JMG Interview: Ireland’s Panti Bliss

A few day after Ireland’s historic marriage referendum, I interviewed activist / drag legend Panti Bliss for Pride Magazine. An edited version of the interview is now in print and the full interview is below.

JMG: First of all, huge congratulations on the marriage referendum! What’s it like to find yourself on the front pages of newspapers and websites around the world?

PANTI: It depends which picture they used! But clearly even God Herself was thrilled about marriage equality coming to Ireland because Dublin was bathed in glorious unseasonal sunshine that day so everybody looks great in the pictures. And even a bad picture couldn’t dampen a drag queen’s mood that day. It was a magnificent, joyous, tearful, happy, celebratory day, not just for Ireland’s LGBTI community, but for our families, friends and allies too. I suspect that on that day, even some of our opponents secretly wished they were drag queens too.

JMG: We’ve read that your activist days go back to the 90s. Who came first, Rory the activist or Panti the gender discombobulator?

PANTI: I guess they’ve always gone hand-in-hand. I’ve always been stubborn and willful, and I am the child of two principled parents who have never been afraid to stand up and call out what they see as unfairness, and some of that rubbed off on me. But as Rory I am quite reserved, and drag gave me a kind of armour from behind which I felt more comfortable being the focus of attention. And in a way it amplified my voice – people pay more attention to an annoying 6’6″ colourful drag queen than they do to an annoying 6′ brown-haired guy in a shirt. Though of course as a twenty year old drag queen I was more interested in the free drinks and the boys than I was in changing the world! And I took all the free drinks and all the boys.

JMG: You first got wide notice in the USA with your now-legendary noble call video. How did that speech come about?

PANTI: At the time I was embroiled in a big news story here (which became known as “Pantigate”) after I suggested on a TV chat show that Ireland had a problem with homophobia, and named a number of well known journalists and an ultra-Catholic, right-wing organisation which campaigns against equality for LGBTI people. This led to both me and Ireland’s national broadcaster being sued for defamation, which in turn led to a national debate about homophobia, free speech, censorship, and the role of the national broadcaster. It was in the middle of all that when the Abbey Theatre (our national theatre) invited me to speak and I agreed because I already had a good relationship with the Abbey, having had my show there previously. But I had absolutely no expectations of that speech. As far as I was concerned I was just making another speech, and assumed the only people who would ever hear it were the five hundred people in the auditorium that night. If I had known then how many people would eventually end up watching it I would have brushed my fucking hair!

JMG:  Following the noble call clip going viral, you made an equally viral TedX talk. Many here commented that you would make a great chat show hostess. Any plans for becoming the Irish Graham Norton?

PANTI: Right now I’m still enjoying traveling with my theatre shows and “discombobulating” people with my activist work, but I’ve always thought I’d like to do a chat show sometime. I’ve had a few approaches over the years, but they were never quite right. I haven’t ruled it out. I never rule anything out! Except maybe sex with Michael Flatley. I’ve definitely ruled that out.

JMG: Tell us a bit about your popular Dublin club Pantibar. What kind of crowd do you get? How often do you perform? Do you “channel” any particular artists?

PANTI: I’ve had the bar for eight years. There aren’t many options for aging drag queens (!) so as I approached my forties I thought it might be my pension plan. I imagined myself growing disgracefully old, hanging out behind the bar making a fool of myself over hot Brazilian boys and pulling pints for the gays. Thankfully it all worked out, if not quite how I imagined (except for the growing old part). All the hot Brazilian boys now work behind the bar so hitting on them would be called “workplace sexual harassment”, and I ain’t ruining my nails by pulling pints! We get a fairly mixed crowd (mostly gay boys of all ages, but plenty of lesbians too, and gay tourists) and although I don’t always succeed because I travel a lot with my show, I try to be in Dublin at weekends and hang out and perform there. I don’t really “channel” any particular artists, though I am a big Dolly Parton fan. My biggest drag influence is the 1969 movie The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, starring Maggie Smith. (I know! I can hear the younger gays scratching their heads. Sheesh! Download it kids!)

JMG:  Maury Povitch in 1998. Spill!

PANTI: Haha! You’ve been doing your research! One day (not long after I got my first e-mail address) I got an e-mail from The Maury Povitch Show who were looking for men, who lived as women, to go on the show with their mother or sister. And the mother/sister would then ask Maury to give their son/brother a ‘back to boy make-over’. Of course I’m only a part-time woman (and my poor mother would rather die than go on TV with her drag queen son!) so I just thought it was mildly amusing and forgot about it.

