Panti Bliss is an Irish drag queen who has, in her words, been “semi-famous” for decades.
She rose to the level of 'National F*#king Treasure', however, when she got embroiled in a controversy after calling homophobes homophobic in the run up to Ireland's historic referendum on marriage equality.
The Irish were in the house at Brisbane Powerhouse's MELT Festival for her show, and were clearly wrapped to see her. In fact, there was randomly a man from Panti’s tiny west Ireland hometown in the audience; she had gone to school with his sister. Small world.
Having so much love in the audience helped people who are not so familiar with Panti be a tad more indulgent with her chaotic style than perhaps they normally would have been. Panti careered from topic to topic, including a Jerry Springer-style segment showing footage from about 20 years ago where she got a 'Back to Boy' make-over. It was all a bit of a head spin.
Interspersed with the random scripted chitchat was a core of heartfelt political musing. On the marriage equality referendum, the dizzying world of internet dating (and the downside of being famous: too many people find her “inspirational” rather than randiness-inducing), suicide, the power of “new” sexual identities, being HIV-positive and how the impact of her status has changed over the years from death sentence to statement of fact.
It was a testament to how beloved Panti is that after a joke about no one wanting to share her drinks due to her HIV status, a man in the audience walked to the stage and hovered until Panti called on him. He asked to have a sip from her water glass, demonstrating clearly and in-person that HIV requires education and management, rather than fear.
With queers, straighties, lesbians and gay men (and a few identified trannie chasers) all in attendance – and we know exactly how many of each category because she made us raise our hands – Panti’s show was warm, inclusive, funny and arch, with just the right amount of thoughts provoked for a steamy Sunday evening.