an Irish COmmunity overseas: far away and far behind
Roisin- 24, Ireland
My Name is Roisin. I am 24 years old and I identify as gay. I was born in 1993 as one half of a set of twins in Co. Kildare. I had a very happy childhood with a loving and supportive family. I was born the same year that Ireland passed the Criminal Fraud (Sexual Offences) Bill which decriminalized homosexuality. It is terrifying to think that if I was born at a different time in history I would probably be living a very miserable life compared to the one I am living now.I am thankful everyday that I can live the life I want. However, it continues to be a struggle at times for any gay person, living in a world where you are assumed to be straight.
I struggled in my teenage years. As everyone does. I was awkward and spent a long time trying to find myself. I knew I was different. I really started to question myself at 15 and 16. My mother was going through a new religious Christian phase at the time and she went to church every week.
One Sunday, my mother innocently told one of the pastors that I had some questions about what the bible said about gay people. The pastor approached me knowing why I was asking questions. He told me that I was having mixed feelings because my parents split up and that being gay was a psychological disorder. He told me that if I did not get help with this, that when I died, because of my sin, I would not get into The Kingdom of Heaven. He reassured me that he could counsel me through these feelings and steer me on the right path. I was devastated. I was not in any way ready to come out to my mother after this experience.
Things changed when I was 18; I started going out in Dublin and I immersed myself in the gay scene. Maybe once or twice a month I would get a few friends to come up to Dublin and I could finally be who I was. I was free in Dublin. After a year of going out secretly to gay bars, and spending my first year in college in the closet, I met a girl. After our first date I came out to my Mam. All it took for me to find the courage to come out was seeing myself with the possibility of having a girlfriend and realizing that i needed the freedom to do so. Although that relationship didn’t last, I often wonder, had I not met my first girlfriend when I did, would I have had the confidence to come out? For me, meeting my first love was the most influential part of my coming out journey. It was exactly what I needed to give me the final push.
At first my Mam didn’t want me to kiss my girlfriend in front of my younger cousin. She thought it was inappropriate. Yet, it was ok for my brother or cousins in heterosexual relationships to show affection to their partners. When I explained to her that she was wrong and showing love, affection and respect to your partner no matter their gender is an important example for children to see, she knew she was wrong. She didn’t mean for it to come across the way it did but at that time she didn’t know any better. It was also difficult for my grandmother when I first came out. She supported me, but also lived with the Irish mentality of not wanting the neighbours or anyone knowing ‘any of my business’. I know my grandmother supported me no matter what but I also understood that it was difficult for her and a lot of the older generation to come to terms with this.
Five years after coming out, I moved to America with my girlfriend. I began working at an Irish community organization on the edge of a large city. On my first day, a group of my older clients were discussing the marriage of the doctor of one of the of one members at the weekend- their male doctor married a man. The conversation quickly turned homophobic. Some of my clients were disgusted at the thoughts of this man kissing a man. Some clients said they could not go to a doctor who was gay. I felt a sense of panic.My heart genuinely stopped and I just knew I could not come out in any way for fear of these people not wanting to work with me or being disgusted by me. I was sat there unable to speak. This was my first day on the job and my clients had no idea that I was gay and the “friend” I brought with me was actually my partner. It was a great struggle leaving Ireland where I was completely out and proud in my relationship compared to then having to go back in the closet and pretend that my relationship did not exist. This was very difficult and hurt a great deal.
The reality is that I may not always be accepted and there will always be people who are homophobic. However, in today’s Ireland, for me personally, I feel comfortable with my sexuality and I feel mostly accepted. This feeling of public acceptance has everything to do with the wonderful Marriage Equality referendum in 2015. I have never been so proud to be Irish as I was on May 22nd 2015. Despite this, moving abroad can feel like starting the coming out process all over again and it made me grateful for how advanced, liberal, and accepting Ireland in 2017 is to me. Now that I have experienced life abroad as a young Irish person who identifies as LGBTQ, I can say that I appreciate Ireland's acceptance and I will always try to be who I am. Life is too short to spend it living a life you do not belong in.