Recognising pioneers

Recognising pioneers

With a pile of tissues next to the bed I, like many others in Sydney, coughed and spluttered my way through the weekend. It seems I too have fallen victim to the ravages of this year’s bitter winter.

Each stroke of the make-up brush took me twice as long as usual – I was desperately holding on to my grandmother’s home remedy, sipping the hot brandy, honey and lemon juice potion at every available opportunity.

It then occurred to me – is this the only thing I can look forward to, with each passing click of the age clock? Do I want to get old?

I’m not sure if it is because I am feeling so under the weather or because I have overdosed on lemon juice, but I have been feeling a little bitter lately.

Walking into one of the clubs recently, I was met by a sea of 18 to 25-year-olds, awash in lip gloss, glitter and energy. They were pushing their way to and fro, without a care in the world, drinking doubles and never moving from the centre of the dancefloor.

To my utter disbelief, I witnessed one young man, with eyebrows plucked to within an inch of their life and a chest puffed up like a peacock, sounding off. “Old, old, too old,” he yelled as he minced through the crowd.

Does my community like older people? Has it come down to the fact that if you’re a gay male and older, you have to choose between morphing into a career suit wearer (and never go out), a leather queen (stick to dark out-of-the-way bars) or a bear (stick to your den)? And if you’re a lesbian, is it now expected you will head to the suburbs, pop out a few kids and never be heard of again?

God forbid if an old girl should stumble onto a dancefloor dominated by these younger queens and start busting a move. It seems that with all the empowerment we have nowadays many are losing sight of who actually gave us these opportunities.

Could we really be losing sight of our history as being gay becomes more acceptable in the wider society? Are we creating a generation of people who have no knowledge of past oppressions and battles yet to come?

Is caring about the politics of being gay falling away in favour of sexual androgyny and promiscuity?

As I sipped delicately on my 10th bottle of water I found my answer. The barman I was chatting to brought up the talents of legendary showgirl Polly Petrie. I was horrified when I heard said barman tell me how much he disliked the diva because of her signature call: “Oh, she is terrible, and that aaarrrhhhhh she does, what is that?”

Of course, I saw red and set that young man straight – so to speak – very quickly. Polly was a 78er, one of the originals who were arrested and bashed on that fateful night when what we now know as the Mardi Gras parade was born.

His actions and those of the scores of people who stood beside him are the reason people like that barman can openly work in a gay bar; that gay bars have street entrances; that transsexuals don’t have to wear men’s underwear any more and that I can walk the street holding hands with another man.

Most of the world’s cultures respect, acknowledge and celebrate their seniors, so why do we only sneer and jibe and dismiss?

Perhaps we need to re-examine our priorities and learn more about how we got to where we are today and who are the people responsible.

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