The final two Mardi Gras Reflections from twenty years ago….
February 12 2001: Mardi Gras Reflections 3
I was wrong yesterday: I was invited to see the 1985 Mardi Gras Parade but did not go. By that year I had been “out” for about eighteen months and had found a local gay bar where I felt comfortable and indeed had many a good time. However, the Oxford Street scene, let alone Mardi Gras, was still more than I could handle.
The Parade where I finally “felt proud” was in fact the 1986 one. At that time a very kind 21-year-old man, Paul, had taken my gay education in hand and had invited me to a pre-Mardi Gras party in East Sydney. I remember it was an enormous warehouse flat which was wall-to-wall with beautiful young men dressing down for Mardi Gras.
After the party I went and watched the Parade.
It was the sheer colour and energy of it that drew me in. Forget it on TV with the usually inane commentary! Yes, there were things about it that were not “me”–but it was representative of many facets of gay life, and there was much to appeal. There was satire, sheer silliness, rudeness, beauty, seriousness–political and HIV issues–but the statement it was making was–be proud! Don’t let homophobia hold you back! Celebrate! And I did, in my own way. The other thing that struck me was how friendly the crowd was watching it–even a policeman I spoke to commented on that. People–gay, straight, old, young–were just enjoying the spectacle and the cheeky vibrancy of it.
The following year I took some straight friends and they loved it. Another memorable Mardi Gras was 1989 when I found myself surrounded by my own students [from Sydney High]: “I didn’t know you were gay,” one said. “It’s OK, it’s not catching,” I replied. Then there was 1991–the first one I went to with M. That is full of nice memories.
This year I may or may not go. Last year I went to the Thai Restaurant for a meal beforehand, but the group did not stay to watch from the restaurant and I just went home. Partly this was that I had after all seen it all before in a way. More so it was that, being short, I couldn’t really see it! The crowd was just too big–so all I could see was the crowd!
So like it or loathe it, it doesn’t matter. Remember however how it started and what it still represents–defiance of the ever-present repression that would prefer we all just quietly went away and shut up. We can’t shut up: Mardi Gras is a brash and confronting declaration of freedom.
March 4 2001: Odd View of Mardi Gras
Yesterday I worked all day, then by about 5.00 pm I struggled up Oxford Street through the already large crowd, larger than the January Federation Parade, to the Albury, where I stayed for an hour or two with PK, Sirdan, DEHK [The Dowager Empress of Hong Kong, Ian Smith] and various others. The problem then was how to get home, as it was impossible to cross back to the Surry Hills side as the roads were all blocked off. I ended up having one of the takeaway dinners the local restaurants were selling on the street (and it was good too) and then set off down the back streets of Paddington, within sight most of the time of the Parade but avoiding the crowd. I ended up walking the full Parade route, as the only place I could cross the lines was at the end–Fox Studios. I then crossed Anzac Parade at Sydney Girls High and came home.
I saw, then, a bit of the Parade itself, and it seemed as lively as ever. What I spent most time observing was the crowd, which was very big, despite what they say about the Party (a rip-off if ever there was one) being down in numbers this year. While the street crowd did thin out by the time the Parade reached Fox Studios (note–this is the place to watch it at street level), there were a number of large viewing stands at that end, and they were packed. Oxford and Flinders Streets were wall-to-wall people. The nice thing was that the crowd was very good–everyone just seemed to be having a good time. I think wilder crowd scenes could be seen at almost any Cricket or Football match!
A highlight was crossing Moore Park in the company of some mums from PFLAG, who were lovely. One claimed to have known her son was gay since he was three! I’m not quite sure how she did that, but they do say mothers know these things. I kissed quite a few of the ladies who were charmed to hear I was a teacher and gay…
On the other hand, a bit of the dark side was witnessed by M[ichael], who worked a marathon 6 pm to 10 am straight at a gay venue. Drunk people, drug-f*cked people, mad people–he saw the lot, including one who thought he was the Police Commissioner and said he had come to examine the venue.
Drugs–and it’s mostly ecstasy, speed, and various designer drugs–are a down-side to the gay scene in my view; M. saw that pretty clearly where he sat last night. To be fair, any large “dance party” almost anywhere in the Western world, gay or not, will exhibit this phenomenon.
Yum Cha this morning was myself, The Empress, Clive, James, and eventually M[ichael], absolutely exhausted and needing the food. It was a good Yum Cha (The Emperor’s Garden service was friendly and excellent). After that M went home to sleep–he starts again tonight at 6 pm, and I went with James and The Empress to the Albury–yes, I was there this Sunday–where we surprised the bar staff by eating barbecued quail that Ian had purchased, and added a Chinese tonic to our beer (it said it could be used in beer) which caused the beer to look like some Jekyll-and-Hyde potion, but actually improved the taste!