‘I’m gay’ is a sentence I have said exactly one time in my life. It was upstairs in the Holme Building, and it was horrible and stressful and an admission of guilt I have never been good at making. I am closeted (and will remain so) because of a religious upbringing, and because my and friends and family who are not at all accepting—a sentiment they express freely and frequently. For reference, I am also aware that none of the ideas I am about to express are new. For reference, I am a cis white male (and thus my ideas and experience are more frequently expressed).
And part of me loathes Mardi Gras.
I board a warm train last Saturday wearing a linen suit with a tie and combed hair, and I’m hit with a wall of sound from a group of rowdy middle-aged couples heading to Mardi Gras. They’re dressed in colours and have been drinking. One woman compliments me on my suit, and another says that I ‘shouldn’t have any trouble getting some tonight’. Slightly taken aback, I go to thank the first, but her husband (holding hands, wedding rings) interrupts me, saying ‘not if he’s a fag he won’t, he doesn’t care where it comes from’ and laughs. His friend, also laughing, says ‘he looks like one’.
Because I am ‘straight passing’ (I believe is the term), I am fortunate enough not to face this kind of homophobia very often. It left me reeling. I have only seen this kind of group horror once before, and a carriage full of people came to the defence of the woman targeted. I am not so lucky, but the train soon fills, and I hide behind other passengers.
I hear a member of the same group comment on how cute a small child dressed as a fairy is. The he-looks-like-one man says that if she’s after fairies, she need look no further than Oxford Street on any day. This garnered a death stare or two, but no rebuke beyond a click of the tongue. I suppose no one was listening.
I ended up at Mardi Gras by accident, meeting up with a friend (to whom I am out) for a drink after another engagement, who decided I needed to go to ‘gay Christmas’. It was interesting, but I dislike it. It is garish and gruesome, in my opinion.
Mardi Gras seems to be an excuse for people to behave badly. And by people, I don’t so much mean queer people.
I was groped four times over the course of the night, but not once by a man. Each time by women. While this did not make me feel unsafe, it was not welcome. A muscular man much larger than me and holding hands with a woman (I am making assumptions about his sexuality), also leered at me. He jumped at me and told me he was going to fuck me up, and laughed at my recoil. I only interacted briefly with two gay men on the night—one said he liked my suit as he walked past; another said ‘hello’ and smiled, but also continued walking. Both were polite, and neither of those situations made me uncomfortable at all.
I understand that Mardi Gras is an opportunity for queer people of all kinds to express and celebrate their sexuality, but it often seems like it is just an excuse for people in opposite sex relationships to get drunk and watch the gays. I find myself reflexively resenting straight people. I can’t help it. I wish there was something I could do to be one of them, but there isn’t. tried. And I find myself wondering why the one time of the year that is supposed to be about non-conventional sexualities turns into a good night out for straight people.
I had a friend say it was unfair that there is no straight Mardi Gras. I could barely contain my fury as I said that the last few hundred years of gay people being stoned, burned at the stake or otherwise reviled was straight Mardi Gras.
The recent launch of an ally network (whatever that is) encouraged the wearing of colourful clothing to a function to show support for the all-inclusive rainbow flag. This is part of the patronising garishness I mean – the fetishisation of who someone happens to be. You can’t go anywhere around this time without seeing glitter and rainbows and all sorts of gauche exclamations. All identities are valid, but these things are not the summary of every non-straight person, neither is it yours to cover yourself in for an excuse to party.
I understand that many queer people love Mardi Gras. And that is great, and anyone who can find expression or celebration in it should do so. It also encourages discussion and acknowledgement. I had the pleasure of standing in a park in a circle of wonderful people proposing a toast to the hard work done, hatred endured, and lives lost so that ‘we can live in a society where we can be gay and not be killed’.
I have been at this university for some time, and I have never experienced direct homophobia outside of a few isolated run-ins with religious students, but I have (unprovoked) been called faggot three times on King Street. I remember each time, and each is burnt into my memory. I used to say that I was grateful that I had it so easy at uni, but as someone recently pointed out, I need not be grateful for avoiding persecution.
The word faggot is most likely derived from a Greek word meaning bundle (of wood), and was, I have read, originally meant with the implication that gays were fit only for burning. This is a rarer idea nowadays, but is something I have had expressed to me personally. I can’t walk down a street holding hands without attracting looks. I can’t be who I am without it being something of a novelty to my friends. I am asked to go shopping with girls, for my style. I can’t tell my parents or the people I grew up with if I ever met a man. I can’t marry someone I love. I guess Mardi Gras just leaves me with a bad taste.
Illustration by April Kang.