Episode 7 – The Panti Monologue
“I like Christmas. I like being kind of forced to go back to Mayo and send a few days in the bosom of my family.”
I like my family. I love them of course, but I also actually like them. Which I’ve realised as I get older, makes me lucky.
It’s comfortable to go home and slip back into my part in a big family. The people who’ve known me longest, and the ones who’ll still love me even if I do something to make them stop liking me.
But I didn’t always like Christmas. Christmas used to make me feel my difference, my outsider-ness more acutely. Back in the 70’s, when times were different and most gay people left the small places they came from to find other people like them, the writer Amsted Maupin famously said, that gay people had two families: their biological families, and their logical families. The family they were given, and the one they chose and made for themselves out of people they could be themselves with, because their biological families weren’t always a comfortable place for them.
And there was a time, when I was younger, that going home for Christmas made me uncomfortable. I’d have to hide myself again. Not so much from my family, but from my place. Christmas made me feel like an outsider.
But times have changed. I’m not seen as so very different anymore. And I’ve changed. My difference, felt so keenly at Christmas, used to make me uncomfortable, outside, but as I grew older I grew to like my difference. To embrace it, Appreciate it.
“I sometimes wonder who I might have been had I been straight. What kind of person might I have turned out to be had I not been flaming?”
I suspect I might not like me very much. Perhaps that’s unfair on Straight Me, but there’s no doubt that all the conditions would have been there for Straight Me to be a jerk. Straight Me would have been dangerously comfortable in the world.
Born into a nice middle class family, never spoiled but never without, smart enough (and encouraged enough) to do well in school and go to university, and afterwards a good job in a good company almost by birthright. Decent looking, healthy, good at football, with nothing to put me in the firing line of schoolyard taunts or adult discomfort – no disability, no speech impediment, no fatness, no buck teeth or gammy eye. I’d have had the right accent, the right qualifications, and the right genitals to be taken seriously by the world. I would speak and people would listen.
I would be fully participant in the world because the world was built for me, by people like me. I would vote in elections because my opinion was important, and I would vote not to change things, but to keep them the same.
Why wouldn’t I? The world would have been perfect already, and I perfectly comfortable in it. And Perfectly Comfortable Straight Me would have no ability – and maybe no inclination – to understand or empathise with people who weren’t so comfortable in a world that hadn’t been built for them.
Yes, I know, I am being unfair on Straight Me because he would have been raised by the same decent parents, had the same Traveller neighbours, been taken on the same trips with Dad to the big grey home for the intellectually disabled, his pockets full of Milky Moos to share, but still… I can’t help but wonder if I’d have been a dick.
Because most of the things I like about me are rooted in my difference. I like the fact that I like the misfits and the oddballs and the freaks. I like that I like the fey fella who marches through town wearing a Panama hat, long silk scarves, and pastel slacks with homemade piping made of ribbon up the side. Even as a kid I didn’t want to flick spit balls with the others onto the back of the old woman we were sure was a witch who lived in the funny dirty house with the dark windows you couldn’t see through on the way home from school.
I wanted to go home with her and learn how to make potions. I like the fact that I’m not threatened by people who are different. I like the fact that I have Chinese neighbours, that my local Italian restaurant is staffed by Philipina ladies, and that there’s a mosque on my street that spills handsome men onto the pavement on Fridays.
And I like the fact that I’m willing to imagine that the way things have always been is not necessarily the best way. I like the fact that for a change one Sunday ten-year old me went to the Protestant church instead, just to see what their Mass was like, and the small group of mostly elderly ladies looked at me wondering where this strange child had come from, while I stood with my hands behind my back and smiled at them and decided it smelled different than our church.
And when I was old enough to understand what it was that was different about me, it liberated me from assumptions. It made me question everything around me, everything I’d been told or taken for granted, because if everything I’d ever been told about being gay had been wrong – and it had – then couldn’t everything else I’d ever been told be wrong?