I came out when I was 22. Luckily, it was to a loving family who celebrate diversity. That doesn’t necessarily make it any easier, though, as others in my position can testify. Deciding to come out of the closet isn’t just about telling others you’re gay. The real battle for many young LGBT people takes place within themselves.
My decision to move to Texas, a place where the marriage-equality debate is far more polarised and the No side have plenty of power, support and resources, was not an easy one, either. Love has brought me here – my husband is Texan – but couldn't my heart have picked a safer place, like San Francisco or New Hampshire?
Many here say that Texas might be the last state in the US to fully legalise gay marriage. For some locals this prospect is deeply humiliating. Knowing that rivals such as Arkansas and Oklahoma are already moving faster does not sit well with everyone.
I’m currently in Austin, sometimes referred to as the blueberry in the tomato soup – the Texan capital is a small, Democrat-voting oasis of liberalism and tolerance in a Republican state. What people here think doesn’t necessarily correspond with the state’s position on social issues as a whole. Last month, for example, a Texas Republican house representative pushed through an amendment to move $3 million originally earmarked for HIV and STD prevention programmes into paying for abstinence education instead.
So why did we come here? My husband, Mackenzy, and I had lived in Dublin for almost five years. As an unsuccessful musician and actor couple, we both had designs on another city to get rejected by. After our civil partnership in Dublin, in 2012, we married in New York the following year. Mackenzy always wanted eventually to move home. I did my best to keep his aspirations on my longest finger. But then his mom, Kimberly, was diagnosed with cancer. Her son and son-in-law were her only close family. We were moving to Texas.
She lived in San Angelo, a small city, dominated by oil and gas companies, about 300km west of Austin. With one income and no health insurance, money was tight. So four of us – Kimberly, a lodger, Mackenzy and I – shared a two-bedroom house in a part of Texas that wouldn’t necessarily be top of the International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association’s list of destinations. To avoid any discrimination (as well as avoiding having the same conversations about sexuality over and over) we said I was a cousin, helping to look after his mom.
This was not an easy time for any of us. The same idea kept rattling around in my head: if opponents of gay marriage could see how difficult our lives can be – which is to say just like everyone else’s – they might be more sympathetic. Sure, there may be occasional banana daiquiris and questionable house music, but there are also sick mothers-in-law, worries about money, and social insecurities. It reminded me of a banner I saw a woman holding at a marriage-equality rally in Dublin: “I want gay people to be as miserable as I make my husband.”
Mackenzy’s mom passed away in February. With only ourselves and an aunt to offer support, her death was painfully uneventful. It made us a stronger couple, however. Neither of us could have made it through the ordeal without the support of the other.
In spite of (or due to) all the drama, I haven’t really felt homesick. Until now. Following the healthy same-sex marriage debate at home online, and seeing the good vibes being spread by the Yes Equality campaign, have brought more than one tear to my eye.
Anti-marriage-equality lobbyists here argue that every other jurisdiction that has legalised same-sex marriage has done so by forcing it on people, either judicially or legislatively. As Ireland is the only country to put this issue to a public vote, the referendum on May 22nd has global significance.
Many Texans still consider Ireland to be very conservative and completely dominated by the Catholic Church. In anticipation of a Yes vote, I’m happy to let them continue thinking that, however misguided a perception it is. Changing the Irish Constitution will send a message demonstrating how even so called "conservatives" and religious people can still respect real equality above all else.
Besides, if you do vote No I’m never coming back.