Monday 18 December 2017

Not alone in loneliness

Joe Jackson

'AT FIRST I really wanted to kill him," says Dermod Moore. So who did he want to kill and why? That, we'll get to later.

However, the tangled tale of this particular relationship is just one of the many stories Moore tells in his compelling new book, Diary of a Man, which gathers together some of the best diary-entries-cum-essays he's written under the pseudonym 'Bootboy' for Hot Press magazine over the past decade.

Dermod is a Dublin-born and London-based psychotherapist, astrologer and actor who happens to be gay, and during this interview in Dublin's Merrion Hotel last weekend it became increasingly apparent that many of those Hot Press articles are in fact coded messages back home to a country, city and even family he had to leave 12 years ago in order to lose, then find, himself in a relatively liberated metropolis like London, as many gays do.

But even more specifically, perhaps, in one section of Diary of a Man Moore writes about reading Andrew Solomon's book on depression, The Noonday Demon, and details his own year of being clinically depressed and refers to encountering only men "in the grip of the same Neanderthal, phallic Daddy-search".

Decoded, does this mean that a search for the father propels Dermod himself ever forward?

"The mistake one could fall into is to think there is something wrong with that," responds the 42-year-old who is the eldest of two children born to former hi-fi shop owner Harry Moore and mother Phil Moore, the latter of whom played a pivotal role in the campaign to decriminalise homosexuality in Ireland in 1993.

"In other words, this is the nature of who we find attractive. If, for example, we are attracted to a woman, we seek out not only her essence but what she represents. There are many marriages where men marry women who look remarkably like their mother.

"So there is that search for a look, a characteristic, a sensibility that mirrors our original love affair with Mum. The same can apply in terms of our fathers. But I had a fantastic relationship with my dad, so when I use that phrase, it is more symbolically and in terms of archetypes, it's not necessarily about my real father."

Nevertheless it has been said that many gay men - such as Tennessee Williams - hope to find in other men the love, tenderness, whatever, they didn't receive from their actual fathers.

"In that question you areassuming there is a lack at the root of sexual orientation," Dermod responds defensively. I point out that this is just a theoretical premise rather than my own personal perspective.

"But there is this assumption that because I may be looking for something in a particular sexual encounter or relationship that reminds me of Daddy, this must mean I didn't get enough from my father, and that's just not true. That may be pathology but it'snot my pathology. And, as far as I'm concerned, it doesn't matter a whit what sort of upbringing you had. That doesn't make us gay, heterosexual, it just doesn't work that way." Is Dermod, therefore, saying nothing was lacking in his family life?

"No, I'm not saying that at all," he responds. "But another part of my upbringing that was a blessing for me was my mother's liberal background. I remember in my early years reading Spare Rib magazine, which was at the cutting edge of sexual politics. So there was all that education, and thinking, when it came to women's rights and so on.

"Sexual politics was our family discourse - and a growing sense of disillusionment with Catholicism, especially in relation to my mother. Like all good kids, we used to go to mass - but around the age of 11, I just stopped going."

Even so, "three or four years later" Dermod again began to attend mass and went "every day for Lent" - almost as though it was his cause. But then in 1975 Pope Paul VI issued what Moore still acerbically calls "the Papal Bull-shit" known as Persona Humana: Declaration on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethics. Among its many pronouncements, homosexuality was described as a "serious depravity" and "intrinsically disordered". This led to Dermod leaving the Catholic church.

"At the time I was beginning to realise: 'Whoops, I'm different' in terms of my sexuality, so I will never forget that Papal Bull-shit because I do have a powerful spiritual component, and from then on I had to accept it just doesn't fit in with Catholicism," he explains.

"But I threw out the baby with the bath water and became incredibly rationalist and against a lot of things, including spirituality."

All of which, presumably, must have made Moore even more committed to asserting the primacy of the physical that is so often a feature of homosexual life and even seeking "redemption through sexual extravagance", to use a phrase he himself uses in Diary of a Man.

"Absolutely, it did that, yes."

Dermod claims that his dad was "the son of a mixed marriage, Catholic and Protestant, had a hellish childhood because of that and grew up determined not to let bigotry or bias into his life."

