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Dublin: 3 °C Sunday 23 November, 2014

In Your Words: Being a gay teenager in Ireland

Homophobia can be expressed overtly – but it can also be casual, insidious and suffocating. Here, six teenagers tell their stories.

Image: vita khorzhevska via Shutterstock

LAST SUNDAY EVENING, TheJournal.ie posted the personal experiences of seven high-profile gay and lesbian men and women.

They told stories of homophobia and hatred. But also tales of acceptance and love.

The interviews and writings certainly hit home for many of our readers and we were overwhelmed with the responses to our request for your stories.

Unfortunately, we have not been able to reproduce every submission, but have picked a selection to represent the various experiences people told us about.

We have arranged the extracts in separate posts.

Here, we look at the experiences of gay teenagers who are discovering their sexuality, often amid misunderstanding and animosity.

‘If someone asks if I’m gay, I turn red and betray myself’

“I’m 14 years old and I’m gay. I live in a sort of rural area, where homophobia is accepted as normal. It has been quite difficult for me, and I’m not even out yet. The teachers at my school will be very harsh if a racist comment is made while if someone shouts “faggot!” across the class, they just roll their eyes. Our school doesn’t even acknowledge homophobia. This attitude that ‘kids will be kids’ and ‘nobody that age is gay anyway’ is toxic.

I’ve known who I am for a long time, but I’ve been attacked even before I knew myself for my differences.

I am afraid to give any specific details in case someone I know reads this. On Facebook, at break, in town, it never stops. “What a queer”, “that’s so gay”, “ah yeah sure he’s only a faggot”. It is celebrated. I’m sure if I was to come out publicly my house would be egged, I’d be insulted in the street and I’d be relentlessly bullied at school. If someone asks me if I’m gay, I turn red and betray myself. And as Panti said, I check myself constantly.”

‘I was bullied to the point that I wanted to end my life’

I’m 18 and I’m a gay fag — not my choice of terminology but the choice of others. I’ve experienced homophobia on many occasions. I’ve experienced it so much that I’ve learned to just pretend that I can’t hear the comments and see the looks. I’ve become accustomed to putting on a poker face so that my friends won’t see me get put down. I always try to be the bigger person and tell myself that it’s ok, surely those people will come around.
I see myself as one of the “lucky” people because I haven’t experienced physical homophobic violence. I’ve “only” been ridiculed and made feel dumb by a certain choice of vocabulary. While it is “only” a choice of words, they are hurtful, they begin to diffuse into your head, they make you extremely conscious of the fact that you’re “a gay fag”. The verbal and mental homophobia that I experience takes place everywhere, from walking to the shop, to the dreaded school.

One day I was minding my own business and a car pulled up beside me. I knew what was about to come. A big group of guys started screaming at me. I kept my poker face and started to walk, while in my head I was kicking myself because I knew that I let it happen. Why didn’t I say something? Well? I didn’t say anything because I have learned to be the bigger person. This wasn’t out of the ordinary for me, it happens quit a bit actually. I have become accustomed to the ridicule, because I’m a gay fag.

School. Where to start! If I didn’t have my friends, I would not be in school. I’ve experienced verbal and mental humiliation in school because I’m a gay fag. When I was in the junior cycle, I was constantly bullied because of my sexuality. I was bullied to the point that I wanted to end my life.

What really annoys me is the fact that my teachers did nothing. They never made any effort to stop it. It was like they thought it was nothing. I remember PE when my friends weren’t in that class. I was always left sitting on my own, I never took part. I’m a gay fag, and that meant that I was never allowed onto any of the teams. Nobody would pick me because of my sexuality.

I’m in 6th year now, and the mental bullying continues. Just recently, my teacher arranged a seating plan. Fine by me I said. However, on the day of our new seats being given out, the “school celebrity” was told he had to sit beside me. When the teacher said it, I knew what was next: humiliation. The guy started screaming saying that he was not going to sit there because I’m gay fag. Obviously he used the most extreme homophobic vocabulary and made me feel dumb. But, as per usual, I put on my poker face and pretended it didn’t hurt. Nothing was done about it. Class went on.

I’ve experienced homophobic slurs from my own teachers. While this is a common saying, I feel that is should not be used in the classroom. One day my teacher was chatting to the class and relationships came up. A fellow classmate of mine said something and my teachers’ reply was: “I’m getting worried about you” – as if to paint being gay in a negative light. While this may be a simple saying, she should have not have said it. I felt crap because I’m the gay fag. I found it very offensive.

There are many more extreme experiences that I’ve had but they aren’t something I want to share. Nobody even knows that I feel like I’ve experienced homophobia because I keep a poker face.

‘It would be best if you fucked off and died of Aids’

“About a year ago, I was 17 and playing for a football team. I had been a member of the team for around four years and was the second most senior player. I fitted well into the team and got on with everyone.

Then I came out.

I began to realise people spoke to me less. That was not such a big deal, but I could sense some of the team were uncomfortable with me.

Then, one game, the worst experience I have ever had occurred. It was a big cup game and I had a bad game – I was aware and I didn’t need anyone to tell me, but one player took it upon himself to let me know. He screamed abuse at me during the game, calling me a ‘faggot’ and a ‘queer’. Telling me I wasn’t fit to play football and football “was a man’s game, not one for women like yourself”. Then he said the worst thing that has ever been said to me: “Here Paul, it would be best if you fucked off and died of Aids”. This actually broke me. Nobody said anything. Many people laughed, off each team.

