It’s the question on every social conservative’s lips when it becomes time again for Sydney to whip out the Dame Edna specs and assorted feather boas:
“Why do you get a gay pride parade when I don’t get a straight pride parade?”
And to some gay people, it’s an excellent question. To the tongue tied homosexual, a blushing violet, (and, contrary to popular belief, the more common exemplar of the tribe) there is little to offer but embarrassment, or shame, or indignation at being asked at all. So why is it so important that we have a day to dress up like a member of the Village People and walk through a crowded population zone throwing condoms at unsuspecting revellers?
Well, there are multiple very good reasons. One of them is because a prospective straight pride parade would likely be organised by Cory Bernardi, and look a little something like this:
Another is this: because there is such a thing as a straight pride parade. It’s what I call a “day of the week that ends in y”, and it often features such events as
- heterosexual couples walking down the street holding hands without fear of persecution or judgement
- heterosexual couples celebrating their unions by calling them ‘marriages’ without having to justify themselves or even establish to the population at large that it is humanly possible for them to feel love for each other
- lawn bowls
The straight pride parade runs for 364 days a year, and crosses most if not all known language and geographical barriers. The straight pride parade is something that happens all around us, all the time, always. We live on Planet Straight-Pride-Parade. That’s the status quo.
To invalidate a night where one group that doesn’t fit into the heteronormative, cisnormative pigeonhole gets to march through the streets proudly and defiantly celebrating their diversity is not only insensitive – it’s dangerous. Advocating a culture of indifference about expression and representation – in whatever complacent, ignorant and sometimes well meaning language one wishes to use – spreads the idea that diversity should be tolerated, where in actual fact it should be celebrated. Research now tells us that gay men are earning 13% less than their heterosexual counterparts. We do not have the luxury of burying our heads in the sand and telling ourselves that respect and equal treatment abound in our world.
Whilst the parade exists on the macro level to express pride about being different, about being unique and individual, on the micro level it can have a vastly different impact. Gay and genderqueer visibility is an important part of asserting that sexualities and gender identities that do not conform are valid, and a part of society with an established place and voice. For some, the pride parade is not just about dancing through the streets, laughing and singing – it is an opportunity to affirm that they are not alone, that they exist as part of a community of people with shared experiences and shared struggles. The pride parade is an expression of frivolity, but nonetheless an essential expression of cultural identity.
But culture at the Mardi Gras does not begin or end with the parade. It is a cultural festival – where films (including the much-lauded Brazilian The Way He Looks) and theatre (Belvoir’s Blue Wizard, Darlinghurst Theatre Company’s Gaybies and the Old Fitzroy Theatre’s Playing Rock Hudson among them) provide an opportunity to celebrate gay stories in an open and honest way.
Culture is defined by who is creating content and who wants to see it; the Mardi Gras creates opportunities for queer creators to distribute their works to new audiences, and for the [insert giant inclusive acronym here] community to feel safe and included within the sphere of popular culture. Not as background players in someone else’s story, not as an abstract idea or construct, but as people with defined identities, challenges and lives. We get the chance to show a wider variety of traits and personalities; without being effeminophobic, because heaven knows we’ve had enough of that this week, it’s not enough to just show the sassy gay friend telling the white girl that her outfit doesn’t work.
So when someone asks you why we have a Mardi Gras, tell them all of these things. Tell them of the wonder of showing pride in your identity; tell them of the need to scream from the rooftops (be those rooftops tall and broad or small, intimate and quiet); tell them of how Mardi Gras is about changing minds and saving lives.
Or if you can’t be bothered, just say “why not?” Because really, why not?
Hasta mañana, interwebs.
P.S. Props to SBS for hosting the parade on Sunday night, but I honestly think you gave up your biggest draw when this lady left the station.