Do you check yourself while others are checking you? Do you judge yourself because others are judging you? I never did. As a young child these weren’t concerns of mine. I enjoyed a happy and carefree childhood, but things soon changed. Society’s view of me changed. I was suddenly seen to be different. I couldn’t get my head around the abrupt isolation and animosity towards me. Why me? Why was I on show for people’s satisfaction and mockery? A freak show if you like.
In the early 1990s things were hard enough for a five foot nothing first year student walking the corridors of a denominational secondary school. What seemed like giants of men and school seniors were pushing, pulling, tugging and calling me names. I was both physically and emotionally battered and bruised. They shouted names and words that felt like bullets with every hit. Words which were alien to me – ‘faggot’, ‘queer’ and ‘bender’.
This was to become my life and my turmoil during my adolescent years and adolescence, you will agree, is a confusing and horrible stage of anyone’s life. But I’m not a victim and I’m not looking for sympathy. On the contrary, it has strengthened me and made me the person I am proud to be today.
A young gay friend of mine has told me how things have been much better for him, yet he too has struggled. He has an accepting family, but despite this, society’s view and treatment of LGBTs (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people) has affected him greatly. He always knew he was gay and that was okay until he realised how he would be treated for being gay. During his teenage years, he too tried to conform and be straight, desperately trying to take part in the macho games expected of him to fit in. It couldn’t be done, he is how he is. He is gay. Gay people are gay. We are how we are!
He has fully accepted his sexual identity now, but he still had to go through that personal turmoil and self-hate because of how society views and treats members of the LGBT community. Groups like shOUT! LGBT Youth Group has helped members of Galway’s LGBT community massively and through this group he meets regularly with people of his own age who are also LGBT and/or questioning their sexual orientation and gender identity.
With much current debate in Ireland right now focusing on same-sex marriage and certain institutions, it might be easy to overlook the young LGBT people in Galway who need support and acceptance. Many young people are vulnerable to depression, suicide attempts, self-harm and bullying, all because they are tormented for being lesbian, gay, bisexual and/or transgender. Parents and peers alike need take steps to help vulnerable young people.
And please don’t think I am anti-church or anti-establishment. I’m not! A famous gay icon at present, Panti, has brought issues surrounding the term ‘homophobia’ to the fore recently. Its translation is to have a fear of homosexual people…If I was ‘heterophobic’ (a fear of heterosexual people because of their sexual orientation), I would be afraid of my family and friends to whom I am a son, a brother, an uncle and a grandchild.
Galway, our city of culture, is my home. It’s a place I am proud to be from and also gay in. We have come a long way in terms of acceptance of the LGBT community in this country but we still have further to travel along the road.