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Dublin: 8 °C Monday 24 November, 2014

Column: ‘Coming out’ as gay meant that, at 54, I could finally be myself

On National Coming Out Day, 68-year-old Eddie Parsons remembers growing up in an Ireland where “being gay was not an option” – and how he finally came out at the age of 54.

Eddie Parsons

SINCE COMING OUT, I have left my anti-depressants behind, travelled the world, made lots of friends and, now – at the age of 68 – I would have to say I am relatively happy. But it has been a long road and it hasn’t been easy.

I was born in Mayo back in 1945, when Ireland was a very different place. I went to a small school in the countryside, then on to boarding school, before joining a monastery when I was 18, where I stayed for four years. I was very religious then, but decided to leave the monastery to study English in UCD, after which I became a secondary school teacher, and got married. At that stage, I was in denial about my sexuality and couldn’t come out even to myself.

The marriage started off well and I loved my wife a lot – and still do in many ways – but the fact that I was gay became something that, increasingly, I could no longer ignore. I struggled a lot with that and it caused me severe depression.

I became very depressed

When I was 40, I went on a trip to Amsterdam, where I visited a number of gay venues and felt totally at home. Only then did I actually come out to myself and admit that I was gay. A few years later, I told my wife – but I said I was bisexual to soften the blow, as a lot of gay people do when they are coming out to their partner. We stayed together for 10 years after that, but my depression became so severe that I had to give up teaching, which meant I was at home doing nothing, and so it became even worse.

Eventually, I became suicidal and was admitted to hospital in 1999, aged 54. At that stage, I was experiencing total self-hatred but, while I was in hospital, I got very angry and, to be honest, it was actually the anger that saved me in the end. I realised that I had to be true not only to me but to the world, and I decided that I deserved to be able to live my life truthfully. I couldn’t take it anymore and my marriage was annulled.

After that point, I was in a gay relationship for a few years, but it didn’t work out. I also started to work part-time in Outhouse LGBT Community Resource Centre on Capel Street in Dublin and, during the 10 years I worked there, I met a huge amount people of all different ages and backgrounds who had come out under various circumstances and in their own unique ways. I drew enormous strength from being around these people who understood what I had been through and I learned a lot.

Three main factors held me back

Looking back, there were three main factors holding me back from coming out. They were: the danger of losing my family, including my parents; the social situation of living in Ireland at a time when it was not even legal to be gay; and religion. In that order.

Happily, I can say that, since coming out, my family – including my two children from my marriage and my extended family in Mayo – have been very supportive. As for religion, these days I would say I am a 100 per cent non-religious and a 100 per cent believer, so faith is important to me, but I’m not a practising Catholic.

As someone who grew up in an Ireland where being gay was not an option, I will certainly be celebrating this ‘National Coming Out Day’. Thankfully, Ireland today is a very different place. There is lots of support out there for people who need it and the LGBT Helpline will be open for 24 hours on Friday to mark the day.

Having said that, it’s important to realise that there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ to ‘coming out’. Everyone is different. If you were to ask me to give advice to people who may be thinking of coming out, I would say ‘Get loads of advice and proceed with caution’.

For me, however, I finally feel like me.

National Coming Out Day takes place this Friday, 11th October. To mark the occasion, the LGBT Helpline – a nationwide support service for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) people – will stay open for 24 hours, beginning at midnight on Thursday.    People can contact the helpline throughout that period on 1890 929 539.  Outside of ‘National Coming Out Day’ the Helpline can be accessed at the following times: Monday to Thursday: 6.30pm-9pm, Friday: 4-9pm, Saturday and Sunday: 4-6pm

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