Like half the world now, I too have listened to the YouTube video of Panti, aka Rory O’Neill, addressing the post-performance audience at Dublin’s Abbey Theatre recently. The whole debacle has evolved into some useful and much needed discussions on the subject of what is loosely called ‘homophobia’, i.e. fear or hatred of same-sex relationships and those who engage in them. I am delighted that this has happened. When Rory O’Neill stood up there in his drag regalia, his hands gesturing and emphasising as he spoke of his sense of oppression and his occasional hatred of himself for ‘checking’ how he looks at pedestrian crossings in case he gets slagged off or worse for appearing ‘gay’, he wove the chain of possibility one more massive link forward. He explained how, while appearing on an Irish Saturday night television programme, his use of the word ‘homophobic’ in connection with several well-known journalists, one of whom is associated with Dublin’s traditionalist Iona Institute (my definition) brought solicitors waving writs and caused the national broadcaster to pay out c. 85,000 ‘sorry money’ to the offended parties – anything to avoid going to the courts apparently.
But look what he has done. He has sparked off a real conversation that may go on and on without obvious resolution for years. He has raised the question in many more minds as to just what is so wrong about people who love one another, regardless of orientation, wanting to get married? What strange impediment do gay people apparently carry that could make them unsuitable candidates for that triumphantly successful institution known as marriage? Hello??? I’m sorry, but I do not regard heterosexual marriage as such a success that anything that has been done within it is so perfect and life-enhancing as to be beyond the aspiration of gay people. Where does domestic violence take place? Often within heterosexual marriage. Where does child abuse take place? Often within heterosexual marriage. Where does psychological torture of many kinds take place? Again, within heterosexual marriage. Obviously many hetero pairings are hugely successful, but there but for fortune go any of us, and surely it is the flawed humanity of people who enter into a married relationship that is part of its nature. So, just why should gay people be excluded from taking their chances like everybody else, if that’s what they want?
Traditionalists will argue that the Catholic Church taught that marriage is for procreation between consenting heterosexuals. But everything about marriage has evolved due to historical and often arbitrary decision-making. For example, in the 17th century, you married to consolidate mutual family fortunes (if you were in that social category), and also to produce a son and heir. If you were poor, you married to get out of the home and free up very limited resources for your parents. There were many mouths to feed. By the end of the 20th century, the notion of having children was not really part and parcel of the deal – it was a choice.
I find the question of who is allowed and not allowed to be married positively ludicrous, illogical in its premise, and it defies belief that adults can pronounce on the wishes of other adults who happen not to be attracted to the opposite gender.
As regards Panti/Rory O’Neill’s Abbey speech, I thought briefly of memorable events within the Abbey history, including W.B. Yeats’s angry rhetoric to the protesting audience that booed “The Plough and the Stars ( not sure of date). He said “You have disgraced yourselves again”, or words to that effect. As I listened to Panti, I heard no protests from within the audience, so much as nervous laughter at times. I suspected some were awaiting the spectacle of an amusing drag-artist, and misread his presence for a few minutes. But mostly, people were silenced and I suspect a majority could not fail to have been impressed by this person who stood so nakedly before them, explaining why the term ‘homophobia’ may actually be applied to himself, simply because sometimes, he hates himself for being gay. Interestingly, he also admitted to hating them, the audience, some of the time, knowing that even the least homophobic among them, carries a residue of anti-gay sentiment.
I had to agree with that. I equate it with people who declare themselves to be feminists. Deep down, I know that pure feminism is a rare phenomenon and that most of us (even me) unwittingly carry a thread of misogyny in our being without even being aware of it. It’s there. Like the thread of racism we imagine we do not feel. Like the thread of anti-gay feeling we imagine is not there. Oh man, it probably is.
But notwithstanding that and our general messiness in our attempts to do the right thing and make this a more tolerant world, Rory O’Neill is to be praised. I hope his public exposure of his intelligence and perspective brings the kind of transformation that will push the lot of us forwards, and not into the backwoods of primitive hatreds and fears that so often accompany our experience of what is ever so slightly ‘other’ in our minds.