Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Coming out to my mother - my story

I tell this story better in person. It evolves too with each telling, words changing, inflection and intonation differing, depending on the audience. The Kilkenny accent plays an important role, as does the knowledge of the listener of my mother in "real life" - particularly how challenging a serious conversation with her can be with her constant interruptions, as well intentioned as they may be.

I've tended to tell it over dinner or a pint to someone or people it's come up in conversation with, or who out and out ask. I've hesitated about sharing it online before now, doubtful I could do the full extent of the effect and reaction justice. However, tonight I read Stephen, Russell, Scott and Ben who have all posted their coming out stories, their difficulties and challenges in sharing who they are with loved ones, so I'll give it a go and take this opportunity to tell you mine.

It's the year 1999. I'm almost 21, I've lived in Dublin now for almost two years. I'm home for the first time in a few weeks, my studies in the seminary providing a demanding schedule. Easter is next weekend and the evening before I'd been talking to my younger sister on the phone, who had told me things my mother had been telling our relatives. Andrea knows I value my privacy, knows the way things spread around our small village and, I guess, she wants to stir trouble as well, so she gives me a run through of overheard conversations and things people have said to her. She doesn't like it - I'm embarrassing her again. After a restless night of thinking and rehearsing, I took the first bus and arrived home a day early, telling my mother we needed to talk.

I'd changed a lot that year. My experiences in Kimmage were nothing but positive - I was studying in UCD, cycling out every day giving me that necessary exercise boost. The contemplative, spiritual side of my life had helped me get to know myself a lot better, to focus on my thoughts and deal with them maturely, while the social aspect of dealing with parishioners and fellow seminarians boosted my self confidence and taught me a lot about interacting with people. Teasie's little boy was growing up fast.

Dropping my bags in the hallway, I can hear the TV blasting from the kitchen. I didn't have a mobile then so had no way of telling the folks what time I'd be home. I preferred it this way almost, the thoughts of laid out tables, cups of tae and chatter about stuff we'd already discussed on the phone far from my mind. "She's been saying things about you, Darragh" Andrea had said, "She's been telling them why you don't like girls and stuff." I think I'd almost have preferred not to know.

Growing up I went to all boys schools so never had much interaction with girls. I've written about this previously, but it's worth pointing out that UCD was a huge surprise for me, it providing a bewildering amount of girls who - I couldn't really understand - seemed to like being with guys and each other. This was different.

The girls I'd encountered at home and on the school bus were bitches, pure and simple. They took every delight in tormenting each other and any one on the bus that they chose to pick on, gender irrelevant. I was a constant target, being quiet and not bothered to react. I left for Dublin with certain apprehension that they'd be the same everywhere - just out for themselves, with no concern for anyone's feelings. At least, that's how I perceived it.

I pushed open the door. My father was on the chair, watching a GAA match on the television while my mother was playing patience at the table down at the sliding door, the light being perfect for her eyesight. They didn't notice me for a second, so I said a casual "Well hello there" before sitting opposite my mother. We'd only spoken the night before so there was little catching up to do.

"Mam" I said, when the journey questions were answered, "Can we talk about something? I think we need to talk."

She looked up at me. I was expecting the look, what my sister had told me still in my head, but the sudden change in her face emphasised how important this suddenly was to her. Her eyes softened, she took off her glasses and smiled and said "Of course son, what do you want to tell me?"

"Well, look, it's important we talk about something. It'll only take a few minutes but I want to tell you it now."

It was as if I was reading next week's lotto numbers to her. She had anticipated this, I could see it in her face. The smile got wider. On the couch, my father stayed intent on the match, not a flicker of interest apparent.

"John" she said, "Come over here. Darragh wants to tell us something. Make him a cup of tea there John and come over"

"It's okay Dad", I said, "Stay where you are. I'll talk to mam."

"Are you sure Darragh?" she said. "Do you not want your father here as well? John, would you ever turn down that telly and make him a cup of tea, for feck sake. Come over here."

