Tuesday 22 October 2019

In the rolling maul, Pearse offloads homophobic bullying

As a gay schoolboy, life was a torment for Pearse but he's found redemption in rugby

FULL STEAM: Pearse Egan (26), right, from Dun Laoghaire, who is starring in upcoming Australian documentary Scrum
FULL STEAM: Pearse Egan (26), right, from Dun Laoghaire, who is starring in upcoming Australian documentary Scrum

Nick Bramhill

For Pearse Egan, growing up in Dublin was a lonely torment.

Singled out as "gay" even in primary school, he endured cruel jibes, homophobic taunts and physical attacks.

But as the World Cup gets under way this weekend, Pearse has found a kind of redemption playing rugby at a more modest level on the other side of the world.

Pearse (26) has emerged as the star of a poignant new documentary film Scrum, charting the personal journey of members of Australia's most famous gay rugby club.

Growing up in Ireland he avoided sport because of bullying.

But after settling in Australia, he was persuaded to try his hand at rugby for the first time with The Sydney Convicts, a successful club and the first of its kind in Australia to openly embrace gay players.

Pearse, from Dun Laoghaire, was followed by documentary film-makers during his six months with the Convicts before heading on to the Far East on a backpacking adventure.

As a loose-head prop with the 2nd XV, he helped them reach semi-finals of the Bingham Cup, the International Gay Rugby tournament. The club's first team were the eventually winners, thrashing the Brisbane Hustlers 31-0 in the final.

"I still have nightmares about my time at school. One of my earliest memories at primary was one day when every child in my class received a birthday invitation, except me. I was very upset and couldn't understand why nobody liked me.

"When I went to secondary school, I thought things would change. I was wrong. Any time I opened my mouth to speak, I was called a 'fag' or a 'girl.' My mum suggested I join a sports group in school. I enjoyed it to begin with and pretended not to hear some of the comments.'

"I could almost handle the verbal abuse, but one day it turned physical. Another boy kicked me and when another went to punch me," he said.

The bullying reached its zenith when Pearse came into the classroom and saw, written on the blackboard: 'Pearse is Gay'. The three words acted as a spark that fuelled further bullying. "It got worse after that, as some of the other pupils felt justified in abusing me. The years that followed were some of the worst in my life."

Pearse says playing with the Convicts has helped him throw off the psychological shackles that remained from childhood bullying.

"When I walked down to training, people would say 'hello' to me. I'm not saying that everybody liked me, but if somebody did have an aversion to me, it was because our personalities clashed, rather than a reaction to my sexuality."

Pearse returned to Ireland after two years' travel last month and has just moved to London to pursue his dream to break into acting.

"I'd never have had the confidence to go for auditions before, but now I feel I can achieve anything," he said.

Poppy Stockell, the director of Scrum, said: "Pearse's story was incredibly moving. He'd overcome some serious bullying as a child to travel to Australia and join a sports team, knowing virtually no one. That's courage. Plus he's a lovely lad and loads of fun to be around."

Scrum will open the Iris Prize film festival in Cardiff on October 7, which has adopted a rugby-theme to coincide with the Rugby World Cup. Talks are also under way to screen the documentary on RTE at a later date.

Sunday Independent

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