The Yes Woman: The idea of going to Pride used to make me uncomfortable

About two years ago, I started to get a glimpse of what it might be like to be gay in Ireland

‘This year I felt entitled to share the pride.’ Above, Dublin Pride Parade on O’Connell Street. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

‘This year I felt entitled to share the pride.’ Above, Dublin Pride Parade on O’Connell Street. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

Until a couple of weeks ago, I had never taken the time to go to Dublin Pride. The omission wasn’t an accident; the idea of going to it made me uncomfortable for several reasons, so I avoided it. The most obvious reason is that I’m not gay. To attend pride would have felt more like a tokenistic dipping of the toe than a gesture of support for the LGBTQ community. I’m not gay and, in the best possible sense, I never cared at all about homosexuality.

It has always seemed the least important aspect of a human being. What people’s sexual interests are, or whether their parts interlock with their partner’s, doesn’t seem important. I find the concept of any of my friends having sex mildly odd, because it isn’t relevant to my relationship with them. Acceptance of the person they have chosen to be with is a given; it is a condition of caring for someone. Rejecting someone you care for on such frivolous grounds seems ridiculous. Of course they deserve equality. Of course they are thinking, feeling beings with as much value as any other person.

 

Gay in modern Ireland

About two years ago, I started to get a glimpse of what it might be like to be a gay person in modern Ireland, and realised that it isn’t a frivolity at all. It certainly should be: it is just the expression of sexuality, like every other basic form of selfhood and expression, and as such should be accepted.

Shortly after I met my partner – a very tall, bespectacled academic whom I am lucky to have crossed paths with – he came to Dublin to visit me. As is always the case in the first flush of love, I was swollen with gladness just to be with him. As we ambled past St Stephen’s Green, an old lady looked at us walking together, scoffed, and declared us “disgusting”. She looked at me with particular vitriol.

Oh, I thought. I’d hoped this wouldn’t be an issue. I had thought that most people were more enlightened. That incident was the first of many in the time we have been together. Recently, while we walked in Rathmines after a very pleasant lunch, a group of little children on a school tour screamed racial slurs at him. He brushed it off, because he is used to it. I felt crushed on his behalf.

His skin is not white, and mine is. This is deeply jarring to some people; it does not fit their paradigm of a loving relationship. As a couple, we upset these people merely by being, and they lash out. There was a time when it would have moved some people to violence. There was a time when, in many places, our union would have been illegal.

 

Shame turns to pride

This is nothing to what it must be like to be gay in Ireland, but I imagine the feeling it evokes is a tiny flavour of the otherness, the judgment and the sense of injustice that gay people feel all the time. So, until the recent referendum that brought in gay marriage, I wasn’t proud. In fact, I was ashamed – of our backwardness, of our fear and of our insistence on seeing other humans as being less than that. I was ashamed that by living here and being an Irish person, I was tacitly consenting to the oppression of several of my own friends.

So this year, I went to Pride, and felt entitled to share the pride. In my own small way, like everyone who voted Yes, I had acknowledged the value of gay people I care about, and those I’ll never even meet. The parade was a riot of colour and ironic 1990s music. As I stood on the quays with my partner, it gave me a sense of belonging that I hadn’t felt so fully for a while.

Afterwards, at the public hootenanny at Merrion Square, I stood in line for an ice cream behind a man in a wedding dress that revealed a generous amount of chest hair. He seemed quite comfortable with the situation, and was given an extra flake in his ice cream for his trouble. I couldn’t begrudge him. I sat with my partner and some friends on the grass and marvelled at how far we have come. Everywhere, young people revelled and looked comfortable in their skin.

  • Yes to . . . pride and progress. No to . . . looking back
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