Panti Bliss, the Queen of Ireland, talks glamourous diseases, the Pantigate scandal, and back-to-boy makeovers.
Wearing a red sparkly bodycon and killer heels, Panti introduces herself as the National F***ing Treasure she has become. In the space of a chat show she went from being a reasonably well-known drag queen to being accused of defaming homophobic Irish journalists and institutions. The word ‘homophobe’, Panti points out, is now no longer allowed to offend anyone except homophobes. Her opinions on queer politics soon became central to debates on gay marriage, and in 2015 Ireland became the first country to legalise same-sex marriage by popular vote. Is she humble about all the awards she’s been nominated for? Nope. Why should she be? She’s a National F***ing Treasure.
The evening isn’t all politics. There’s raucous fun, audience participation and much gentle ridiculing of the latest Glasgow fashions. We’re all asked to raise our hands if we’ve met our partners online and each couple gets a cheer from the audience. This celebration is deftly woven into Panti’s rant about gay men policing masculinity in online profiles that specify ‘masc for masc’. Who are you kidding, she says, we can all see the Barbara Streisand poster in the background of your profile pic. Then we’re asked to raise our hands depending on how we identify in terms of sexuality. Panti calls out the one person who hasn’t raised their hand: ‘this is how I identify the trannie chasers’ she winks, bending over provocatively in front of him.
We’re offered an evening of well-timed jokes, quick wit, and a video of Panti’s back-to-boy makeover (which would be ridiculous if it wasn’t so horribly real). Perhaps one of the most memorable moments of the evening is a simple but powerful statement that she makes to generous applause: ‘living with HIV isn’t a problem. Living with people’s attitudes towards HIV is a problem.’ The performance receives a standing ovation.
Glasgow’s Take Me Somewhere festival is a celebration of contemporary performance. I was already pretty sure last week, after reviewing the incredible #negrophobia, that the festival is offering some of the best in home-grown and international theatre. Now I’m certain. Here’s hoping the festival returns next year!