“Faggot bisexual cunt!” was how I was saluted when I exited the train in Sydney‘s CBD for the 31st New Mardi Gras. I was gobsmacked. Not because I was being insulted on the one day of the year it’s supposed to be ok to be flamboyantly gay, (clearly not), but because never had such a whirlwind of terms I adore been used against me with such aggressive force. I laughed. He wasn’t wrong.
I was in for a long night.
I’ve never been in the parade. For a long time I’ve been disconcerted and troubled by spectacle. I am highly aware of its political uses (as mass distraction, especially fascist), which disables me from ever ‘enjoying the moment’ in a crowd. However, I realised that my discomfort has more to do with the fact that I’m a spectacle every day everywhere I go. My friends and I joke about being a gay pride parade. But we are. Every day. And I feel like if I enact that spectacle in a parade, then I legitimate all the things I think are illegitimate every other day.
Mardi Gras is important, absolutely. We have cause to celebrate, and reason to remember to keep fighting: a lot hasn’t changed on the other side of the fence.
Here are some of the other encounters I had at this year’s Mardi Gras in Sydney:
l >while sitting by myself at the end of the parade, tears running the make-up down the sides of my face, a lovely gentleman gave me a plastic rose.
l 3 guys in a taxi stop at the lights while we’re waiting for the bus and scream at my friend and I: it blurs in my memory – ‘fucking transsexuals’ was there ‘what are ya?’ There’s one empty lane between us and the cars aren’t moving. We stand there as they abuse us for almost 2 minutes. I march over to the car and the guy in the front quickly pulls up his window. The guy in the back doesn’t bother and as I reach into the cab, he grabs me and the guy on the other side gets out ‘Are we ok?’ are the words he uses but what he says is ‘Are you going to fuck off now?’ I walk back to the bus shelter and he gets back in the cab. They don’t stop shouting as the cab moves away. My friend yells at me for my violence. ‘It’s fine that it makes you uncomfortable,’ I say, ‘And I’m sorry. But being yelled at and not responding I can’t abide right now. And I had no words.’
Best of luck out there,
Gay and lesbian historicism has all too often used gender transgressive individuals to create gay history, yet argued that gender transgression is not in and of itself important, instead assuming that gender transgressive behaviour and cross-gender positioning were taken up for the specific purpose of engaging in a homosexual partnership or ‘lifestyle’, excluding the possibility that gender transgression was engaged in for more complex reasons.
This is political work. To show that homosexuality has existed in all times and places and, in certain times and places, has been socially accepted, even revered, gay historians argue for social tolerance and acceptance of homosexuality (fair enough). However the way such histories have been written is to privilege homosexuality at the expense of transgenderism.
Pat Califia explains: It does not further our understanding of human sexuality to press for recognition of homosexuality throughout history at the expense of recognizing other sexual minorities. The history of their oppression is as valid as our own, and if gay male and lesbian scholars deny that history, we are as guilty of censorship and prejudice as any straight anthropologist who chooses not to report homosexual activity.
Such gay historicism was (and is) a part of the gay liberationist project, which sought to separate sex, gender and sexuality, in defiance of the early sexologists’ assertion that gender inversion was a manifestations of same sex desire. Here, the contradictory tensions of gay historicism are revealed: on the one hand it seeks to escape the equation of homosexuality with gender inversion, and on the other it needs to use stories of heroes from the past who had just such an embodiment. Perhaps gay historians hope by locating homosexual gender inverts in the past, they can keep them there. However, in arguing that sexuality is not necessarily linked to gender inversion, gay historians have gone too far by removing the importance of gender transgression all together, thereby dislocating historical links between gender and sexuality, the effect of which is to render impossible a transgender history.
Writing a transgender history that does not exclude homosexuality, such as that of Leslie Feinberg in Transgender Warriors, is crucial work that still needs to be done. Historical figures cannot simply be ‘taken back’ and named ‘transgender’. Histories need to be constructed that acknowledge that these people were, and are, important because they were different: different because they had same sex desire and engaged in same sex relationships and different because they transgressed the expectations of their sex.