“This weekend I did something I was never sure that I’d be able to do. I got on a train and I went home to see my family. This journey home was different to all of the others I’d ever made though. It was different because this time I went home with the sole purpose of telling my family that I’m gay.”
Like all good writing, Fergal’s story brought me back to my own ‘coming out’, a few days before Christmas in 2010. And it made me remember The Closet.
The Closet is the subject of jokes and memes in popular culture — “Hear those closet doors knocking?” — but for many of us, The Closet was the prison where we spent our childhood, our adolescence and our adulthood. It was a real place that lived inside our minds. Reading Fergal’s story, I went back to that place and felt my lungs tighten as if they were adapting to a cramped space. That was what living in The Closet was like. I would probably have died in there until one day, Christmas week, I realised I could no longer live with the guilt and forced myself to tell my Mum. Relieved that I wasn’t pregnant, she hugged me and that was it. I felt like I was out on parole for time served.
Over the weekend, I visited Edinburgh, the city my Grandfather was born in. We went on a Literary Walking Pub Tour and during it, learned about a chap called Deacon Brodie — a respectable citizen by day, a robber by night, who inspired Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. “Stevenson” our guide told us, “Was interested in the duality of man, the good and the good and evil that lives inside us all.” When Fergal writes of living two lives, I recognise it because I lived two lives too. Being gay was my Dr. Jekyll, the part of myself I had to hide from everyone else. The main difference was that my Dr Jekyll wasn’t evil.
The Closet continues to cast shadows on my life. In Northern Ireland, too many continue to live there — even the young, those in their 20s and 30s who grew up in religious homes, afraid of sex, sin and the Devil. A relationship with someone ‘on the inside’ is as difficult as if they were living in a real prison. It’s easy to say ‘be brave’ but sometimes, dark corners feel safer than sunlight.