TAKING MY CHANCES AT MARDI GRAS
It’s the biggest Sydney Gay Mardi Gras ever. American comedienne, Joan Rivers, upset not to be allowed on a float, is here as chief media compere. And for those who are in the parade it’s a sticky night with hours of waiting at Start Section Two. Bored, I go to watch Start One’s departing floats.
Suddenly three marshals are upon me: “Joan Rivers wants to interview you”. "Seriously? Why?" - they don't know but heck, I think I could guess; so much so at first I thought they’d say the police wanted to disqualify or charge me. “She’s seen you”. "How?" I hadn’t noticed media snooping round where I’m placed near parade’s end in front of the glittery Hoopaholics who’ve taken my gear on their van. “Your number?” I swallow hard. Do I really want this? More’s here for me than meets the eye, and that’s enough. Put me on live TV and even hidden behind sunnies I could risk reputation changes in certain circles. “OK… I’m 131 in front of the Pink Puffs but I’ve moved back to before Hoopaholics at 134 as they have my things”.
I’d thought it enough to take on the police tonight, but the stakes are getting higher and beyond the fact that with a Joan interview I could be negotiating anything from jokes about crown jewels to why I’m representing a cycle group I don’t organize and sans bicycle. (I have an inter-state visitor’s excuse for that - I arrived yesterday). But I’m supposed to be an academic, a writer on religion, the first to survey gay spiritualities in depth and with a really serious book on God out shortly. Whatever am I doing here and at that within days of the death of ultra-radical theologian, Marcella Althaus-Reid, celebrated for outrageous works I never agreed with like Indecent Theology and The Queer God? In these theology mixes with porn and fiesta. Did I want an “Indecent Theologian” mantle? Not really.
JOKING WITH JOAN RIVERS OR CHALLENGING AUSTRALIAN MEDIA?
Joan Rivers has her agenda, I have mine. Can they gel? I’m not here for fun only. What I want is to set a precedent and say something serious if given the chance such as this could now be. My aim isn’t to shock (though I probably will) but force a media curiously restrictive and censoring in some areas to be aware of the craziness, even oppression and corruption in Australia, especially Queensland, around the nudity that should be partly or wholly de-criminalized. Police pursue nudists like artist Ken Wenzel on deserted beaches (his trials dragged across two years). There’s not a single legal free beach in the state. Sydney’s Mardi Gras, though raunchier than most, still inexplicably excludes nudity and gay nudists despite the Rev Nile’s complaints about nudity (he really means “flesh”). Australia, join the rest of the West and change this! This year’s MG theme is, after all, “United Nations”.
There are rumours of nudity escaping charges in the last two parades. But if so those involved weren’t officially anybody and perhaps not gay. I’ve traced a pic of a man led by rope from his penis by a woman. I fail to see the joke or the gay pride and suspect a fetish shop advertising itself. It’s time for some truth and justice. If an official float (i.e. registered group or person) can get away with being nude here, future MGs might be a bit different and laws a little better handled since MG is trend setting.
I’d decided two or three of us, one a Queensland branch organizer, will represent the Seattle founded World Naked Bike Ride event. This occurs almost everywhere in the West naked but not in Brisbane and not for men in Australia. Our placard will read: (W)orld (N)aked (B)ike (R)ide org. for Gay and Nude Rights - Everywhere. Required to state our costume I said small jockstraps but meaning…at the Start, anyway. I thought they’d got the idea but I’ve arrived here to discover the official programme declares this group has agreed to cover modesty - if only with bicycle clips. Right now I’m not covering much modesty. The jock is a fishnet see-through notionally conceding to NSW law “the member shall be covered”. People have been sent off or fined for less offence in years past.
REFUSING THE RIO GLITZ MOULD
Some girls of next row’s lesbian nurses float have been in riots about me. “You are just….” cameras flash – when I have my sunnies on. But I feel awful. I’m exhausted since flying in, so much walking, shopping, last minute fuss to have the placard. And the WNBR organizer can’t be here. I’m solo and feeling out of place amid seas of glitz more like Rio Carnival than Toronto Pride. I don’t feel energetic or erotic and I fancy I don’t look it. The jock is a bit uncomfortable and not my idea of aesthetic and so doesn't suit my mood or perhaps anything .....if you’re vain about being photographed or think size matters which some people seem to think it should. (But why?)
When I rose from sleep at 5 pm I was so tired I forced myself to Start for the 6 pm deadline (though we can’t leave before 9 pm earliest). Now I don’t feel like being here. And I’m doubly hesitant now Joan wants to see me. I was going to risk it and bare all in Oxford Street. Now I’ll need to endure the jock I have no affinity for, feel or be small in body, mind and spirit up Oxford Street to Taylor Square’s media point. It’s the guy in “that” jock who’s wanted.
