Housewives on Fire: Let There Be Light, 2015

1656082_10208578982252056_2937602841251829355_n.jpg

I may look ridiculous, but the job clearly has its advantages.

5

Club Elleven was windowless and all the lighting electric. The only sunlight came in splashes through the fire door, when people went out to smoke or spray glitter on one another.

For the marchers, the day of the parade is one long party. As is the case with any endurance event, it’s best to take it slow and measure your pace. People stood around in various states of undress, chatting, being made up and having their costumes fitted.

It’s a much longer process than it sounds. The costumes were delicate and complex, held together with all kinds of subcutaneous wires and straps, many of which housed connectors for LED lights. Despite everyone’s best efforts, some of the brittle costumes were broken when dropped or tripped over.

This increased the workload for Ms. Heit, Max and Olie, and tempers began to fray. A vigorous French shouting was heard more than once, cut across by Fahren’s crisp British accent.

Max remained quiet and fumed, more often than not with a wire between his teeth. For the hundred or so marchers, only four dressers were working; the Housewives and Khan Inanli, son of Max and Fahren.

The costume design traced a kind of insectile metamorphosis as a metaphor for the process of identity a gay person undergoes. The aliens were predominantly Perspex and as evolution progressed, there was more flesh and light, with an effusion of carapaces and wings.

1897951_848779755149264_1537221212_n.jpg

Elizabeth Armstrong, a butterfly, had most of her costume on. The wings were last to be mounted. Wings can be cumbersome and heavy and would surely make the ascent up the nightclub stairs to the street immensely difficult.

“I’m always up for trying the ridiculous,” she said. “A friend of mine, Feycal, who works with me, had done [the parade] in previous years, which is how I got to know about it. It’s an opportunity I’ll never have again. It’s a one-off, amazing event to get involved in.”

I was doing an exceptional job of looking into Elizabeth’s eyes, given she was standing in front of me, topless.

“Are you gay?” she asked. Perhaps I was not doing such an excellent job after all. She moved to cover her breasts, and then shrugged her shoulders.

“Oh well,” she said.

***

 Once everyone was dressed, we assembled upstairs on the footpath in the late-afternoon sun. We made the walk from the club, across Hyde Park to assemble around our float in the marshalling area in College Street.

As daylight faded, my energy waned. I had been standing for hours and my legs hurt. A number of floats had their own DJs and their music overlapped, leaving us battered in the middle of a muddy, sonic mess. My feet and ankles hurt, as did my back.

Over all this washed the light that shone down from the building behind us; the Australia Museum, one of the oldest buildings in central Sydney. That light united us in an alternating spectrum of the colours of the rainbow flag.

It also illustrated the profound contrast between our float and all the others; because other costumes were predominantly made of fabric, they were shaded by various depths of night.

11010310_10205218857687490_2917683074564266826_n.jpg

Our costumes, however, were hard and reflective so the light flowed over them, augmented by the LED strips embedded beneath plates and contours, visors and headpieces.

Eventually, the Brazilian float beside us and the gay Irish float behind made their way up Oxford Street. It occurred to me that I could not imagine another public event to effectively combine both groups in a logical way.

Olie was now outfitted, coils of transparent, luminous Perspex mounted on various parts of his body while Max, dressed entirely in black, ensured that wings, headpieces and other organs were lit and glowing.

Our float, a festooned flat-bed truck from a rental company, started up and crawled to the beginning of the route. Jessica Mauboy belted out ‘Beautiful’ over the PA at a volume worthy of Motorhead, which was bizarre in itself.

Once the float entered Oxford Street, the crowds that mounted either side of the road were poised and roaring like the Old Testament waves that swallowed the Pharoah.

Everywhere you looked there were eyes, riveted upon you. Each contact resonated like a stroboscopic flash. And there were thousands, one after the other.

In Taylor’s Square, the excitement reached its zenith. Television cameras were trained on us and the smiling presenters waved as they watched us go by. We couldn’t hear anything they said, but it was clear from the cameras; if we’re on television, then it must be real. We gathered en masse and fanned out, arranged according to our phases of evolution.

Wings and plumage, along with glitter, have long been the dominant tropes of Mardi Gras. The reason for that occurred to me as we spread out across Taylor’s Square. I have no story of discrimination; of beginning life as an alien and having to undergo a painful evolution.

My beauty is prosthetic and artificial, but I can relate to the stories I’ve heard, having been dowdy, boring, small and skinny, teased and tormented all through school.

And suddenly, I’m almost completely naked, save a jockstrap, lights and glitter. Dancing to Jessica Mauboy. In front of thousands of people. In the middle of Sydney. And everybody loves it.

11046860_725882990862287_7815461439391351150_n

Then, the final float approached and ours began to roll away.

The crowd petered out along the route to the final destination of the park. In addition, the darkness encroached, the only light coming from street lighting, diffused through the canopy of trees.

The music of the parade was soft and distant and much of our own fanfare dashed away across the open parklands beside us, no longer rebounding off the buildings that stood either side of Oxford Street.

My feet no longer hurt; my back felt fine. I just wanted to hang onto those last rags of light, even as they were slipping away.

***

Afterwards, the marchers returned to Club Elleven to get changed and have a drink or five. Max and Fahren were still buzzing.

“Where do all the straight people come from?” I asked.

“Our float, people misunderstand the concept,” says Max. “It’s about tolerance; people living together. If someone thinks you’re ‘too’ straight, they’re discriminating. That’s being as intolerant as other people.”

“No one who’s involved in the Mardi Gras is altogether ‘straight,” says Ms. Heit. “That’s a terrible word. It’s like saying ‘conservative’, or ‘boring.”

I bought both of them a drink – it felt like the least I could do. I dug my wallet out of my bag and when I opened it, glitter spilled onto the bar.

At the time of writing, my wallet is still impregnated with glitter. Traces of it emerge whenever I remove my credit cards or my license.

1185586_622270611192186_145143258_n.jpg

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: