Turn it up or tone it down?
G-strings, hot pants, nudity – many eschew the Mardi Gras Parade amid claims it perpetuates stereotypes about gay people and alienates the broader community. But far from advancing the cause, to tone down festivities and expression will only hinder the LGBTI community, argues Lachlan Bennett.
From Lifesavers with Pride to the Save Wikileaks Assange Coalition, it’s safe to assume that, in its 35th year, the Mardi Gras Parade has a float for everyone under the rainbow flag. Yet despite each float differing in orientation, message, theatricality and ethnicity, I still frequently meet queer people who refuse to attend or participate in the parade.
The reason they give is simple: “Mardi Gras projects an image that doesn’t accurately represent me”.
It’s a somewhat confusing statement to make considering the diversity in float entrants and the continual attempts by the parades organisers to be all-inclusive.
But they may just have a point.
When I think of the Mardi Gras Parade, although I do think of the historical battles that have been fought before me and the enduring significance of the march down Oxford street, I can’t help but also think of the parade’s theatrics and ostentatious garb: g-strings, dresses, eccentric haircuts, the swimsuits, sequins, feathers, spandex, leather straps and nudity.
These outlandish antics can overwhelm the underlying ideas of the parade and always dominate the way the parade is covered in the media.
For many people, this hullaballoo of glamour and glitz only perpetuate stereotypes about the queer community, not all of them positive or constructive.
Of course, Mardi Gras is not the be all and end all of the queer community, but it is the one singular event that showcases it to mainstream society on a major scale. So naturally, the image we project as a community is an important one.
In a society where issues such as marriage equality, same-sex parenting and LGBTI aged care are contentious issues for the queer community, many argue the parade presents an opportunity to assist political and social reform.
The continual campaign by the Australian Marriage Equality is based on the idea of ‘equal love’ and in many ways attempts to normalise the experience of LGBTIQ people, to some success.
So should the parade follow suit to further our fight for equality? Should we put away some of the bells and whistles and celebrate in a manner that is less audacious and more accessible to the mainstream?
My belief is not.
To tone down or censor the parade in anyway, for whatever reason, would be a sacrifice far too great.
Mardi Gras celebrates who we are as a queer community and at no point should we compromise that for the sake of political motive or mainstream alienation.
The ludicrous way many people dress on Mardi Gras may be overwhelming and unfamiliar at times, but it is still a statement, just as valid as the queer parents who march with their children, members of the Australian Defence Force who march in their uniform, or Christians who march with Freedom2b.
The spectacle is all part of our history and culture, whether or not individuals personally choose to contribute to the spectacle.
Others still condemn the parade for becoming increasingly sexualised and provocative. But if people want to march down the street in little more than a bowtie and a pair of short shorts, it’s their prerogative. Being proud of your body demonstrates a rejection of conventional ideas about sexuality. Our uncovered flesh is natural – as natural as a man loving a man or a woman loving a woman.
So for anyone attending or not attending Mardi Gras this year, remember it is about getting involved and making a statement, whatever form that may take. Many feel that statement is best told through the flamboyant way they dress. It’s not for everyone, it’s overwhelming, but it’s no reason to be turned away.
Photo: Getty Images