To mark the first anniversary of the marriage-equality referendum, Charlie Bird asks gay people, and their relatives, how Ireland has changed for them. Among them are Garry Hynes, Bill Hughes, Erney Breytenbach, Brandon Martin, Vivian Cummins, Enda Morgan, Rachel Morgan and Marion Doherty.
Garry Hynes is a director and a founder of Druid theatre company
I was born in Ballaghaderreen, Co Roscommon, which is my mother's native town. My father was headmaster of the VEC. They got married in 1952. I was the first child. We were a family of six. I went to the Dominicans' secondary school in Galway and then went to university in Galway for four years. In the summer of my teacher training I got together with Marie Mullen and, eventually, Mick Lally, who was a teacher in Tuam tech, and we founded Druid theatre company.
My sexuality was not something that would have bothered me very much until probably my early teenage years. And then it was really more about feeling that there was something slightly different.
So I had to all intents and purposes very straight teenage years. I went to hops, dances, went out with fellas, had the usual heartbreaks if he didn’t fancy you and delight if he did.
I continued that until college. Up to the time I left college I had had a few relationships with women. It was quite private. And then gradually, in the early years of Druid, I would say that the majority of people who knew me privately would have known that I was gay. I didn’t tell my parents.
I made a very conscious decision when I was in my early 30s to come out. I began to feel incredibly wrong leading the life of a private gay person.
When I began a relationship with a woman it was there for everybody to see, as far as I was concerned, and at that point I told my siblings. It was difficult in the usual way. But, to be honest, even if they had turned around and taken a stick and beaten me from here to Timbuktu I still wouldn’t care. In fact they didn’t: they responded with their usual sort of irony.
The last person I told, because she was living in America at the time, was my sister. She is 13 years younger than me, but she always treats me like I’m the younger sister and she’s the older, more sensible one.
I said, “I’ve got something to tell you.” And she said, “What is it?” And I said, “You know, I’m gay. I’m coming out as gay.” And she just went, “Oh, Jesus Christ, Garry.” And I said, “What’s wrong?” And she said, “I thought you were going to say you were pregnant. Oh, Christ. Thank God.” Which was kind of nice. And my brother had the same reaction.
Looking back on it, I wish I’d done it earlier. I realise how much a function of the times I am. I’m 62 years old. I’ve gone from secrecy and exclusion to openness and embrace. But I have seen it all.
I do remember conversations when people would talk about gay people, or queer people, or whatever, you know, where somebody would say, “Oh, my God, I mean whatever about guys, how can women do it together?” All those kind of things that were very, very hurtful. Especially when the people talking like that were people that you liked and knew and somehow respected.
I was in a long relationship, for almost 15 years, with a woman prior to this relationship. I never actually told my parents. But when discussing it with my siblings it was felt that they knew and that this was the way it was.
I will never forget one family occasion. I think it was one of my parents’ anniversaries, and the whole clan gathered. The person we brought in to do the family photographs kept finding that apart from the children there was an extra woman, and no man to match up. And she kept trying to work out the math of how. “No, you can’t stand together. We have to have a man there.” And I said, “We want to stand together.” She was so thick. “Oh, no, no, no. I can’t do that. I can’t do that.”
And eventually my father cut in and said, “They are being photographed together.” She just heard his voice and suddenly dropped everything. And it was a great moment for me, because my father was acknowledging he knew exactly what was going on, and he was acknowledging that we were a couple.
I suppose what I regret, probably, is coming out as late as I did. If I went to college 10 years later I would have come out in college, which is where these things usually happen.
I suppose, maybe, it’s not just the times. I am a private person. And making my sexuality the subject of a public journey didn’t feel right to me. But it was a pity. But, you know, theatre, that’s what took over my life. You can’t have regrets, but if I did have a regret it would be that.
The marriage referendum was hugely important. It’s fantastic for me. I mean, Martha and I deliberately decided to go forward with our civil partnership, even though we knew it was beginning to be likely [that the referendum would be carried]. And I said, “We know it’s likely to be passed, but we are going to go ahead with the civil partnership now, because I don’t want to wait for an election.”
But when you are going through the process of discovering it for yourself, and discovering what the implications of it are, and discovering how you are going to deal with it, I think everybody will still have to go through that.
No matter how accepted it is, you are and always will be part of a minority. And being part of a minority, it’s different. Regardless of the amount of acceptance, it’s different.