Tony is a mate. I have known him for years, in fact over two decades. We don't catch-up very much, perhaps half a dozen or so times a year. It is usually over lunch or a coffee. There are of course the occasional phone call or text if something important is happening. Both Tony and I have busy lives. He is an IT professional and regular travel, both interstate and overseas is part of his job.
The other day we caught-up. I had not seen him since late November last year. All had been well since we had last got together. For Tony there had been a short trip to the US in December, a quiet Christmas-New Year's in Brisbane with his family, lots of swimming and BBQ's and now nailing down the work priorities for the year ahead.
I observed that we had just got through the festive season and almost before it had concluded, the hot cross buns were being stacked onto supermarket shelves beckoning everybody to get organised for the next big event, Easter. "Easter, the next big event, but what about Mardi Gras." said Tony.
His comment did not surprise me however, I was not clear if he was asking a question or making some sort of statement. Tony you see is same-gender attracted and has been so since his mid-20's. Same-gender attracted is a term that he uses, not homosexual, gay or queer. For him it is a disposition that he has but he does not want it to define or prescribe who he is with respect to his personal relationships or society at large.
In fact from the tone of his voice I detected what seemed to be a mild annoyance; even frustration. I asked him to explain. He said that once again, as in previous years, he had spent some time looking through the official Mardi Gras website. He noted that it was crammed full of events, functions and activities. A booklet that he had picked-up at his local café contained pages of information relating to the 2014 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. The introduction to the booklet by Siri Kommedahl and Paul Savage, Co-Chairs and Michael Rolik, CEO of the event contained enthusiastic statements about what had been organised: "Our voices are amplified as we celebrate and showcase our diversity … A chance for all of our communities, our tribes, our colours to converge, mix, come together … We discover and find strength in our contrasts, our differences, our similarities and our shared experiences."
However, were these words with meaning or words with just feelings? The expression on Tony's face suggested that this was not something that he felt indifferent about. But what was his concern? Surely Mardi Gras was known for, indeed endeared for, its inclusiveness and broadmindedness. These were its hallmarks. Mardi Gras was not elitest or narrow minded. Such were anathema to everything the event stood for. But was this true?
Tony, while same-gender attracted has, for reasons important to himself, never engaged in intimate sexual relationships with other men. His decision was not predicated by rigid religious dogma or a faith tradition. As Tony explained to me, it was a matter of choice; his choice. He acknowledged that his decision to live a celibate lifestyle may seem unusual to others, perhaps even strange. But why should this be so? Surely we have a capacity, notwhithstanding temptations and the views of others around us, to live our life as we will it to be? Surely we can make decisions and exercise choices?
Tony wondered why people like himself who were same-gender attracted, yet wished to remain celibate, were for all intents and purposes invisible when it came to the media and popular culture. For him and people like him, both male and female, it was like being a non-person. It was as if such people did not exist. While he found this attitude somewhat frustrating amongst a number of heterosexual friends that he knew, and could discuss these matters with, it was those in the GLBTIQ community who held this view that caused him the greatest angst. He often sensed that some of his friends in the community were ambiguous, even a little uneasy about the decision that he had made. Mostly it was a case of not being familiar with people who had made such decisions.
Sadly though some in the community responded with doubt and suspicion. While it may not have been intentional some appeared to judge his decision as some sort of affront; a betrayal even. It was if his decision was not to be taken seriously. Some appeared to treat it as an illegitimate option, one not open to people who found themselves in his circumstance. Parodoxically the ideas that had moved the early GLBTIQ campaigners – respect, diversity, dignify and equality – had, for some, lost their universality.
For Tony and perhaps others like himself, Mardi Gras each year served to reinforce this isolation. On the one hand it proclaimed an open and united voice for those without one yet, it perpetuated an exclusivity that kept some on the margin. Ironically, directly addressing marginalisation was, and still remains, the raison d'être of Mardi Gras. However year after year and again in 2014 voices like his were absent, indeed ignored.
As Tony told me, it is something that he has come to accept. He wished that it was not so but, at least for the time being, that's the way it is. Time will tell if the attitudes of many in the GLBTIQ community will change. Tony hopes that they will.