But when asked if he and Harry discussed the ramifications of that Papal Bull in relation to his own awakening awareness that he was "different" - as in gay - Moore admits to hesitancy.

"As a teenager, I wouldn't have discussed it with either of my parents," he says, and points out that even though sexual politics may have been part of the family discourse, "talking about sex and emotions" was not.

"We were great at talking about sexual politics, but lousy when it came to talking about emotions and sex!" he recalls, smiling. "But then I, as a teenager, didn't have the language myself for discussing such subjects with my parents.

"So there is some truth in that notion of me being the mammy's boy who doesn't talk to her about what it's like, at times, to be driven mad by desire or to actually have sex, and I did find the language to finally say such things by going to London and writing a fortnightly column for Hot Press."

EVEN so, more than a decade before moving to London at the age of 30 Dermod came out to his folks, who were very supportive. Yet at first, despite their liberalism, they were troubled by the kind of what-does-this-say-about-me-as-a-parent questions that frequently arise in such situations. And despite Moore's earlier rejection - during this interview - of the idea that there can be a compensatory dimension to homosexuality, his parents did think, "Was it me, did I not give him the love he needed?"

"And I didn't know enough, then, to explain that my being gay didn't have that compensatory dimension," he says. "But, overall their response was brilliant. It was hard for them to take on board the fact that their son was gay, in terms of the shock value alone. But the bottom line is that I knew they loved me and that's what really matters."

Falling in love for the first time was equally brilliant for Dermod, who says that his particular man taught him three valuable things: "how to roll a joint, cook brown rice and vegetables, and how to get angry!". The latter, he acknowledges, was "the greatest lesson of all", and self-expression on every level - not just in terms of the language of emotions and sex - became a defining feature of his life in London. "I was still a criminal when I lived in Ireland," Dermod reflects.

"So even in that sense London was liberating and I lost layers of guilt and shame in relation to being a physical, sexual, horny being - all that stuff you pick up in the air in Ireland."

Maybe. But within a year of moving to London Dermod met the lover he would eventually want to kill and who could quite easily have killed him. According to Diary of a Man Moore discovered that his boyfriend of six months was HIV positive and "had been having unsafe sex with men he knew to be HIV positive".

Not only that; he continued to have unsafe sex with other men for the rest of the time they were together - another six months - and it was quite a while before Dermod had the courage to have an Aids test himself which, fortunately, proved to be negative.

"But at first I was completely furious and really wanted to kill him," he says. "Yet the article I wrote about this at the request of Niall [Stokes, editor of Hot Press] was written five years later after I'd done all the training in my counselling training therapy groups, beaten up cushions and beaten my original anger.

"But part of my response goes back to the theme of the open relationship versus the closed one - for gay men - and the pain I'd felt in my early years when a man first betrayed me. That whole area I've always found difficult to negotiate, so this man betraying me in such an obvious way was the culmination of all that." Did this betrayal also rupture Dermod Moore's trust in men in general and love itself, and if so how did he repair that psychic rupture?

"Yes, and that's part of whatthis book is all about," he responds. "But how do you repair it? I thinkif you go into the blame game, start seeing yourself as a victim, you are really sunk. I did that for a long time.

"But I am getting easier on myself and, happily, it has been five years since I was clinically depressed. The trigger for that depression was what happened with that guy but it also was overwork and things like that."

That said, curled almost foetal-style at the soul of Diaryof a Man, is a sense of lonelinessand a craving to connect that clearly transcends gender or sexual preference.

"I totally agree with you on that," Dermod muses. "James Hillman, in his book The Soul's Code, writes about the spirit of loneliness and, to me, that is the human condition.

"We're always looking for connection; we're always looking for something, whether it is through the bottle or through sex, whatever. We're always trying to mask or run from our sense of isolation and that is what this book is all about. But ultimately, what I hope readers take from Diary of a Man is the same sense I hoped to impart when I started writing for Hot Press in the first place all those years ago, with this fictional 16-year-old schoolboy in mind and me saying to him, in particular: 'You are not alone, this is what a lot of us go through.'

"In the final analysis, this book is not about sexual orientation, it's about feeling alone."

©Joe Jackson

'Diary of a Man' is published by Hot Press, price ?14.99

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