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Saturday, March 07, 2009


Two features of mine in today's Weekend magazine in the Irish Independent...

-The story of the Moran family and how their daughter overcame leukemia (written by my identical twin brother 'Michael White')

- Anna Nolan and I both wrote our coming out stories for today's magazine. Mine is below. Click on Anna's name for her's.

The legendary drag artist Charles Pierce once quipped: "I'd rather be black than gay because when you're black you don't have to tell your mother". Like many other gay people, I grappled for a long time with the question of if, when and how I should come out to my parents and family.

I didn’t do it for quite a while. From age 18 on, I spent four years coming out to various friends, gradually shaking off the fears and inhibitions that had long kept me down, in every sense of the word.

By the time I did tell my clan, I was well rehearsed. I was in my early 20s then, out on Dublin’s lively scene, and making up for lost time. I just had to wait for the right opening to bring the family in on the new arrangement.

For me, that opening came on a Good Friday five years ago. I was home from college for the Easter break without a penny to my name, so I was spending my evening watching the Late Late Show with my mam and dad. My mother, sly minx that she is, had been goading me for quite some time at that point, trying to get me to confess all. She just knew. I suspect mothers always do, but there’s still a big difference between knowing and knowing. During a commercial break, she turned to me, with a knowing glint in her eye and asked the killer question: “So Dec, have you a girlfriend at the moment?”

I froze. I could fob her off with some line, as I had done for years. But something in me just clicked that evening. I thought to myself, ‘I’m 23 years of age and here I am about to talk make believe with my parents’. So I turned down the volume on the TV, looked at both of them, and said: “No, I don’t have a girlfriend [here I paused for dramatic effect]. And I never will because I’m gay”.

They both just nodded and didn’t say anything for a moment. I don’t think they were shocked at the news – just shocked that I had actually told them.

Then my mother, bless her, came out with her own admission and people don’t believe me when I tell them this, but I swear it’s true. “I knew you were gay, and I always knew you would be,” she told me mysteriously. “Why’s that?” I asked?

She continued: “When I was pregnant with you, I didn’t know what sex you were, and I prayed and hoped you would be a girl. I was convinced you were going to be. Then when you were born, and you turned out to be a boy, I said to your father, ‘I bet he’ll turn out to be gay now because I so wanted him to be a girl’.”

I just burst out laughing. I wanted to hug her for inadvertently breaking whatever tension there was in that moment. My dad simply said he wanted me to be happy. It was all very calm, just as I had always hoped it would be. By the time I told them I was confident enough in myself to be able to reassure them and not cause any panic. I do firmly believe that in most cases you can set the tone when coming out. If you’re not stressed or panicky, then those you’re telling won’t be either.

In my case I underestimated all of my family’s reactions. At least one of my brothers seemed genuinely hurt that I hadn’t confided in him. I always assumed my family would be upset if I told them. It had never even occurred to me that they could be upset for not telling them.

I know I’m lucky. Not everyone is in the same position. Some Irish gay men and women never come out, sometimes by choice, sometimes by necessity. I don’t judge them for it. It’s an intensely personal decision, and if a person feels that they are not in a position to confidently neutralise any fears and prejudices their loved ones might have, then perhaps they’re right to stay quiet until such time as they’re ready.

Looking back, I was so afraid my parents and family would look at me differently, think less of me, be ashamed of me. That hasn’t been the case. They mightn’t fully understand it all, but that’s fine. I know, ultimately, they have my back, even if they don’t always say it.

Take my dad for example. My mam told me recently about something he said to her when they were on holidays in Portugal two years ago. They had gotten to know what my mam describes as a “gorgeous, friendly young waiter” who served them every night in their resort restaurant. On their last night dad said to my mother: “Wouldn’t he make a nice boyfriend for Declan?” I was deeply touched by that. I guess parents can still surprise us as much as we do them.

Sometimes I can’t believe I stayed quiet for so long, but it’s what made sense to me at the time. Today I see the generation directly after mine coming out younger than ever before, which can only be a good thing. There’s a burgeoning confidence that allows gay people to realistically focus on the possibilities as much as the challenges. Why settle for a closet when you can have the world?

*Gay Switchboard Dublin, 01 872 1055 (Mon-Thurs, 7.30-9.30pm)


Eoin said...

Great piece Declan, really touching.

Declan Cashin said...

Thanks for that Eoin

Nicola Brennan said...

Aw Dec, I'm in tears here. So lovely- I knew that bit about when your Mam was pregnant with you but having read the whole thing, I love your Mammy even more now- what a lady :) xxx