My mother is a formidable woman at the best of times. You'd really have to hear the accent to understand how forceful her words can be. Many's the guest in our house have had a cup of tea made for them, whether they want it or not.

"Look, it's grand", I said, "Watch your game. I'm all right for tea. I don't feel like tea, I just want to get this over with."

"Son, you know that we love you".

(If I ever do this on stage some time, I'm going to have violin music play at this point. Possibly 'O Danny Boy'.)

"You know that. We support you, we're very proud of you. You're a great son altogether, going off there to Dublin and doing what you want to do, it's great. We..."

"Yes, yes I know all that", I interrupt, as patiently as I can manage. "I just want to talk to you about this."

"Well you go on son, I'm listening. I'm here for you. JOHN! Will you turn down that telly? We're trying to talk here."

I took a deep breath. "Well, look. I've been away from here nearly two years now and I've been thinking a lot."

"You have son, and it's done you the world of good. Sure you were never happy here, it held you back. Not enough opportunities," she interrupted.

"Be that as it may", I said, "I'm enjoying the second year in UCD. I like what I'm doing and I love being in Kimmage"

"Sure aren't you doing God's work, son?" she said. "Isn't it what you want to do? You're very brave. I don't think you should be there now, but sure you're happy. And that's all we want, your father and me, you to be happy."

"Yeah, I know, but look. I want to tell you something. I want you to know this. I need you to know this."

"Go on, son, go on", she smiled, the words forming on her lips in anticipation.

"I know I never seemed interested in girls the way the other lads were when I was younger..."

"But sure weren't they all bitches to you boy? Jealous! That's what they all were, jealous. You'd be much better off without any of them from here..."

"... Yes, but look! I have a lot of friends in Dublin. Some are guys, some are girls, and I know I'm living with a group of men and I know I'm going to be celibate..."

"Yes, son, I do, go on". She's sitting in the chair like a jockey on a racehorse, ready to reach over and pounce with an almighty hug if tears began or when the words come.

"...But I want you to know something. It's important I'm honest with you. There's something about me that you don't seem to know, maybe I haven't been clear."

"We love you, son. Whoever you are and want to be, we'll love you anyways."

"Yeah, I know that!", I'm getting manic, trying to force the words out, hating how long something so simple, something I've come to terms with, thought about a lot, prayed about a lot and have accepted about myself after years of doubt and denial is taking. "But look, I'm just telling you now. I'm straight. There, I've said it. I like girls, I'm not gay and that's it."

"What did you say?" Her tone is incredulous, as if I've just announced I'm actually a small kangaroo named Skippy.

"I said, I'm not gay. Andrea's told me what you've been saying, told me you told people you were proud of me whether I was gay or not. Well, I'm not. I don't want a boyfriend, I don't want a girlfriend, but I'm not gay."


"But nothing, that's it! That's who I am. I've thought enough about it to know."

"Well", she said, at once utterly deflated, her own self congratulation at being a modern mother and supporting her son's identity no matter what evaporating while her acute embarrassment at having gotten it so wrong rose like her blood pressure.


If that's the way you want to live your life, you go and do so."

The vehemence in her tone was shockingly funny. I had to laugh. She gathered her cards and her spectacles, and without speaking to me, turned her back and walked out of the room, shoulders slumped with the burden of a disappointing child. Her dream had ended.

My father looked up. "Is everything okay?", he said. "What happened?"

"Ah, I told her I wasn't gay."

"Sure I've been telling her that all along. Don't mind her. Will you have a cup of tea?"

"I will" says I. "I think I will."

My mother didn't speak to me for the rest of that evening and didn't really forgive me for a month. "My son, the gay priest" was not going to be a part of her vocabulary for the rest of my life. We laugh about it now, but every so often she'll ask "So, any sign of a girl? Or a fella?" There hasn't been. A funny woman, my mother.

Not a word of a lie. I came out as straight to my mammy. I had to. She wouldn't have believed me otherwise.


