The Day That Changed My Life: Cassie Stokes on moving to Canada and getting the courage to come out
In an Independent.ie special series, Cassie Stokes speaks about her biggest life-changing moment: moving to Toronto in 2012
Cassie Stokes is a delight to speak with.
She’s the breath of fresh air on Irish television, joining TV3’s Xpose in 2016 and surviving – and thriving – in its many shake-ups since. But there’s more to Cassie than meets the eye –yes, she’s gorgeous and talented and filled with infectious enthusiasm; but she’s also a deep soul who is good-natured and genuinely sweet.
In the third part of our series, Stokes recalls moving to Toronto in 2012, which led to her coming out to her family, meeting her long-term girlfriend and eventually landing her dream job.
What is it about that moment?
“That move led to my decision to come out, although it was hardly a decision, I’ve always been gay, the choice was just to tell people," she tells Independent.ie Style. “It helped me be brave, independent and I realised who I was. I hadn't met me until I moved there.
“I have to say that was the best decision I ever made and somehow I’m back here doing the job I love.”
It was in Toronto that she was reminded of her work ethic, working “from the ground up” from service in an Irish bar to landing reporting roles on Entertainment Tonight. But it’s not just the professional implications that she considers, it’s the personal.
When asked the rather daunting task of speaking about the day that changed her life, she says: “It got me thinking, was it moving home to Ireland or was it coming out? Everything comes back to the decision I made to leave Ireland in the first place.
“In Toronto, I realised I was gay. When I was away and meeting new people, I got to be ‘Cassie in Toronto’, who was the real me; not the person I moulded myself to be in Ireland. I wasn’t trying to live up to anything and also I realised, ‘actually I think I’m gay’. The move helped me with that,” she explains.
“The move gave me strength to do that and it also helped me professionally. That massive decision of moving away to begin with helped change me into the person I am now.
“The biggest positive for me was getting to know me, there was a little someone inside me and I got to meet that person. I was a more confident version of the person I always had been: I wasn’t a completely different person, but I am much happier and more comfortable in my own skin. It was always there, I just didn’t realise it was. “
Back in 2012, Cassie was working behind the scenes at TV3 on 3e's FYI, but the echoes of the recession could still be heard rather loudly in Irish media. Jobs in national media, in particular television, are hard to come by, even for the most experienced broadcasters, so her decision to up sticks and move to a new city wasn’t one she made lightly.
“I gained strength in that initial decision to move from Ireland. I was working away at TV3 in 2012, I had a job, a very good job, and things were a bit quiet in here – it wasn’t feeling as good as it is now, it was still going through a bit of the recession,” she says.
“One of my friends moved away and I started to think about it. I wasn’t particularly happy and I knew there was something up. I thought, ‘If I move away, where will I go?’ and coming to Toronto wound up being the biggest decision I ever made.
"No one could really understand why I was leaving when I had a job. At that time, I was fortunate to have a job, but I thought having a job isn’t something that should keep you from experiencing new things. I was also lucky enough to have Canadian citizenship because I lived there as a kid.”
“It also gave me confidence in myself. When I moved over there first, I worked in a pub because I needed money so I was working in an Irish pub in the financial district. I also learned how to work really hard and build contacts from the ground up because I was in a completely new city.
"When I left Toronto, I was working for one of the biggest networks in Canada on one of the biggest entertainment shows in the world – it taught me to enjoy work.”
Which brings us to the second chapter of Cassie’s story. In early 2016, her sister Alex came to visit, which made her realise that her time there was up. She knew it was time to come home - a decision which ultimately led to her relationship with girlfriend of two and a half years Kathleen Sylvie Marie ending and a brief pit-stop in London in digital production.
“I was there for four years, my sister came over in my fourth year there and when I was saying goodbye to her, I cried for over a week, it was to the point where I couldn’t even eat – it was like a break up. I worked from home all that week,” she explains.
“I thought, I don’t think I can say goodbye to my sister like that ever again and I don’t want to. So then I moved to London to be closer to her. My family is such a huge part of my life and when I went to London, unfortunately that decision led to myself and Kathleen breaking up. We were together for about 2 ½ years and broke up for a year."
Kathleen’s name comes up a lot throughout our conversation, and Cassie considers meeting her as one of the best parts of her former life in Canada, which she now enjoys at home in Ireland since Kathleen moved here last year. Now that she’s back in Ireland, she’s focusing on her family – and catching up on what she missed abroad.
“I would recommend it to people to experience, you’ll always miss home. You’ll always crave home, a lot will come back, I’m not encouraging people to leave forever, but you can go away for a bit and come back with new experiences. I appreciate everything in Ireland so much more now, I always loved living in Ireland, but I appreciate everything here and I love exploring and meeting new people,” she says.
“I missed out on loads here which is why I wanted to come back. I missed out on all the little things like countless Sunday lunches with grandma and granddad and I think that was the biggest downside for me. My grandpa passed away while I was away, but that’s what happens when you move country.
“Of all the benefits, I’m so happy I am now, family is the most important thing to me. I couldn’t live without my sister by my side and I get to have lunches with grands every Saturday and Sunday.”