Róisín Ingle on . . . coming out

Sat, Dec 7, 2013, 00:00

T om Daley’s father is not around to see his son make global headlines away from the swimming pool. He died of cancer, aged 40, two years before the young British diver had won his Olympic medal; two years before the world went into overdrive about his tiny togs and his boyband smile. Earlier this week the diver made a YouTube video subtitled: “This has been a hard decision to make but I wanted you to hear this from me.”

In it he says that, while he has dated girls in the past, he is currently in a relationship with a man. “I couldn’t be happier,” he says. Big deal, part of me thought when I watched his “coming out” video until I remembered that to some people it still is.

Daley reckons his dad would have been supportive of his decision to talk about his sexuality. “As long as you’re happy, I’m happy,” is what his dad used to say to him and he thinks it would apply now he’s happy in a relationship with a man.

When I heard about all this I was reading a book about an Irish man who, 18 years ago, discovered that two of his children were gay and the way he tried to come to terms with this new reality.

The book is My Son, My Daughter, Myself and it tells the story, from several different perspectives, of how one Irish family dealt with a double coming out. Over two days Peter McCormick discovered two of his three children, his son Martin and daughter Edel, fancied people of the same sex. No big deal. To some of us maybe. But this was not Peter’s vision for his children, it was not his wife Anne’s plan either. For the children, while a tough road lay ahead, there was relief, release, a chance to stop the hiding and pretence. For the parents, both committed Catholics with traditional views, the news was like a grenade thrown into the middle of the family, challenging and changing everything.

McCormick was a proactive person. He set about trying to make sense of the situation. He placed anonymous ads in the local newspaper asking other parents of gay children to meet up in private or form a support group. He started to write a book. He wanted to pull together responses from family and friends. His idea was that, by sharing their experience with other families, it might help them.

He didn’t get much of a response to his request for other parents to get in touch or from the family to write stories. He died eight years later of cancer. A year later Edel was diagnosed with cancer and three years later, after fighting, as her mother writes “like a tiger” to live, she died. The book never got written.

A few years after Peter died, his son Martin found a file containing research for the book. It included the title, the book’s structure, a poem by Edel and Peter’s own story about the coming out. Eventually, several years later, he got around to asking family, relatives and friends to write the stories Peter had originally asked for. The result is a deeply honest book which made me cry on the Dart at the honesty of the participants. No sentimentality, just truth. For a tiny publication it packs a huge punch.

In the book Martin writes about coming out to his parents: “The most emotional moment of my life. For each of us ‘coming out’ had different implications”. For him there was relief; for his parents “that night spelt disaster – a mixture of despair, blame, guilt, fear and, of course, sin.”

Anne McCormick writes of the devastation when she discovered her children were gay. “My secure little cocoon fell apart. Parents live in closets too . . . my big problem was fear, fear of my children being attacked by an intolerant society . . . but if there were more gay people in the world it would be a much better place.”

Martin writes that although things have changed dramatically in Ireland a lot of families and individuals still struggle with the same issues. He hopes the book will be of benefit to them and the challenges they face which is exactly what his father intended all those years ago.

I think if he was still around Peter McCormick would be pleased and kind of amazed that earlier this week somebody’s son who happens to be an Olympian made a YouTube video telling of his relationship with someone of the same sex. No big deal? Maybe that day is closer than it ever was.
myson-mydaughter-myself.org

roisin@irishtimes.com

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