Friday, March 4, 2011

Mardi Gras in Sydney always makes me think (of things past)

Living in Sydney, Australia, inevitably means that you associate this time of the year with the gay and lesbian Mardi Gras. It’s been an important part of this town since 1978 and so has the controversy surrounding it.

Personally I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about whom people have sex with and for good reason. There are a lot of people that you’d rather not think about in that way. That aside, I also happen to think that who we choose to love is really no business of others.

Years ago my ex-husband, who is a rampant homophobe (except for when it came to really cute lesbians who didn’t mind including a man in their fun), asked me what I would do if my daughter turned out to be a lesbian. I answered “I would hope that she would find someone who loved her and who treated her well”. I really just wanted Bee to be happy and I still do. Being in a good relationship is just nice, isn't it?

I find it hard to understand people who don’t think this way, I have to admit. What business is it of theirs what other people do? What makes them think that their way, their opinions, their thinking, is so superior to that of the people who accept same sex love?

The point I want to make is that for a lot of people the Sydney Mardi Gras is not just a spectacle and a party. To a lot of people it symbolizes the struggle a lot of homosexuals have had to go through to be accepted by some parts of our society. Maybe the prejudice has waned a little but there are still enormous hurdles and a lot of discrimination they have to contend with. Simple little things like migrating to be with a loved one from another country is not as easy if you’re a same sex couple as it is if you’re of opposite genders.

The Mardi Gras serves as an important reminder to us all that there are people in our society who still struggle to be recognized as full human beings and to be given the same rights as most people of that same society.

It’s a beacon of hope for any kid who grows up realizing that they’re gay but finding themselves in a situation where they’re not accepted because of it.

It’s a thorn in the side of the people who don’t have hearts big enough to include gays in humanity giving them the same rights as heterosexuals. It will continue to chip away at prejudice until we can look back and laugh about how bloody intolerant society was in the past.

Yesterday my friend D married her fiancé in Hawaii. D proposed to her fiancé 10 years ago. It’s been a long time coming and even though it won’t be a marriage recognized here in Australia it’s being celebrated by most of her family and all of her friends. For D it has a bigger meaning than just making her commitment to her partner official; for her it’s part of the fight to get equal rights for same sex couples.

In another life, back in the 90s when AIDS was the big scary, I knew a lady who counselled people who suffered from AIDS. Most of them were gay men. Many of them had been rejected by their families long before they contracted AIDS just because they were gay.

For years I had the privilege to have Christmas Day lunch with a motley crew of gay men who had no family that would celebrate with them. We met at Sandy’s place for a proper Christmas Day celebration problem.

It was Sandy, my ex-husband (no.1 – the non-homophobe) and I representing the heterosexual fraction and hoard of 20 or so gay men. The memories I have of these sessions are as fond as those I have of spending Christmas at Grandma’s as a kid.

The one thing with those Christmas Day get-togethers was that from year to year there would never be the same people. I never met one of them for a second time. They were all slowly dying by the time I got to meet them.

They were outcasts who had nowhere else to go because they even scared their own community being reminders of what will happen when you get AIDS (remember the days when having AIDS meant certain death?) but they joked, they laughed, they had fun and they enjoyed. It was a bloody blessing being in their company because nothing would prevent these guys from enjoying their last chance to celebrate Christmas with “the family”.

It made such an impression on me that I just cannot see the Mardi Gras as just a frivolous excuse for having a party. I was there in the middle of the god damned AIDS crisis hugging the walking dead and crying about how fucking unfair it is to have to die without your family around you, not because you’ve chosen to but because you're different and happen to love people of the same sex. It makes me angry to think that homosexuals still have to fight to have their relationships given the same status us heterosexuals take for granted. What's the difference?

One of the people I remember the clearest from those days was a guy I met at Sandy's engagement party. We had been invited to a local pub of fair size. My ex-husband and I had arrived early and I headed for the bar to get us a couple of drinks while he looked for people we knew.

I ordered the drinks and as I waited I realized that I was standing next to a guy who clearly showed signs of what they used to call "gay cancer". He was in the late stages of dying from AIDS, that much was clear. I asked him if he was part of Sandy's party and we ended up having a bit of a chat because to be honest he looked more than a little lonely sitting there.

He told me that his sister had come up from Melbourne to spend time with him. She was the only one in his family who still spoke to him. At the end of the night he found me when we were about to leave and he thanked me for talking to him and being so nice. I was a little stunned. His sister told me that it had meant a lot to him.

I ended up giving him a hug before I left. When I wrapped my arms around him I could tell how starved he was for touch. When this happened many people still thought you could get AIDS from just touching someone infected. Three weeks later I was told he'd died.

It makes me so angry to think that we're still so intolerant towards people who are different. I still makes me angry to think that it's somehow OK to discriminate against people who for some reason happen to be attracted to people of the same sex. What difference does it make? I mean really, has it really got any effect on your life who they make love to? The world is going to hell in a hand basket as it is, surely love is exactly what we need as the antidote no matter what shape it comes in?

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