Seán Healy | Senior Staff Writer
If you’re given a bowl of vegetables and are told that the red ones are poisonous, regardless of their presence in the bowl and the fact that you can see them, you will avoid them. You might accidentally, from time to time, pick up a red vegetable. It may even taste nice but, having been told that it’s poisonous, you’ll spit it out, rinse your mouth, and try to forget about the whole thing. Similarly, if you’re told that the disgusting vegetables are the healthiest you may hold your nose, go on eating them, and even make it a ritual of some sort that vaguely resembles comfort and enjoyment.
I spent 8 years of my life pretending to enjoy English football. Some of my peers, in adulthood, admitted they had been doing the same thing all along. There was such a childish stigma attached to not liking football that it was easier to learn the facts about the players and the teams, to practise the lingo and attempt to fit in, than it was to step out from normality and say: “Isn’t anyone else seeing this? This game is absurdly boring”. It was such an easy quick-fix to what I perceived as a woeful problem that I would have even thought to myself under my covers at night: “I enjoy watching this beautiful game”.
I spent 8 years of my life pretending to enjoy English football. Some of my peers, in adulthood, admitted they had been doing the same thing all along.
Years later, I stopped watching Match of the Day, and looked back at my memories of the sport. For the first time, I allowed myself to remember more than the scores at the end of each game, and the names of players who got sent off. I remembered the hidden lethargy induced when forcing myself to watch 90 minutes of a ball game.
As much as I feared admitting to others, let alone myself, that I took no real pleasure from staring at what I essentially saw as a screen painted predominantly green, looking back I now recognise two certainties: the fear was ridiculous, and how I outwardly feel about football now, I couldn’t have put into language at the time. Foolishly, I wouldn’t have allowed myself do it, or even to think it.
If you examine this self-correction, having done it for years to hide such an insignificant fact, you start allowing yourself to wonder: with many personal characteristics far more stigmatised by many in society, do you really know yourself with perfect accuracy? I started looking for similar societal pressures to those which caused my manufactured interested in the Premier League. I looked at everything I tell myself I’m interested in and everything I tell myself I couldn’t possibly be interested in. During this private research, I received some private and personal questioning along with suspicious glances from peers.
Whether someone obtusely comes along to do the communicating for me, or someone tells me that I should stop communicating at once, my own communication is stunted in both situations.
Although the fear is ridiculous, when aged 20 or 21 and only starting to really explore your identity the fear of ridicule is indeed real. Unfortunately, ignorant friends jokingly assign percentages to my sexuality based on their own observations of increased “femininity”: “30 per cent one way, 70 per cent the other.” I begin to sympathise with Tom Daley and so many others who boldly and honestly journeyed to self-discovery and self-acceptance in adulthood while being jeered by some masses who chant: “One day you’re this, the next you’re that.” While daring to question yourself the world, with nothing better to do, preoccupies itself by adding its own uninvited questioning: “What will it be, yes, no, or maybe, or all of the above?”. To those people I say: It’s none of your business.
Even today, there is an expectation by many that you have a duty not only to be open with yourself, but with everyone else as well. The moment you do or say something remotely viewed by others as “gay” or differing from the stereotype of your gender, some people point out that you have to be “honest” and “come out of the closet.” Some even argue that not doing so is indirectly disrespecting minority sexual orientations. This view takes no context into account. For me, I only feel a moral obligation to be honest with myself when it comes to my own person.
There are people who have done all the thinking, accepted themselves as gay, or bisexual, or whatever else they identify themselves as, but remain in secrecy because of cultural stigmas among family or friends. In some cases, as horrible as it is to appease horrible people, and for the sake of avoiding abuse, it is considered necessary. For me, personally, I am in a state of honest inner questioning. Perhaps it’s a result of growing up in a circle where terms like “gay” and “queer” were habitually used as insults towards people – towards me in many situations. If I now feel uncomfortable being public about any findings from my ongoing questioning, nobody has the right to “out” me. It’s just as damaging when people insert themselves into my personal affairs in such a way as it is when people simply try to silence me. My current state of identity is in need of improved inner communication. Whether someone obtusely comes along to do the communicating for me, or someone tells me that I should stop communicating at once, my own communication is stunted in both situations. I’m trying to figure out who I am, and everyone needs to let me do that for myself.
Today, those questioning their religion are allowed to do so more freely. How long before we progress further and see a similarly analytic approach to sexuality not as the norm, but at least… normal?
Having only really grasped, slightly before puberty, that “gay” is more than a word of insult from those lacking words, and that non-heterosexual people do exist openly and freely, I have since graduated in deciding to make up for lost thought by taking the opportunity to explore myself. Everyone seems confident in the accuracy of their self-image, but to me the thought of knowing everything about myself at this young age bores me almost as much as forcing myself to sit through a World Cup final (with extra time included).
In sexuality, questioning is still mocked by many. People call it “silly”. They use the insulting word “phase”, as though you are going through some comically certified process to wean yourself off the sex to which you formerly advertised interest. But it is simply the most logical approach I could find to addressing myself. I question everything, especially what I think might be ingrained, possibly suppressing part of the person I am. I made the coincidentally fashionable break from religion in my teenage years after questioning myself. During the 50s, in doing this, I would have been seen as strange or “trying to be different”. But today, those questioning their religion are allowed to do so more freely. How long before we progress further and see a similarly analytic approach to sexuality not as the norm, but at least… normal?
Illustration by Seán Healy for The University Times