Mardi Gras, otherwise known as “gay Christmas”, is a time for all the girls, gays and theys to celebrate what makes them special: their glorious, innate, queerness. But what if you didn’t know gay Christmas even existed? Or didn’t know your queerness was something to be celebrated, because you’d always been told it was your biggest flaw?
Homophobia, amirite folks? Just letting you know now that this article won’t exactly be a fun and festive skip through the poppy fields. If you want some of that, I have plenty of other yarns that take a walk on the fun side, but this article is going to talk about how homophobic parents erase the Mardi Gras experience, and can damage it even when you’re free from their wishes and ideas.
So where do we start? The very beginning I guess, around the time I was aware that once a year, there was this really interesting show on TV where a bunch of shirtless men paraded around the streets wearing rainbow.
Sydney’s 35th Mardi Gras in 2013, Getty Images: Brendon Thorne.
I was about nine or ten at the time, and living in Sydney’s Western Suburbs with my two Catholic parents and two younger brothers.
It might be hard to believe, but it wasn’t the shirtless men that made me so intrigued by this show. Instead, it was that every time the Mardi Gras parade appeared on TV, my parents ordered me to turn it off, without much of an explanation as to why apart from that it was ‘bad’.
This would happen every year, without fail, starting from my early years before I knew that I was gay, and right through high school.
So, I essentially grew up not even knowing what Mardi Gras was. Eventually, I figured that it was probably some kind of televised parade when I was in my later years of high school, but to me it meant nothing. I had never seen a Mardi Gras, even on television. It didn’t exist to me.
What pains me the most, in retrospect, is all of that queer joy that I missed out on. Exuberant, bountiful joy, that queer people have been working so hard to achieve. It was a feeling alien to me, the idea that anyone could really be happy within their queerness.
Sydney’s 39th Annual Mardi Gras. Getty Images: Brendon Thorne.
Eventually, I reached an age (around Year 12) where I was finally comfortable with my identity. I had come out to my friends and family the year prior, and was dealing with the fact that my parents were homophobic. Thankfully, not in a violent sense, but definitely in a way that was emotionally damaging to me in my younger years.
I realised that I had been shunned away from Mardi Gras, and was adamant to watch my first one on TV. It was late enough that my younger brothers wouldn’t be up, and I thought myself old enough to watch what I wanted. I was wrong.
“I don’t want you watching that crap, you have younger brothers who might see it,” were the words my parents said to me when they realised what I was doing.
To be honest, I think I was watching it more out of protest than to actually see what it was about. This was something I just wasn’t allowed to see for so many years, and now I finally knew why. My parents hated it. Thus began the years where I believed they hated me just as much.
It’s an unfortunate comparison to make, but in many ways, I was much like the televised Mardi Gras to my parents. Something to hide away. Something that was wrong and shouldn’t exist. To this day I still haven’t come out to my youngest brother, out of respect to my parents, who do not want him exposed to something so “overtly sexual.”
I could sidetrack into different stories for hours, but I think of these moments often, and how they’ve impacted me today.
Sydney’s 41st Mardi Gras, and my first Mardi Gras. Getty Images: James D. Morgan.
My first Mardi Gras was at 21, in 2019. I told my parents that I was going out with some friends, and they were none the wiser because they had no idea when Mardi Gras was actually on.
That day was one of the most painful reminders of how uncomfortable I still was with being a gay individual. I was surrounded by so many queer people, so proud in their skins, and for most of the time, I was just in awe at how this entire world was hidden away from me, and how I barely belonged.
I remember going to a friend’s house in normal clothes and getting changed when I was there into something completely different. I’m talking neon pink cigarette pants and a spiked choker (sorry, not sorry mum.) I met Amanda Lepore that night, and it was everything. In fact, this was only my third time even being at a gay club.
It was after this Mardi Gras that I decided it was time to move out. Not to grant me a world of opportunity, but to free me from a world where there was none.
Subsequent Mardi Gras, however, always felt the same. I get this strange feeling inside that I am still not good enough to join these amazing queer people in celebrating identity. I’ve only just come around to accepting my own queerness, and it still feels fragile, like a bird learning to fly.
If you’re like me, and have homophobic parents, wondering what you’re going to be doing this Mardi Gras, I can only tell you so much.
Unfortunately, by fate, you’ve been assigned two people who limit your very being, you find your natural personage to be disgusting, most of the time at levels associated with the divine. I’m so wrong that even a GOD would hate me? It’s impossible to wrap your head around, and impossible to fight against.
My best advice would be to be safe. Things will always get better down the road, but that may just depend on escaping your family home when it’s safest for you. If you are not yet ready to leave, and the situation is dangerous for you, there are unfortunately only two paths.
Stay silent for years and years, and wait, like I did, or leave and face the consequences of it all.
No person should ever have to deal with these things but unfortunately, as queer people, sometimes we cannot even live our honest lives with homophobic parents constantly pulling us down. We were meant to fly, and that’s just what Mardi Gras is about.
So don’t worry if you miss a few festivities. I learnt the hard way that Mardi Gras will always be there for you whenever you are ready. And yes, you will meet people who have been accepted by their parents and are overtly proud to be who they are, while you watch awkwardly and wish that were you, but it’s okay. Everyone’s queerness is a journey, and some people join the road late.
Here’s to the queer kids who have had to deal with homophobic parents for most of their lives. Happy Mardi Gras you lovely humans. This is always a strange, difficult and sometimes volatile time for us all, but I know we’ll make it through together, no matter where we may be.
Me (on the right) and my lovely boyfriend a few weeks ago. It all gets better, I promise.