"What changed?"

A gay Irish man has a question for Rory O'Neill

(Guest post by @faintlyfalling)

Recent events have got me thinking about how Ireland (or the part of Ireland that thinks of itself as progressive) now views gay people.

In the run-up to the marriage equality referendum, Rory O'Neill (pictured) took to the stage of the Abbey Theatre in Dublin and delivered a speech from the heart. He spoke about the gay experience in Ireland.

His speech was passionate and emotional. He recounted how oppressive it felt to have heterosexual people lecture us. His speech spoke to many. It spoke to me.

Growing up in a homophobic society does something to you. I'm not sure you ever really get over it. There are scars many of us bear to this day. The Catholic dimension in Ireland didn't help either.

This isn't ancient history. I was 17 when homosexuality was decriminalised. It was done at the order of the European courts but it was a start. Things began to improve. There was a gradual move out of the shadows.

With the campaign for marriage equality, it felt like we were on the path to somewhere else, somewhere better. It felt like a catharsis. Instead of "no debate", people came forward and opened their hearts before the nation.

I remember Ursula Halligan coming out, live on the radio. She spoke so movingly about why she felt she had to come out now, at that moment when we felt we were on the cusp of change. I had tears in my eyes listening to her.

There were other stories. Other people revealing the hurt, the rejection, the fear they had endured as Irish homosexuals. Through their stories, they appealed for their country to do the right thing. And to Ireland's credit, they did.

Many people who gathered in Dublin Castle to wave rainbow flags and bask in what had been achieved now decry those of us who say that gay people are same-sex attracted. We are bigots. We are denying others their right to be their authentic selves.

I remain unconvinced that the ultimate goal of the gay liberation movement was to declare that "anyone can be gay, even straight people". Accepting trans people does not, and should not, require that we deny our authentic selves.

It should not require gay people to agree that heterosexual people can be gay. If we accept that, we accept that gay people can become straight. We fought too hard against that to accept it now.

Others say "but what does it matter?". What does it matter. Honest to god. Did it never matter? The hurt we endured? How we felt compelled to hide away from others? The scars we bear? "What does it matter?" How fucking dare you. It mattered then. And it matters now.

Being gay matters. Brave women and men marched on the streets proudly proclaiming that it mattered in the face of bitter opposition. We deserve a name that describes our orientation. We are entitled to say that people who are not same-sex attracted do not fall under it.

The gains that were made are recent, they were hard fought and hard won. They don't cease to matter because some straight people want to identify their way into homosexuality.

Why bring this up now? The @Ire_LGBAlliance launched recently. They have been immediately denounced, with vitriol that has to be seen to be believed. Some of the loudest calls have come from heterosexual people who are trans and who identify as gay. There are scores of other straight people in the replies offering their support. Heterosexual people supporting other heterosexual people in their denunciation of same-sex attracted people who have the temerity to say that gay people are homosexual. Mother of God.

Of course, there are plenty of gay people in the mix too adding their voice in support of the right of heterosexual people to identify as gay. Rory O'Neill is among them, which is what made me think of his speech.

I wonder what changed.