Monday 20 November 2017

'Growing up gay in Ireland was not an easy journey'

As Ireland prepares to vote on same-sex marriage, Martin McCormick reveals his personal struggle in coming out to his family

Martin McCormick

Martin McCormick

The debate on same-sex marriage is under way in earnest, and it's clear the No campaign's strategy is to focus on the rights relating to children.

Their belief is that all children should be raised by their own mother and father wherever possible.

This annoys me no end. First, people are only voting on whether or not to allow gay and lesbian couples to marry the person they love and to enjoy the protection of marriage afforded by the Constitution.

All issues relating to children will be dealt with in the Children and Family Relations Bill, which will be enacted ahead of the referendum vote. Whether the No side likes it or not, this legislation will include guardianship rights for same-sex couples and give same-sex couples full adoption rights.

Read more: Two mums, two dads, one mum: Meet Ireland's modern families

What annoys me most about the No campaign is its view of what an 'ideal' family is.

Martin McCormick
Martin McCormick

I grew up in a conservative Catholic family in Dundalk in the 1970s and 80s. My parents were an excellent example to my two sisters and me and provided us with our every need.

We lived in a comfortable house, always had a nice car and went on holidays every year. I have fond memories of cycling to school across country roads and playing with my friends in the fields around the house.

We went to Mass every Sunday and sat in the front row with my gran and granda. My mam sang Mamma Mia doing the housework and my dad played Phil Coulter in the car. It always seemed sunny in summer and Christmas was magical.

Read more: 'The day I came out': Members of the Irish LGBT community share their stories

You could say we had an idyllic childhood. Or so it appeared.

From an early age I knew I was gay. But it wasn't something I was prepared to accept. I was scared to be my true self and repressed any feelings I had for other guys.

This was compounded when I discovered that my younger sister Edel was also gay. Rather than it being a help, it pushed me further into the closet. I didn't want to disappoint my parents, especially when I realised there were two of us. I knew they would be devastated.

Read more: 'My rural Ireland wasn't the place to be the only gay in the village...'

After years of denial, I eventually came out to my parents, as did my younger sister. It was one of the toughest things I've ever done, but a huge relief at the same time.

For my parents, though, our coming out changed our family life for ever. All their hopes and dreams of a particular future came crashing to a halt, at least for two of their three children. They were forced to completely re-evaluate their beliefs and life expectations.

It wasn't an easy journey, but in time they came to terms with the new reality.

There are diverse forms of family in contemporary Ireland. More than one in four families with children is headed by a lone parent.

A significant number of children are being brought up by non-biological parents. Lots of children are being raised by gay parents.

Read more: Gay Parenting: My gay dad taught me volumes about life, love and family

This notion of the 'ideal' family is a fantasy. My two sisters and I were brought up in a loving relationship by our biological mother and father. I feel blessed to have been born into such as environment, but it wasn't perfect. No family is.

To my friends who were raised by single parents, or my friends who were adopted, or my friends with gay parents, or my friends who were brought up by a relative, how can I say to them that my upbringing was superior to theirs?

Surely the quality of our upbringing is dependent on the quality of our relationships - not the genes, gender or sexual orientation of our parents/guardians.

Homosexuality was only decriminalised in Ireland when I was in college. There has been an extraordinary transformation in society's attitude towards gay people in my lifetime.

Read more: Gay nation: Are gay people still living in the shadows in Ireland?

Most gay people I know live happy, healthy lives and are accepted in their communities. Huge strides have been made in terms of equality for LGBT people. It's exciting to see a bill will finally be enacted providing a legal structure for the wide range of families that exist in Ireland.

The icing on the cake would be to secure a positive outcome in the referendum on same-sex marriage.

For years I built a wall around me for protection. I spent many more years trying to break it down. Slowly but surely, I allowed myself to become vulnerable.

Read more: 'I just told him I loved him, no matter what': Two Irish mothers on the moment their children revealed they were gay

I have an amazing partner who I love and want to build a future with. The potential to marry my partner is now a possibility.

However, this depends on a Yes vote in May.

Following the discovery that two of his three children were gay, Peter McCormick decided to compile a book of personal accounts that would support other parents of lesbians and gay men. After Peter and his daughter Edel died, his son Martin completed and published his dad's book, My Son, My Daughter, Myself. The book is available for sale on amazon.co.uk. Net proceeds from book sales are donated to Dundalk Outcomers. See www.myson-mydaughter-myself.org

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