12 February 2021, 23:00:00
Carnival of Malta - S. L. Cassar (1855-1928) (Wikimedia Commons)
Carnival was chiefly "a celebration for male revelers". At Nadur, women wore male attire to take part in Maltese folk singing (għana). Some Carnival events still excluded women. Il-Parata, a sword dance held on Carnival Saturday, revives memories of Malta's struggle against (and victory over) the Ottoman Turks. Only young men and children were allowed to participate. Likewise, il-Kukkanja was only open to young men.
Carnival offers Maltese men a unique opportunity to bond together. Artists came together to work long hours choreographing dances and designing costumes, floats and grotesque masks.
Male transvestism, an important ingredient of Carnival revelry, take on stereotyped feminine mannerisms. They roamed the streets, mince their buttocks and thrust their breasts to an appreciative audience.
Carnival had its downside. It demeaned gay men and lesbians who were valued not for their humanity but for their ability to entertain. Gay men are depicted as shameless, permissive, out-of-control and effeminate. They linger on as predators, if not of young boys, then of adult straight men. Men in women's clothing were all too often misogynist, with a venomous tongue for women. They poke fun at, downgrade and put women "in their place".
Carnival may have afforded a significant stepping stone to the road of personal and communal liberation but it distorts the diversity and richness of the gay community. It also created an illusory sense of freedom...a safety valve that lasts only a few days. As Carnival mayhem drew to a close, gay men and lesbians reverted to their closets. Gay is no longer out...no longer proud...
Chetcuti, J. C. (2009). Queer Mediterranean Memories - penetrating the secret history and silence of gay and lesbian disguise in the Maltese archipelago. Australia: Lygon Street Legal Services.