I was delighted to hear that that guy was removed from the team for that reason, but it took me along time to get over this. I cried so much after this game. I’d say it was about three months before I regained my confidence and realised that he was the worst guy. He was the ignorant idiot. We must not let those people win. We must face homophobia – gay, straight, bisexual, transgender, asexual, whatever, we must stop this happening to other young people. No person should have to endure this or any homophobia or discrimination for being WHO THEY ARE.”

‘My girlfriend was punched by a man’

Myself and my girlfriend (aged 18 and 19) have been subject to homophobia many, many times, almost every single time we go into town, in fact. It comes in many forms, we’ve been glared at, spat at and shouted at more times than I’d like to recall. Once, my girlfriend was even punched in the side by a man walking by us as he called us ‘queers’.Unfortunately something as little as a disgusted stare can have quite a bad impact on you when it happens every five minutes, just because you’re holding hands with another girl or – god forbid – you hug goodbye or hello. People seem to think that because we are two girls in a relationship, we become less than another person and it’s totally ok to treat us with contempt and disgust and even assault us.

However, the homophobia we have encountered doesn’t just come in the form of physical assault. Can you imagine coming home from town having lost count of the number of people, you’ve never even met before, who decided it was their place to tell you how sick you are and how you’re a filthy person? It becomes very tiring when you’re unable to walk somewhere holding your girlfriend’s hand without disgruntled looks from onlookers – as if you’re hurting them somehow by having this personal moment with someone.

I have no doubt that homophobia is very much present in Ireland and people need to take account and realise it’s not ok to treat somebody differently because of their sexual orientation, we need to take a stand against homophobia before we put more people through this.

– Tori

‘I didn’t understand why these people were doing this to me’

My name is Jake and I’m 17 years of age. Growing up I had no idea I was – and that I still am to an extent – a victim of homophobia.  Instead, I thought I was a victim of normal bullying.

When I was in primary school I had no idea why some of the boys in my class would snigger and laugh and even point at me from across the yard as I sat with my friends, the majority of whom were girls. All I knew at that time was that I didn’t like football or rugby or GAA and I didn’t want to play sports with the lads. I would rather sit and talk and laugh, and I was targeted for that. I was targeted and labelled something that a 9, 10, 11 year-old shouldn’t be labelled. In fact, nobody should be labelled a ‘queer’ or a ‘faggot’.

The worst part of it all was I didn’t understand why these people were doing this to me. The definition of homophobia is something that’s been up in the air in recent weeks in Ireland, but I define what happened to me as homophobic bullying. I didn’t realise I was gay until I was a teenager but I always had this thought in my head that because someone called me gay meant I was. These kids stamped a label on me and wouldn’t let me forget it. They wouldn’t give me time to respond or to even think about what I was – instead I was bullied for being different and standing out.

I wore skinny jeans instead of tracksuit bottoms and that made me gay. My best friend was a girl instead of a boy and that made me gay. Who fucking cared if my favourite singer (from the age of four) was Britney Spears? I didn’t, my friends didn’t, my family didn’t – but those who targeted me did. They cared so much that they made me ashamed and afraid to express myself for years. They made me uncomfortable at any chance they could get, and why? Because I am gay.

I understand being uncomfortable with the idea of homosexuality but I will not tolerate or stand by and allow other gay teenagers be victims of harassment because of their sexuality. Homophobia is rampant in our society and it’s disgraceful. We need to teach children at a young age to be open-minded towards others. Hate shouldn’t be directed at a couple because they’re both of the same sex. Homophobia is something that won’t go away if we don’t do something about it.

We need to stand up and fight against this for the sake of the frightened teenagers whose cases of homophobia are 100 times worse than mine. How many young lives do we have to lose until people open their eyes?

‘I still hide myself from people … I’m afraid’

I am 17 years old and am a mostly-openly gay teenager from North County Dublin.
99 per cent of LGBT teenagers have endured some sort of homophobic abuse. I wouldn’t classify myself as someone who has endured major abuse in my life but I certainly stop noticing it after a while. There have been times where I have been called a ‘faggot’ and various other slang words. Those words don’t hurt me, though, because those people are ignorant and their opinion doesn’t matter as they have no relevance in my life.

The actual abuse I have endured was not directly imposed by the people at school, or my parents, but it was brought on myself from a young age. I always wondered why I was different, why wasn’t I like the other ‘cool’ lads in school who like girls. I tried my best to fit in with the popular crowd in school because I believed they were my best bet to feel good about myself. I completely changed my personality to fit in with them. I would never admit to them that my favourite artist is Lady Gaga or that I personally don’t have an interest in sports. I made sure the way I spoke didn’t sound ‘camp’ or do anything to ”give the gay away”. I actually convinced myself that I was straight. I remember having a girlfriend and everything. I thought that I was in the perfect spot now and I didn’t have to try so hard to let my true feelings arise.

Until one day I woke up and said ‘what am I doing?’. I realised that I didn’t like these people I was hanging out with because they were being hateful to an openly gay guy in my year in school. I realised that I was actually completely depressed and that these people are also afraid of their own standards. I left those group of friends and made new ones. I just randomly decided to come out as gay and I couldn’t be happier! All my friends accept me, and most people in school accept me (except something unpleasant was written about me in the school toilets recently.)

I also don’t mind what people say about me because I’m 100 per cent happy. I just have to convince my older brother who’s homophobic that we’re not so bad. I am a little ashamed of myself, however, because I still hide myself from people as I’m afraid.

Last week: Bullied, egged, kicked out and beaten up: Homophobia in real life

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