Midsumma: Partial Rainbow


Midsumma 2012 by Ben

Midsumma is trying to mainstream its appeal, but needs to adapt to the changing rainbow community, too

I can’t help feeling that Midsumma Festival – Melbourne’s Mardi Gras, if you like – is having a bit of an identity crisis. It’s become curiously coy about its sexual orientation. Sure, there’s a rainbow flag or two, the word “Pride”, and the phrase “out & proud” on the web page, but there’s no “Lesbian & Gay” or “LGBTIQ”.

Seeking enlightenment, I turn to the printed guide, whose cover trumpets WORLD RENOWNED ARTS & CULTURE: MELBOURNE MADE, but it’s not until page seven and the chairman’s address that “DGS (Diverse Gender & Sexuality)” peeps shyly over the parapet. Apparently this is the inoffensive shiny new acronym that upsets no-one, possibly because it means nothing to pretty much anyone.

Midsumma doesn’t mind if you know that it’s, you know, like ‘that’, but it isn’t going to shove it in your face. Musn’t do it in the streets and frighten the tourists, you see, or the sponsors. I suspect this is all in the name of ‘broadening the appeal’ of the festival. I smell the cold dead hand of Tourism Victoria, and the City of Melbourne.

The reality of Carnival, which kicked off the whole shebang last weekend, refused to fit this sanitised picture. Unlike the PR puffery, Carnival was definitely queer. All the drag queens, semi-naked (and even completely naked, or so I’m told) bodies, booze, drugs and dancey music you could want. Not the sort of thing your average passing tourist is going to be comfortable with.


By most accounts, a most successful event, with a large and diverse crowd of rainbow people. But …[I must insert a disclaimer here: I didn’t go to Carnival this year, or indeed last year, for reasons I’ll go into later, but i”ve communicated with people who did]

“…..you could smell weed everywhere, we don’t want to end up like those other heterosexual festivals, with police sniffer dogs roaming around……..”


“… what about the amount of alcohol and all the other stuff, and in front of children, too……….”


“…….the raunch, the kink, the nudity, OMG did you see that naked guy getting his arse fingered, and there were children right there……”


“….I’m so sick and tired of the pinkwashing by the marriage brigade, trying to make out we all have to be so respectable, well bugger that, it’s our space, once a year we can be ourselves…..”


“…….we have a lot of broken and damaged people in the LGBTI community who can only get through life with the help of drugs and alcohol, and is it any wonder, the way society treats us, and has treated us for so long……..”

So the good old fashioned queers, bless them, whose idea of Carnival is to take every possible opportunity to get off their faces and shag as much as possible, seem to have had a gay old time. No pandering to the mainstream here, thank you.

Unfortunately, that brought them up against the new queers, the ones raising families, who want to bring the kids to Carnival, along with grandma and grandpa. The ones who want to get engaged, settle down, marry in matching outfits, and raise a brood of gaybies. The ones on a quest, not just for equality, but for respectability.

Their kind of Carnival would be quite different. Less of a strain for the Mayor and city tourism officials, who wouldn’t have to try so hard look at ease, for a start.

[Whether that would be a good thing or not, I do not know. If tourists want some mildly shocking bums-and-tits-out homo-freak-show snaps for the folks back home, they can always go to Mardi Gras. Meanwhile in Melbourne, we can get on with selling ourselves as Those Nice Queers Next Door.]


Bavarian gayby by Jerome Marot

So, on the one hand, the party boys didn’t appreciate the marriage brigade telling them to tone it down; on the other, the marriage brigade didn’t like the party boys potentially upsetting those nice people we need on our side in the fight for equality.  The great majority of the rainbow community (I refuse to use DGS, it sounds like a dodgy Volkswagen gearbox) were somewhere in the middle.

Actually, I’m willing to bet the great majority of the rainbow tribe, like me, weren’t in the middle at Carnival. They probably weren’t at Carnival at all. I won’t make assumptions about why other people didn’t go (you can write and tell me if you like), but I will tell you why this ‘senior’ poofter and his partner stayed home. In a word: comfort.


  • Seniors have a tough time sitting on the ground: it’s uncomfortable, and it takes too long to get down and get up again. Not all of us have all of our original joints, remember. We may pretend we don’t mind, because we don’t like to admit our frailties, but trust us, we do.
  • And don’t tell us to bring our own chairs. What, carry all that stuff around on a hot day? Are you mad? So: provide comfortable seating.
  • In the shade. With fans or aircon. We overheat easily, too.
  • Access to food and drink we don’t have to carry in, or stand and queue for. Perhaps a volunteer courtesy crew of busboys and girls for us to perve on to look after us, fetching us food and drinks.
  • We dehydrate easily, so plenty of free ice and water on hand.
  • And remember, our medications may mean we daren’t be too far from a toilet at any time.

Too hard? You did say you’re for the whole rainbow community, didn’t you? We’d like to join in Pride, too, but marching anywhere is hard work now, especially on a hot day, so all the above applies. Plus some wheeled vehicles to ride down the route.

I don’t know what Carnival and Pride have laid on for families, but I think I can safely assume that families with kids would also like proper amenities: baby-change rooms, supervised creches and play areas, maybe? If you have a rainbow family, did Carnival do enough for you?

If Midsumma wants to broaden its appeal, start with Carnival. Make it an attractive and welcoming destination for everyone, including the elders of the tribe (and – a purely personal plea – if you’re going to call it a carnival, then lets have some rides and sideshows, please!).

“Whatever you’re into, we’ve got you covered,” says the Guide. No, you haven’t.

Anyone else feeling left out?

About the author

Veteran gay writer and speaker, Doug was one of the founders of the UKs pioneering GLBTI newspaper Gay News (1972) , and of the second, Gay Week, and is a former Features Editor of Him International. He presented news and current affairs on JOY 94.9 FM Melbourne for more than ten years. "Doug is revered, feared and reviled in equal quantities, at times dividing people with his journalistic wrath. Yet there is no doubt this grandpa-esque bear keeps everyone abreast of anything and everything LGBT across the globe." (Daniel Witthaus, "Beyond Priscilla", Clouds of Magellan, Melbourne, 2014)