Communicate by Sarah Jane Travers

In October 1977, my mum and Anne shared the same labour ward, and Edel and I were born within a couple of days of each other – so we met at a very early age!

However, the first proper conversation I had with Edel was more than 20 years later, in the drop in centre of Dundalk Outcomers, a social and support group for gay, lesbian and bisexual people.

I started going to the drop-in centre when I moved back to Dundalk in 1999 (after living in Germany for a couple of years). Having a connection with the centre made being gay in Dundalk a lot easier. After a year, I joined the Outcomers committee and started doing voluntary work in the centre. One evening when I was on duty, Edel called in. I knew her to see. She was tomboy-ish and alternative like me, and I always knew we had something in common! We went on to become good friends. We would always have a good laugh and proper chats.

During that first conversation we realised we were related. My mum and her dad were first cousins.

Working in the centre, I’d heard that Peter had approached Dundalk Outcomers to discuss setting up a support group for parents of gay children and that he was hoping to write a book on the subject. Working on the helpline, I would often receive calls from worried parents, and I knew gay people of all ages who were having difficulties dealing with their parents, so I knew it was needed.

A couple of months after Edel and I had become friends, Peter approached my mum and suggested that she and my dad come to his house sometime to discuss “the situation”, i.e. their gay daughters. I remember my mum and dad telling me about it and how they really didn’t get what the big fuss was, but then they were well used to the whole gay thing by that stage.

Like a lot of gay people, I knew from an early age that I was “different”. As a child I was quite a tomboy; I hated girlie stuff and thought my sisters were really weird because they liked dresses and dolls and not normal stuff like football and karate!

Mum and dad always encouraged me to be myself, so I had a happy childhood. However, during my early teens, I became unsettled and anxious. I had crippling crushes on girls and zero interest in boys (unless they wanted to play football with me!). I thought I was going insane and I couldn’t tell anyone.

When I was 15, I met a girl and fell head over heels in love. After seeing how I was around this girl, my mum picked up on how I felt, and one night when I was sick (and all vulnerable and needing my mammy!) she saw her chance to bring up the topic. She said, “I know you are gay and I just want you to know that it is not a problem. Your dad and I love you no matter what and you can talk to us about anything”.

Being 15, I didn’t fully realise the significance of hearing those words. Like most teenagers (gay or straight), I was having a tough time with my parents, arguing about being allowed to stay out late, etc. and I was convinced that they were trying to ruin my life! Of course all that they were really trying to do was look after me.

At 19 I moved to Germany to study, and went on to experience all the highs and lows that life has to offer. After Germany I lived in Dundalk and then finally settled in Dublin, but I always stayed close to my parents.

The older I got, the more I understood what my parents have done for me and my siblings, how a lot of the time they would put our needs before theirs to ensure our happiness. They worked hard together to make sure we felt we could always COMMUNICATE with them.

Thankfully, that first girl I fell in love with felt the same and we started a relationship. I was on top of the world, but keeping it all a secret from everyone was very difficult. Throughout the years I gradually came out to friends and the rest of my family. Knowing that my parents knew and supported me made telling others so much easier.

I know now that though my mum and dad had no issue with me being a lesbian, they had concerns about how I would be treated by people with homophobic views. My parents never expressed this fear to me and were always positive about the situation, which made me positive, strong and not afraid to come out to others. Thankfully I have never directly suffered any homophobic abuse – maybe it’s because I am confident and clearly proud of whom I am or maybe I have just been very lucky.

I remember Edel telling me when she was first diagnosed with cancer. Our family was no stranger to the disease, but I couldn’t believe it. She told me that if I ever had any health concerns, to get them checked out as soon as possible because she had waited too long and the cancer had already spread by the time she sought help.

Shortly after Edel passed away I started having chronic headaches and feeling unwell. Remembering Edel’s advice, I sought medical help and was eventually diagnosed with a rare form of blood cancer. That was four years ago and my life has dramatically changed, mostly for the better.

Now I know what really matters in life and what does not. In a lot of ways accepting this chronic illness has been a lot more difficult for me and my parents than accepting my sexuality. I find coming out as a sick person much harder!

I miss Edel and often think about her. We were born within days of each other, in the same place, into the same family, both lesbian and both affected by cancer. The whole gay thing seems so insignificant when compared with illness and the prospect of losing loved ones.

For as long as heterosexuals get together and make babies, they must accept that there is a chance those babies will be gay, and that as parents their child’s sexuality should be the least of their worries!

A child doesn’t choose to be gay and a parent can’t choose whether or not to support their child, they simply have to – that is part of being a parent. I know that feeling unconditional love from my parents gave me the confidence to be true to myself. No matter what happened I knew that my family loved me and would always be there for me. That provided me with a foundation on which to build a happy life.

I love my mum, dad and the rest of my family dearly, and I thoroughly enjoy spending time with them. They have always been there for me and I will always be there for them.

Like everyone else, I did not choose my sexuality. Of course, sometimes I wonder how different my life would be if I was straight, but the reality is that I’m not and life is too short to pretend to be something I’m not.

By being true to myself I have always been able to live my life with the freedom to love who I love and to be loved in return for being the real me. What more could a person ask for?

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