Woman in the Making: Panti's Memoir
1968. In a small town in the west of Ireland, a beautiful baby boy is born. He enjoys an idyllic country childhood: privileged, carefree, surrounded by love - and pet sheep. Eleven years later, the Pope visits Ireland, and things will never be the same again. At the Pontiff's mass in Knock, the little boy has an epiphany that will set him on the road to become the biggest, boldest, and most opinionated drag queen Ireland has ever known. This is the story of Rory O'Neill's journey from the fields to becoming Panti Bliss, the voice of a brave new nation embracing diversity, all the colours of the rainbow and, most of all, a glamorous attitude. It's also the story of a misfit who turned his difference into a triumphant art form; of coming to terms with HIV; of political activism; and of 'Pantigate', and the speech that touched a million lives. Welcome to the world of Panti - adored, fun drunk aunt to the world - and her creator Rory, in their own inimitable words.
'Brilliantly told ... The extraordinary story of a boy, a drag queen, and a nation' Graham Norton
While this book is often very funny, it’s also deeply moving, particularly when O’Neill writes about the two biggest conversations he had with his supportive, loving parents: when he came out and when he told them he was HIV positive. He describes how his mother’s devout faith initially made it difficult for her to accept that two of her children were gay. “It was not having gay sons that caused my mother pain, but having religion – and I have never forgiven religion for that.”
As Panti’s Noble Call showed, O’Neill is a powerful polemicist, making incisive points with elegance, wit, compassion and righteous anger. In the book, he rails against the petty daily limitations imposed on LGBT people by a homophobic society, limitations to which many straight people are blithely oblivious. He writes brilliantly about privilege, wondering how, as a middle-class, educated, able-bodied white man, he might have turned out if he were straight. “I would be fully participant in the world because the world was built for me by people like me.”
Perhaps he’s at his most passionate and eloquent when he turns his attention to the incident that became known as Pantigate, in which O’Neill’s comments in a television interview led to RTÉ paying out €85,000 to activists who said they had been described as homophobic.
O’Neill’s account of Pantigate and the Noble Call makes for stirring reading, but he’s clearly a little uncomfortable with his elevation to hero(ine) status. As he says, “[people] want me to be the perfect gay all the time.” Panti may not be perfect – who is? But over the last year she and her creator have inspired everyone, gay and straight, who wants a new sort of Ireland. Now all she has to do is make sure “Smart and sassy lady private detective teamed up with Pierce Brosnan” gets on that CAO form. (excerpt from Irish Times)
Reviewer: Anna Carey
Rory O'Neill is Panti Bliss, Ireland's foremost 'gender discombobulist' and accidental activist. Rory first began performing as his alter-ego Panti when he was an art student in the late '80s before moving to Tokyo and becoming a fixture on the club scene there. Returning to Dublin in 1995, Panti ran some of Dublin's seminal club nights, hosted the legendary Alternative Miss Ireland for 18 years, and performed all over the world. Panti has written and performed three critically acclaimed, hit theatre shows: In These Shoes, All Dolled Up and A Woman in Progress. In 2013, All Dolled Up: Restitched, a re-imagining of her three hit shows, had a sold out run at the Abbey Theatre and toured Australia. She is also the landlady of Pantibar. Despite having no plans to wed, Panti's creator is a champion of gay rights. Dressed with impeccable taste, done up to the nines, and wearing the best wigs money can buy, he has become synonymous with the campaign for equal marriage in Ireland. This is Rory O'Neill's first book.