But, that night I was in the pub and told my friend Katherine about it and she said, “I should pretend to be your sister and we could get a free trip to New York out of this!” Well, I young and broke, and that sounded like fun, so I said, “Katherine, welcome to the family!”

So the next day I e-mailed them back and told them about my “sister” Katherine and before we knew it we were getting on a flight to New York. We spent the flight getting drunk and inventing a whole new family background for ourselves and making up stories of our childhood. The whole thing was a hoot and we got a few days in New York hanging out with friends and doing the usual touristy stuff out of it. Of course we also had to record the show, and I had to get an embarrassing “back to boy makeover” on TV, but of course this was many years before YouTube (and Maury wasn’t shown in Ireland at the time) so we thought nobody we knew would ever see it! But the Goddamn internet put paid to that, LOL. Oddly, I tell the whole story in my current show. It is a really good story!

JMG: Back to the referendum. One of the most fascinating moments on Saturday was watching you being interviewed alongside Gerry Adams, who is fairly well known among the Irish-American community here on the US east coast. How did you two get on? What did he say to you?

PANTI: Well, I am not a Sinn Fein supporter (these things are much more complicated on this side of the pond), and I was very aware that those photos would get a lot of attention. But I ended up with Gerry simply because he and I and the Minister for Justice were being interviewed together on the live TV broadcast. However, Sinn Fein have long been supporters of gay rights, and long before any of the other major parties they would have a presence in Pride parades here etc. Also earlier that same week Gerry met and was photographed shaking hands and chatting with Prince Charles so I thought I’d top his English prince with an Irish queen!

And it was such a wonderful and celebratory day that I was happy to be pictured with all comers. And on that day there were all comers! Every politician from every party was only too thrilled to embrace the gay that day, and you don’t get gayer than me! Gerry is very personable and was very enthusiastic about the result. Everyone was swept up in the incredible atmosphere that day. He’s also very quirky-fun. If you haven’t already you should check out his Twitter. It’s nuts! A mixture of political stuff and the adventures of his stuffed toy bear and his bath toys. Seriously. It is.

JMG: This year you marched in the LGBT-inclusive St. Pats For All Parade in Queens. Do you think the result of the referendum might finally convince NYC’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade to allow LGBT folks to participate?

PANTI: I’d like to think so but I doubt it. The Ancient Order of Hibernians who organise the Manhattan parade are so calcified and so stuck in a bizarre 1950’s view of Ireland I’m not sure they are capable of change anytime soon. However, even if they do, I hope the St. Pats For All Parade continues, because it’s a really wonderful, grassroots, charming event with real heart that stands on its own.

JMG:  Now that marriage is settled, what’s next for the LGBT movement in Ireland?

PANTI: There are a few small legislative issues that still need to be tackled, in particular law that allows institutions with a “religious ethos” to discriminate against LGBTI people. It is particularly a problem here where primary schools are almost entirely under the control of religious orders. Historically, back when the Republic was young and broke, the state ceded the responsibility of primary schooling to religious orders and so LGBTI teachers are often forced into the closet for fear of losing their jobs. However hopefully that will be tackled soon as this government has committed to removing it. After that, like all minorities, we will still have to agitate to maintain our respect. Marriage equality and the achievement of full and equal citizenship under the law is huge, but as they say, “hearts and minds” change more slowly.

JMG:  Finally, let’s get a wee bit personal. Is there a man in your life? What would your dream date look like?

PANTI: No there isn’t! Which is a goddamn crime! I think part of the problem is that I’m a national fucking treasure, and nobody wants to fuck a national treasure. I think they think it’d be like masturbating on Mount Rushmore! But I live in hope. I live in hope of a mocha-skinned big-dicker top. But don’t we all…

  • Glad to see an interview with her here 🙂 She’s been great.

  • Bj Lincoln

    She sounds like so much fun to play with! Thank you Miss Bliss for all your grace under fire and leadership.

  • geoffalnutt

    “I’m a national fucking treasure…” No. Make that “international”!

  • HanyBaal

    Awesome pic

  • Jonathan

    That was a fun read. Panti seems to have grace and humor.

