Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras – Almost

I went to Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras last weekend.  Well, kind of.  For a little while.  Here, let me tell you the story.

The pinnacle of the Sydney Mardi Gras celebration is a massive parade that begins at 7:45 pm on Saturday.  That evening, my friends and I ate the fastest dinner in college history, then caught the 5:44 pm train with a bunch of other crazily-dressed people heading to Mardi Gras.  We arrived at Central Station around 6:30 and followed the hordes to the parade viewing area along Oxford Street.  We got to the parade route around 7, and we could tell right away that we were in for an interesting experience.  People were already lined up five deep along the curb, and many of them had brought stools or milk crates to stand on to get a better view.  Others stood on curbs, benches, windowsills, parked police cars, etc..  I saw a few people climbing a phone booth to stand on top of an awning (yes, really).  We pushed our way down the sidewalk for a block or so, hoping to find a place where we could at least peek through the crowd and catch a glimpse of the parade.  It began to sprinkle lightly, so I hoped some people would get discouraged and leave.  Nope…not gonna happen.  Eventually, we just stopped and stood behind the crowd, not sure what to do next.  After a few minutes of staring at people’s backs, we decided to move.  By this point, though, the mob on the sidewalk had grown to the point that walking was impossible.  So we shoved ourselves into the crowd and tried to go with the flow.  We pushed through the crowd until even that wasn’t possible, and soon found ourselves crushed into a giant mosh pit of drunk, loud, panicking people struggling to get out. People were stepping on each other’s feet, grabbing onto each others’ clothes, and holding onto their wallets for dear life.  We just wanted to be able to breathe again.  Finally, eventually, the crowd pushed us onto a side street and we were able to escape. By that point, my friends and I just wanted to get as far away as possible, so we caught the next train back to college.

Upon arriving back at our nearly-empty college (everyone was, of course, at Mardi Gras), we turned on the TV in the common room and watched the parade there, where we could actually see it.  Because of the time we spent traveling there and back, we only got to see about half of the three-hour-long parade.  But we got the point.

It was unlike any parade I’ve ever seen.  While plenty of straight people attended, the parade was first and foremost a celebration of LGBT pride.  The floats and costumes were loud, colorful, and altogether magnificent.  Many of the parade participants wore as little clothing as possible, which didn’t really shock me given the crazy, anything-goes nature of the celebration.  What did shock me was the television network’s response.  The parade was broadcast on Arena, which is basically the Australian equivalent of Bravo.  There was no censoring of any kind–boobs (Can I say “boobs?”  This is a family blog here.) and butts were displayed freely, and the commentators used “the F word” a few times.  Coming from a country where networks are fined hundreds of thousands of dollars for broadcasting split-second “wardrobe malfuctions,” I was quite surprised by the network’s brazenness. Australians in general seem to have a much more relaxed attitude toward “adult” topics such as sex and alcohol, and this wasn’t the first time I realized how uptight my home country is compared to much of the rest of the Western world.

I noticed a few other differences between this and other Mardi Gras celebrations as well.  Technically, this was the third Mardi Gras I’ve attended.  I’ve been to Soulard Mardi Gras several times, but that doesn’t really count because it’s in St. Louis.  I’ve also been to the original Mardi Gras in New Orleans, but that doesn’t really count because I was two years old.  (Yeah, I know. Take that one up with my parents.)  This celebration was much different from both of those events, and probably from any other Mardi Gras celebration in the world.  I found two aspects of it particularly odd.  First of all, while the celebrations stretched for several weeks before the parade, they ended on Saturday night (er, Sunday morning).  Excuse me, but Fat Tuesday is TUESDAY.  Many cities have the big shebang on Saturday, then a smaller parade on Tuesday.  But Sydney’s Mardi Gras ends on Saturday, which makes no sense to me.  Secondly, there were no beads.  Plenty of costumes, floats, and alcohol, but no beads.  Beads are a vital part of my understanding of Mardi Gras celebrations, so I quite surprised they were omitted from the parade.  Even though it was billed as Mardi Gras, this celebration has much more in common with a gay pride parade than a traditional Mardi Gras celebration.  The colorful floats and outrageous costumes were still there, but at its heart the parade was a celebration of LGBT culture.

In summary…I’m glad I went to Oxford Street and was part of the experience, even if it was only for a short time. And I’m glad I got to actually see the parade, even if it was on television.  It was a phenomenally inspiring experience, and one that I, unfortunately, probably won’t be having in America anytime soon.

One last thing…I didn’t take my camera, because electronics and massive crowds don’t generally mix well. But I know you all want to see pictures, so I’ll just point out there are photo galleries and videos all over the internet.  I think this multimedia package (not safe for work or hypersensitive American eyes) from the Sydney Morning Herald captures the essence of the event pretty well.

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