By Cameron Manion
It’s 2016, almost four decades since the first ‘Gay and Lesbian’ Mardi Gras of Sydney, and it’s still not unusual to hear phrases from ‘straight acting’ or ‘real men’ to ‘no rice or spice’ and ‘I like Asians but, hmm, not like that’ along Oxford Street. Is it any surprise, then, that the Sydney Mardi Gras festival of ‘diversity’, for many in the queer community, is a festival of exclusion?
Segregation within minority communities is not news. There is pressure from all different facets of society to be ‘normal’. This pressure can easily cause a toxic sense of self within minority members and toxic relationships within minority communities – there will always be those more ‘normal’ and more easily accessible to those ‘normal’ within minority communities. Think of queer movies – or as you much more likely see on shelves and even on Netflix, ‘Gay and Lesbian’ movies (who else is there, right?). Until very recently, how many actually focused on someone that wasn’t a white cis gay or lesbian protagonist? Even recently, how many that try to include trans characters actually hire trans actors? Though it’s great to see queer stories being illuminated, the same queer stories have been repeated again and again – the buff-cis-white-guy falls in love with the buff-cis-white-guy. Brokeback Mountain to Holding The Man. This has become the accepted idea of ‘queer’, the more marketable and straight-friendly version that people will now see in movies because they’ve been exposed to it before. People will celebrate it because they feel they understand it more.
It is, then, very much worth noting that Sydney Mardi Gras have become a sponsorship dream. The introduction of ANZ’s GAYTM’s saw the receipt reels within the machine, that usually last a week, run out in one hour due to the sheer amount of people wanting to take out cash from a bedazzled machine and have a rainbow receipt. It all stems from the idea of the ‘fabulous’ and flamboyant cis gay male portrayed time and again in stories. It’s exciting! It’s fun! We love it!
And, most importantly, what do fun, exciting thing do for festivals? Make money.
People will attend, merchandise will be bought, companies will see a small profit spike, because this is the illusion people want, neatly packaged and all smiles, with a cute little bow.
Bisexuality, something that sees a higher suicide rate than gay and lesbian sections of the community, is rarely talked about or discussed. Trans people are rarely seen within their own stories, of which there are few. People of colour are still placed as secondary characters, or even fetishised. It’s another examples of the power structures, those of a segregated queer community, in life informing art informing life informing art. And so, walking down Oxford Street, the reinforced idea of this more celebrated queer person finds its way into Oxford Street culture and, to no surprise, into a festival celebrating that Oxford Street culture.