Celebrate ‘freaks,’ Panti Bliss tells SMU audience

Rory O’Neill, the man behind drag queen Panti Bliss, wants people to celebrate their differences.

By Aya Al-Hakim

Rory O’Neill as Panti Bliss at SMU. (Aya Al-Hakim / Peninsula News)

Rory O’Neill, the man behind Panti Bliss, wants everyone to celebrate their differences.

O’Neill spoke Saturday at Saint Mary’s University at an event sponsored by the Centre for Interdisciplinary Study of Culture.

O’Neill is an Irish LGBTQ activist whose alter ego, Panti Bliss, a drag queen, serves as a visual for his activism. He is touring across Europe and North America to raise awareness about homophobia.

It all started with his speech at the Abbey Theatre, Ireland’s national theatre, which went viral on YouTube. He told his personal story as a gay person and the struggles he faces.

“We now think that homophobia is normal, just background noise that we always expect to deal with, when we shouldn’t. I actually do have stuff to complain about because I can’t stand at a pedestrian crossing without wondering, am I being too gay right now? And those things matter,” said O’Neill, standing in high heels as Panti.

He is happy that the speech forced people to look past him as just a gay drag queen and see the brain inside. It gives him hope that the LGBTQ community can also be seen differently.

What is homophobia? 

O’Neill says the world is very homophobic sometimes.

“If you choose to take your private discomfort and campaign it in public arguing that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people should be treated differently than everybody else under the law, then that is a whole different matter than your private discomfort, and in that case I’d say you are a homophobe.”

O’Neill tells people to celebrate the freak, to be comfortable around such people and find power in differences. For him, there is power in the freakishness of Panti Bliss that he values.

“Freaks are the people who move the world on,” said O’Neill.

He stresses the point that people don’t easily fit into prearranged boxes. The world may suggest that to be different or weird is something scary, but O’Neill says it’s one of the great joys in life.

“I always thought that the freedom of being gay is not to conform and have the freedom to do whatever I want.”

O’Neill hopes that the LGBTQ community won’t lose its excitement as an underground community with its own rules and massive space for creativity that challenges the structure of mainstream society.

Eyre Sale-Schenk finds Panti Bliss to be an inspiring figure. After hearing O’Neill speak at SMU, Sale-Schenk says she’s motivated to be more active in the LGBTQ community.

“Halifax is a major city which I feel represents the rest of the province. By spreading this message of celebrating the freak is like an investment in the minds of the next generation,” said Sale-Schenk.