When I was first coming to terms with my sexuality, I clung to the truism that the hatred that is homophobia, and in fact all kinds of hatred was born out of ignorance. That the people who shouted fag, or homo, or queer at me in school, or in the street were just not educated, and it was this very ignorance of the fact that there were differences in people and cultures around the world that fuelled their own hatred.
As I grew older, and as I began to be exposed to people from different backgrounds and different cultures, even those within the small country I call my own, I realised that in fact I had been mistaken. I knew plenty of people who on first impression were intelligent, well educated and worldly that ultimately proved themselves to be the most homophobic people I had ever met.
People who had degrees, primary degrees, secondary degrees and even PhD’s who had the most retarded sense of equality I had ever seen. People who constituted the intelligentsia of Ireland, those who literally ruled our existence, were the ones in our society who had the most medieval attitude toward sexuality.
Equally I met people who were working class, had little if any further education and had no experience of the world outside our own parochial country, who couldn’t give a damn about who I jumped into bed with, and realised that love was a feeling shared by two people and that it didn’t matter whether those two people had compatible sexual organs or not.
One of my closest friends when I was growing up came from a very well to do, and successful Dublin professional family. A family of highly educated professional people. Wealthy, powerful and ostensibly intelligent people who had benefited from every educational opportunity available in this country. The best private schools, the best universities and postgraduate educations. The opportunity to travel and experience life beyond our shores.
It then came as a huge surprise to find that these people were exactly those who rejected me completely when I, with enormous trepidation made my first tentative steps toward being who I really was.
As soon as it became known that Leo was a ‘fag’, they completely cut me out of their lives. There had always been rumours of course, rumblings that all was not normal but once I actually plucked up enough courage to confront my demons and admit who I was, this family wanted nothing more to do with me.
I dealt with this as best I could. I told myself that it was going to be a while before the reality was accepted by everyone in my life, but I consoled myself that it would eventually happen, and that people who I had considered family for all of my life would eventually accept who I was and that normality would reign once more.
I was deluded.
20 years on, I very rarely encounter these people. I run into them now and then at funerals, and very occasionally at sporting events and those meetings could not be colder. A perfunctory greeting and nothing more. An outcome that admittedly is gratifying as much to me as I am sure that it is to them.
Before today I have thought very little about this. I buried it and didn’t discuss it with anyone else. I have effectively shut this particular episode in my life away, put it down to experience and moved on with my life. I have been in a very healthy and loving relationship with a man who represents the very best that a good education and moderate liberal upbringing can produce. I am extraordinarily lucky.
Unfortunately today, nearly 20 years after I first confronted the difficult decision in my life to be who I am, rather than to be who society would prefer me to be, I am horrified to realise that our society is not much better today than it was back then. There are still entire sections of our society who whilst ostensibly intelligent and well educated still consider homosexuality to be an aberration, and one that should be tolerated only for the sake of political correctness.
These are the same people who spread, and perpetuated the whisperings about Senator David Norris. That although there was no proof of his ever having displayed any such tendencies, his plea for clemency for an ex lover obviously indicated that he was a proponent of child molestation.
That his opinion that pederasty; the idea that an older man could provide guidance and education to a younger man, not in the sexual sense, but in the life lessons sense, had some merit, obviously meant that he was interested in taking every blond haired, blue eyed, 10 year old boy and doing unspeakable things to them.
In short, that as a gay man, he was in fact a child molester and paedophile at heart.
This despite the fact that at every turn, the unimpeachable character of Senator David Norris has shown him to be a champion of human rights, a crusader for the weak and disenfranchised and the very model of an educator and shepherd of young minds.
The fact that he was gay, and the fact that he had made an attempt to plead for clemency for a loved one, something that any mother, father, husband, wife, or friend in this country would do for a loved one, meant that in the minds of a certain section of the Irish electorate, he was eternally tainted.
It came as no surprise that these whisperings were made about David; it also came as no surprise that those whisperings were started within the ranks of the ‘intelligentsia’ in the nation. That it was lawyers, doctors, architects, politicians and most tellingly journalists who were tut-tutting about the homo and his frankly disgusting and dangerous views.
A further example of this homophobia was printed in one of the papers of record of this small nation of ours at the weekend. A newspaper that prides itself as having one of the largest circulations in the country. A newspaper, which is considered by many as THE Sunday newspaper.
It was by an author.
A man who has a couple of acclaimed novels to his name.
A man who was Auditor of the Literary and Historical Society in UCD during his university education. A society dedicated to debate and discussion, to the sharing and dissemination of ideas.
A man who was a diplomat for the Irish nation, who literally managed the relationship that our country has with the rest of the world.
A man who thereafter was the editor of Magill, a magazine considered to be one of the most groundbreaking in terms of moulding public opinion and providing investigative articles and colourful reportage in the Irish market.
This stalwart of the educated class, this champion of further education, this privileged progenitor of Ireland’s literary present and future presented to the country, in the nations favourite Sunday read, an article that represented the very worst type of hypocritical claptrap, scaremongering and incitement to hatred that I have ever had the misfortune to read.
However, as I read the article, I began to realise that it was all beginning to sound a little familiar. Horribly familiar.
What Mr. Delaney wants, what he was making quite clear in his ‘article’ is exactly the same thing that my ex-friends from 20 years ago wanted. What the stirrers who effectively torpedoed David Norris’s presidential hopes had wanted. He wanted us to be quiet.
He realises that we exist, but he would really prefer if we did not to pollute his existence with our constant demands for attention. Our constant ridiculous pleading to be considered normal. Our constant and irritatingly well publicised demands for equality.
Despite Mr. Delaney’s clichéd claim that
‘some of my best friends are gay’,
what he really meant to say was that
‘some of the people I know are disgusting homos, and I have to put up with them, because that is what society today demands, but really I would much rather if they would just be quiet so that I don’t have to imagine the perverted shenanigans that they might possibly get up to in the privacy of their own bedrooms’
Now, this from someone who had no education, or no experience beyond their own lives I might have been able to at least understand the reason for such a viewpoint.
From a man whose university education, career in the diplomatic corps and subsequent career among reputedly intelligent and open minded journalists would classify him as a member of the most privileged and rarefied strata of our society it is an absolute shocking example of how intelligence and education does not necessarily afford you any humanity.
Eamon Delaney, and the editor who accepted his work for publication are exactly the same type of people as the family who excised me from their lives so many years ago. They believe in a society where everyone is straight. Where everyone no doubt is white and catholic.
To paraphrase a tweet that I saw at one point yesterday afternoon, had Mr. Delaney substituted the word gay, with black, Jewish, traveller or handicapped, do you think that his editor would have allowed the article to run?
It is astonishing that in 2011, a full 18 years after the law criminalising homosexuality was repealed thanks to the herculean efforts of Senator David Norris that an article expressing these values could be allowed to be published in the largest paper in the land. And that it should be at the hand of such a person. An educated person.
It just goes to show, that as far as we think that we have come in Ireland, not everyone has made the journey with us.