Sitting in the dressing room of Pantibar, Rory O’Neill, aka Panti Bliss, is taking hair out of a hairbrush as he talks. He is surrounded by the glittering costumes of the drag queens who work at the bar. Part of the wall is covered in plentiful wigs – from platinum blonde to chestnut brown curls.
It is a tough job being an entrepreneur, as well as a drag queen, and a leading figure of Ireland’s LGBT+ community. So multitasking is naturally a necessity, and he is shoving bejewelled pieces of clothing into a bag while we chat about his latest business venture. Penny Lane – named after O’Neill’s Jack Russell – is just across the road from Pantibar. He hopes it will be the perfect sister venue for those looking for a quieter, more intimate space.
“Capel Street is changing, because it’s still very much independent stores and all that,” he says. “It’s getting gentrified, but not in a bad way yet. And there’s more people around. So we decided we would make a bar that was just really comfortable, kind of a lounge feel about it.” Penny Lane is the original brainchild of Pantibar’s longtime manager, Shane Harte. “I trust him with my life,” says Rory. “The place runs better when I’m not around to interfere! So I realise how lucky I am to have him.”
With the Dublin Pride Festival kicking into action, Rory’s schedule is jam packed. On Thursday, his drag persona Panti Bliss will donate the outfit from his famous ‘Noble Call’ speech to the National Museum of Ireland. There’ll be plenty of PR and radio interviews around it too. Then the day of the Pride parade itself, Panti will ride on a Dublin Bus with competition winners from across the city. He’s looking forward to it.
I'm a ride https://t.co/WBfvLbDhR5
— Dr Panti Bliss (@PantiBliss) June 20, 2019
“I actually haven’t done the parade in the last couple of years, because doing a float and the street party here is a lot,” he admits. “I think I’m doing a few small words at the parade end in Merrion Square,” he says. “Then I’m going to Mother Block Party, and I’m ‘DJing’ for an hour. I’m putting air quotes on that because I never DJ! I always say, I play records. Then I’ll be back here for the rest of the Pantibar event.”
In recent years, there has been strong criticism of the commercialism of Dublin Pride, which originally started as a protest march, within the LGBT+ community and beyond. “At the moment, there’s this whole thing about ‘corporate Pride’ and ‘non-corporate Pride’,” says Rory. “Whereas my attitude is just, there’s a lot of different Prides. And Pride is different things to different people, and there is value in having companies behind it too. I also totally get that Pride started as a protest, and why a lot of people might not be on board with that. I’m totally fine and happy that there’s a second little Pride going on this year, that’s trying to be more activist rooted. That’s all good with me,” he says.
What does he say to those who claim Pride has evolved into a capitalist project because it is “no longer needed”?
“Regardless of whether we need it, why not?” asks Rory. “Even if the world was perfectly un-homophobic, and everyone was delighted, I’d still want to have Pride once a year. It’s nice to celebrate ourselves. People don’t complain about St Patrick’s Day. So why can’t we have it?
“Just because Ireland is doing really well thank God, and we have marriage equality and all that… People still get beaten up in the street for being gay, people still have a really horrible time about it. The fact that there’s hundreds of comments underneath articles saying all that shite just shows you that there’s a need for it,” he says. “If you’re 18 and you’re reading all that, that is really hard. I’m a 50-year-old, tough as old boots, whatever. And even I get depressed by it sometimes.”
— Dublin LGBTQ Pride (@DublinPride) June 23, 2019
For the most part though, Rory tends to ignore negative comments online, whether they’re about Pride, homosexuality or directed at him individually. But he does have some choice words for those asking derisively when ‘Straight Pride’ is. “You can have your Straight Pride when you start getting beaten up in the street, when drunk people hassle you on the night bus,” he says. “When hundreds of people leave comments under an article about a straight couple. If people can’t see that, they’re so stupid it’s hard to even care about them.”
He’s a little too busy to care, even if he wanted to, although he does already have his Pride outfit: “It’s a kind of pink-y, purple, bit shiny and parade-y, with a few feathers around the edge.” ‘So it’s nice?’ I ask.”Of course it’s nice!”
Rory thinks it’s very important we embrace our differences, rather than shame people for them. “If some people got their wish and woke up tomorrow, and every single person was the same, had the same interests and acted the same as them, they would run screaming out of the world. We’d still be living in the Stone Age, because it’d be so grey and so boring.”
This article appears courtesy of DublinLive.ie as part of their Pride coverage.
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