Beyond the Valley of the Mardi Gras
Going Down-Under to probe Australian inversion
"So, what are you travelling to Austrayy-lyah for," asks the pretty Qantas steward, somewhere over Southeast Asia, as he collects the plastic remains of my meal. "Bizniss, or..." his eyes flick almost imperceptibly down toward my trackie bottoms and up again, "pleazure?"
I've been asleep in this emergency exit seat with my legs stretched out. I really should have used a blanket. Or worn some underwear. I reach for my jumper and hastily throw it over my crotch. "Punishment," I reply. "I'm being transported for crimes against gays."
Well, okay, I don't tell him this. Instead, I tell him I'm going on holiday.
"It's such a shame you've just missed the Mardi Gras," he says.
"Yes, it's a terrible shame," I agree, not very convincingly.
"Yer'd reelly love the Mardi Gras," he enthuses. "It's a febulous perayde and pardy, with floats, drag queynes, and strippers." Adding hastily, covering his bets, "It's reelly mixed these days.'"
I don't have the heart to tell him that I've heard how much I’d love the Mardi Gras from almost every gay Sydney boy I've ever met. Don't get me wrong; I'm sure it really is a febulous pardy, and I'm sure they're right to be proud of it. It's just that if you're a homosexual, running around off your tits/with your tits out is something you can do in any major Western city. You don't have to go to the other side of the world to do it, especially since by 3 a.m. you usually feel like you're on the other side of the world anyway.
Besides, there seems to be a self-defeating dimension to visiting Australia during Mardi Gras—aren't you just going to bump into the same people from New York you met at the Miami White Party a few months earlier?
No, I've come to Australia for much more perverse reasons. History.
"Thomas Morton and Isaac Stott, both aged sixteen years, were discovered in an empty ward during the day, committing an unnatural crime with two men whom they refused to name."
I'm reading the punishment records at Hyde Park Barracks, the former convict centre in Sydney, now a splendid museum. For some reason, my eye has been drawn to the numerous entries recorded for "unnatural crimes."
The sexual arithmetic of early Australia doesn't add up. In 1828 the convict New South Wales population included 16,442 men, but only 1,544 women (a bit like the old door policy at Heaven nightclub).