PANTI IS AN Irish drag queen who became an household name in Ireland this time last year. She called some people, and some organisations, who actively campaign against the rights of homosexual people homophobic on live television. Ireland exploded with debate and legal cases, and it led to Panti making her Noble Call at the Abbey Theatre – which has been viewed nearly 700,000 times.
More recently, Panti delivered a TedTalk in Dublin. Please watch it below before you read on:
I’m ashamed to say that I have been one of those people Panti talks about. One of those people who looks around the street before holding my boyfriend’s hand. One of those people who makes small adjustments about being gay every day. Like Panti, I have never once unselfconsciously held hands with my boyfriend in public. I’m pretty sure the same can be said for him.
When we go out now, we rarely ever hold hands. Not because we don’t want to (there are times when all I want to do is hold his hand walking down the street), but because we feel like we can’t. If we kiss goodbye on a street corner, we quickly turn and go our own separate ways without looking back – in fear of what disgusting remarks are made behind us.
We have our own horror stories. Dirty glances filled with disapproval. Elongated stares in shopping centres. Children asking their parents “Why are those two men holding hands?”, resulting in the parents dragging the kids away.
Last summer in my hometown of Wicklow Town, we walked home after the local night club closed at 3:00am. We were with my two friends. We were holding hands on the mainly deserted main street, when two men walked by and said “It’s just not right”. My boyfriend and I just walked on, because it was late, and the chipper was closing(!). Also, because as a gay person, you mentally prepare yourself for this kind of homophobic abuse – “if I put my head down, and keep going, nothing will happen”. Luckily, I have two amazing friends, and they took the culprits to task on what they had said. Upon investigation, the men couldn’t back up what they had said with any logic – and they knew it. They left with their tails between their legs.
I want you to watch one more video (I promise it’s short, and the last). Two male BBC radio presenters walk around Luton, England, holding hands and film the reactions they get.
That young boy’s reaction is what I try to avoid. Also, it literally scares me that someone so young would harbour such opinions in 2015 – especially as we head towards a gay marriage referendum in Ireland. It is that reaction that makes me adjust my life. You just never know what someone’s reaction will be.
When the barber is cutting my hair, and asks me what are Irish girls like, I just say “Oh, you know….”, smile and throw my eyes to heaven. Why? You do not want to make someone angry when they have a scissors over your ear.
When I’m in a taxi, I will try to keep up with the conversation about the latest rugby match with the driver – even though I struggle and make a fool of myself. Why? The embarrassment of playing catch up with sports is better than the embarrassment of a taxi driver kicking you out on the side of the road for being gay.
These anecdotes may seem drastic and whingey to you, but they go through my head every single day. I’m constantly playing a game of “What If?”. Imagine leaving your house in the morning and everyone else’s opinion of you determines how your day goes – not what you actually do during the day.
I am ashamed of what I think and how I act to suit everyone else. Like Panti, I am fed up putting up. I should not have to mentally prepare myself for abuse on the street. I should not have to think twice about holding my boyfriend’s hand in the middle of a restaurant. Being gay is not the biggest thing about me. It’s not even the best thing about me. Yet it’s the thing people take most issue with. Once people hear that I’m gay, they don’t care that I’m good at my job, that I am fluent in Irish or that I have an unhealthy obsession with pugs. They already have an opinion on me.
With that thought, comes my new year’s resolution. Whether you like it or not, Ireland is a homophobic country. People have pre-conceived opinions of gay people. Therefore, I am fed up putting up. I will hold my boyfriend’s hand walking down Grafton Street, and any other street we find ourselves on. If that offends people, I will reiterate the words of living legend RuPaul – “What other people think of me, is none of my business!”
It’s high time I started living by that phrase.
Liam Redmond is the programme manager for Enactus Ireland, a charitable organisation which encourages third level students to create social change, whilst developing their personal and professional skills. He is also the founder of HeadstARTS, which provides the arts for people with intellectual disabilities. As a One Young World Ambassador, social change is a passion of Liam’s.