On the 23rd of May at 9:15pm, with a palpitating heart and a quivering thumb, I hit the send button on my iPhone. I was taking a leap of faith into the abyss of the unknown. As the loading icon oscillated with swirls of nauseating suspense, I reflected upon what I was doing and why I was doing it. When the upload failed suddenly my heart stopped, momentarily. My thumb hovered over the reload button, the light of my iPhone illuminating my face, as I sat unnerved and alone in my dimly lit bedroom in Killarney. Was the reload symbol with its curved devil tail a bad omen, a prophetic sign warning me to stop what I was about to do? I froze! Trying once again to summon up the courage that got me this far, my thumb edged closer to the screen. Without further hesitation, I executed the action before the doubts could consume my courage. The loading icon swirled again, going around and around like the Rota Fortunae, or Wheel of Fortune, determining my destiny, before fading into a new screen, a new me. The photograph I just posted and shared with the world appeared before me. As I looked at myself holding words of honesty and liberation etched on a poster in my shaking hands, tears of joy and tears of sadness began to fill my eyes. I feared what would happen next, but there was no going back now. I had kicked open the proverbial “closet” door. I turned my phone off that night and began the agonising wait for the response of my friends and colleagues.
The Marriage Equality Referendum results had just been announced on the news. Ireland said ‘Yes’ to same-sex marriage. I had spent the day monitoring the news coverage of the vote count, sick to my stomach with worry and praying silently that Ireland had made the correct decision to vote ‘Yes’. Tears streamed down my face as I watched the crowds of people, young and old, from the LBGT community celebrating the victory of their highly successful and noble referendum campaign. Regretfully, a campaign I had no hand or part in as a closeted gay man. I was afraid. Although I voted ‘Yes’ and encouraged friends and family to vote ‘Yes’, I did not have the courage to step up and get involved in the campaign. I was not “out”. I was isolated. Sitting alone in my sitting room watching the celebrations of the ‘Yes’ vote on television, I was overcome by an overwhelming feeling of loneliness, regret and sadness. Why did I not have the courage to “come out”? Why did I not get involved in the Marriage Equality campaign and stand up for what I believed in? I could have stood up and taken part, but I chose to let fear get the better of me. I could have been there celebrating who I am, and celebrating Ireland’s national recognition of who I am with all those people, but I wasn’t. I was sitting in front of my TV celebrating alone. I felt empty while others felt full.
In that moment, I realised I had fallen between the cracks of society. As a closeted gay man, I occupied a liminal status. I was not and could not be part of the gay communities in Ireland because I had a “dirty little secret” to hide. In lying by omission about my sexuality, I existed on the periphery of heterosexual society. I was lost between two different societies, both of which I did not feel apart of. It felt like drowning while watching everyone else breathe. Every time I saw a gay or straight couple holding hands or kissing, it reminded me of a question no one could find the answer to: “Where was my partner?”
Loneliness is when you do not even know yourself. As Paul Tournier once said, “Nothing makes us so lonely as our secrets”, and my secret had detached me from myself. At the core of my loneliness was a deep and powerful yearning for union with myself, and union with others who saw me as my authentic self. “Loneliness,” as Carl Jung said, “does not come from having no people around you, but from being unable to communicate the things that seem important to you.” I am fortunate to have wonderful people in my life, friends and colleagues, who accepted “private” me for who I was, and who continue to accept me for who I am today.
I was the reason behind many people’s smiles, but unfortunately not my own. I was lonely in silence, choked by fear of rejection. I could not express what I wanted to express. I was bullied into silence and forced to accept other people’s definition of my life and how I should live it. I was made a victim of my sexuality by society, by religion, and by certain people in and around my life. Most importantly, however, I made myself a victim of my sexuality. The battle was not me against the world; it really was just me against myself. I allowed my mind to be influenced and contaminated by society and I chose to stay silent. Instead of choosing to risk rejection and be alone in honesty, I chose to be alone in silence, dishonest to myself, and others about my sexuality.
