I met Martin some time ago, in fact just a couple of years shy of 20. Scary thought how fast time flies.
Back then I was seeing Claudio, a Brazilian guy living in Dublin, and he invited Martin and a few friends over to his place for dinner. From then on I would see Martin out on the gay scene in Dublin, and after I broke up with Claudio we both ended up in a relationship for two years or so.
Admittedly, it was very casual to start with (on and off a number of times from what I remember), and looking back on it now it probably wasn’t a match made in heaven, but at the time I was happy and it worked as well as it could. We had the guts of a year in Dublin together before moving to Sydney, where we lived together for a year before we broke up.
While we were together, we both talked about our families. I remember Martin talking fondly about his parents and how close they were. I don’t really ever remember him talking about them arguing or not really getting on. I know that they went through some difficult times when they found out that his sister was gay and then also Martin. I’ll admit I felt slightly envious of his family, so my overriding impression of them was always a positive one.
I remember meeting Martin’s parents when we both went to Belfast for a weekend. I can’t remember if we stayed in Martin’s house overnight, but we did visit his parents and they were pretty much as I expected – both very nice and welcoming at the time. It must have been hard for Martin’s parents to meet someone with whom he was going out, but if it was, they definitely did not make me feel in any way uncomfortable.
I am from a much bigger family than Martin’s – one brother and five sisters. My home life was generally good, but there were difficult times. Growing up, money was always a struggle, and caused some tension in the family.
I found it difficult to relate to my father, and as a result our relationship was not as good as it could have been. He was from a different era, he seemed to live his life in the past, and was as happy as could be doing manual work out on the farm from morning to night. My mother didn’t involve him in the financial side of running a farm and feeding a family, so he never had the stress of that knowledge. That was for my mother to bear and, for a small part, also included me as my mother would often involve me in any decisions involving the farm and money.
‘Coming out’ came relatively late in life for me. I was 22, and I say late in life because a lot of people, particularly young people today, seem to be able to deal with their sexuality at a much younger age. This makes me feel very envious because when I look back at my life, particularly before coming out, I have a sense of regret that I wasted so many years. That said, they say you are a product of your experiences, and I guess maybe if I had come out earlier in life I might not be the same person that I am today.
From a very early age I always knew I was different than other kids, a feeling that is very common with most gay people. Way back then I didn’t know what that difference was, but I knew it was there. I was a shy kid, and I think that shyness was one of a number of reasons why it took me so long to deal with my sexuality. In school I was bullied a bit but not overly so, and I was lucky that I didn’t stand out as being effeminate so I was never specifically picked on for being gay.
I didn’t have a huge amount of friends in school, but the ones I had (unknown to me) have pretty much all turned out to be gay. It would have been great to have known this back then, but even if I did, I’m not sure what I would have done with that information. My mind was much closed to the whole gay thing, and though I knew I was different, I was years away from having the courage to ADMIT to myself I was gay.
From the age of 13, I hoped the attraction I had for other boys would pass and that I would be normal, but it never did. I knew that this was not something that I could ever tell anyone, and whenever these thoughts would come into my mind I would quickly push them away.
At the beginning it was not too difficult to ignore any gay feelings I was experiencing. In my early teens they were not as strong as they would eventually become, and I had lots of other things to keep me occupied. I had made up my mind that I would do whatever I had to do in order to be normal, and I wouldn’t allow myself to ever consider the possibility that I might be gay and what that would mean for me.
Unlike today, there were little or no gay role models in the media apart from the stereotypical gay man, limp-wristed and camp as all hell. At the time pretty much the only gay representation on the TV was Julian Clary, and though he was a funny guy, he was not someone with whom I could ever Identify, which only increased my resolve to never admit to being gay.
My first three years in school were not too bad. I had a few close friends and some girlfriends, though we never did much more than kiss and hang out. However, my last two years were not so good. I became more introverted as I struggled to cope with my dark secret. I had some close female friends, but I did not want to be known to have only girl friends as this would draw attention to the fact that I was different. At times during those years I did feel very lonely and, looking back now, I definitely do feel sad that I missed out on enjoying my school days more.
I can’t help think that things would have been much easier for me if gay people and gay issues had a much bigger presence in the media back then like they do today. The more normalised homosexuality becomes, the less of a big issue it is.
I had a very strong resolve not to admit to being gay, but a lot of that was based on fear and ignorance. I was definitely not very well informed and truly believed that gay people were dirty, sad and effeminate people who were destined to a life of loneliness and discrimination. Not a very attractive proposition, and certainly not a lifestyle that would encourage me to ever come out and admit to myself that I was one of them.
It blows my mind sometimes when I think of all the talk we have today about gay marriage, and that back in Ireland you can now publicly declare your love for your partner by entering into a civil partnership with that person. Granted, a civil partnership is not marriage, but when I was a teenager I didn’t even know that gay people could have relationships, let alone ever be this close to being able to get married. And I am absolutely certain that in most countries gay marriage is only a few years away. How far we have come!
After school I went to college. Ironically, that college was in Dundalk, Martin’s home town. I still pretended to be straight, but life for me was getting harder, in the sense that my self-esteem and self-confidence were on a downward spiral. For me, not having the courage or the pathway to deal with my sexuality was having such a negative impact on my life. Coming out as being gay is a long process, but you are 99 per cent there when you can acknowledge to yourself that you are gay and that you are going to finally deal with being gay. I was still a few long and difficult years off doing this.
