Laugh by Fiona Breslin

We were all living in Dublin at the time, and over a week or two Martin made a number of attempts to organise to go out for dinner with my sister Siobhán and myself.

It didn’t appear that all three of us were going to be available to go out for dinner together for some time, so in the end Martin decided that the two of us would go out for dinner together and he would hook up with Siobhán at another point.

We went for dinner to a restaurant in Dublin city centre – my memory is of being in a dark restaurant with a hushed, basement-like feel to it, possibly Mexican. We sat at a small table for two along the back wall of the restaurant, me facing outward into the restaurant and Martin facing toward me. The tables were very close to each other, too close – I clearly remember that. You know the way there is a very thin line between making maximum use of the space in a restaurant to fit in as many customers as possible and then just simply overdoing it so that you feel slightly uncomfortable being so close to the people beside you.

There was a couple to my left, having what seemed like a very romantic candlelit dinner. “If only those two weren’t sitting so close,” I imagined they were thinking. We, too, were at a candlelit table, so I am sure we appeared similarly – a happy couple having a romantic dinner out together – talking and LAUGHING lots, which would be the norm for our time spent together. We talked for a little about this and that, and then Martin said he wanted to tell me something. I had the specifics of this moment of time etched accurately in my mind for many years – the exact wording, in fact, but as it happens the details have become vague throughout the years.

My recollection is that Martin started by saying he had already shared this with my brother Séamus (his closest friend) and had wanted to tell my sister Siobhán and myself at the same time. But the way it had turned out, that he was now going to be telling us individually, was probably for the best since we are very different people.

He then went on to tell me that he was gay. He most certainly didn’t tell me using those exact words, but I honestly can’t remember what he said – I just remember feeling an overwhelming sense of emotion and started to cry. To this day I don’t understand why I cried. You cry when you are sad, happy, even angry, but all I can think is that it was an instant, pure, emotional response – the kind that comes on so quickly you don’t even have time to guard yourself against it – or anyone else for that matter – not having time to weigh up your reaction, measure it, or choose the appropriate response. So there it was – my raw reaction at a candlelit table in an intimate restaurant in Dublin city centre.

Martin knows I am a big softie, so I am sure this reaction did not come as much of a surprise, and he immediately acted like the gentleman I know him to be and started to console me. After some time, I noticed the couple who were sitting to my left had gone extremely quiet and were now just looking at each other. It was clear to me that this was not a lovestruck gaze between them, but more, “Are you hearing the conversation between the two next to us?”

I looked intently at Martin and subtly nodded to my left. At that very moment the two of us burst out laughing, both realising at the same time what the couple must have deduced after earwigging on our conversation.

They obviously presumed, as I had done of them, that we were a couple having a romantic meal together and then, what do you know, ‘the boyfriend’ (Martin), like a bombshell tells the girlfriend (me) that he is gay and I, ‘the obviously devastated girlfriend who had been totally oblivious to this fact’ bursts out crying with ‘newly arrived out of the closet boyfriend’ trying to console me.

I can only imagine what they then thought when we both instantaneously burst out laughing so hard – they must have just thought we were nutters!

Martin went on to explain many things, including the fact that he had known he was different from a very early age, say four or five; he had been careful when consciously choosing my brother Séamus as a friend in secondary school because he seemed sensitive and kind; he had been with a few girls but it never felt right; and he had been in denial for many years.

He also told me how it came to be, that on the night his parents and he talked about the fact that he was gay, it also came to light that his younger sister Edel also felt she was gay. This added a whole other dimension to the story. I truly felt for his parents. I thought this was very, very unusual that two siblings were both gay and told him so, but he informed me that it was not at all that unusual.

I remember feeling sad – why, I can’t quite articulate, perhaps simply feeling for him, for the struggle life must have been so far, the fact that he would not be getting married or become a father (not in the conventional way, anyway), the struggle life was going to continue to be for some time. Maybe forever!

How was I to know how it was all going to turn out for him, how he would cope, how people would treat him? Wouldn’t there always come a time in his work life, social life, etc, where he would have to state the fact that he was gay, pronounce his sexuality? How unfair was that – having to inform people (to whom you were not close) of something so intimate. Straight people never have to make that kind of pronouncement because we are the ‘norm’. I fundamentally felt that a difficult life lay ahead of him.

I had known Martin since he was 13, since his friendship with my brother Séamus started in first year of secondary school. I knew he didn’t seem to get that many snogs, shifts – whatever you want to call them – but in some way in the back of my mind had put it down to the fact that Séamus was perhaps better at chatting up the girls and he was a great dancer, so that also helped with the ladies, I’m sure. Because I had reasoned this out, Martin coming out was a total surprise for me – a shock. I did not see it coming one little bit.

Among the emotions tinged with sadness was a kind of giddiness, and I openly said to Martin, “I can ask you all those questions about gays that I have always wanted to know”. That’s how I felt, too – a door had opened into another world. I could ask honest, straight questions without offending someone and could get better informed about how it all was in the gay world… not from a camp, dramatic, effeminate gay man, but from my solid, loving, gentle friend who I loved dearly.

It seems that friends of ours who had only met Martin for the first time in the year or two before he came out automatically presumed he was gay – he wasn’t camp in any way, but they just ‘knew’. I explained to them that perhaps if I had met Martin in his early twenties, as they had, that it may have been obvious to me, too. But I had known him from a young boy of 13, and thus my perception was clearly very different. They couldn’t believe that I had not had any inkling of his homosexuality, and some laughed openly about this which made me feel, I remember, foolish, innocent, gullible and totally naive.

Betty, the mother of Orlagh, a friend of ours, when told by Orlagh that Martin was gay, very caringly said, “Oh, I hope no one hurts him”. Orlagh’s take on this was that her mammy had heard of men being beaten up because they were gay, and she feared for Martin. I always thought that it was lovely that she was so worried for his wellbeing. Here was a middle-aged Irish Catholic woman, and this was her lovely, caring reaction on hearing about Martin.

I am so happy for Martin that he came out and allowed us to know him in a more whole sense. I can only imagine the pressure and weight that was on him and the lightness he must have felt as he revealed himself little by little to all close to him. I think it is one of the bravest things anyone can do – to show more of themselves – and for someone who is coming out as Gay, all the more courageous.

I dedicate the following piece to my wonderful friend Martin because I know in coming out, in the way he lives his life and finally in taking on the completion of a great piece of work his dear father started, is liberating others.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

A Return To Love: Reflections on the Principles of A Course in Miracles by Marianne Williamson.

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