I needed to leave Ireland to come out as a gay man

david, 29 - San Francisco, USA

Featured article from The Irish Times Generation Immigration - May 5th 2015


Last weekend I told my parents that I’m gay. I came out at 27. They were shocked, had no idea. I honestly only found out myself this past year.

I’m writing this from New York, from my apartment in Hell’s Kitchen. This is my sixth week here. I moved over for my career, and because I fell in love with the city when I was here on a J1, but also because I needed to leave Ireland to come out.

I spent most of last year backpacking around Latin America. Prior to that I had been working in advertising in Dublin. I saved some money, packed a bag and off I went.

They say travelling broadens the mind, that it’s good for the soul. I tried to experience everything I could and be as open-minded as possible. I befriended people totally different to me, practiced yoga, learned to surf, trekked up volcanoes and sailed down the Amazon River. It was an amazing year.

I knew I was going travelling to find out something about myself. But I didn’t intend to hook up with guys. Maybe I was in denial but, up to then, I lived a “straight” life. I would see a guy and maybe think that he was good looking, but regarded that as normal heterosexual behavior.

I spent some time learning Spanish in a city called Quetzaltenango (‘Xela’) in Guatemala. It’s illegal there to serve alcohol after 1am, so underground parties were regularly held so that people could keep drinking and dancing until sunrise. These parties were great fun, always a mix of locals and backpackers. Many of these parties happened to be in a gay bar.

One night as I was leaving a local guy followed me home. We chatted and when we got to my apartment he asked if he could come in. Without even thinking I said yes. And so, in that moment, my world changed forever.

Even after this experience I didn’t think I was gay. I reverted back to “straight” me, travelling with the same people along the Gringo Trail, hooking up with girls.

For a few hours I forgot about everything going on in my life and just felt happy. There’s nothing wrong with me. There’s nothing wrong with him. We’re just two people trying to live our lives.

When I made it to Argentina I decided I needed to do something drastic. I left the group I was travelling with in Buenos Aires and checked into a gay hostel I found online. I remember being terrified when I rang the buzzer. What am I doing? This isn’t me. What would my friends think? What would my parents think? What if the gay people here don’t like me? What if I’m too “straight”?

It was quite an overtly sexual hostel - gay art on the walls, shared showers, a jacuzzi. It was really the first time I had been around gay people. I had known gay people in Dublin, but never had any gay friends. I only know one gay person from my hometown, Tullamore.

I spent a week in that hostel, and made good friends. I was honest and told them I wasn’t out, that I was confused. Everybody understood. They had all been there. When I was leaving my new friends wanted to add me on Facebook, but I told them I couldn’t accept their requests. I wasn’t out at home and couldn’t risk it. Once again, they understood. I felt like I was one foot tall.

I’m a pretty regular guy - I drink pints with my friends, love sport, love music. I had a long-term girlfriend before I went travelling. I loved her and on some level always will. I hope she won’t be hurt reading this. She’s an amazing person and deserves nothing but happiness.

When I returned from my trip I moved back in with my parents. It was the first time I’d lived at home since I left for college at 18. I was there for five frustrating and confusing months before I left for New York. I felt I couldn’t talk to anyone until I drunkenly opened up and told my best friend on the way home from our local one night. He was fantastic. I’ll never forget how much he helped.

I then felt ready to talk to other people. I told my sister and the rest of my friends. Everyone was very supportive. The reaction was no reaction, which says it all really. But I still feel there is a stigma attached to being gay in Ireland.

Coincidentally I moved back home, confused and vulnerable, just as the same-sex marriage referendum debate was heating up. I was hyper-sensitive to it; reading articles and the comments underneath, many of which upset me. I just don’t understand how anyone could have a problem with love and happiness between two people.

This week I went on my first gay date in New York. I met the guy on Grindr, a gay dating mobile app. Among the sea of sexually aggressive men looking for a quick hook-up, I found someone who seemed similar to me. I was nervous at first but we had a great time. For a few hours I forgot about everything going on in my life and just felt happy. There’s nothing wrong with me. There’s nothing wrong with him. We’re just two people trying to live our lives.

I love my country. I wear my nationality as a badge of pride whenever I go anywhere. Around the globe people are happy to meet me - they smile when they hear where I’m from, because Ireland is known as the land of a thousand welcomes. I hope that after the referendum, I’ll feel welcome there too.