Panti speaks of isolation as a gay man living in rural Ireland

Performer Rory O’Neill speaks to Róisín Ingle in this week’s podcast

Woman in the making: Rory O’Neill, aka Panti Bliss, carefully prepares to take on his stage persona.

Woman in the making: Rory O’Neill, aka Panti Bliss, carefully prepares to take on his stage persona.

 

Rory O’Neill, or Panti as he is equally widely known, has become a hero of the gay rights movement thanks to his public clash with conservatives. His new book, Woman in the making: a memoir, is less concerned with that controversy and more with his journey through life. He grew up in Ballinrobe, Co Mayo, at a time when being gay was not very well understood there. Or as O’Neill puts it, “everyone thought the Village People were just a bunch of gas lads”.

On this week’s Róisín Meets podcast, he tells Róisín Ingle how isolated he was as a young gay man.

“I didn’t just think I was the only gay in the village, I thought I was the only gay in the world. I thought it was me and Mr Humphreys from Are You Being Served,” he says.

He came out to his parents after leaving school. They took it well, despite their Catholicism.

“They weren’t rigid about it, they never were. They were always thinking-type Catholics,” says O’Neill, whose mother has become estranged from the church over the years.

“I think there are hundreds of thousands of Catholics like that all around this country, who are just living their own version of Catholicism and every now and again they have a look over to see what’s going on in Rome and roll their eyes and continue on in their own way,” he says.

Coming out made it easier for Rory to maintain a good relationship with his parents, he says.

“If you don’t tell your parents and friends, you are hiding something huge from them. Hiding this thing from them was turning my parents into acquaintances, because I couldn’t tell them all the things you’d normally tell your parents.”

He adds: “Everyone should come out, for their own personal selves. It’s also by far the best thing you can do for gay people, because it’s hard to hold prejudice against people you actually know.”

Marriage equality for gay couples is an increasingly likely prospect. As you would expect, O’Neill is “absolutely behind same-sex marriage”.

But he doesn’t think that marriage is the answer for all gay people.

“I’ve never been drawn to the standard conventional life,” he says.

“Part of the reason I love being gay is that it absolves me of all those expectations. There are no expectations on a gay guy. You were free to find your own way to live your life.”

He worries that young gay people are feeling pressure to have traditional relationships.

“I want everyone to have all the same choices, and if your choice is to get married, wonderful. I’ll be throwing rice. But if you choose, gay or straight, to live an entirely different life, that should also be your choice.”

To listen to the dicussion, visit the show’s Soundcloud page or subscribe for free via iTunes or Stitcher.

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