Growing up in country NSW, the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras was something that was limited to the confines of our TV. And even though our telly required pliers to be turned on, and sported a motif of aboriginal dot paintings my mother thought would spruce the old box up, I was transfixed each year as the broadcast of sequins, feathers and hot pants made it into our living room.
Not that exciting things didn’t happen in my town (there is still a massive annual festival dedicated to locomotives of yesteryear) but there was something about Mardi Gras that always seemed so glamorous, so shocking, out-there and fabulous that my awkward fourteen year old self never dreamt that I too could be in the parade.
Fast forward another fourteen years, I found myself with a big girl job in the city. I wasn’t the loyal fan to the Mardi Gras broadcast I once was. Probably because the dot art telly was long gone and I had enough nights out on Oxford Street to suffice my love of feather boas. So it was with surprise I opened yet another email at work one day, asking if I wanted to be on their float for Mardi Gras that year. My reply was an instant: Yes! How many friends can I bring?
Weeks later, rehearsals were ON! To the re-mixed tunes of the Love Boat we shimmed and sashayed around the spare room downstairs. Together we learnt it went left right not right left and most of all we needed to smile, smile, smile!
The big day came; we rehearsed for the last time. Now we all knew each other we were a bit nicer about forgetting the steps. Costumes arrived. A modest logo emblazoned t-shirt, a sailor cap and a fluorescent glow in the dark whistle. Someone whipped some scissors out it became Project Runway as crew necks became crop tops and our costumes were transformed into something definitely more parade worthy. The body glitter topped it all off – and then we were ready! Show time!
We made our way up to the marshalling area. Although we thought we’d sexed up our costumes enough, we really had nothing compared to the perfect Kylie Minogue clones, the gold body painted Greek gods and the speedo clad surf life savers.
But we were all in it together. Everyone was as interested in us as we were them. Strangers asked if it was our first Mardi Gras? Who made our costumes? Did we have a guest star on our float? What about the rumour Kylie is coming?
It never occurred to me watching the Mardi Gras on the TV that this was actually the best bit. The enormous sense of goodwill happening before the parade. Even though we were all from different places and had floats representing all sorts of things, the collective spirit had a snow ball effect. I was on a natural high.
The Love Boat began playing, whistles started blowing. It was time to march, dance and sashay up Oxford St to promote marriage equality. Thousands of people were cheering, some standing on milk crates having waited all day for the parade to start. In the city lights our costumes looked great, with just the right amount* of glitter. As we got into formation it started raining lightly. As I took my first left right (or was it meant to be right left?) I couldn’t even feel the rain. I was feeling awesome. I was part of something big, something I didn’t fully understand before I was a part of it. I couldn’t remember the last time I felt this good, ever, let alone without having a drink.
For something that always seemed so glamorous and raunchy my Mardi Gras experience felt incredibly wholesome. I celebrated with old friends and made new ones. I got to feel like a rock star for forty minutes as I made my way up the parade route to thousands of cheering fans and television cameras. The only thing that felt better than not having a drink that night was my decision to wear sneakers. I always thought the drag queens in platform stilettos looked fabulous – but sometimes – like dancing for three kilometres – it’s the sensible option leads to the greatest happiness.
*which means too much