I came out for the right to be me and to play for Cork as me
OPINION:To narrow the definition of a person to one aspect of their life is to create a platform for prejudice
I COME from a small village in east Cork called Cloyne. How do I describe home? Well. If I decide to walk to the shop and back, that’s pretty much the gay pride parade done for the year.
Growing up in Cloyne we didn’t have a gay scene. We didn’t have any scene really but we especially didn’t have a gay scene. So I’ve always been a little bit innocent in that way.
I’m a hurler. A goalkeeper. A GAA member. And I’m an out gay man. For me that’s a small part of the deal. Half a chapter maybe in a lifetime’s story.
But if out of curiosity you come to see me play and can’t pick me out because we all wear helmets, I’ll be the one just in front of the loudmouth on the terrace with the megaphone. He’ll be singing He’s gay/He’s bent/His ass is up for rent/Dónal Óg/Dónal Óg.
People around him will be looking embarrassed and I’ll be staring up the field.
Not giving a fuck.
I never hear what goes down on the terrace behind me. I’m in the privileged position that the people who would try to police my life have no power, the guy with the megaphone or the big mouth has paid in to see me and to embarrass himself. No matter what happens, I can’t be the loser in the exchange.
When I came out a few years ago, I wasn’t making any big statement about myself. I was following up on a promise I made to myself when I was younger. I was at a gay club in Cork and somebody recognised me as a hurler. I pretended not to be who I was, and I felt sick afterwards. I promised I’d never pretend to be something that I wasn’t.
But what has been important for me is demonstrating to people that who I sleep with is only a part of who I am.
I like what the late Gore Vidal said about there being no such thing as a homosexual person or a heterosexual person. The words are just adjectives describing natural sexual acts, not people. Some of us respond to our own sex, some to the opposite sex, some to both sexes, some to neither sex, some to different things at different times.
It wouldn’t be worth worrying about if it wasn’t for the hysteria and prejudice of other people.
I came out to be myself. To be Dónal Óg Cusack. I’m lots of things. For forty to fifty hours a week I’m an electrical engineer. For far fewer hours in a week, sadly, even in a good week, I’m in bed with a man. I never get invited to Electrical Engineer Pride events though.
People want to define me a certain way. I didn’t come out to play on an all-gay hurling team, though I’d take a bullet for anybody’s right to do so if they want to and I enjoy ideas like the Ulster Titans rugby. I came out for the right to be me and to play for Cork as me and for everybody to accept that.
I say this not just because everybody’s journey is different but because I think there is nothing so important to any of us on that journey as the title we put on events like Pride.
For me that’s something more concrete to grasp than any other label we may give ourselves or any names others may give us. As campaigning groups we sometimes get so tied up with our organisations’ names and acronyms in a well meaning attempt to include every possible sort of orientation that we miss the point.
What unites us at the end of the day is pride in being who we are, pride in the totality of who we are as people. Pride in the fact that we refuse to just fit the label hung on us by prejudice.
We can’t be limited in what we do in life and in law by our choice of who, if anybody, we sleep with or what god, if any, we worship. If we narrow the definition of a person to one aspect of their life, we create a ghetto and a platform for prejudice.
It’s about pride. I’m proud to be Dónal Óg Cusack. Proud to be from Cloyne. To be a Corkman. To be the son of the parents I have. To be a hurler. To give my best. And proud of the decisions I’ve taken in my personal life.
I’m not just from Cloyne, not just from Cork, not just a hurler. Not just a gay man. Like everybody I’m the sum total of many, many things and that’s how I want to be judged. That to me is what pride is about.
The only way you can be just one thing, the only way you can limit the definition of yourself, the only way you can make the world smaller and darker is to be a bigot. Just a bigot. A small scared man with a big megaphone.
So when we enjoy this festival and share our pride in who we are, we just have to remember that.
With pride, brothers and sisters, we will always prevail.
This is an edited extract of the address by Dónal Óg Cusack at the opening of last week’s Foyle Pride Festival in Co Derry.