First Dates star on coming out in her forties: 'My friend took her life and I said there would be no more secrets'
A mum-of-two who features on Thursday's episode of First Dates Ireland said the loss of her friend to suicide encouraged her to tell her family and friends she was gay.
Susan O'Neill (52) said her friend took her own life four years ago.
Speaking to the Ryan Tubridy Show on RTE Radio One, Susan said: "A very good friend who was gay and who was also from a religious background, she took her life, and it was then I said I'm not doing this anymore. It was turmoil all the time.
"She was out to her family but she found it very difficult to be living a gay life. I had told her [about my sexuality] and asked her not to say anything and I thought, she died with my secret, and that was it. No more secrets," said Susan.
Susan, who was born in Bray but lived in Toronto in Canada for most of her life, married an Irishman in her twenties and had two children, Christopher and Abigail.
Although her marriage had ended, the mum-of-two admitted it was difficult to find the courage to tell her children about her sexuality. Her son was older, which made it easier, but Susan decided to wait until Abigail was a little bit older before having the discussion.
"[I came out to] my son, he was 22 going on 23.
"It went very well. He was very accepting of it. He had a friend who was gay and they had long conversations about her being gay and he said, 'It must be so hard for you'.
"My daughter was only nine and I didn't think it was appropriate to tell her about my sexuality. I left it all alone for a year, and let them all get their heads around it.
"Abby was about eleven and we were coming home from Madrid, my cousin lives there, and in Madrid in the airport Abigail turns to me and asked me why I love rainbows so much.
"With kids you never answer a question without another question so I said, 'Why do you think I like rainbows so much?'
"She said, 'Because maybe you're gay?' Her lip started to quiver and there were tears in her eyes and she started to cry. I left the conversation there in Madrid airport and we didn't talk about it anymore.”
Susan, who is a psychiatric nurse, said it was a year later when she and Abigail had another conversation about her sexuality.
"I was standing in my kitchen, cooking her dinner. And she said to me, 'Mom are you ever going to tell me you’re a lesbian?' I was stuck to the floor. I said, 'Do you want me to tell you I’m a lesbian?' and she said, 'I already know'. She had known for about a year," said Susan.
Susan admitted that she had been afraid to come out when she was a younger woman because she worried about society's judgements on the LGBT community.
"I was always admiring women and looking at women in a slightly lustful way.
"But I had to keep it all in. I was afraid. It wasn’t the done thing. It wasn’t the norm.
"I think the LGBT community tried to emerge in the Sixties and Seventies when it was free love but then the Eighties hit and AIDS hit and it sort of went underground again. It was coming from the church that it was God's wrath, our lifestyle, our behaviours and that sort of thing.
"I have to say that I suffered for a long time with panic attacks and since I’ve come out I haven’t had one. Which is quite extraordinary, I find," she said.
Susan’s date with Anne will be broadcast on Thursday’s First Dates Ireland on RTE Two, but she said Abigail had a lot to do with encouraging her mum to apply.
"I actually don’t watch television which is quite ironic.
"When I first came out, I discovered a group called Running Amach, Maureen Looney started up this club. I've been a member of it for three years and they've had thousands of Meet Ups. She sent a blanket email to all of the members. I was at home and my daughter Abigail was at home and I said, 'Look at this, what do you think of that?' She said to fill it out for the craic and I said, 'Okay I will'.
"It just gathered momentum. I never anticipated making it onto the show ever and I did and I couldn’t believe it. It was such good fun, the staff was wonderful."
If you have been affected by the issues raised in this article please contact the Samaritans on 116123 for support or visit the website on www.samaritans.org.