance. 

I was nervous and tentative about my first Mardi Gras. I didn't know what to expect.

But I knew I wanted to support my LGBTIQ+ colleagues and friends. 

It was a carnival atmosphere in the Hyde Park VIP float dancers' enclosure as I arrived dressed in my SBS shirt and jeans. I feel immediately underdressed and self-corrected by dialling it up with the 'glitter squad'.

I now felt on par with the gorgeous plumage in the park. There were the most beautiful people I had ever seen, adorned in feathers, wings, diamontes and glistening skin (lots of skin!) There were political floats, glittering drag queens, food stalls and music. 

We spent a few hours in anticipation,  gearing up for the show, practicing our well-honed routine to Beyonce's Crazy in Love we had been rehearsing for weeks in our lunch break. I felt excited and energised by the joy and excitement in the air. 

Our fearless dance captain and choreographer Ace, had motivating words, reiterating his mission statement to us: 

"If you would have told my younger self, who spent hours dancing to the divas of the 90s and early 00s, that I would one day not only take part in the parade but also choreograph a float, I would never have believed you. So when... we perform the routine that we have worked so hard putting together, it will not only be for SBS, the community and its allies, the person I am today but also my younger self. I will never forget him."


Then it was showtime!

As the music blared and the crowd roared in my ears, I felt like I was walking on air, like a rock star, enveloped in the fluttering ticker tape floating in the warm summer air, and giving high fives across barricades.  

I thought of my queer brown friends in the Western suburbs, for whom participating in a public televised event would be a distant dream.

I thought of the smiling same-sex families on the train dressed in rainbow who, like so many of my hijabi friends, might have to endure looks on a daily basis. But today, they were looking happy and free.

As a Muslim woman I know what it meant to be part of a community that experiences terrible public moments or  'debates' that leave you feeling dehumanised and demoralised.  I also know what it means to have people, with emotional bandwidth and some privilege, stand by you and for you in those moments.

I have interviewed queer Muslims and people of colour from conservative communities and have been heartbroken by the triple whammy some experience - the rejection from family, wider community racism and self-hatred.

It was something that resonated painfully with me. Not only how lonely and isolating multiple dislocation can be, but the corrosive impact of this on your self-esteem -  how it can lead a rejection of the self and fuelled LGBTIQ+ youth suicide rates.  

The experience of the Mardi Gras was a lesson for me in the best antidote to these experiences -  love, celebration, community, support and pride. 

To fight for a place that is yours, and be as fiercely and proudly yourself in a world that often makes you feel small, dismissed and less than. One that forces you to hide who are you and discriminates against you in a thousand structural ways. One where you never see yourself recognised or respected, let alone celebrated.

I understand Mardi Gras wasn't always like this - with today's corporate sponsors, friendly police and mainstream recognition. The parade has radical roots as a 1970's protest movement started by minority community that was criminalised, jailed and despised for existing. 

As the queer communities in the west become more established, it's heartening to see them extending that hand to others who are less established - both within and outside the community, including asylum seekers and others still struggling for acceptance.

As Ace said:  "What excites me most about this is that it shows people,.. that there is a place and time where you can live your truest self. That it is possible and that it exists. To never ever give up because you are loved for being you, because let’s face it, there is no greater joy than being able to just exhale and wholeheartedly be your most authentic self."

Now that is something worth marching for. 

Sarah Malik is a Presenter and Senior Writer for SBS Voices. You can follow Sarah on Twitter @sarahbmalik or Instagram sarah_b_malik. 

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