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Opinion: Dear Vincent Browne, I don't have a 'gay lifestyle'... I have a life

When you refer to my sexual orientation as a ‘lifestyle’, it is demeaning. The word lifestyle, with all its connotations of superficiality, implies choice – a chosen lifestyle.

Brian Finnegan

DEAR VINCENT,

Thank you for the invitation to participate in Wednesday night’s debate on your show, entitled ‘Is Ireland Homophobic?’ Unfortunately, for personal reasons I was unable to attend, but I was able to watch it, and as the debate unfolded I dearly wished I could have been there.

I found the content of the debate disturbing. I always find it disturbing when people who find themselves in the majority advocate for anyone’s continued inequality based on their own personal beliefs, but that’s not what I took issue with. I understand that this debate has to happen in the lead up to a referendum on same-sex marriage, and that people do hold negative personal beliefs about the status of gay and lesbian people when it comes to the issues of marriage and parenting. They have the freedom to their opinions and to express them, just as people who advocate equality for lesbian and gay couples have the freedom to express theirs, and your show facilitated that freedom.

What I found most disturbing about the debate was your own constant reference to the ‘gay lifestyle’.

I believe I was born gay. There was a time in my life when I did everything in my power to choose to be heterosexual. I desperately wanted to live without the pain of not fitting in. I wanted to follow the path that had been set down for me by society, by my parents and my community, which included love, marriage and the happiness and personal fulfillment that every movie, every book, every TV show, and every advertisement, told me was there for the taking. But it wasn’t. Instead, because my nature was to be attracted to members of my own gender, that path was shut down for me. I believed I would end up alone and unloved.

I am happy to say that I am not alone and I am not unloved. With the support of a community of other people who were also told they could not have the privilege of taking that path in life so fundamental to our society, along with the love and support of my family and friends, I found a way to accept myself and begin to live with hope.

When it comes to the day that I am on my deathbed, I want to know that I have loved and have been loved, that I have experienced all the joys and sadness, gains and losses, highs and lows, and fundamental intimacies of a loving human relationship. That is not a lifestyle. That is life.

I am a parent, and when it comes to those final moments I also want to know that I brought my son up to be a fully functioning, self-assured, contributing member of society, who is generous of spirit and respecting of all people, no matter what their sexuality, race, religion or gender is. I want to know that he will pass those values on to his own children, and that they will pass those values on in the evolution of a better society. That is not a lifestyle. That is life.

When you refer to my sexual orientation as a ‘lifestyle’, it is demeaning. The word lifestyle, with all its connotations of superficiality, implies choice – a chosen lifestyle. I assume you were born straight. I would never have the disrespect to refer to your sexuality, your marriage, your parenting, your existence as a lifestyle. I don’t know if it’s true, but I speculate that you do not internally refer to your life as a lifestyle, and you don’t think it’s superficial, or chosen.

I understand that you often play the part of devil’s advocate as a journalist and broadcaster, but your consistent use of the term ‘gay lifestyle’ did not feel adversarial to me. Instead it just played into the hands of those who constantly use the term as a subtle trivialisation of same-sex relationships.

On the subject of the debate, ‘Is Ireland homophobic?’, I want to say that I believe it is not. Of course there are elements of homophobia in our society, as there have been in every society since time immemorial. But I believe in the fundamental decency of the Irish people, and, given our history, in the deep abhorrence we have for injustice of any kind.

I do not believe that anyone who questions the rightness of same-sex marriage is is homophobic. It is perfectly understandable in a world that has throughout history shunned homosexual people, denied, oppressed and devalued them, that this new idea of same-sex marriage being equal to heterosexual marriage raises questions. But those questions must be examined.

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If someone is against same-sex marriage, and is thinking of voting against it, it is incumbent upon them to peel back the layers of their reasoning and get to the heart of why they think consenting adults of the same sex should not have the same right as they have to marry. If in peeling back the layers a person finds he or she has a distaste for gay sex, or that he or she believes gay people are somehow damaging to children, then it has to be admitted that he or she has an issue with homosexuality. I understand these issues with homosexuality. I am a homosexual and I have struggled with them myself. Indeed, it is a lifetime journey to deeply come to terms with them. All gay people, despite the vast majority of them believing they were born gay, are on the same journey.

I have been in a relationship with a wonderful man for eleven years. One day I want to declare my marriage vows to him, and to hear him declare his to me, in front of my parents, brothers and sisters who have all enjoyed this privilege. I want the full endorsement of my community, my peers and my state in that moment, and to continue my life in the knowledge that I live in a country that values me as an equal human being, not despite the fact that I was born gay, but because I was born gay, in the understanding that my sexual orientation is a fundamental part of my humanity, which deserves to be celebrated just as heterosexuality is.

That is not a lifestyle. That is life.

Yours,
Brian Finnegan
Editor, Gay Community News.

This letter first appeared on The Outmost.

Read: Ireland drops to 22nd in Europe for legal equality for LGBTI people

Column: Are you frustrated by the number of ‘gay’ stories in the media? Then read on …

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Brian Finnegan

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