    • David Walker

      “I never rule anything out! Except maybe sex with Michael Flatley. I’ve definitely ruled that out.”
      Exquisite taste, Ms. Bliss. Exquisite taste.

  • Robincho

    This will undoubtedly get some panties in a wad, but not mine… Mine are in a bliss!

  • BobSF_94117

    Hmmmmm… I suppose I could try some bronzer….

    • StraightGrandmother

      I hear spray on tans work pretty well.

  • bkmn

    I’d love to see Panti take down Tony Duggar PerKKKins. That would be delish.

  • Joseph Miceli

    Voices like Panti’s remind all of us just who we owe our progress in gay rights to. The “embarrassing” dykes, leather boys and drag queens out there partying it up at Gay Pride parties all over the world this weekend. Remember to hug a drag queen at the fest today, Y’all!!

    • Ginger Snap

      Hug received and one sent to you.

    • cee

      the equality would’ve been achived much faster without them. Also what can be more heteronomative than a feminine man who likes to dress like a woman dreaming about “straight” big dicked macho top

      • Ray Taylor

        She said:
        “mocha-skinned big-dicker top”
        Nothing “straight” about that.

        • cee

          what gay man would date someone who likes to dress like a woman? Bisexual man – yes? Gay – no. By definition.

          • SJWinCMH

            No, you are wrong on that too, cee. Just because YOU may not doesn’t mean everyone is like you.

          • cee

            so you are forcing heterosexual attraction on gay people?

          • Ray Taylor

            Beat off, Troll.

          • LADY MABELINE

            God forbid. I do not need or want more of you straights around me. Leave me in peace.

          • Câl

            Just what would a self-loathing homosexual who knows nothing about world-wide LGBTI history like you know about defining who is or isn’t a gay man? For that matter, drag is not “dressing like a woman”, it can be a whole different world, a world where male and female merge or gender roles and clothes can be mocked for being largely the social constructs that they are. You, in your fear-bubble, are missing out on so much!

          • cee

            I’m not a self-hater, I do not try to become a straight woman to fit into anti-gay heteronormative worldview

          • Câl

            You just want everyone else to fit into your heteronormative world of boys with short hair in blue and long-haired girls in pink. Some of us want to mix that up. Drag queens do not want to be straight women, they are way too fabulous to be limited like that. You are mixing them up with some trans women, but not even all of them want to be straight women. One of my best friend’s wife can attest that her wife is indeed a lesbian, though she was born looking like a male, never a drag queen.

          • cee

            and what about that brazilian big dicked top? How dares he not be that fabulous? How dares “Panti” lower herself to his level?

          • Câl

            You really don’t understand this life thing do you? It must be a sad world you live in, scared of all the happy, well adjusted people falling in love and lust with other well adjusted people, while you worry if you might be being judged? Just get over yourself!

          • cee

            So why Panti scared of happy well adjusted queens and wants to marry not a queen but a boring big dicked top?

          • Câl

            I’ll keep feeding you this one last time, troll. The question was about “dream date” not marry- important distinction! And your addition of “boring” to big-dicked says more about your own inadequacies than anything Panti/ Rory might actually be looking for.

          • cee

            boring is what you say. Unlike superhuman drag queen he is just a boring big dicked muscular type who is obviously self-hater because he doesn’t want to wear pink wig and feather boa

          • M Jackson

            You should lay off the sauce, at least until sundown.

          • cee

            Why do you support Panti’s self hating fantasy of dream date with boring self-hating big dick top and a fabuluous draq queen with spiked dildo in fishnets?

          • cee

            *not a fabulous drag queen

          • 2guysnamedjoe

            Obviously, cee studied Queer Theory 101 under Prof. Robert Oscar Lopez.

          • cee

            are you talking about that self-hating big dicked top?

          • medaka

            cee probably IS Prof. Robert Oscar Lopez.

      • bambinoitaliano

        If you have not march along side with the drag queens and lesbians and face the police and the oppositions on the streets, please sit down and shut up!

        • cee

          yeah that’s why i can’t take kids to a pride parade because some freak in fishnets with a spiked dildo thinks he’s “fighting for our rights”

          • bambinoitaliano

            Mati Weiderpass is that you?

          • cee

            bull dyke who blocked equal rights bill in Charlotte, is that you?

          • bambinoitaliano

            Wilbur is that you?

          • cee

            trans man who escaped the “gay lifestyle” and turned his former lesbian wife “straight” – is that you?

