“’Gender Discombobulation’: Articulating the Phobia in Homophobia”
On January 11th 2014, Rory O’Neill aka Panti Bliss (Ireland’s premier drag queen) appeared on The Saturday Night Show, a talk show for the national broadcaster RTE, where he identified opinion columnists and Catholic lobby groups as homophobic. The interview was censored and damages of €85,000 were awarded to those aggrieved by being labeled homophobic. For two weeks the debate raged on social media, while main media outlets stayed silent fearing litigation. The word homophobia was now being denied to homosexuals. Three weeks later Panti was given a voice on the Abbey theatre stage; Ireland’s National Theatre, as part of its production of The Risen People by James Plunkett. Panti delivered a ‘Noble call’ and the oration articulating the different manifestations of homophobia and how it oppresses the LGBTQI community went viral. Panti’s ‘Noble Call’ is a celebration of difference, highlighting how no one should have to forgo their civil and human rights to be who they are. However accidental Panti’s appearance in drag was, it marked a departure in Irish LGBTQI activism, that assimilation isn’t the only option to gain equality. Drag played an important role in early gay activism, by reinforcing that a culture, a community or one’s individuality does not need to be sacrificed for equality.
This presentation examines how Panti (drag) challenges hetero and homo-normativity in Irish society. Reading drag as a Brechtian Verfremdung suggests the radical nature of drag. Public commentators argue O’Neill cannot be taken seriously in a dress; this research will question how drag challenges heterosexism. Looking at the work of Judith Butler and R.W. Connell, this paper seeks to interrogate the root of homophobia and assert it is the ‘queerness’ or nonconformity of prescribed gender roles that is the crux of this phobia.
I am a graduate of Dublin Institute of Technology and University College Dublin, where I earned my BA and MA respectively. I am pursuing my PhD a Queen’s University Belfast. I currently provide teaching assistance for the performance analysis module. I presented papers at the Performing Gender conference Belfast 2013, also at the Irish society of Theatre Research at Birkbeck College 2013 and aim to present for The International Federation of Theatre Research at Warwick.