I cooked a new fish Saturday night for my combo Passover and Easter meal, or “Eastover.” We celebrated a week late this year because my son Harry, who wears many hats, and an occasional wig or two or three, worked an extra editor’s shift at the paparazzi agency last weekend.
“Summer flounder?” Harry asked, as I served the main course.
“Yes!” I said. “It’s supposed to have a very delicate flavor.”
“Summer Flounder would be a great drag name.”
I laughed, as did our cousin John and family friend Lily. Harry, a.k.a. drag performer Amber Alert, loves to pick out drag names from words in random conversation. A couple of summers ago when I lit a citronella candle on the balcony, he thought Citronella Candel, would be the perfect drag name for a queen who loved to wear yellow.
“That reminds me, John,” I said. “Do you want to come with Harry and me to see Panti Bliss’s stand-up show in June? I sent you a link to her web site and that speech she gave at the Abbey.”
“Oh my God, that speech…it was so sad!”
I agreed. I got a little choked up myself when I saw a YouTube video of the speech (that went viral) given by Ireland’s most fabulous and famous drag queen after a performance of The Risen People at the Abbey theater. With moving and impassioned words, Panti tells of her experiences being the target of homophobia and living everyday with prejudice and hatred.
If you’ve never seen Panti’s speech at the Abbey, I urge you to watch. Or you can view it, read the text, and learn from this link at the Daily Kos about the homophobes whose actions led her to deliver such a fervent address.
I first heard about Panti Bliss, whose real name is Rory O’Neill, from my friend Geoffrey, who lives in Dublin. He sent me a link to the speech as soon as it posted on YouTube last February. And when Geoff and I met up with other friends on vacation last month, he was just finishing Rory’s book, Woman in the Making: A Memoir. On the last night of our trip, Geoff gave me his signed copy. I couldn’t believe he was willing to part with it. But he and I share an affinity for drag queens, or anyone who plays with the ideas of gender and identity.
Even sweeter than Panti’s signature was Geoffrey’s inscription, saying he thought I’d most enjoy chapter 13, “Gender Discombobulation.” So, of course, I read that chapter first. And that’s when I fell in love with Rory O’Neill.
Not only does O’Neill challenge our ideas about gender, he wonders if all gender isn’t just performance. He talks about the ability of drag and cross-dressing to “disturb and discombobulate,” noting that a man who dresses in clothes society has deemed suitable only for women remains remarkably powerful. I know Amber Alert feels it.
A date I’d met for coffee had talked about that power, too. He’d given his apartment over to some girlfriends for a bachelorette party. He expected to be there, but the girlfriends said no; it was planned as a girls-only event. He could only attend if he came as a woman. So he did. He’d never dressed as a woman before.
“I did it on a lark to get into the party,” he told me. “And it was a bit thrilling, actually. Thrilling for the sheer glamour of it.”
I can’t wait to see glamorous Panti’s show here in June. And in the meantime, I’m a cheering audience of one who sends love and support to all the boys, young or old, who want to put on high heels simply because it makes them feel good.
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