Rory O’Neill, aka Panti or Panti Bliss presents All The Little Things at TEDxDublin. Below is the full transcript.
Listen to the MP3 Audio here: All the little things by Panti at TEDxDublin
Panti Bliss – Drag queen
Hi. Hi. I am 45 years old. I know I look amazing, thank you. And I am 45 years old and I have never once unselfconsciously held hands with a lover in public.
I am 45 years old and I have never once casually, comfortably, carelessly held hands with a partner in public.
I don’t know how many of you can even imagine what that might be like because, of course, it’s a small thing, isn’t it, holding hands with a lover in public? And it’s not that nobody wanted to, it’s just that we didn’t feel comfortable to do that.
Now, like many gay people, when I was younger, in my young life, I struggled at one time against being gay. I didn’t want to be different. I didn’t want to be this thing that I didn’t really understand. This thing that I had learned was shameful or joke-worthy. But when I eventually did sort of understand and come to accept who and what I am, I have never since that moment, never once, have I ever wished that it turned out differently. I am thoroughly, deeply, delightedly, happy to be gay. It suits me. I am really good at it.
And yet, everyday I am jealous of straight people, because that private, little, small, intimate gesture of affection has never once been mine. Everyday I see young, straight couples walking through the park and they are casually holding hands and I am jealous of them. I see a teenage couple at a bus stop and she is leaning into him, and her hand is in his, and both of their hands are tucked into his jacket pocket for warmth, and I am jealous of that teenage couple.
I will sometimes see a man who unconsciously put his hand, a protective arm, around his girlfriend and she will link her fingers through his, and I am jealous of that. Maybe you’re on Grafton Street and you see an older lady and she gestures to draw her husband’s attention to something in the window, and without even thinking he just takes her hand and they stand there peering into the window discussing whatever it is that drew their attention and their hands are just carelessly joined together, and I am jealous of that.
Because gay people do not get to hold hands in public without first considering the risk. Gay people do not get to put an arm through another arm or put a hand on a boyfriend’s waist without first considering what the possible consequences might be. We look around to see: where are we, who’s around, is it late at night? What kind of area is it? Are there bored teenagers hanging around looking for amusement? Are there bunches of lads standing outside a pub?
And if we decided OK, maybe it is, it’s OK, well then we do hold hands, but the thing is that now those hands are not casual and thoughtless. They are now considered and weighed. But we stroll on hand in hand trying to be just normal and carefree just like everybody else, but actually we’re not. Because we are constantly scanning the pavement ahead, just in case.
And then even if we do see, you know, a group of blokes coming towards us, maybe we will decide sort of silently to continue holding hands, defiantly. But now our small, intimate gesture between two people in love is no longer a small, intimate gesture. It is a political act of defiance, and it has been ruined.
And anyway then you sort of think: “Well, we’ve had such a lovely afternoon poking around in that garden center looking at things for the garden we don’t actually have.” And then you think, all it will take is one spat ‘faggots’ or a split lip to turn that really lovely afternoon into a bad afternoon that you will never want to remember. And even if you are somewhere where you think: “Ah, it’s perfectly fine here. Nobody here is going to react badly to our tiny gesture.” You know, I don’t know, say you’re wandering through a posh department store. Even then people will notice.
Now, they may only notice because they’re thinking: “Isn’t nice to see two gays holding hands in public?” But they still notice, and I don’t want them to notice because then our small, intimate, private, little, human gesture has been turned into a statement, and I don’t want that to be turned into a statement. Our little private gesture, like Schrödinger’s cat, is altered simply by being observed.
We live in this sort of homophobic world, and you might think that a small, little thing like holding hands in public, “Well, it’s just a small thing,” and you’re right. It is indeed just a small thing. But it is one of many small things that make us human, and there are lots of small things everyday that LGBT people have to put up with, that other people don’t have to put up with. Lots of small things that we have to put up with in order to be safe or not to be the object of ridicule or scorn. And we are expected to put up with those things and just thank our blessings that we don’t live in a country where we could be imprisoned or executed for being gay.
And we are so used to making those small adjustments everyday that even now we rarely ourselves even notice that we are doing it, because it is just part of the background of our lives. This constant malign presence that we have assimilated, and if we complain about it, we are told that we have nothing to complain about because, “Aren’t you lucky that you don’t live in Uganda?” And yes, I am lucky that I don’t live in Uganda, but that’s not good enough. This isn’t some sort of game or competition where the person who has it the worst wins the right to complain and everybody else has to just put up or shut up.
Our society is homophobic. It is infused with homophobia. It is dripping with homophobia. And when you are 45 years old and you have spent 30 putting up, 30 absorbing all of those small slights and intimidations and sneers and occasionally much worse, you just get tired of it. You get fed up putting up. I am fed up of reading yet another article by yet another straight person explaining why I am less somehow than everybody else.
You get fed up listening to people describe you as intrinsically disordered, people who don’t even know you, from their celibate pulpits. You get fed up of the scrawled graffiti, and you get fed up of people sneeringly describe things as gay. You get fed up of steeling yourself to pass by the Saturday night drunks hoping that they won’t notice you, and you get fed up of people using their time and energies and talents to campaign against you being treated just like every other citizen.
I’m 45 and I’m fed up putting up. Now I would, of course, prefer if nobody harbored any animosity towards gay people or any discomfort with gay relationships, but, you know, I can live with the kind of small, personal, private homophobia that some people might have. For example, I can live with Mary in Wicklow who sometimes turns on the television and sees Graham Norton and thinks, “Oh, he seems nice enough but does he have to be so gay?” I can live with that. I can live with Mary who doesn’t know any gay people, apart from that fella who does her hair once a month in ‘Curl Up and Dye’.