  1. haha....excellent!

    Brilliant story darragh.

  2. Thanks offthemeatrack. Long, I know, but true :)

  3. That's a brilliant story indeed. I truly enjoyed it.

  4. If I can get someone to play Danny Boy , would you do it on stage? Reads excellent :) Up to the point you had hinted of it on the stage I had actually placed it in the Watergate from the word go.

  5. Fabulous story. It really captures Irish life as we culchies know it. Your father's comment "Sure I've been telling her that all along. Don't mind her. Will you have a cup of tea?" is just brilliant. What a man! As a father myself, I hope I will have the same insight as him in years to come.

  6. I've said it before, and I'll say it again.
    I adore the way you tell stories.
    That was the best ever.

    I know you know how much she loves you, I think it was so lovely that she was trying to understand something about you, and hoped she could cushion you from something. Parents are lovely even when they are wrong.

    I'd love to hear this in person some day.

  7. Great post, very funny and well written.

  8. Brilliant!

    I was the other side of the table living every moment!

  9. You cheered up my whole day! Not sure who to sympathise with more, your mother, you, or your patient da. And, I'll refrain from assuring my eldest that it's *just fine* if she wants to bring a girlfriend home, etc.... I'll remember your mother and mind myself! God, I'm still laughing.

  10. Great story well told. I'd love to hear this aloud. How about a podcast? Then you could get the violin accompaniment it deserves!

  11. To be honest, I'm confused by this post. A mixture of emotions. Too complex to express in even a thousand words.

    Were you just being playful for playful's sake by building to something and doing a switcheroo?

    I did come away lessened after reading it.

  12. Very well told, I loved the predecessors to this tale and I love this one.

  13. brilliant story Darragh, very well told! was smiling for most of it!

  14. Great story Darrigh. I love the way you told it.

  15. Haha... Excellent story telling! Good old mammy.

  16. Vlad: Cheers and thanks :)

    Ken: Me, on stage? Oooh dunno about that ;) But yes, of course for opportunities. Wouldn't mind giving it a go :)

    Pat: Welcome back :) It is very much a culchie house is mine. Me dad is someone special alright.

    Elf: Thank you. You've got it exactly right - she just assumed and wanted to do the best she could for me.

    I'll buy you a pint and bore you with it in Cork perhaps ;)

    Maxi: Thank you sir

    Grannymar: Having met her, I'm sure you could see it happening :)

    Susan: Oh I need no sympathy, neither does she. He might though. As for the whole girlfriend/boyfriend thing - well, as me dad would say: "As long as you're happy".

    Sharon: Oh never thought of a podcast. But then you'd hear my big culchie accent. Hmmm. I'll look into it!

    Steph: Thanks!

    Alexia: That's a strange reaction, certainly not one I intended any reader to have.

    Two things spring to mind - firstly it's written in a style that I would tell it verbally and one that I've used before on here, especially when talking about my mother. Yes, it's a bit playful, but that's for the entertainment of those who read or hear it as much as the communication of the piece.

    Secondly, it follows on from other posts I've written about growing up - here, here and here. I didn't put much thought into the writing conventions - having read how the other guys told their stories, I just told mine.

    There was no "switcheroo" as such - it's exactly how I remember it happening. Confused by listening to people's assumptions, adding 2+2 and getting 6 and an overwhelming desire to be happy with and for me all made my mother think that I might be gay. In truth there were times that I questioned it. As I said, the years in Dublin taught me a lot.

    Sorry you had that reaction.

    Xbox: Thanks. I may be running out of stories though - what the hell do I do then?

    Stephen: A friend once told me the best coming-out-conversation-with-his-mother ever. I'll save that one for when we meet :)

    Tatty: Cheers, my dear

    Aedan: Thank you

    Keith: Good old mammy indeed. One day, maybe, I'll tell her I've written it. One day...

  17. Brilliant, Darragh. You had me going there. Have you seen Catherine Tate's series about the Nor'n Irish Mammy?