I am sitting in the dining room of the Holiday Inn at Potts Point with Sarah and the kids. It’s the morning before Mardi Gras and, as I glance around the room, I realise its chock-full of queers: older gay male couples, tables of fit boys, and groups of middle-aged dykes. I do a quick head count and we’re definitely the majority – 70% even – and I smile quietly to myself.
It’s not that I haven’t been in places where we’re the majority, of course, but nowhere quite so… ordinary, quite so… straight as the dining room of the Holiday Inn. It’s a lovely feeling, but a curious one and for a fleeting moment I let myself wonder how it would be if, every time you popped into the supermarket, or the post-office, or the dining room of a Holiday Inn, there were more of us than them.
The kids love a buffet breakfast; it’s like they can’t quite believe you can have anything you want – and that you can have anything you want twice. Scout’s tucking into a chocolate muffin with a contemplative look on her face. Mama, she says, You know how we have marriage equality now and you’re properly married?
I do, yes.
And you know that before, you and I were, like, related by love, but not by blood and not by law?
I do, yes.
Well… now we’re related properly, because you’re both my parents and you’re married to each other by law so you and I are related by law and that’s just like my friends and that’s really cool.
You’re right, Sweetheart, we are and that is really cool.
She smiles at me across the table. Can I have another muffin please?
After breakfast we take a stroll around Potts Point. The Rainbow Families people have warned us that tomorrow will be huge and that a quiet, low-key day today might be best for everyone.
As we wander up the main street, there are rainbows everywhere – and I mean everywhere. Not just in all the cafes, bars and restaurants and the hipster shops, but the pharmacy has a giant ballooned archway, the bottle shop has coloured drinks lined up in a row, and Woollies has streams of paper flags above its cheese counter.
And as we pass a rainbow be-decked hairdresser, I see two guys sitting back to back. They have identical hair, no more than a centimetre long which – I kid you not – the stylists are blow drying.
It’s important to look your best for Mardi Gras.
We meet at Hyde Park at five o’clock – 150 parents and kids in black and sparkly gold LOVE MAKES A FAMILY T shirts. The Rainbow Families crew run a tight ship: firm but friendly instructions, a detailed running order and smiling marshals with pink lanyards. We have an hour to spare and are allowed to explore.
Even this early, the marshalling area is packed: the Melbourne Marching Girls are in rainbow footy jumpers with ‘40’ on the back and matching rainbow socks and the army and navy are strutting their stuff in sharp khaki and white. The Sydney and Melbourne water polo teams are sporting swirly orange and yellow speedos with white shoes and knee-high socks; they are fabulous and they’re everywhere and the kids’ eyes are agog.
We step up onto a low wall at the top of Hyde Park and look straight down Oxford Street. It is, truly, a dizzying sight. There are tens of thousands of people tightly packed behind the barriers as far as you can see and a clear space down in the middle for us to march. I’ve never seen anything quite like it and nor have the kids. I knew there would be lots of people, says Scout, but this is crazy. At Chill Out we just went twice around the High Street, but this is way, way bigger.
And then – out the blue – we hear it. During the Christmas holidays we went to see The Greatest Showman and we’ve all been obsessed with its theme song This is me ever since. The girls know every word off by heart, and I might have embarrassed them once or twice by doing the dance routine in the kitchen.
I look around and see the white, pink and blue Trans and Proud! banner and dozens of people dancing. I so get why they picked it and we belt it out with them:
I am not a stranger to the dark
Hide away, they say
‘Cause we don’t want your broken parts
I’ve learned to be ashamed of all my scars
Run away, they say
No one’ll love you as you are
But I won’t let them break me down to dust
I know that there’s a place for us
For we are glorious…
And then – I’m not sure how – a new friend, Sean, is doing my make-up and my lips are covered in gold glitter, and Corin is posing for photos, and it’s loud and buzzy and hyper and so much fun.
We head back to our people and file in behind the LOVE MAKES A FAMILY banner. The littlies are on scooters, babies in tinselled strollers, and even the cool teens are cracking a smile. Corin, who was grumpy about the T shirt and refused point blank to wear the team gold baseball cap, has a weak moment and allows himself to be sprayed with gold glitter.
And then we are marching, and those tens of thousands of people are waving and cheering and smiling and the music is thumping and the girls are high-fiving and there are lights and fireworks and rainbow flags and all around I see love and affirmation and it is utterly and completely joyful.
I do a little high-fiving myself and while most people smile and wish me Happy Mardi Gras, every now again someone grips my hand a little tighter and catches my eye. Thank you, they say. Awesome kids. Great job. And it tips me over the edge and I am teary and I can’t see through my glasses and bump into the kids in front of me.
I’ll confess that, like many others, I’ve been struggling a bit since the marriage equality legislation passed. It was a fourteen year campaign for us and last year – the plebiscite, the High Court challenge and the brutal postal survey – took its toll. I was utterly spent by the end of it and since then I’ve drawn a tight circle around my family, taken the dog for lots of walks and said ‘No’ to any community events.
And now, all of a sudden, a few hundred thousand people are cheering and they are celebrating me, and my family, and all the other rainbow families, and all the thousands of queers, and it is a remarkable thing and it brings me comfort and I feel…lifted.
We march for a good hour, then double back to watch the rest of the parade from the Rainbow Families viewing area. It’s not like a rally for marriage equality, says Cully, because we’ve got marriage equality now. It’s more about how people feel. They’re dancing and celebrating and having fun and everyone feels accepted.
By 10.30, we’ve still only seen about two thirds of the floats, but my team is fading. That was fun, says Corin. It was a bit overwhelming at the start, just so many people, but it was okay. I reserved my high five – I only had one – for someone who was trans and covered in rainbows.
We finally give it up and snake our way back through the crowds to Potts Point and fall, completely exhausted, into bed. I loved it, says Sarah, as we drift off to sleep. Loved the marshalling area, and the trans float, and the dancing, and the sense of anticipation – and it was really, really buzzy, and everyone was so just so incredibly happy.
At breakfast there are fewer of us than yesterday, the queers-without-kids still in bed, nursing their hangovers. Our guys are tucking into pancakes and de-briefing. A lot of people weren’t wearing much, says Scout, like, just pink undies and braces.
But that’s okay, says Cully, because in the LGBTI community, anything goes.
I think it would be fun to go when I’m older, says Corin, with a group of friends so I can march in the parade and then go out for a drink maybe, to one of those clubs we passed.
And as I pour tea for Sarah and me, I think that I am so glad we came. When the marriage equality legislation passed, I was ecstatic, but exhausted, bruised and battered and I had no inclination to party. This whole weekend – this great, glorious, celebration shared with half a million people – is exactly the end I needed.
Can we get more pancakes, Mama? Scout asks.
Sweethearts, you can have as many pancakes as you like!
Thank you, Rainbow Families NSW.