As I was shaking the Mardi Gras glitter out of my jockstrap the other day ( still) a little thought sparkled in my mind. How has Mardi Gras kept the magic going for 40 years and does it still mean and represent what we think it does? I decided research was needed, but it was the week after Mardi Gas so….fuck that, I just asked Facebook, Instagram and Twitter ( totes empirical I know right). My hope was to hear some different perspectives on what different people think of Mardi Gras and, from the festival to the party, what it all means to them.
“I feel that the actual meaning and cause of the event has been lost on many who just see it as an excuse to wear little to nothing in public and party. Our community is a lot more than what is presented in the parade.” – Alex, Victoria
Serious snaps to everyone who shared their views with me, I definitely heard the broad boa of opinions I was hoping for, and through my in depth clinical research I can say that what people think is as diverse as the community Mardi Gras is founded on…. but I’ll be honest, as I read through some of the opinions, part of me wished I’d never asked.
Maybe it’s because I’d just come off a week of being loudly and visibly trolled and criticised, along with many others, for wearing a budgie smuggler at Mardi Gras ( I’ll come back to that later), so was a little sensitive; or maybe because it was the week after Mardi Gras; or because I’ve always seen this time of year as fun, positive and community focussed ( although in a first, this year had a challenge or two for me)…whatever it was, many people shared wonderful stories and meaning, straight from the heart, but I just was not prepared for the level of passionate negativity and criticism.. and my heart sank just a little bit further down Mardi Gras Wednesday ( who knew that was even possible?!).
“I think I would never go to Sydney’s Mardi Gras. No class no real objective except prancing around in budgie smugglers! Gay community is far more diverse than what I saw on SBS.” – Steve, NSW
It’s true, Mardi Gras sparkles brighter than any other event in Australia. Anyone who has been to or in the parade knows how much of a multi coloured, energetic, glittering, dancey, dressed down, dressed up, loud, joyous, controversial, political, party up, juxtaposing extravaganza it is. It’s easy to get distracted and blinded by all the bright shiny things, drag queens and barely dressed people of whichever gender they identify, from every community under the rainbow and down the yellow brick road. All this sparkle is essential to the parade, but it does prevent some people from scratching through the shimmer and seeing the heart that makes it, and the community, shine.
And the heart of Mardi Gras are the organisations, groups and people marching with pride, and celebrating the gloriously messy mashup that is ourLGBT+ community, made from all the unique pieces coming together as one.
“I knew I’d find the “I’ve never been but I hate it!” comments here – sadly I used to be one of those people. Then, not that long ago, I actually came to Mardi Gras and I was overwhelmingly moved and changed by it. I’m so glad I got over my preconceived ideas of what Mardi Gras was about, and actually experienced it for myself. I’ve never felt such palpable love and support and belonging anywhere else.” – Mark, NSW
The Dykes on Bikes may lead the charge, but there is a whole world of stories behind them.
The 78’ers – who without these courageous and fearless leaders we would not have the rights and experiences we do today. They not only formed the first Mardi Gras as a protest, they fought tirelessly for rights, recognition and changes in laws, so that we are privileged enough to not have to, and are able to take what they didn’t have for granted. Some are still fighting, like Peter de Waal who was honoured with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Australian LGBTI Awards and delivered a speech that bought the entire event, including the almighty Xeina:Warrior Princess, to tears of joy, pain, life, love, sacrifice and triumph.
These people are our history. What they founded in blood, frustration and determination to confront intolerance and create change, we now honour them as we celebrate in glitter, joy, community and inclusion.. and a determination to continue to drive the positive change they began 40 years ago.
Organisations like twenty10 who house and care for LGBTQI+ youth who cannot live at home, The Star Observer who provide a media voice for all parts of the community, PFLAG, the phenomenal Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays who have been proudly supporting and educating parents struggling with their child’s sexuality since 1989, and more recently their identified gender. The Pinnacle Foundation who provide scholarships and mentoring to disadvantaged LGBTQI+ youth so they are able to study more easily and create stronger future for themselves and Rainbow Families, who show us the true meaning and importance of family and connections.
The Harbour City Bears dispel every word of body shaming and prove that you don’t need a shiny, hairless 6 pack to be gay by marching in whatever the fuck they feel proud and comfortable in. The Sydney Stingers, Brisbane Tritons , Sydney Convicts, Melbourne Torpedoes, and Sydney Silverbacks all prove that you can have a mani pedi, or not, and still crush the sporting competition from the wrestling ring to the football field and water polo pool.
Trans Sydney Pride celebrate the lives and stories of some of the strongest and most self determined men and women you will ever meet. These are people who, when you hear their stories, you cannot help but respect and admire.
Our Indigenous Community, The First Nations People, get deadly af with pride… as they should on land that always was, always will be aboriginal land.. remember that, this is their dance floor bitches..
My People My Tribe breaks down the barriers we create for ourselves with letters, and tells the stories of our community, though the people in it.
There are corporations and businesses like ANZ, Netflix and SBS that stand by and drive change with us. There are organisations like ACON and St Vincent’s Hospital who look after the health and well being of our community while others like Headspace and R U OK support us as we march for and look after our mental health.
There are so many more worthy groups and organisations who sparkled and shined through the night, and you can see them all the Mardi Gras website. No matter which colour of the rainbow you shine with, and even if you don’t ride the rainbow at all, everyone in our community is celebrated, and should be.
“Mardi Gras for me is simply what it is, it’s community , it’s hot bods it’s excessive, it new friends or just friends for a night, some people feel left out just as they might in everyday life , many others meet partners and friends for a life time. It’s everything that’s good and bad about our lives in a few weeks. It’s funny, it’s sad, for some it’s life changing and life affirming, we bring our own shit to it and we take out what what we want or need or we refuse to see it in a way that might not suite our needs. I love it, it’s a gay Mecca and I’ll be in Sydney in 2019” – Brendan, Victoria
Which brings me back to being fat, fit and advocacy shamed for wearing budgie smugglers at Mardi Gras.. a conversation and shaming that still continues today.. I’m actually a little tired of being told by people what I am and am not allowed to wear and why, and why my opinion is wrong simply because it is different. So while I don’t want to kick up the still unsettled dust surrounding this spunky yellow budgie smuggler befuddlement, imma take a moment to clear the air on this one. As a group we were shamed because of the opinions of a few that “ pretty white boys with good bodies in budgie smugglers are a poor representation of a mental health organisation” and that “we were doing more harm than good by promoting stereotypes”
Look with the prevalence of things like steroid use, a perceived ( but ultimately imagined) pressure to “fit in” that too many of us buy into and some other unhealthy behaviours in our community, there is some validity to this view… although it is a very single lensed and negative perception of what my float, our float, represented. But, using some of the “discussions” I’ve had with various people ( *cough trolls *cough) either fat shaming me because “I should be embarrassed to wear budgies in public”, fit shaming me for projecting the “stereotypical Sydney gay perfect body” ( er, have you actually seen me?) or advocacy shaming me for supporting and being an Ambassador for R U OK, the organisation they had taken issue with – let me provide another perspective
“I’ve never been, but looking at the photos of fit bodies, outrageous costume and outfits which leave little to imagine. That things like youth, beauty and extrovert personality is valued most. We as a community are more then that, maybe that can be shown more.” – Daniel, Victoria
As the bears, and anyone who steps outside of their clothing comfort zone for the parade prove, body positivity is the art of accepting and embracing everything you are, faults, bumps, curves, missing abs, forgotten gym sessions, or regimented fitness routine and all, and being happy, confident and proud in who you are and the skin you are in.
This type of self acceptance is integral to good mental health.. not abs… not muscle, not pecs or the right “hair” or “look” or life. They look pretty, and are generally signs of a healthy lifestyle ( this is a great thing by the way!) but that’s about where it ends. It is easy to forget this and get wrapped up in the whirlwind of feeling like you have to conform and be “perfect” to fit in, when instead you should find and be your own authentic self.. faults and chips and goodness and light and questions and all…whoever you choose to be, whatever you choose to wear, and whatever you choose to do.
I am so proud that our float was rich with diversity and showed that you can be full of imperfections, physical, mental and otherwise and still shine and be a fucking superstar… because we’re all also full of perfections and joys. You see that is the message that the 16 year old me never heard, the 24 year old me never felt and the 36 year old me forgot.. that is why I attempted to take my own life at those ages… because I believed that I was so faulty and broken and beyond repair and deserved nothing more than the emptiness I was surrounded by.. and the best thing to do was to lock myself away, be forgotten.. and check myself out quietly… and that no one would notice.
