'Coming out is the best decision I have ever made'
'i knew it was a part of me that friends and family needed to know about'
BY his own admission, Tralee man Francis Fitzgibbon never wanted to be known as 'the gay guy who works in the media', but his openness about his sexuality, coupled with his busy media and PR career, meant it just happened that way.
Luckily, the-35-year old is more than comfortable in his own skin and, although he considers himself a very private person, he never declines to talk about being gay because he feels it might encourage others to be more open.
"I tend to be a private person when it comes to talking about issues which are deeply personal, but the reason I agreed to do this interview is because maybe there is a young man or woman who is struggling with their sexuality in some remote part of Kerry right now and they don't know what to do," Francis said. "They may not have anyone to turn to. They may not have anyone to look up to. We have too many things that we don't talk about in Kerry and the whole gay issue is one of those."
Francis 'came out' to his close friends during his mid 20s, but it wasn't until he turned 30 that he found the courage to confront his immediate family. Growing up, he led what society perceives as a 'normal' life; playing soccer and football and working on the building sites with his late father.
He went out with girls, which he thought was what he wanted at the time, but as the years went on he realised something was missing. Realising he was gay was difficult enough, but telling his nearest and dearest the truth was another challenge entirely.
"It did take me a long time to come to terms with making the decision to eventually come out, but this is normal. You do worry about how people will react. They know you in one way and all of a sudden their perception of you changes. It shouldn't, but it does," Francis said. " Coming out is firstly about coming out to yourself and coming to terms with who you are. That's the most difficult part. I didn't mean or want to hurt anyone along the way, that's why I took my time to make sure I was ready."
Thankfully, Francis had little to worry about and was overwhelmed by the support of his family on hearing his news.
"I knew it was a part of me that my friends and family needed to know about. I wasn't that concerned about the wider community knowing," he said. "The hardest people to tell were my immediate family. I knew they would be fine with it but upset that I had not told them sooner. My family is very close and their reaction was immediate support, nothing more, nothing less. We have been through a lot tougher things as a family and always came out the other side stronger and more together. At the end of the day, your family is all you have. They are the only people who will stand by and love you unconditionally and I don't understand parents who distance themselves from their own children just because they tell them they are gay."
His male friends were equally supportive, and even found a way to use their new gay best friend to their advantage.
"My male friends in Tralee were brilliant. They didn't care really. In fact, they would use me as their 'wing-man' on nights out when looking for women," he joked. "I was the perfect decoy. I would go up and exhaust the lady with useless chat up lines and then my friend would arrive to save the day as I broke the news that I was gay. It worked every time."
Francis says that he has been blessed with the support of family, friends and the wider community, but still gets a kick out of some people's reaction - particularly those of a certain generation.
"An elderly woman once told me that being gay is nothing new, telling me: "Sure the lesbians in Emmerdale were kissing on screen ten years ago". She then went on to tell me, though, that I would want to become more fashionable to fit in with 'the gays'. Probably good advice, to be fair," he joked.
"What I also find funny are the straight guys who automatically think all gay men fancy them, despite the fact that they may be more George Hook than George Clooney. Most people think of gay men as flaming drama queens who wear fashionable clothes and exotic shoes but that's the stereotype, not the norm."
Cllr Gillian Wharton's Slattery's motion at Kerry County Council in support for equal rights for gay married couples showed great leadership Francis says, and gave young men and woman in Kerry who are struggling with their sexuality the hope that, someday, coming out will not even be an issue.
"She brought the issue onto the news agenda and for that she deserves credit. It is so important that people speak out about issues that they believe in," he said. "Gay people are everyday people that live and work in Kerry. I know guards, nurses, shopkeepers and engineers who live very normal lives in Kerry but just happen to be gay."
Not all of these people find it easy to admit their sexuality here, however, as the gay community in Kerry tends to be less visible, which poses is own problems Francis says.
"One of the difficulties for gay people in Kerry is meeting partners. Most gay people head for Dublin or abroad when they turn 18 and don't come back," he said. "The gay community in Kerry tends to be less visible and this makes it harder for younger gay people in Kerry to come out. They don't have any gay role models so most gay men in Kerry just live their lives as normal Kerry people and happen to be gay."
Deciding to come out as a gay man in Kerry may have been a decision he agonised over for quite some time, but Francis says it's one that has changed his life - very much for the better.
"The reaction to me coming out all those years ago was overwhelmingly positive. If someone is comfortable with who they are and comfortable in their own skin, then they don't tend to have a problem with anyone else. Coming out was the best decision I have made to date," he said. " When I did come out it was because I wanted to be myself and not have a part of me that people didn't know about. It was a great relief in one way as I was then able to be myself, completely."
Having been through the process and quite literally 'come out' the other side, Francis is quick to advise others struggling with their sexuality to do the same.
"Do it sooner rather than later. It's a decision I have never looked back on. You have one life and it is short. Don't waste it pretending to be something you are not," he said. "Kerry people are a strong people, most of whom understand that some people are different, but essentially the same."
Francis has recently written a column about coming out for the Gay Community News (GCN) Newspaper, which you can read on at http://www.gcn.ie. You can follow Francis on twitter @francis_fitz