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Coming out will let Leo emerge into the daylight Reborn

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Top comic Oliver Callan

Top comic Oliver Callan

Top comic Oliver Callan

The first person you come out to is by far the hardest. It takes years, often decades. You make all the excuses you can to avoid the confrontation but that butterfly in your heart will not stop banging its wings against your conscience until the inevitable. Then you relent, look your reflection in the eye, say "I am gay" and it is done. Once that hardest task is complete, it gets a little easier as the imperfect dance of coming out to everyone else begins.

For the first time since his political career began, Leo Varadkar was nervous on RTE radio yesterday. It doesn't get much more personal than announcing your sexuality in public. But that catch in his throat wasn't a sign of weakness - it gave authority and sincerity to what he was saying.

Every morsel of what he said came directly from the heart. Heterosexual people will never know the feeling of letting the butterfly go. Leo is experiencing that euphoria of relief today that he will only get to enjoy this once. That it's as simple as finally emerging into daylight as yourself is a rebirth that no straight man or woman can even begin to understand.

Leo will already realise his profile means it won't be easy finding a genuine partner and harder still to keep it quiet. There are those who scoff and say "who needs to know" and that what Leo did was unnecessary. Try telling that to the children who are being bullied this Monday morning in schoolyards around the country for being gay or exhibiting any signs contrary to the bland societal diktat of 'heteronormality'.

Leo's announcement was little surprise to those in media circles but it will have shocked the Sunday lunches of Ireland. Most importantly, it will give an enormous boost to those tortured with the decision on whether to join him in the daylight.

Closeted gay people would have been listening to Mammy's, Daddy's, Granda's and brother's and sister's reaction to Leo's story last night. They will be reading into those comments made during the TV news more than anything these people will have said over the course of years. They're testing the mood because the fear about coming out is that you will lose family and friends. It's a feeling that straight people cannot empathise with.

I remember the constant study of the remarks - people say the most cruel throwaway things and don't realise the deep hurt they've just caused. After I came out, I realised that no one actually meant a word of it. The fears of family members are always borne out of love and follow a pattern. Mammy worries that their child will be hurt by others, that it will be used against them, or in the most way loving of all, that it will be a lonely life being gay. At worst, they worry about what their neighbours and friends will think about them. All of that nonsense passes.

I grew up in Monaghan in the 1980s. I realised I was gay at the same rate that other boys at school realised they wanted to kiss girls.

I didn't know what it was to be gay, why I was gay - I didn't even have a word for it. When I heard anyone saying "gé" I thought it was simply the Irish for goose they were talking about. Despite such innocence, I just knew innately that whatever it was I should hide it away or else I'd pay for it. You are straight until you announce to the world otherwise. And the announcing never stops.

Coming out is the ultimate empowerment of gay people. The more who stay in the closet, the more abnormal it seems and the more the bullying will continue. Equal marriage isn't simply about allowing people like Leo Varadkar or myself to get married and settle down. It's about society saying "it's okay to be gay" and removing one more stick from the bullies. The referendum campaign is going to be bruising. To the gays I say, release the butterfly. To the straights I say, don't ignore the glaringly obvious - put an arm around your friend, your kin and bring them into the daylight.

Impressionist Oliver Callan stars in RTE's 'Callan's Kicks'

Irish Independent