What an awful title eh? Really awful, isn’t it? So negative and devoid of joy! You’d be forgiven for reading a bit of shame into it, a bit of self-loathing, a bit of (dare I use the word) internalised homophobia.
So why did I use it?
I used it because language is powerful. I used it because the way we phrase something often reveals the hidden truth of the matter.
When we talk about young people discovering their sexual identity, we nearly always use that phrase “coming to terms with their sexuality”. We come to terms with a loss. We come to terms with a tragedy. We come to terms with a disappointment. So why do we come to terms with our sexuality? Why is it negative?
It’s because for most LGBT people, the initial acceptance of that identity came with a loss. It was the loss of a potential future. When I first sat myself down and said “Ah come on now Niall, be honest, it’s not a phase, you really don’t fancy girls at all” it was an awful, awful loss. My future had been snatched away from me; I knew I would never be able to have the same life as my brothers and sisters. I was fifteen years old and I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to be when I grew up…. but I knew I wanted to be a husband and a Dad. And now I knew that that would never ever happen for me.
When I came out to my parents at eighteen, they were wonderful and accepting. My mother, in particular, reacted to the news as if I had just told her that I preferred tea to coffee. She put down her knitting and smiled and said “Sure I know that, and I think Insert-Name-Here is a lovely boy. He’s your fella isn’t he?” It couldn’t have gone better. What I found out later, was that the next day she rang my sister and she cried and she cried and she cried down the phone at her. Not because she didn’t love me or was ashamed of me, but because “He’s so good with kids, and he’ll never be a father” and because “He’ll have to watch the other two get married and he’ll know he can’t” and because “life will be harder for him”. My mother “came to terms” with my sexuality. She came to terms with the loss of the future she naturally assumed I’d have, the one she’d prayed for when she felt the first kicks of that pregnancy, the one she’d imagined when she first held me in her arms. Gone.
All doom and gloom eh?
Well it isn’t! I’m talking about accepting my sexuality in 1997 and telling my mother in 2000. In 1997 it really was a loss of a future. In 1997 we never ever would have imagined that Marriage Equality could one day be within our grasp. I’m only in my early thirties and if we vote yes to Marriage Equality I most probably will end up becoming a husband and father one day. I will have the same life as my brothers and sisters, the life my mother pictured as she watched me sleeping in my cot.
I have set up a group called Teachers For Marriage Equality. It’s a group for primary and secondary school teachers, gay and straight to advocate and campaign for a YES vote in this referendum. If we vote yes, hopefully the day will come when no child in your class, present or future will have to “come to terms with their sexuality”. Discovering their identity will no longer come with the loss of a potential future of husbands, wives and children. It will be the same as realising you prefer tea to coffee. Instead of coming to terms with their sexuality, I want those children to embrace it as just another difference that adds to their own special uniqueness!