Listen by Siobhán Leonard

When Martin was about to tell me his news, he rang me at work in Bank of Ireland to say he wanted to meet for a drink and a chat and I couldn’t refuse.

“Interesting,” I thought. I used to walk into work in my tracksuit and change into my uniform when I got there, so needless to say I didn’t fancy going out unless I was in ‘going-out’ clothes. Looking back at the silliness of it all – I was worried about my attire, and Martin was about to explain a life-changing event!

We went for a drink in The Temple Bar. I think I had two sips, and Martin said, “Let’s get to the point – I’m gay”.

I don’t think I was shocked or even reacted; then again it had to sink in. I do remember thinking, that’s the missing piece about Martin. I couldn’t pinpoint what that missing piece was, but now I had a word to describe it. Call it instinct or a woman’s intuition, but Martin being gay clarified a lot for me. It completed Martin as a person, albeit it’s only one aspect of him as a human being.

I suppose I was (as was my sister and brother) brought up in a fairly sheltered family and community. Being gay never really entered the equation, though I’m sure we knew people who were, but obviously not openly. It’s only now looking back with a more broad mind, I can recall times and situations that are more clear to me now.

Martin’s coming out, I suppose, meant he would be looking for something different (to my mind) in a relationship, and also would have a different circle of friends while hopefully keeping his old ones. Martin is still Martin, with all his faults and failings as we all have, the one we love, respect, and with whom we have a laugh.

My message to anyone – be it mother, father, son, daughter, brother, sister, relation or friend – is that if you feel or think something is not as it should be or perceived as “not normal”, chances are you’re right. Be open to LISTENING to them and trust your instincts. It will be different for everyone, as is the relationship to begin.

I remember one night living in Phibsboro in the early 1990s, and Martin came round for a visit. Fair City (a soap on national TV) happened to be on, and the main storyline at the time was about a gay couple. Ironically, one of the actors (Alan) was from Martin’s school; he may even have been in his class. As we were watching TV, I said, “Hold on, I want to see this” as the actors were about to kiss. I reacted with a “yuk” or an “eek”, as one would.

Martin obviously knew he was gay at this point, or at the very least knew something was not as “perceived normal” with his sexuality. I’m not sure what he felt at the time or even now if he remembers, but for someone going through such a dilemma in their own minds, I’m sure it didn’t help with everyone he loved around him having negative feelings towards gay people. What must it feel like when in your friend’s mind and eyes “this is not so normal”, but to the gay person “this is so normal”?

Then again we live and learn, and maybe it’s to be more aware of people’s feelings and try to be more in tune and think before you speak or react as it could have a detrimental effect on someone else.

As I now have two children, I’m wondering what I would think or feel if they told me they were gay. I know deep down that it’s not what I would wish for them as it’s an upward struggle to be recognised and accepted as different. Having said that, it’s not a disease, and no matter what life throws at them it’ll be a battle to a certain extent.

Finally, let’s not forget your sexuality is only one aspect of a person, it does not define you. It’s important to let everyone get on with their lives and not get too distracted or bogged down on the sexuality of a person.

One of my favourite lines from the movie/musical Moulin Rouge is as follows, and so in whatever shape or form it takes: “The greatest gift you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return”.

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