Words where words won’t do.
I’m better than her.
And her. And her. And her and her and her.
I’m better than her at writing. I’m better than she’ll ever be.
I’m better than him too, by the by. My BAME counter-part, my physically and aurally and optically challenged shipmate.
My quill shoots sparks. My keyboard’s got buttons yours can only dream of. Audiences look upon my works and laugh and cry and shit themselves with gay abandon.
I am the best writer that ever was. My worlds are the greatest we have ever, or will ever, witness.
I am a god.
It’s a necessary arrogance. I’m Irish, so I don’t say these things. I bashfully say that maybe I’ve done something that might be on somewhere at some point. It took me seven years to call myself a writer in day-to-day conversation.
But underneath? You’re all shit on God’s shoe compared to me.
So being the best, you can see how I’d be furious with #wakingthefeminists. Inspired by Ireland’s Abbey Theatre’s — Ireland’s national theatre’s — decision to programme its retrospective ‘Waking The Nation’ with only one female playwright, Waking The Feminists is a call to the Abbey, to other theatres, to the arts in general and even beyond to start looking at how and why female voices aren’t being heard.
The initial furore centred around the Abbey, and artistic director Fiach Mac Conghail had the good sense to engage in the debate, but perhaps not the good sense to recognize when unconscious biases could be at play. This concept, that through no-one’s deliberate action, women and people from minorities are being excluded – is one worth pausing on.
People who oppose Waking The Feminists aren’t monsters (well some of them are, but that’s what you get for reading below the fold), they’re people who genuinely can’t see how a level playing field and a ‘level playing field’ aren’t the same thing. That there’s a difference between being treated equally and being treated fairly. Equality is making sure everyone gets to use the same entrance; fairness is installing a ramp. When a person walks into an interview or submits a play they are not just a piece of paper or a present moment, they are the sum total of all their experiences to that point.
But still… it doesn’t feel right, does it? I’m the best writer in the world. I have the best stories. Surely these things should be judged on merit.
There’s that word: merit. Meritocracy, more accurately.
When we talk about the situation at the Abbey, and about the idea of gender (or other) representation, this word keeps coming up. Everyone should be judged on merit, on the quality of their work, and not the colour of their skin or whether their junk is an innie or an outie. Again, this makes sense. Again, the people who oppose Waking The Feminists have a point. Again, they should be listened to. And again, I’m the best.
But the notion of a meritocracy does beg two questions: what is merit, and when should it be judged? Continue reading
I was approached some time ago to write a piece for Action Aid Ireland, centring around their ‘Safe Cities’ campaign which aims to make cities free from sexual harassment and sexual violence. The piece below is a recording taken from the launch of the campaign, which you can continue to follow on their website.
A brief piece I wrote in the run up to the – thankfully successful — Irish marriage equality referendum. Warning: may contain rage.
A few months ago I partnered with the entirely smiley Charlie McDonnell to make a disaster parody crazy comedy short film. Results below.
The 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.
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.
This is a letter I wrote to firstname.lastname@example.org 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.