“Offline” – A Film

A few months ago I partnered with the entirely smiley Charlie McDonnell to make a disaster parody crazy comedy short film. Results below.

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It’s Not Just What He Said, It’s How She Said It

PantiThe appearance of the phrase “Panti Gate” in a charades game at my apartment last weekend proves that the events of the past few weeks have reached a zenith, with gender discombobulist Panti Bliss now a given part of the international charading lexicon.

Much has been said on anywhere from HuffPo to Fox News to the inimitable Broadsheet about Rory O Neill, and especially his Noble Call (below) which recently closed out a performance of 1913 Lockout drama ‘The Risen People’. The substance is, as has been repeated time and again, powerful — and the oratorial style marks it as one of the best speeches to come out of a nation of talkers in a very long time.

But for a moment I’d like to look beyond both the content and the form of the speech, and instead focus on the visual that Rory O Neill presented on that night — or rather, the visual that Rory didn’t present.

The battle for equal marriage is not the be-all and end-all of the gay rights movement. As far as overall importance goes the prize would have to go to the actual decriminalization of homosexual acts, for in the 20 years since that event the LGBT community has grown exponentially in size, visibility and self-awareness. Nor is equal marriage the end of the fight for LGBT rights either, for as veterans of the civil rights or feminist movements can confirm changing the law is only one in a series of steps to achieve true equality.

As a movement, LGBT activism lies somewhere on cusp of first and second wave, with many (though not all) legal and professional rights now under our belts in Western society. The noticeably tricky third wave, the wave of change in our unwritten social rules and opinions, can take generations to come to pass – and will not just be about attitudes in the non-LGBT population, but issues of internal racism, classism and other inequalities that are very much present in this nascently intersectionalist movement.

What does this have to do with Rory O Neill? Nothing. What does this have to do with Panti Bliss? Everything.

If Rory had come on stage and delivered that Noble Call, it no doubt would have been a speech just as powerful, just as necessary, and just as justified. But for Panti to deliver that speech added an element that is equally important: the idea that we should be judged on the content of our message, of our character, and not on how we look.

For far too long the LGBT movement has been engaged in a sort of battle of wits with itself — we must present our differences as not being important by hiding them. By passing ourselves off as straight, with the long-term partner, the 2.4 children, the conservatives views on society and taxation and who’s going to fix the roads.

“Give us equal rights,” we would say, “because we are just like you.”

In the words of Panti, we were constantly checking ourselves. To be gay, but never to be too gay.

There is, of course, a means to an end in all this. We would very much like marriage equality, and unfortunately (due to some inventive legal interpretations) it will require a referendum to do this. So we are a minority living at the legal behest of the majority. Who can blame us for playing along with the safest image possible?

But there is also something deeper in this, something which Panti referred to extensively in her speech, and something that any LGBT person will be able to relate to: we are all homophobic. Gay, straight, lesbian, bisexual, trans, we have all grown up in a culture that is so steeped in an idea of what “normal” is that it is tattooed on our souls. As a gay man growing up I was careful to act straight so as to not reveal my sexuality, but even now as a 27-year-old who has been out of the closet for a decade, I still find myself playing a part.

I always need to have a reason to like musicals, an argument to hate soccer, a devastating bon mot to explain my aversion to manual labour (and my use of devastating bon mots). In truth, a lot of people hate DIY, but I’m expected to have an explanation — because if I don’t, it makes me a stereotype. And nobody wants to live up to a stereotype.

When Panti took to that stage, six foot something of Chanel and pizazz, what she was saying was: “Look at me, and listen to me — and yes, the two can coexist.” Oratory, power and revelation are not the confines of old men with pipes in their mouths.

The clip going viral was, then, a unique test of reporting — and by and large the test was passed. It’s not hard to find a drag queen delivering an epic put-down, even one that is politically charged and offers refreshing insight. But to have a drag queen speak honestly, openly and seriously, with only the occasional barb? Well that’s quite something. But again and again the piece was reported with just as much seriousness as if it had been the “safer” (though no less legitimate) LGBT face of Portia de Rossi or Neil Patrick Harris. Undoubtedly the juxtaposition of sight and sound gave the story a hook, but in discussing the ideas at play few people felt the need to comment on how Panti looked. It was also refreshing how easily commentators found it to switch pronouns when discussing Rory and Panti — a sign to trans people that someday the media might actually be able to get it right.

As O’ Neill explained on Today FM a few days ago, his appearance as Panti was somewhat accidental due to her need to be in her bar in full regalia only twenty minutes later. But the effect stands.

So much of the equal marriage debate has been framed as “give us equal rights — we’re just like you”. But the truth is that we are not just like you. Nobody is just like you. No marriage is like the next marriage, no family is like the next family, no person is the sum total of their sexuality, ethnicity or creed.

In the end, we grant equality not because it suits us, but because it is the right thing to do. True equality is about granting it to those we don’t care for.