For the latter half of my time in my last year in college I had a girlfriend called Marina. She was a very good-looking girl and I was amazed that she was interested in me. Unsurprisingly, there was no sexual attraction for me, but I was happy to have her as a girlfriend, as it helped make me feel more normal. In my head I felt that having sex with a woman might somehow cure me of being gay, but it never happened as she wanted to wait until she was sure I was the one for her.
After college I moved to Dublin for work, and not long after I ended the relationship with Marina. By now I was finding it harder and harder to cope. I knew I was gay, but still couldn’t come to terms with it. I knew it was not fair on Marina to pretend I had feelings for her.
My self-esteem was at rock bottom at the time. I decided that I would end the relationship and never go out with another girl again. I was sure she would understand and quickly realise that she would be better off without me. I broke it off with her over the phone and I remember being really surprised that she was so upset. I had convinced myself that I was someone not worth crying over, so I was not prepared for this. I couldn’t give her a clear reason as to why I was breaking up with her, and to this day I am pretty sure she does not know why.
I obviously couldn’t tell her the real reason. I could still barely admit it to myself, so I definitely couldn’t say it to her. At 21, I was at a very low ebb in life and on the verge of falling into a deep depression, but luckily for me things were about to change.
Not long after breaking up with Marina, and thanks to the encouragement of a work friend, I ended up joining a sports complex. Due to a combination of not having many sports options in school, coupled with a lack of self-confidence, I had never really done much sport or physical activities. However, from the first day of getting my membership, I became addicted to working out at the gym. I took up swimming lessons, learned to play squash and badminton and at one point even took up step-aerobic classes, though this was short-lived because of my lack of co-ordination!
Looking back now, it is clear to me why I became so obsessive with filling my time with physical activity. The busier I became, the less time I had with my thoughts – which meant I could avoid having to deal with my sexuality. This ended up being a good thing as through working out and taking up sports, my body started to change in a positive way. I quickly put on some muscle mass, my confidence started to increase, my mood improved and I finally felt ready to accept that I was gay and deal with my sexuality. The only thing was, I didn’t know how.
I know that this might seem strange but it never occurred to me that there might be phone helplines that you could ring that would give advice and guidance on how to deal with being gay. I was very ignorant about what support there was out there to help. Instead, my first gay experience resulted in some action I took after reading an article in the Sun newspaper about a private members’ club for gay people. I remember reading this and thinking that this must be what gay people do, go to these places to meet gay men, but then lead normal lives at all other times. It made perfect sense to me at the time. Nobody would ever know, or tell anyone, as everyone would be in the same boat as you.
That was how I had my first physical contact with another man. Definitely not the best place for this to happen, but through a lack of knowledge on my part it seemed the only option available to me. So as I headed off that night, with a few strong drinks beforehand to settle the nerves, I took the plunge and took the first step on a journey that truly changed by life.
I won’t go into details about what happened that night, but I will say that being with another man felt totally right for me. I met my first boyfriend that night, and from then onwards everything changed. I didn’t come out overnight, but the most important step for me was admitting I was gay to myself and deciding that it was now time to deal with this fact. And this is what I finally did.
Initially I thought the best way to deal with being gay was to leave Ireland and live somewhere where nobody knew me. At first I thought America, but after realising it would be impossible to get a visa I decided on Australia. However, through the help of a counselor I realised this was not the answer, at least not until I got my finances in order. This counselor made me realise that I would have to come to terms with being gay in Dublin, and over time that is what I did.
Before coming to terms with my sexuality, I always thought that I would never come out. But when I did, I have to admit it was the best thing I ever did. Since coming out, my life has exceeded my expectations in every way. Not that this would have been hard, as back then I didn’t have many expectations from life. But, really, the peace of mind that I have got since coming out has been something I could not put a price on.
Admittedly at first I led a double life until gradually over time I was able to tell more and more people I was gay. Coming out for me was being able to admit to myself that I was gay and that I was going to do something about it. Telling people I was gay didn’t happen straight away, but it did slowly start to happen.
The first person I told was my college friend Caroline, who had moved to New York. My first trip overseas was to New York to see her, and then Florida to see my sister. I had decided that Caroline was going to be the first person to tell, and then my sister. My plan was to tell both of them on my last day of being with them.
I told Caroline in Central Park, and it was probably one of the hardest things I have ever done. I was practically shaking and could hardly get the words out. For whatever reason Caroline laughed it off and thought I was joking. I was so relieved to have got the words out and thought that her reaction of disbelief better than rejection, so I didn’t correct her at the time. Two weeks later when I got back to Ireland I had a letter waiting for me from Caroline. She said if I was gay she would be 100 per cent supportive, but if I was joking she would kill me the next time she saw me. Caroline was the kindest person I think I have ever known, so I should have known that she would have been there for me no matter what.
I then told my sister, which was a bit easier than telling Caroline, and every time after that it gets easier. But certainly the first number of times you tell people it can be hard and it can take a tremendous amount of energy. A good friend of mine used to say that every time he told someone he would be so mentally and emotionally exhausted that he would need to sleep for a week afterwards to recover.
My journey definitely was not easy, and I do feel sad that it took me so long to come to terms with my sexuality. But it is what it is. Coming out was without doubt the best thing I have ever done. It will also probably be the most difficult thing in life with which I will have to deal.
It is great to see the world changing, and hopefully over time coming out will not be such a big deal. Gay people will be able to get married, have children and be treated no differently from everyone else. This is what I hope, but also what I believe will eventually happen; you can see it slowly happening now.