          • bambinoitaliano

            Ahhhhh……a loose nut that got roll under the door. That explain. Disengage!

      • sequel

        there were many replies to your idiocy, but just to add one more – Rory and/or Panti is very far from trying to blend into the crowd, it is all sorts of stupid to accuse him and/or her of heteronormativity.

        also, fuck off

        • cee

          dressing as a straight woman, dreaming of straight men – what can be more heteronormative?

          • Alex Check Beck

            …and scene… (Announcer): “Please join us next week when Sporlkf the Gay Martian sings “Lashes for Love” the new universal top 10 hit. Bye! Bye”

          • sequel

            I refer you to my previous comment: fuck off.

          • cee

            you’re worse than breitbart readers…

      • garyschor

        Equality without them would not have been equality, duh!!

      • Claude Jacques Bonhomme
      • Joseph Miceli

        If you are gay, then you need to deal with your internalized homophobia. If you aren’t gay, then just fuck off.

        • Justin

          Nicely phrased.

          • Joseph Miceli

            I’m a poet.
            Thank you.

    • bambinoitaliano

      Yup, so many that forgotten their history are distancing themselves from the “freak show of nature” behind their white picket fences require a constant reminder.

    • crewman

      All true! And I’d also add, no civil rights movement succeeds without broader support, in our case straight allies. We all lift each other up.

    • M Jackson

      It’s always worth reminding that it was the drag queens and the rent boys who fought back at Stonewall.

    • pepón

      We owe our progress to the big mustaches of the Wissenschaftliche Humanitare Komitee, and to the sissies in small towns, and to the appeasing activists form the homophile movement, and to the drag queens and tom boys of Stonewall, and to all those helping through the AIDS crisis, and to the artists/writers/actors that have introduced LGBT characters in every home, and to the money behind the big gay lobby, and to our straight allies, and so on. Everyone has had a role. Some were more spectacular, some more discreet, but we all have been working on this for over a century. Old and young. Thousands of people of every walk of life have been working on it, and we should not forget anyone.

  • People4Humanity

    As a child, I never had a problem with sharing my toys.
    But now, in middle age [based upon living until I’m ±120],
    I don’t take such delight in sharing my JMG.
    What’s gone wrong?

    • billbear1961

      The companion of Athena–Goddess of Wisdom, of Courage, of Civilization, and of JUSTICE–shares his wise insights with ALL, you who reveal unseen truths to the goddess herself!!

      • lymis

        Hedwig, is that you? How did you get away from Hogwarts?

        • billbear1961

          No, ’tis P4H on an ancient Greek coin!

          THIS is Hedwig, on a Canadian coin . . .

  • pj

    miss brodie..of course….that answers one of my biggest questions. thanks joe

    • Robincho

      “Ay am Miss Jean Brodie, and ay am in may prayme!”

      • pj

        maggie is still in her prime

  • gaymex

    Thanks Joe. Great interview.

  • paisleyface

    National treasure, my ass! She’s a galactic treasure! One of the brightest stars in the night sky and as warm as the day’s sun.

  • robirob

    It’s a very nice and informative interview. Well done.

  • ClevelandJim

    I want to have coffee and chat with Rory, and cocktails with Panti. There aren’t many people who truly awe me, but this eloquent force of a person does! Thank you Joe, Rory and Panti!

  • Zack Holland

    I adore Rory/Panti! His TED talk brought me to tears! Thank you for all you do, Panti! ♥

  • Dan

    Yes, my dear Panti. Don’t we all…

  • Gregory In Seattle

    Great interview. She is an amazing orator.

  • Claude Jacques Bonhomme

    Message to all mocha-skinned big-dicker tops:

    http://charmedyogi.files.wordpress.com/2012/04/yoga_bliss.jpg

    For my part, I will just continue to love JMG and Panti Bliss, while adoring my bear.

    • billbear1961

      I hope so!

      :O

  • TJay229

    LoL Very good interview, Joe.

  • Ginger Snap

    Well done Joe and Panti. A great read to lift me up and put a bounce in my step before my long day at work.

  • 2amor

    Very good interview Panti and Joe.. Panti would do well to spend some time around my village, we have a few “mocha-skinned big-dicker tops” around here (so I have heard).

