Losing the armour after decades of hurt

Paul Francis Quinn is a singer and in this heartfelt piece he describes exactly what the recent marriage referendum result meant for him and many others.

In 1986, near the end of a long, balmy and sleepless summer, a heterosexual male friend and I took the DART from the suburbs of Bray. Into the city we went and once there he promptly deposited me in a dingy, beer stained bar called “The George”. A third of the size it is today and, naturally, without a uncompromising rainbow flag unfurling in the breeze outside. No declaration of pride and identity. A tiny little world of lingering stares of furtive glances. Apparently, I was home. I had no idea what to make of my new home, but there I was, regardless.

Back then, the fight for expression of identity was a huge battle that I personally had waged upon my world and theirs. The heterosexuals. The grand majority. Aged seventeen I was now illegal but I wore my queerness like a suit of armour. Making myself highly visible and inscrutable all in one smart move. And it worked for me. But only up to a point. One had to run the gauntlet of a very real series of dangers, threats and annoyances. People mumbled discreetly about the young man who had been beaten to death in a park just a few years before. Ireland was a place entrenched in a deep mire of homophobia and gay love truly was consigned to the shadows. Love was not fit for public consumption, if you were queer.

Last weekend, almost 30 years and a great many tears later, my country finally recognised me as a truly equal citizen. And there were more tears. Those I had held in check for at least a couple of decades came freely and easily. Without any sobbing. They were simply tears of relief. And joy. It was now safe to cry. What had once seemed impossible was finally and unarguably here. Yet taking it all in was practically impossible.

After a dirty tricks campaign against equality that must surely have reminded every LGBT person in the land of both the latent, and the blatant, homophobia that had followed several audible paces behind them through their lives, honesty and decency had won. The people of Ireland had seen through the thick smog of lies, distractions and fear mongering to the dawn of a new day.

As I write this I find I am continuing to process the emotions that this referendum had set in motion within me. Some feelings I cannot name. Others almost too obvious and clear. Anger, rage, and yes, even now, the internalised feelings of shame and inadequacy that growing up as an obvious queer in 1970’s and 80’s Ireland instilled in me.
I cried most especially for my parents who did not live to see this day but who often sat up all night waiting for me when I had missed the last bus home to Bray. Their fears for my safety had seeped so deeply in my psyche I had barely known they were there. On Saturday afternoon they rose up in me like a small tidal-wave. I didn’t resist them. I didn’t have to.

In the weeks before the referendum I found myself looking at passers-by in the street and playing the guessing game “will they or won’t they?”, “Yes or no?”. I had almost forgotten that the question was “will they treat me equally?”. As if I had forgotten my own equal worth within society. As if society had designed it that way.
My partner and I have shared our lives for well over a decade. Through all our ups and downs I have always declared that I am not the marrying kind. Now I am at a loss to understand whether that declaration was perhaps the remnants of that suit of armour I had made for myself three decades ago. Why yearn after something you cannot have? That does not belong to you.

As a homosexual man, I now see that I had never considered myself worthy of marriage since queers simply did not get married. While the love of my life need not expect any such proposal within the coming days or weeks, I now see how this was another possibility in life that many aspire to but that had simply not been an option for me. And I had lived with that limitation. Our definition of marriage and the family had encouraged, actually no, instructed me, to do so.

While Saturday was an historical day for all of us, my thoughts now hover around the upcoming generations of LGBT youth. The true benefactors of the Marriage Equality Referendum. My sincere hope is that the message of love the flooded our nation on May 23 will find a permanent home in their hearts. I hope it will give them the courage to love and be loved with absolute certainty. To build families with surety. And to realise their full potential in the way that many who went before were denied.


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