Help! I’m thinking I want to exit fast. At the other end of Start a marshal says you’re not going anywhere, you’re in lock down. (I’d need to pretend ill to get out!). Suffer and prepare! I swallow some Glucodin tablets for energy – some are curious is this my drug of choice. The camera clicking lesbian nurses are encouraging. Take off once en route; les girls will defend you. A couple of “Freedom-to-Be” Pentecostals smile and wave. (God’s blessing on me?). I try to speak to them but they have their interview right here and now.
The wars of religion seem everywhere this year. MG is getting ever closer to original Lent Carnivals with their parodies and protests round the sacred. Gorgeously attired Popes and Cardinals are dancing and swaying. The MCC Church has been mischievously placed besides Sydney Gay Atheists. The latter look a sober lot. No costumes or fun there; at best a young Chinese looking like one of my pupils back in HKong, flapping around looking happy living la vida godless. “Atheism is boring” I whisper to a bored looking blond who turns away disgusted. I meet the gay Jews. One rolls up his Tee shirt. Underneath is another with a Go Nude logo. He likes me. We agree poor P.O.W. Galid Shalit is so gorgeous in his quirky way he simply ought to be gay. Someone else likes me, is all over me, will join me – if he can carry the placard. He can hug me all he likes, but I’ll have my placard. Sorry. I ask a nearly nude leatherman wandering around like a lost soul to join me. “Thanks, but I’m not that brave” he says meaning probably also “not that stupid”. Looks like my role in this Carnival is to be Holy Fool - although at least two biblical prophets did go about naked to proclaim, I'll not call myself "prophet" in these proceedings despite my interest in justice and consistency in the laws where nudity in Oz is concerned.
ONTO THE STREETS AND MEETING THE CROWDS
Finally at 9.45 after so much disco dancing - there’s nowhere to sit - you wonder how Hoopaholics can still stand, we depart, me in notional jock. I register some hesitation around me near the gate but no one debars me.
Only half seeing the crowds from the centre of the street I bowl along, sometimes half blinded even behind my sunnies by the flood lights of a float ahead. It’s like doing theatre which is OK by me. I feel relaxed but unhappy. I’d rather jolly the crowd but decide I’d better grip the placard and look serious enough about my cause to justify being present at all. Besides, the Pinks in front are doing enough street theatre for ten floats so I can’t compete and this being Australia I could be accused of indecent exhibitionism if I tried to fraternize like Toronto nudists shaking hands or exchanging words with the curious at the barriers. “Can’t you shout?”, a marshal dashes up to ask me. Not really. I’d thought “Happy Naked Mardi Gras” seemed right and practiced it driving to the airport but it didn’t feel right still wearing this silly jock and psyching myself up for possible encounter with Joan Rivers.
The route is 2.5 kms. After what seems a long time we reach its first third, the Taylor Square media station. Lights and cameras everywhere. No Joan Rivers but perhaps posted by her another host is suddenly towering above me in vivid green. (Why are drag queens often so tall and major high heels users too?) “You leave nothing to the imagination”….I don’t go with that one but dive in insisting I’m here protesting what’s less known about Oz laws and liberties. I can’t recall more than that. But it’s a relief to have the grouse out on TV even if it’s not giving people the wanted happy talk. First job done. Keep going!
NAKED AS NATURE INTENDED OR AS AUSTRALIA NEEDS
Into Flinders Street I feel freer to take off. But heck, where? Pinks are moving at great pace and the Hoopaholics van driving behind. I need to stop to get the jock off without falling over it in twists. Finally a pause and suddenly it’s off. Relief! It’s like a miracle, proof of some “follow your bliss” principle. Energy returns, I feel confident. Forget the police. Che sera, sera. I begin to look at the audience more. I seem variously to puzzle or enthuse them; the Mediterranean crowd seem more enthused. They clap and laugh. Anyway, I’m doing what I’ve come to do and it feels more like gay pride and liberation.
Out of the crowds appears a radio commentator. Time to offer more propaganda. As I'm feeling mentally freer and less physically cramped he almost seems more concerned I might progress to, well, I'm not sure what - porn demos? “Aren’t you worried that….?” “No I’m not” I snap back almost laughing”, “if you’re a nudist you don’t worry about that”. “Oh”… a bit non-plussed he fades back into the crowd. Next another media point and another tall drag queen on another blazing stage from which costume prizes will be awarded. She declares to the crowds that here’s a gentleman won’t receive any prizes. He has no costume at all. Great! Getting this generally said is almost a prize in itself! I’m doubly happy now I’ve passed what seems like many police ignoring me. Probably I’ll have walked about one km naked. You’d need to go to Barcelona to be or feel this free again. (Urbanudismo is permitted there).
Suddenly the “End of Parade” lights loom at Moore park, and the noise recedes. Home and dry, sort of, hopefully with sufficient liberating precedent made. A strange experience, especially as I and the crowds nearly didn’t have it. I almost cancelled Sydney when a friend had an accident and couldn’t put me up so that I needed to find a hotel room at the last minute – a major challenge at MG time. I obtained the last room in a central hotel that wasn’t over-the-top expensive.