When Panti graced that stage, she told us that the LGBT community can be granted equal rights without having to dilute our culture, our community, our individuality. The bravery required to come out, the tenacity to survive as an oppressed sub-culture, the humour to still laugh and love each other in the face of overwhelming odds — these are not gifts to be surrendered, these are traits to be celebrated.

We can be both. The sissy and accountant and footballer and leather sub and confidante. The bleached and bitch and butch and gentle soul.

To play the part, to check ourselves, to package our lives as acceptable — this will make this debate a net loss to Irish society. Because when one group has to sacrifice its traits to gain equality, it won’t be long before that domino falls on the heterosexual community.

The next year of debates should be marked by voices that reflect the true diversity of the lesbian, gay, trans and bisexual movement — and all those who fall on the queer spectrum. It shouldn’t be about us living up to the ideals of marriage; instead it should be about marriage living up to the ideals of us.

No right is more important than the citizens who partake in it.

No person is the sum total of their sexuality, gender or appearance.

And no-one, no matter how brash or bold or big or bouffanted, is undeserving of a voice.

Thanks Panti.

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Letter To RTE In Response To #Pantigate

This is a letter I wrote to complaints@rte.ie about the recent appearance of Rory O Neill (aka Panti) on the Saturday Night Show. Mr. O Neill claimed that journalists like John Waters and religious ‘thinktanks’ like the Iona Institute are “homophobes”, which prompted an apology and a payout from our national broadcaster.

Outrage below. Please contact RTE to make yourselves heard.

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Dear Sir / Madam,
I am sure I am only one of many writing to express my disappointment at the national broadcaster’s recent apology over remarks made by Rory O’ Neill on the Saturday Night Show.
Mr. O Neill’s comments were not only his own opinions, but they are opinions shared by a sizeable share of the Irish population — a double indemnity, if you will, against the idea that he was somehow libelling John Waters, the Iona Institute et al.
In the lead-up to a referendum where the majority will be voting on the rights of a minority (a deeply imbalanced starting point), it is shocking that RTE would be cowed into stifling the debate for fear of litigious groups.
The Iona Institute, John Waters et al. are regularly featured on television, radio and in newspaper columns claiming that LGBT people are unfit to be parents. Is this not libellous? Is the term “homophobe” more offensive than “a threat to society”, “a threat to marriage” or — so often — “a threat to children”? It appears that, as in many recent cases, he who sues first laughs last.
It is a point of personal shame that I come from a country where our national broadcaster can so easily be hobbled from a position of fairness and common sense by such groups.
A payout on top of this is doubly worrying, as it seems through your actions you are now funding these organisations. A little bit of bravery and you would have had the support of the country; instead you look weak and incapable of hosting a national debate on a vital referendum.
Maybe stick to Killinaskully.
Alan Flanagan
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“Super Brainy Zombies” – A Film

I wrote a fillum with my friend Hazel because of reasons.

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“Super Brainy Zombies” Trailer

So about six months ago the lovely Hazel Hayes contacted me about working together on a writing project. Something about zombies… or something. Anyway, it all got out of control, so six months, five shooting days, dozens of extras and endless gallons of fake blood later it’s nearly finished. Trailer time…

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‘Don’t use our children as shields to protect status quo’ – Carol Hunt

Lily Tomlin And Jane Wagner

A great piece by Carol Hunt in this week’s Sunday Independent lambasts the tendency of anti-equality groups to use children for their gains. Excerpt from the piece below, which she cites as being inspired by my blog post last week:

The problem with using the “Won’t anyone think of the children” defence when arguing against adoption rights for LGBT couples is that, because there isn’t a shred of evidence to support your argument (on the contrary, it discriminates against children already born) — what you’re really saying can be interpreted as: “Those gays can get married and do whatever it is they like to each other but I wouldn’t trust some of them near a child.”

No doubt those who use that argument will declare themselves affronted by such an accusation, but essentially, that’s the bottom line.

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Marriage Equality, The Iona Institute & Helen Lovejoy Syndrome

Helen Lovejoy

As we plummet headlong into 2014 — hoverboards in our arms, Demolition-man sex visors propped neatly on our heads — the marriage equality debate continues to gain shouty, shouty momentum in advance of the upcoming referendum.

I’m not going to spend another blog post on my opinions on the issue, because they are pretty damned clear: I may be single and ready to mingle, but I wouldn’t mind having an aul marriage and 2.4 babies at some point (and even if I don’t, I’d like the option to be out there).

What I do feel like addressing is the recent “balanced” coverage of the referendum. Balanced coverage is always a bit of a tricky one, because it puts RTE in the uncomfortable position of having to trot out opposition and proposition viewpoints whether said viewpoints may be valid or not.

