Donal Óg Cusack: A time will come when this sort of thing doesn’t register
Documentary to air on RTÉ tonight shows sportsman reflecting on what it is to be gay
Donal Óg Cusack: For Coming Out Of The Curve, the documentary he has made for RTÉ, he spent a year travelling to different parts of the world to feel his way around what it is to be gay. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Donal Óg Cusack chooses his words like they’re the last he’ll ever say. We’re sitting in the lobby of the Croke Park Hotel and he’s inching his way through an articulation of how the progress of the homosexual experience in society is both important and unimportant at the same time.
“I think there will come a time when this sort of thing doesn’t even register in the brain of humans,” he says. “There will be far more important things for humans to think about - medical things, health, wellbeing. The human race will just have moved on.
“Like, I fully believe that if the world goes on long enough, there will come a time when there’s a gay Pope. The Catholic church will realise that their flock has moved so much that the will go, ‘Jesus lads, we’re going to have to move as well here or we will become irrelevant.’ I think all those things will happen.”
Don’t misunderstand him. Cusack is not saying this to agitate or to get a reaction or to disturb anyone’s day. These are not the idle thoughts of someone given to flibbertygibbeting off the top of his head. For Coming Out Of The Curve, the documentary he has made for RTÉ that airs tonight, he spent a year travelling to different parts of the world to feel his way around what it is to be gay in a world that is still in its infancy. ‘Cusack Predicts Gay Pope’ is not the point of it all.
“It’s not about me wanting to say anything really. It’s just taking a look at where things are. Because progress is uneven. There’s not one line were we can say that everyone is at this stage. And obviously the country is heading into what could be big year for this curve that we are on or not on. So it’s not me wanting to get any big statement out there. It’s just me taking a look around to get a feel for where we’re at, in this country and in others.”
He went to Russia early last year, at a time when the eyes of the world were on it because of the Winter Olympics. In St Petersburg, he met up with Vitaly Milanov, the outspoken politician who co-sponsored anti-gay legislation in Russia and with whom Stephen Fry had an on-screen argument during a 2013 documentary. A cursory knowledge of Cusack’s career with Cork and the GPA would suggest that any meeting between him and someone like Milanov would go the same way but he didn’t want that.
“I felt a responsibility to the piece. I felt a need to respect the other person involved as well. They were there at our invitation. Stephen Fry is a great man but I would have watched the way he approached Milanov – it’s going to be some cheek of me to say this now, but anyway – I would have seen how he dealt with him and I’d have had no intention of doing that.
“Because I want to hear these people. I want to listen. I want to try to understand them, even. They can still remain your enemy but understanding your enemy is a good thing in any situation. What a person believes is their reality. And if you’re doing a documentary, you have to respect that.
“Some of the people I met in the documentary would have said things to me that I found crazy. Like for example, that you could be cured of homosexuality. But that’s down to whatever wiring is inside in the other person. In any conflict situation, one of the most important things is to understand that the person on the other side believes their point of view just as much as you believe yours.”
Near the end of his Russian trip, he went out on a Saturday night. The gay club they went to had huge security, steel gates, multiples of the amount of bouncers a normal club would have. One of his companions had his phone broken by a group of heavies while standing outside. Cusack stood back and took in the scene, shaking his head at what it was to try to be normal in what feels like an abnormal situation.
It’s close on six years since Cusack came out in his autobiography. The public sharing of such an essentially personal slice of his being was something he felt he had to do because it was who he was. Any pause for thought he had as to whether to do this documentary came from a natural aversion to being defined by something as inconsequential as his sexuality.
“I was just above at a Central Council meeting – did I go in there thinking I was having to stand up for that part of my life? Of course not. I went in with a load of other stuff on my mind relating to all the different things we need to do as an association. I was in Switzerland for the last week for work with my team. Was it in any way in my mind while I was there? Absolutely not.
“But I need to respect as well that not everyone has been fortunate enough to be in that position or to be wired that way and that it’s still a part of the society that we live in. So I can’t ignore that. And to do that and to articulate it and hopefully push the whole thing on, I have to go back into it. Does that make me happy? No, not at all. Because where I want the world to be is that you just live your life. Very simple. I can’t overstate how much this isn’t on my mind from day to day.”
Did his life change after coming out?
“I don’t think it did. But again, that’s my challenge here. I need to be careful not to trivialise what is difficult for other people. If it was okay in society, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. There wouldn’t need to be a referendum this year. Think about that – there’s going to be a proposal that’s so out there that all the citizens of this nation in 2015 have to be brought together to decide on it because there isn’t an agreement that this is just normal. That’s almost proof in itself that it’s still not okay.
“I do feel there’s a duty. I think that having the platform means I have to do it to some extent alright. It wouldn’t be good, to use an extreme example say, if I didn’t respond to an email from somebody who was going through a hard time. If I just said, ‘No, I’m living my own life,’ I don’t think that would be the right thing for me to do.
“Because I know I have a duty. I know that. I know that in 2015, I can’t not do something. I have a duty to get involved. I can’t not contribute to the debate. But again, I want to contribute to it in a mature way. I want to argue my point. I’d go to the ends of the earth over a point. I’d die for that point if I have to. You have to do your duty.”
Coming Out Of The Curve airs on RTÉ One tonight at 9.35pm.