A Thousand Screaming Queens


"A lot of screaming queens in Oxford Street will not help the cause for which we shall have to fight," said Patrick White. When the great novelist and august pouffe was asked to disburse some of his Nobel Laureate’s value to a poor community event, he answered by letter that he had "always detested the Gay Mardi Gras nonsense." No, he would not attend.

This, I like to imagine, was the basis for a good deal of righteous huffing when it was set to paper in 1984. Certainly, its hauteur scuttled into subsequent decades. I remember preparing for my first Mardi Gras as a very young person (by "prepare", I mean acute dieting, not a rereading of Dennis Altman) when I was first told of White’s blasphemy. Naturally, I huffed. And wrote the words "Uncle Tom" on my copy of The Vivisector. (It should be noted: my rage did help the diet and I cut a very nice figure in the womyn’s tent that 90s year.)

White, clearly, was an arch-conservative reluctant to embrace his perversion. Moreover, his age barred him from acknowledging the power of performative (a word we used to use, quite incorrectly, a lot in the queer 90s) protest. Mardi Gras is a glorious celebration of difference and a denunciation of the everyday! Down with heteronormative (see previous) good behaviour! Here’s to lesbians with wild eyes and free looks dancing on the backs of utes/fronts of motorcycles etc.

I was much younger and the MDMA was a lot purer in the 90s. Now, chemistry has wrought its work on both my cynicism and Scheduled Narcotics and I can no longer see the point of Mardi Gras. Now, to my immense relief, I can admire White unimpeded.

Mardi Gras is nonsense.

The party has become a billboard for producing only two sorts of meaning, both of which give me great unease. First, it’s an ideal site for niche corporate branding. Second, it hawks a disingenuous message of "community", stage-managed by rich poofs and their lezzo servants. In short, it’s a weird elitism fused with ads for telcos.

Actually, I’d not felt anything like a passionate response to Mardi Gras for years. I hadn’t thought about it at all until the other night, when it appeared on my television quite out of season. And – to my mind – out of context.

Attorney-General Robert McLelland has announced that last year’s recommendations by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) are to be passed. The Same-Sex: Same Entitlements report offered the SHOCK revelation that persons living in same sex relationships suffered discrimination in law. Well, I never. Knock me over with the faux feather boa of a senselessly vulgar drag queen.

The recommendations, fascinating as they are to the people they will impact, are too dull and numerous to detail here. Believe me when I tell you, the legislative shifts will make life a lot less troublesome for the bent.

All of this was reported in the Australian news media last week. You may have seen it. Or at least seen the cheesy visuals appended to the announcement.

It’s odd to see news of changes to superannuation law underscored by dancing boys from a Darlinghurst fitness centre in snug pink lycra shorts. Nonetheless, this was the vision selected by most major television news programs. As imminent changes to real estate, tax and pension legislation were announced, a poorly effected formation dance played out in the background. As glorious as the voice of Candi Staton might be, it does not provide an apposite soundtrack for anything the Attorney-General might consent to do. Sometimes, during a carriage of legislation, McLelland just Feels Like Throwing His Hands Up In The Air.

One can hardly lay the entire blame at the aerobicised feet of the screaming queens. Nonetheless, the cause for which we shall have to fight was hardly assisted by these brassy stop-outs.

And it was hardly helped by a raucous minority of queers who have long wanted their right to grand weddings thrown into the bargain. News media was quick to jump on an issue which, as any lobbyist will tell you, remains a dead wedge. Nonetheless, there was the mandatory vision of old dears stuffed into tuxes as old as their gullibility screeching, "we want legitimacy" which may be loosely translated to mean "we want Michael Graves’ entire design collection on our gift registry".

At this point, I should probably tell you that at a certain and rarely attained point of insobriety, I always ask my girlfriend to marry me. Clearly, there is some manipulated thing in my viscera that needs a white frock. I’m all for the right to marry – especially at short notice and when completely stonkered. But the damn issue just pisses too many wacko Christians off to pass in law for the present. Right now, realist queers are celebrating the amendments.

In the end, lovely wedding gift registries, Mardi Gras and the ancient remonstrations of White are really the least of our concern. If career homosexuals and their attendant muffia wish to keep the glitzy corpse of Pride on life support, it’s of marginal concern. At the very least, we can be certain that the Ten Network is grateful for those pictures of giddy new hunks every year. The intensely closeted Horny Dads of Australia can have their eye candy and Oxford Street gymnasia can continue to enjoy robust business each summer. Candi can keep on singing.

The men and women who worked so tirelessly to see this legislation pass have had no time to listen.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.