Core to the opposition team have been the Iona Institute, whose remit is to promote “the place of marriage and religion in society”. Anyone who’s turned on a television, opened a newspaper, or been accosted by an epileptic pigeon messenger in the past six months will have probably seen representatives of the Iona Institute, normally David Quinn, talking about the importance of keeping the institution of marriage confined to the differently genital-ed.

Which is, I suppose, his right to do. While I believe that protecting religious rights is not the same as forcing them on others (in the same way that installing a home security system is not the same as robbing your neighbour’s house), we live in a democracy and people have the right to et cetera et cetera et cetera.

What I do take umbrage with, however, is what I like to call Helen Lovejoy Syndrome. Anyone familiar with The Simpsons knows that there is a very important, very memorable quote — deftly layered into the narrative — that has bearing on the ongoing marriage equality debate. And that quote is:

“Mrs. Krabappel and Principal Skinner were in the closet making babies and I saw one of the babies and then the baby looked at me.”

Wait, sorry, not that one. It’s actually:

“Oh, won’t somebody PLEASE think of the children?!”

During a debate on another of Springfield’s possible descents into immorality, Helen Lovejoy utters this piece of wisdom. It’s not just a quality line with stunning delivery, but it’s also a subtle parody of That Type Of Person. The type of person, in lieu of being able to find a reasonable argument against something, instead throws our collective children in front of the morality bus in the hopes that it will get the job done instead.

And this, my learned friends, is what the Iona Institute have been doing on the national airwaves over the past few months, and will continue to do in the future.

The Iona Institute are interested in the issue of marriage equality, they say, in order to protect children. It is their belief that allowing same-sex couples to get married will harm the children involved.

You’ll notice that their arguments rarely take into account anything except for children. This is probably because, after some heavy research, they’ve discovered that there isn’t any reasonable argument against LGBT people engaging in marriage rights, so they’ve chosen the old “spring-loaded children vs. morality bus” argument.

So David Quinn et al. will appear in national newspapers and on national broadcasters talking about how allowing same-sex couples to adopt will cause irreparable damage to the children involved. Who are these children? Well they’re Ireland’s children, of course. And, to borrow another Simpsons quote for a moment:

“Children! Children! FUTURE! FUTURE! KIDS!

Because, after all, children aren’t children. Children are the vague future. And if there’s anything people can be made afraid of, it’s the future.

The problem with children, though, is that they grow up.

I myself, for instance, was once a child. That’s right, gay people don’t spring forth into life at the age of 19, abs akimbo, in some dark corner of The George.  We were born. We were kids. We learned to walk, to talk, to eat our greens and ride our bicycles and braid our hair.

And then we learned to keep our fucking mouths shut.

Because this is the great problem with the Iona Institute and Helen Lovejoy Syndrome: in the urge to protect hypothetical children, they’re harming real children. Real LGBT youth who by the time they are six, seven, eight years old — and start to get the inkling that our predispositions might be more of a rarity — have discovered that the world is subtly but cleanly structured against them. To grow up in a world where you know that you will never be able to get married, to have kids, to share in the most basic definition of family that has raised you and shown you love up to that point. It takes the common landmarks of a life — relationships, marriage, kids, grandkids — and robs them from you. The psychological damage of not believing you have a future is reflected in the mental health statistics of those in the LGBT community.

It also creates an immediate and sometimes irreversible wall between you and the ones closest to you. If you can only try and pass, you say, if you can only convince them that you are not different, then they will love you.

But the Iona Institute are not interested in LGBT children. They are interested in hypothetical, blond-haired scallywags who enjoy nothing more than a sing-song and lashings of ginger beer.

So they focus not on LGBT children, instead they focus on the children of LGBT couples. Okay, fine. The hypothetical, might-happen-only-if-the-law-changes blond-haired scallywags of LGBT couples.

Except, of course, these children aren’t hypothetical.

There are hundreds of children, all over Ireland, who are being raised by same-sex couples. You wouldn’t know it, because of media coverage, because the issue is consistently framed as “what will this do to these children?” instead of “what has this done to these children?”

And, the truth is, not very much. Any cursory examination of international data on children of same-sex couples — sparse though it may be — shows that they fare as well or better than those of opposite-sex couples. And you could always talk to them. They don’t mind talking about it. I had the pleasure of sharing a radio studio a little while ago with a member of Believe In Equality, a group of children of same-sex couples who are arguing for same-sex marriage and parenting rights. They are fully in support of these laws. And why wouldn’t they be, it would make their lives a lot easier.

The question then is: why is David Quinn speaking on behalf of these children? Why is he chosen by the producers of Prime Time, or the Late Late Show, or Morning Ireland, or whoever it might be to speak as if he is the moral guardian of these children?

Because Helen Lovejoy, that’s why. Because at the heart of it, there are two types of children. There are “children” and there are “CHILDREN”. There are real children — LGBT kids or children of same-sex couples — and there are hypothetical lashings of ginger beer.

The latter might sound nice on the radio, but the former are the ones truly affected by this debate.

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