Frances Winston discovers that some of her gay friends still have one foot in the closet
In 2007, a gay man, Finbarr Dennehy, was brutally murdered at his home in Clontarf, Dublin. 42-year old Michael Downes was later convicted of the crime.
For many people, this raised the issue of personal safety on nights out, and emphasised the dangers of bringing strangers home. For one friend of mine, though, it brought home the realisation that if he were to die alone in his flat, his mother would have to come and clean it out. It was then that he asked me to promise that if anything happened to him, I would go to his home and clean out all evidence that he was gay, before his mother got there.
I found this an odd request, but it turned out that despite being in his thirties, and in a long term relationship, he was not actually out to his parents. Having moved to Dublin from a small town in the country, he led something of a double life. He was ‘straight’ during weekend visits home, but very much ‘out’ when he was in his adopted hometown.
It turned out that he wasn’t the only one of my friends in this situation. Two others admitted to a similar situation, with one claiming: “I couldn’t tell my mother, it would kill her”. All of these men were in relationships, with those who lived together finding a two-bedroom apartment a necessity, so that they could claim their boyfriend was their flatmate.
All of these were out and proud – once they were within the safety zone of Dublin City’s walls. Equally, these were all men in their thirties who had been out to friends and colleagues for years – not teenagers struggling with their sexuality. They were also successful in their chosen careers, and capable, confident individuals – except when it came to broaching the subject of their sexuality with their parents.
This was six years ago, and not a single one of them has yet broached the subject on home turf. I have heard of several more similar situations since. I’ve actually had to let one person stay with me temporarily, when his boyfriend’s parents came to visit, as they weren’t aware of their son’s relationship or sexuality.
This clearly isn’t simply an Irish problem. Seth MacFarlane’s animated comedy, American Dad had a whole episode dedicated to the issue. The character of gay news anchor Terry Banks has a visit from his alpha male father – football hero Tank Banks – and pretends to be straight and married to protagonist Stan Smith’s wife, Francine for the duration of the visit. This is despite the fact that he is in a long-term relationship with his co-anchor, Greg Corbin.
It is sad to think that this is still a very real worry for members of the community in modern Ireland. Although two of the people I mentioned are engaged and have fully supported the marriage equality campaign, they are in a situation where they won’t be able to invite their parents to any ceremony should it take place. They will also have to go with a low-key big day, lest someone filters back the news to their hometown.
Effectively, they are living a half-life. In at least one case, they have told me they live in constant worry of bumping into someone from home, who may then go back and tell their mother that they are gay.
In an article in the Independent following NBA player Jason Collin’s announcement that he was gay, writer Andy West looked at the issue of coming out and wrote of telling parents:
“Many people imagine that their parents will reject them for being gay. I don’t know anyone who has been permanently cast out, though of course it can happen… Your parents can make sense of your sexuality in whichever way they choose. At least you can say to yourself that you have been honest with them and to yourself… The idea of losing your parents is such a frightening one. But such an absurdly blinkered response is nothing less than terrible emotional cruelty and you are worth better than that. Gay people must stop pandering to the bigoted. You are gay. That is the fact. They have to accept it. There is no choice.”
Sage words indeed that my out-in-the-city friends, and anyone in a similar situation, might do well to heed!