It would have been a real experience to have met Joan Rivers but then I'm good at seeing and/or missing stars. When I first arrived in Hollywood, an actor who had been working with her invited me to meet Jane Fonda with him at a party the next day. (I actually managed to have the worst most splitting in my life which left me helpless in bed in the hotel). However expecting to meet Joan Rivers stopped me going naked up Oxford Street as intended. But by that Joan probably helped my enterprise because if I hadn’t had the known promise of interview or if I’d de-jocked at or near Start on Oxford Street either marshals or police (often in cahoots ) might well have stopped me before I began. So it all panned out rather nicely. And as I’d told God…. but I don’t have to tell you about that. Yet as though the supernatural dimension was unavoidable, when I thanked the shiny pants Hoopaholics driver he said, (and if it was in jest it didn’t sound like it, or it was truth in jest) “You’re a lucky guy. It all worked out just as you needed - so well anyone would think God himself arranged it all”…. “Oh, yes” I said a bit taken aback and unsure how to reply.
RAW REALITIES OF SYDNEY’S OXFORD STREET
Back onto Oxford Street in board shorts I go for some refreshments. Fame has hit. “You’re the naked bike guy!”. “Yes”, I say and apologize for the lack of bike, not clothes. My aims are understood and commended. Tired, I feel I still need to wind down by hitting the discos. Almost impossible; you need to be pre-booked for the clubs tonight though you might jostle tight in the bars which seem to getting more like discos with even leathermen moving. A real gay change I rather approve – anywhere, anytime is good to disco and anyone should. I’ll go to the hotel, change and return. Further down the street, choked with people and awash with discarded cans, back inside a shopping arcade a girl in blue is lying unconscious, possibly dead (O’D’d?) surrounded by police and medics. A sobering picture amid the festivities.
Returned from the hotel the streets still remain busier and more thick with crowds than during daytime and I revert to my quest for a disco wind down. I haven’t however taken the warnings too seriously, the atmosphere seemed so peaceful one could hardly expect trouble. Suddenly as I approach the Brighton Hotel about six people ahead of me in the crush a girl suddenly screams “F.....ing dyke!” (i.e.lesbian). I just duck in time to avoid flying glass. Beer bottles are thrown or smashed on the pavement. Women seize people’s hair, men start punching one another. There are shouts and screams. I’m close to a public brawl the likes of which I’ve never witnessed and the crowds are so thick I can hardly get out or avoid it. Police, lots of them, are on the spot in seconds grabbing yelling people. Suddenly a policeman seizes me. I am momentarily terrified I am considered party to this melee. However he thrusts me, half throws me, towards the wall where I can see some people are virtually sheltering from the sheer force of these explosions of anger and rage nearer the curbside. I await gingerly while people are dragged off.
After this I decide I’ve had enough. I’d really like to party but decide perhaps I’d better get home after all. As I approach the hotel and am crossing the road (fortunately since we can’t stop on a main road), a youth crossing in the other direction spits out at me “You faggot”. OK, I finally accept it about Sydney. The talk about drink and violence and Mardi Gras arousing homophobic aggression isn’t all exaggeration. It must be taken seriously. I drop into bed exhausted, elated by the night’s success but troubled by Sydney and its nightlife too. It’s unlike me, but I don’t go to sleep quickly.
THE PUBLICATION OF COSMIC FATHER
However improbably. despite all this carnival fun and risk taking, (holy fool kind or otherwise), there’s a connection of sorts between my MG experiences and the “serious” (not theologically indecent) book on God I’ve been writing and finished not long before I left for Sydney. (It was one of several reasons I needed a break and haven't been blogging much since books are exhausting and this one is going out soon too). The connection is quite simply the element of shock and surprise that the book’s ideas, discoveries and experiences engage throughout. And though I’m not Althaus-Reid, I do happen to include the subject of pornography within the scheme, not because it’s any natural theme with me but because I include the story of a friend who got involved in its making. The consequences would turn out to be unexpected to the point of almost unthinkable. And from the other side of the world they finished by involving me in dramas which make my Sydney experiences, good and bad, like storms in the proverbial teacup. I shall never be the same again and it’s possible readers of Cosmic Father: Spirituality as Relationship, will also experience a few mind/life changes.
Publishers prefer you to fit into trends rather than to be one. This is a book so ground breakingly different I have been advised by someone in media not to offer it to the likely rejections and slow processes of the current, highly secular, publishing system. It will go to Amazon direct before I think about offering it anywhere. It should be uploaded in a day or two and, all being well, should be available as soon as I have received and approved the proof which outside of America will be slower in reaching me – the whole system is more complex for non Americans. I would give the process 6 weeks. But look out - this Blog will update on what's relevant for dates - and be surprised. You likely won’t be disappointed on that score. God is beyond Mardi Gras excitement. Honestly.