Shane Conneely addresses the current issues around homophobia in Ireland from a personal perspective.
Me, and my homophobia.
I’d long hair as a kid, apparently that made me gay too, or at least that was what would get shouted before I’d get a punch.
When I decided to become a young rocker I’d made a decision to stand out, because there is safety in being part of a gang, I’d been bullied as a kid so committing to a group (by growing my hair). I knew I’d be safer than if I was alone.
In school the term of abuse that was used was “fag”. It wasn’t until I was fourteen/fifteen that sex between men was decriminalised. I wasn’t gay, but it pissed me off. I was insulted by being called a gay. Being one of the long haired rocker types gave some protection in school, there was always someone to back you up. The price you paid was being called queer. And it was an insult, it was an assault on my (yet-to-be) manhood. When any of us were called gay, we were insulted, we had to retaliate, we had to punish the people who offended us, because to not do so would invite more abuse.
Outside school it was different. In the street you could rely on the support of those you affiliated with (even if you don’t know them personally) but if you were alone, looking different, you’d attract the attention of those who were looking for an outsider to beat up on.
Loads of times, late at night, fights would kick off and nearly every time they did it would start with someone shouting ‘FAGGOT’ in order to provoke a fight, or demean the person that was being beaten up. I was never a big fella, so it was usually me who got the hiding.
My homophobia was that I was insulted. I did feel demeaned by being called gay. I didn’t dislike gays (many of my best friends… etc.) But I didn’t want anyone to think that I was one. When gay men hit on me, I took it as a complement, but explained that I wasn’t gay (not simply that I wasn’t interested; but that I wasn’t one of you).
The first place I saw gay people being publicly affectionate was in the now closed Buttery bar in Trinity. I got a nice feeling from it. It was nice to see that there was a little bubble of safety for gay people in this town I knew so well. Slowly over the years I’d see gay girls holding hands in the street. And far more rarely gay guys. And I liked being in a town where people could be affectionate, and gay, and not get a beating.
It didn’t strike me how much had changed from when I was a teen until about 2009 when I was on a 78A (one of the shittier, rougher bus routes) and there was two teenage gay friends, a guy and a girl, who were talking openly about life, the universe and everything. Included in all this, was their love lives. They weren’t talking about being GAY, they were just a pair of friends talking.
And I thought about when I was their age, and how if they’d been only ten years older, or if they’d been from Carlow, how much less free to be themselves they would have been.
And it felt nice to be from the kind of country where such change is possible. I know that neither John Waters, nor David Quinn, not Breda O’Brien not the rest grew up in a country where being called ‘homophobic’ was an insult, we grew up in a country where being ‘gay’ was an insult.
I grew up in a country that was homophobic, and I live in a country that is a little less homophobic than it was. I am homophobic, I’m racist, I’m sexist, I’m ageist, I’m an asshole, and I have prejudices that I am still not aware of. I believe that the fear of the outsider, the non-conformist, is innate to us as humans, the jumped up monkeys-with-a-space-program that we are. But I also believe that we are at our best when we recognise our weaknesses and work to over come them.
So I’m a homophobe, and I’m not proud of it, but I’m working on it.
As I wrote this I thought about being called a fag, or a queer, or a gay, and I can clearly remember it. I don’t remember calling someone gay as an insult, but I must have done, somewhere along the line, and if I did it once, I’m sure I did it a lot.
So, I’m sorry. I’m sorry to anyone who thought that was an insult. And I’m sorry for the part I played in making life more difficult for those who are gay, and for those who are not. Life, for all of us, is a challenge, we don’t need to be making it harder on each other.