No one deserves to feel that, and that’s why I work and march proudly with R U OK, stripped down and exposed.. smiles, faults and all… embracing and celebrating all of it. Because that’s how we all deserve to feel ( My only wish is that I felt that Supergirl vibe more often).
“I like that it unified a community. I like how people walked away at least entertaining the idea of kindness, of support, of diversity, and how to bring that into daily lives. The acknowledgment of the 78’s. But to me although it’s held on Sydney it’s now Australia’s parade. It was a reminder that things do change and that struggle becomes success. Yes I hated it once. But no matter who was or was not dressed in speedos or how many corporations were there, it showed what it could be in this country all the time, equality, diversity and supporting. It’s not fluffy unrealistic crap, it’s what we aspire to.
And yes I bawled my eyes out because a glimpse of something that was so wanted happened. Freedom to face challenges more together. We just need reminders that’s our path.” – Luke, QLD
This was my 8th time marching in the parade, but my first year in nothing but a budgie smuggler. I remember being a teenager watching Mardi Gras on TV, dreaming about what it must be like to have the confidence and happiness of even just one of those guys I saw sparkling and smiling in their Speedo. For me, what I saw on TV wasn’t a critique or shaming of who I was, it was an aspiration of the self belief and confidence I wanted to have.
( as it turns out, my first time at the parade wasn’t watching it like a normal person, I was marching in drag for Home Nightclub where I was hosting the regular Sunday night gay party. Taking it slow has never been in my vocab it seems)
“Once upon a time, I was a critic of Mardi Gras, I felt it was one dimensional and mostly catered to one part of our community – my thinking has evolved – I had a mostly, positive experience growing up gay, I didn’t think being “proud” about a random accident of birth was cool – my thinking evolved – I now truly, think, and believe that Mardi Gras is an integral celebration of our community, the people, past and present who make up our community, and I think it is our duty and privilege to continue to shape the celebration of our community for the future – so our thinking continues to evolve. ” – Kaine, New York
Whether you love it, hate it, ignore it, don’t understand it or choose not to, everyone has their own opinion and bias when it comes to Mardi Gras. For me though, Mardi Gras is a celebration of life, achievement, community, history, uniqueness, strength, individuality, togetherness, inclusion, controversy, conflict, joy, family- whether it’s the one your born with or the one you make – determination to keep on creating a more accepting, understanding and diverse world and whole lot of (biodegradable) glitter… and it’s a party, parade and festival that deserves to fucking sparkle because too many have fought and sacrificed for us to get here, and too many still have to fight our own inner and outer demons, and sacrifice every day to find and live theirs.
Is either Mardi Gras or R U OK perfect? There is always room for improvement. Perhaps Mardi Gras could do some work on how they are perceived by some parts of our community, and find ways to engage people outside of Sydney in the message, beyond the glittering TV screen. Sadly the message and meaning of community seems lost on some. Maybe as the broadcast partner, SBS have a role to play here too?
And how do you squeeze important mental health messages into a tiny budgie smuggler and create more diversity in our float? For the last two years we’ve proudly put it all out there, I look forward to slipping into my budgies again next year as we show you.
Thank you and congratulations Mardi Gras for another wonderful celebration, parade, festival and ( from all I heard) one spectacular muthafuckin party to dance into the daylight hours of your 40th year.
There’s a huge heart and wonderful ( although sometimes challenging and conflicted) community under all that glitter, you just have to want to see and feel it.
When it comes to mental health, there’s no such thing as a one size fits all approach and I know that some people need a different a message to me to find their strength, and shine. That’s why, just like our costume box, we have more than just a pair of budgie smugglers in our draw of skills, tricks and services at R U OK to reach and inspire people in different ways…
If you need help, or know someone who does, there are so many people, services and resources waiting for you.. so take advantage of them.
R U OK Listen with Love – a suicide prevention resource designed specifically for the LGBT Community
QLife Australia ( an LGBTQI specific service similar to Lifeline)
beyondblue‘s wingman project ( a mental health resource specifically for gay men) https://www.beyondblue.org.au/…/wingman-for-gay-guys-by-gay…
Head of Social Media @ Colloquial, Social Media and Content Strategy, Social Media @ TEDxSydney, LGBT Blogger, Influencer, Model, R U OK Day Ambassador.
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