Born in Spartanburg, South Carolina, Pat Patterson eventually made his way to Columbia for graduate school. While he goes by Pat Patterson in his daily life, most people know him as Patti O’Furniture.
A website dedicated to Patterson’s alter ego describes the character as follows: “Drag queen, emcee, impersonator, comedienne and community activist Patti O’Furniture is always the life of the party.”
That’s accurate and a pretty good start, however, Patterson is so much more. During this interview QNotes gained insight into the birth of O’Furniture, the man behind the persona and his passion of bringing joy to others.
L’Monique King: Realizing that many drag performers are also members of the LGBTQ+ community but not always, how do you identify?
Patti O’Furniture: Proudly. I am an out gay man. Out of drag my pronouns are he/him/his. In drag I am a proud and loud queen and I often say, I will answer to almost any pronoun, as long as it comes from a place of respect, though I traditionally use she/her pronouns while in drag.
LMK: Where does Patti O’Furniture Live?
POF: I always say, Patti lives in Charleston, I vote in Columbia (legally my primary residence) and I go to church in Spartanburg, where all my family still lives.
LMK: What’s it like living in Charleston?
POF: I love being a part of the Charleston community. We have a thriving local drag scene as well as a larger queer scene and a cultural arts scene. It’s also a beautiful city full of great restaurants, beaches and weather. I’ve always been proud of being a South Carolinian, for better or worse.
Many people assume that South Carolina, Georgia and North Carolina are just brass buckles of the bible belt – ultra conservative and not friendly to members of the LGBTQ community. Our part of the country is often looked down on as being red, but I see pockets of progressive activity. There are places and spaces where our community is just thriving in the Carolinas.
LMK: What does Pat Patterson do for a living?
POF: I am a college professor. I teach public speaking and theater at a community college. I’m also a real estate agent, I do real estate sales and property management.
LMK: How long have you been teaching?
POF: Sixteen years. I’ve been in education my entire life. I was working in education when I created the character Patti O’Furniture. At the time I was a staff member at the University of South Carolina in Columbia (in the mid to late 90s). While I was there, I served as the advisor to their campus GSA [Gay Straight Alliance]. The organization was called BGLA (Bisexual Gay Lesbian Alliance). It has now grown to be more inclusive and goes by a different name, IRIS (Individuals Respecting Identity and Sexuality).
LMK:What inspired you to get into Drag performance and how long have you been doing it?
POF:The inspiration was a dare from my students. I had been their advisor for some time and we did a small campus drag show one year. It was very successful, and as we started to plan for the next year – they wanted to do it again but bigger. I explained that, for it to be bigger there would be expenses for a D.J., etcetera. They started moaning and groaning, so I challenged them. I said, if they raised the $500 we needed I would host the show in drag. They had the money the very next week. As an educator that made me very happy to know I had motivated my students. As an individual it terrified me, because I now had to live up to the challenge, the dare.
LMK: Patti O’Furniture is certainly a distinct name. How’d you come up with it?
POF: I called some friends, told them what I had gotten myself into. They asked me if I had a name. I didn’t. My friend Tabitha said, “You need a name that when people hear it, they know not to take you seriously.”We were having this conversation on the deck of a friend’s house during a party, a cookout. That was when Tabitha suggested Patti O’Furniture.
Additionally, it wasn’t just a fun name but it also gave me a feeling of going back to my roots. I’m of Scotch-Irish ancestry. So, it just worked on so many levels. Still, I also thought, I’m only going to do this once, so it really doesn’t matter.
LMK:Are you partnered?
POF: Yes, I’ve been with my boyfriend for about a year and a half. And in addition to my partner, I have a wonderful little Westie named Paisley. She’s in desperate need of a trip to the spa right now. <laughter> She came into my life at a time when I was not partnered and needed a little furry companion.
LMK: How does your boyfriend feel about your craft?
POF:He supports me completely. I was a bit nervous to tell him about it in the beginning. I call it the Patti bomb [disclosing being a Drag performer]. I waited a few months before I told him what I did for a living, but then he came out to a show. His reaction? He was proud of me and said he could tell that I have fun with what I do. He understands that for me, Drag is a job and I approach it professionally. When the paint comes off and the costumes are put away, I’m back to the boy he first met.
LMK: What would you say is the most common mistake Drag performers make?
POF: <Reflectively pausing > I’m thinking of the mistakes that I’ve made and learned from through the years. The most common mistake that queens make is not knowing the words to the song they’re performing. It drives me batty. We only have 2 jobs. One, look like the character you are portraying and two, know the words to the song you’re singing. I’ll be the first to admit that there are those moments where I can’t hear the music or stumble over a word. I’m not perfect, I’ve mixed up lyrics, it happens to all of us. I’m talking about young queens who pick a song because it’s popular and think that they can just go out there, move their lips and do a death drop.
LMK: With all the recent anti-trans, anti-LGBTQ+ and anti-drag legislation, what concerns you the most?
POF: The safety of young queer people. When we pass laws that are anti-drag, anti-LGBTQ, anti-trans, some of us have the coping mechanism and support systems to deal with that – some of us don’t. The person I’m worried about is that young queer kid who doesn’t have the strength, doesn’t have the support system and might consider self-harm because they feel alone or feel their community doesn’t want them or love them. So, every chance I get I try to work with queer youth. One of the organizations [I’ve worked with] is Time Out Youth in Charlotte; along with other organizations throughout the Carolinas. I think we can all remember what it was like when we came out and we were struggling with who we were and how we fit into the world. If I had been struggling with my identity in this climate it would have been a lot harder.
LMK: If you could talk to that kid, that kid who is struggling, what would you tell them?
POF: It’s not easy but, you have a whole community, diverse, vibrant and supportive that is here for you. We will be your family – if yours turns their back on you. But most importantly, you are too amazing to even think about leaving this earth until you’ve left your mark on it.
LMK: How does activism fit into your life as a Drag performer? What does activism look like for you?
POF: <Without a moment’s hesitation> Positive change. The simplest way (to effect that) is by trying to create positive energy in all my performances. I make the people that attend my shows feel better. When we feel better, we do better. Every dollar that I’ve been tipped on stage, from the very first show, I donate back to charity. To date I’ve raised over 1.6 million dollars for different local, national and regional organizations. They’ve included Time Out Youth, the Trevor Project, contributions to a handful of colleges and university scholarship funds and also political organizations that support our community.
LMK: Was there anything in particular that led you to activism?
POF: One of the reasons that I’m the activist Queen is that I come from a political family. My father is a retired attorney by trade and my mother was the first woman elected to congress from South Carolina to a full term. There had been other women in South Carolina, but they had been appointed to serve upon the deaths of their husbands. They were the placeholder until the next election could be held. My mom served in congress from 1986 – 1992 representing the Greenville/Spartanburg South Carolina Forth Congressional District. Prior to that she was in the State senate in Columbia, South Carolina.
LMK:What’s Miss Patti doing 10 years from now?
POF: <Long pause> I would like to think that I would be comfortably retired and traveling the world, but I know that I love what I do too much to stop performing. I’ll probably be like Dolly Parton, I will entertain as long as I can, because there’s always going to be that person out there that needs a smile. There’s always going to be that kid out there that needs to know, someone is in their corner. There will always be that organization in our community that needs supporting and there’s always going to be the need for that one drag queen that knows her words.
Always “the life of the party,” Patti O’Furniture will perform with the Gay Men’s Chorus of Charlotte in the Pride concert on Friday, August 18. For more information, click here.