    • WNY

      Where exactly is your village? (Asking for a friend, ahem)

  • J̶a̶l̶a̶p̶e̶ñJoe Smithson

    Joe’s To Do List For London Trip

    1) Get spray tan (shade: “Mocha”)
    2) Buy travel sized lube and TSA approved cock ring
    3) Meet Panti Bliss for dinner at Hotel
    4) ……

    • bambinoitaliano

      Have a pint or two at her bar?

      • J̶a̶l̶a̶p̶e̶ñJoe Smithson

        at least two

  • billbear1961
  • TheManicMechanic

    Reading this was godly bliss. 🙂

  • Pete N SFO
    • J̶a̶l̶a̶p̶e̶ñJoe Smithson

      I’ve always thought that Rory was quite macho when he’s not in drag.

    • Dazzer

      Thanks fior that Pete N SFO.

      But Panti, Panti, Panti… A Princess Di hairdo?

    • StraightGrandmother

      That was pretty cool Pete, thanks.

  • alephnaughtpix

    I hope this doesn’t sound too picky, but: “Any plans for becoming the Irish Graham Norton?”. Er, there’s already an Irish Graham Norton, and that’s… Graham Norton, who was born in Dublin, and brought up in County Cork.

    Apart from that really really small point, I really enjoyed this interview, Joe, so don’t think this is a slagging off in any way.

    • Câl

      I took it a an intended joke, and hope I’m not wrong!

  • LADY MABELINE

    I love it when celebrities use their fame for good causes. It is so much better than for being known as a fame whore like a kardashian or a mental fuck up like Lindsey Lohan.

    • 2guysnamedjoe

      Panti has a talent and an intelligence that the KKs and LL lack. Even if they wanted to, they couldn’t quite pull it off.

  • zhera

    Don’t we all, indeed…

  • M Jackson

    I’m head over heels for her. Sorry I could only offer her vanilla, though.

  • Octavio

    I know plenty of good decent men who would be willing to masturbate on Mount Rushmore — if they haven’t already done so. As long as she’s not looking, Cupid will find time to poke her somewhere. 🙂

    • J̶a̶l̶a̶p̶e̶ñJoe Smithson

      What, slip on a jizz wad, fall off and then end up on CNN or FoxNews?

      Liberal Media Headline:

      CNN: Tourist Slips and Falls To His Death at Mt. Rushmore

      (Pic of Mt. Rushmore)
      —————————————————————-

      Fair and Balanced Media Headline:

      FoxNews: Virulent Gay Activist and JoeMyGod Contributor Killed When Domestic Terrorism Plot Is Interrupted by Girl Scout Troop Visiting Mt. Rushmore

      (My driver’s license pic juxtaposed with Osama pic or possibly Hillary Clinton)

  • JoeMyGod

    Panti was disappointed that I wasn’t wearing “the hat.”

    • DaddyRay

      You should have been wearing a top hat and maybe some platform sneakers

    • J̶a̶l̶a̶p̶e̶ñJoe Smithson

      Good grief, either Panti’s 7 feet tall or Joe is 5’2″ LOL

      • The Larry Mac

        She said she was 6’6″. And Joe might be shorter in height, but he makes up for that by ….. being a giant in journalism. (you thought I was going to mention his other attributes, didn’t you?)

        • At 6 feet 6 she would indeed stand 7 feet tall in heels.

        • J̶a̶l̶a̶p̶e̶ñJoe Smithson

          O_o

      • JoeMyGod

        I am 5’7″.

        And a HALF.

        • J̶a̶l̶a̶p̶e̶ñJoe Smithson

          You’re like a well packed Samsonite suitcase. Everything you need and then a bit more, stacked in one, tough, hard package.

    • StraightGrandmother

      Joe you are very handsome, it has been a while since you posted a pic of yourself.
      And Panti is very pretty. She has a megawatt smile doesn’t she?

    • Cuberly

      Star Fleet makes Irish uniforms?

      (he he he he)

      • William

        That dress looks Romulan.

        • Cuberly

          Original series of course. 😉

    • JCF

      Show off! 😉

  • garyschor

    😍😍😍

  • Graham Norton is Irish.

  • DaddyRay

    We are so lucky to have such a brave articulate activist speaking truth to power on our behalf. Love you Panti!

  • JCF

    “I never rule anything out! Except maybe sex with Michael Flatley. I’ve definitely ruled that out.”

    LOL. So Say We All! ;-X