On this day last year, as the LGBT rainbow flags flew around Ireland, and couples gay and straight kissed and hugged in celebration of equality, I felt unequal. I could gain nothing from all the hard work of the incredible and inspirational people involved in the Marriage Equality referendum campaign because I was still living a lie. Ireland demolished with a resounding ‘Yes’ vote the walls blocking LGBT people from the equal right to marriage. However, I was still blocked behind my own walls, barriers that I had built myself and let others reinforce.
This day a year ago, I was forced to confront a reality I had been avoiding for years. A decision had to be made. Do I let the walls I constructed confine me and define me, or do I break them down and define myself? I did not want my sexuality to be the eternal sorrow that never sleeps. I finally gave up the battle with myself. I no longer wanted to be alone and trapped in myself and defined by an illusion of myself. I had suffered for years. My spirit suffered. My mental health suffered. My relationships suffered. I lost some close friends because hiding the truth from them was easier than admitting it. As the tears ran down my cheeks that evening a year ago, I whispered to myself, “I can’t do this anymore!”
“Growth is painful. Change is painful. But nothing is as painful as staying stuck somewhere you don’t belong.”
I did not want to stay stuck any longer. I wanted to be free so I decided to own my own truth and tell my own story.
One year later, standing on the other side of that pain, I can say that “coming out” was the best decision I ever made. When I acknowledged my sexuality, I felt whole for the first time. Standing up and being counted changed my life in so many positive ways and the experience has been incredible. My family, friends and colleagues have been extremely supportive in my journey and I thank all of them for their continuous support and love. I am very fortunate that I live in a society that allows me to speak out, that allows me to love who I want, and to acknowledge love with matrimony. I love my life. I accept myself. I embrace my uniqueness. I am proud of everything I am and everything I will become. I am no longer ashamed to be me.
After “coming out” I realised the damage of self-shame. The shadow side of “coming out” is the realisation of all the pain I have carried for years. By “coming out” I liberated the energy I spent keeping a part of myself hidden. You never realise how much pain you were experiencing until that pain is removed. You never realise how lonely you are until you realise you have something to say but no one to say it to. You never realise how much love you have to give until you are granted a licence to love and you find someone special to share your love with, openly and honestly. When the proverbial weight that I had carried for years was lifted off my shoulders, I experienced a temporary void — perhaps, the acknowledgement of my existential death in the process of my rebirth — but that void was filled quickly with love. Shortly after I gathered the courage to face the world, a man wandered into my life. He has thought me things about myself I never knew and he continues to nourish my interpersonal growth. When I look at the spaces between my fingers now, I know that is where another warm loving hand fits perfectly.
Being openly gay and visible is the most powerful act anyone can do. Regardless of what else you do, you are making an impact on other people’s lives. Social change is all about visibility, education and awareness. To change people’s minds about homosexuality, they must witness what it is like to be gay. By “coming out” publicly on social media, I hope to contribute to the change initiated by the success of the Marriage Equality referendum. I hope one day, there will not be a need for people to “come out”. Instead, we will just say we are in love. Love is all that matters and love is not contingent upon inconsequential criteria as age, race, nationality, or gender. Deepak Chopra says, “If love is universal, no one can be left out.”
I hope by sharing my story with whoever out there is struggling with their sexuality will see that there is hope. “Coming out” can be a very positive experience and that it is never too late in life to “come out”. Be patient! The right time will come. Accept yourself and accept the fact that it is perfectly OK to feel conflicted. Sometimes you have to go through the worst to get the best. Falling apart is an opportunity to rebuild yourself in any way you wish you had been all along. Just remember to be unique. Don’t be afraid to show off your colours. Be brave!
Writing this post is an opportunity for self-reflection over the year that has passed. I am extremely grateful the thing that came close to being my tomb has actually become my cocoon. Like a butterfly wrapped in its silk coat undergoing transformation, I have broken free and spread my wings.