It’s Pride Month, and there are so many things to celebrate. As a gay woman, I’ve never attended any pride events or marched in parades. Many people have given me “kudos” over the years for this. It often sounds like “yeah, fair play to you for not flaunting it” or “yeah like, we don’t have straight pride so why is there gay pride?”. I want to be clear, I have never felt this way. I don’t attend pride events because I just don’t really attend events in general… The introvert in me would much prefer to soak up a Netflix documentary or devour a book. That doesn’t mean that pride itself is not an important part of every LGBTQ+ person’s sense of self and identity.
Pride teaches us about the history of LGBTQ+ rights. It highlights the struggles of those who came before us, how they fought for rights even in the face of potentially being killed for who they were. Pride is a celebration of what activists and protestors (Stonewall) did for all of us. It’s also an acknowledgment of how in some places, there is still so much work to do. However, for me as a teenager, pride was always tricky.
Growing up a part of the LGBTQ+ community in Ireland wasn’t easy. For starters, I didn’t even know there was a community. In the beginning, all I knew was that I felt different.
As a teenager, I can remember having the realisation that I was gay. Coming out to yourself is a thing, and I remember the exact moment that it happened for me. It’s not something I was hiding from myself or anything, it was more like a eureka moment. “Am I….? No, I couldn’t be but… OH MY GOD I’M GAY”. It’s different for everyone but in those first few days, I was completely shook. I had all sorts of judgements and assumptions about myself flying around my mind. It was completely horrible.
Coming out to myself didn’t go as well as it could have and in the months and years that followed, I remember laying in bed at night crying and praying (yes, praying) that it would “go away” or that it was “just a thought” and I” didn’t mean it”. I felt completely and utterly alone. It wasn’t until years later I found out that although my experience felt entirely unique, it was almost identical in so many ways for so many other gay kids growing up in small towns and villages across Ireland.
After the initial shock wore off, other feelings started to creep in. It was almost like a bargaining stage. If I do x, y and z then maybe I won’t feel gay anymore. I had heard lots of people talk about “phases”. Maybe this was a phase. If I ignore this for long enough, maybe it’ll pass. Spoiler alert, it didn’t.
After trying to bargain away the gay, I moved into the ignoring it phase. I threw myself into sports, working two/three jobs, drinking with friends as well as lots of other unhealthy habits. I had to be moving, I had to be engaged in something all of the time to stay out of my head. None of it worked.
The only thing that made growing up gay slightly easier for me, was having a friend who was also gay. We would go on these really, really long walks in the rural countryside. We’d walk for miles and miles, talking and trying to figure out ways to be straight. We’d talk about how we might have to hide it forever and how awful it would be if anyone ever found out.
I think probably due to how much we talked, and the fact that we were getting older (I must have been in my mid-teens by now), we started to have more and more feelings about things, even if we didn’t really understand why. For instance, I realised that I felt really uncomfortable with the word lesbian. I would shudder at hearing the word and it felt dirty to me – I opted to use the word gay instead, even when talking to myself. Of course I know now that my discomfort with the word lesbian came from how I had heard it used for most of my life. I had only ever heard it used as a slur, or when guys bragged about watching porn or in secretive conversations rife with rumour and innuendo.
It might sound a bit crazy now, but back then, the only frame of reference we had for being gay came from movies or stories told in hushed tones across the town. There was one about the married man who got caught sleeping with a guy and how he had to leave forever. Or the woman who left her fiancée at the alter and ran away with a woman and how her mother never forgave her for it. These were the only precursors we had for “people like us”. It wasn’t even all that long ago.
As we grew older, we started to hear about how friends had gone to a gay club in Dublin and how much fun they had. I genuinely think this was the first time it ever occurred to us that there were gay bars in Ireland and that we could go. Pretty soon after that, we spent every weekend in a different city in Ireland going to different gay bars and clubs. It was as if validation took a human form, shot up right out of the ground and grabbed hold of the two of us. I had never felt so normal and ordinary in all my life, and I mean that in the best way possible. I’m sure my friend felt it too.
After that, things became a little easier for me. By now I had told my family and some close friends. Some family members took it a lot better than others, and there were (and still are) some family members I never told, though I’m sure they know by now (lol). Even though the ones closest to me knew, it was still something secretive and not spoken about. I would of course meet people on nights out but I always kept it very casual. The thoughts of being the topic of those hushed conversations back home still bothered me enormously.
It wasn’t until I met my current partner of almost 13 years that I slowly began to not give a shit. I moved away from home and into a city where I made lots of new friends, some straight, some LGBTQ+ but all accepting and kind. There was a visible shift in how LGBTQ+ people were seen and to my surprise, in a city away from my small town, a lot of people didn’t really care about you being gay.
It’s always when pride month rolls around that I think about my younger self. The 13 year old trying to pray her gay away. Things are so very different now, for me and for others. Last year a friend told me that she saw two young people of the same gender identity walking through a rural Irish town holding hands. I couldn’t believe it. My mind immediately jumped to asking “are they ok? did anyone say anything?”. Nobody said anything and they were more than ok. They were having a very ordinary experience that they probably had to work extraordinarily hard for. I have gay friends who are married, who have children and who are now very genuinely living their best lives.
Pride reminds us to celebrate who we are and the people we love. I ask that we think too though, of the person who for whatever reason cannot come out. The person who is flinching at each mention of the word gay or pride. The person who still cries in bed at night, trying to ignore their feelings, wondering if acting straight forever is an option or maybe even wondering if they can survive at all.
I have never regretted coming out or all of the experiences that came with it – good or bad. However, I do wish I had the skills to have been a little bit kinder when I came out to myself. I have come to learn that negative comments or hateful remarks hurt more when you think or say them about yourself. Happy pride month to all of those who don’t feel safe enough to celebrate and to all of those who don’t feel comfortable enough to celebrate it. I hope that next year feels different for you.
If you’re struggling with coming out, to yourself or to others, there are resources available and people who might be able to help. If you’ve got questions about being LGBTQ+ that you feel you can’t ask anyone – you can send us an email or pop us a question over on Instagram (we’ll always keep you anonymous).