Friday, June 20, 2008

Have Pride in who you are

"Doyle, you're a pansy!!"

That's the second insult I remember being hurled at me when I was growing up. I was a pansy. Not the small colourful flower in gardens but "one who lacks the appropiate masculinity associated with testosterone; someone very pathetic and wimpy, generally used as an insult" as urbandictionary says. That was me. A pansy.

From the age of five or six, my life was defined by that term. Growing up in the small town that I did where everyone knew everyone else, social standing was important but fitting in was even more. If you didn't go out with the boys playing football, if you didn't follow the crowd or if you weren't "up for it" then you were different and that was bad.

My mother was 39 when she brought me home to no. 33. I was very ill as a child and she nursed me back to health despite a myriad of doctors advising her to accept the inevitable. I have quite a stunning letter detailing some of my illnesses including whooping cough (pertussis), respiratory problems (necessitating months between Cherry Orchard and Crumlin Hospitals), gastroenteritis, dermatitis, eczema and anaemia all in the first 10 months of my life, which made it a bit difficult to thrive. An allergy to all dairy products, a weak digestive system meaning I couldn't hold down food (or travel) and a stubborn Leo streak can't have helped.

But my Mam is a stubborn woman, and having waited so long for a child (she was married the year before) she wasn't going to let me go. With her constant care and attention as well as being tended to by as many doctors as she could find and afford on my father's meagre labourer wages, I survived the illnesses to become a happy wee child - admittedly an odd looking young fella, a big head and a little body (because of the lack of early nourishment) so I was a bit like a lollipop.

And so I grew, with my younger sister, in an estate full of children all in and around our ages. My mother, coming from a large family and having immense pride in her new children made sure we had everything we needed (without spoiling us) and showed us proudly to the neighbours and her siblings. She had been a good daughter to her mother (who she left school at 13 to mind until she died in 1976) and now was going to be a great mother to her children.

Looking after me of course also meant protecting me from harm. Being "fragile" I couldn't go and play football in case I got hurt. I wasn't allowed off on my own in case I got sick - I was a clumsy child and fell (head first) against walls and columns, off pavements and generally just over a lot. The first time we went to Knock as a family we were on the way to the shrine when I fell and broke my nose, so straight back to Galway with us.

I didn't have the same social interaction as some of the other children who went off with their siblings and cousins - my cousins were a few years older and in fairness would have been killed if anything had happened to me. So I spent time at home with my mam, who looked after me and taught me to read and write when I was very young. And dressed me in the height of fashion.

Because I spent so much time with her I was far more used to adults than I was to other children. The grown ups were fascinated by this little kid who could read big words in the newspapers, who knew who the Taoiseach was and who had aspirations to be a professor (though I suspect my mother had a hand in this). At times when children were reading Ann and Barry I was racing through the Three Investigators, the Famous Five and heading towards Narnia.

"Doyle, you're a pansy!" As the crowds of youngsters passed while I was playing with my sister outside, this became a chant. "Mammy" said the six year old me, "what's a pansy?" "Don't mind them, they're just jealous" I was told. And I accepted that. While they went off strengthening muscles, learning hand eye coordination, social interaction, learning to be insulted and take it and other skills on the GAA field, I was learning about BASIC, code and driving a formula one car around the track on my Amstrad CPC 464. And was happy to be so.

Image from Retro Treasures

A pansy, a cissy, a mammy's boy, a wimp, a girl - as I stumbled through primary school these terms were levelled at me. I was definitely gay. Not homosexual gay, but different gay. Gay because I liked to read and I didn't know who the captain of Man Utd was. Gay because I didn't go to the local discos. Gay because I couldn't catch a sliotar or kick a ball in a straight line or because I didn't know about the offside rule. A gay pansy cissy.

I don't mean to make myself out to be persecuted here. I had great friends and relatives who made sure I wasn't totally insular. I went to school, was enrolled in the Beavers and did all of that but I was a child who listened to what was said. My mammy said I was special and better than the others so I acted like same. My mammy said I was to ignore them because they didn't know what I knew or weren't as intelligent as me, so I acted like same. I was a damn annoying child as well with a formidable mother so it became easier I think to just ignore me.

But they said I was a gay cissy pansy. I listened to that as well. When I was enrolled in Mensa at seven my mother blasted it from the rooftops. Proof she was a great mother. Proof her son was different. Other people listed to that.

It's not easy growing up for anyone. We all have stories. I was a child far too sensitive to criticism, far too dependent on acceptance and being liked, far too demanding of the spotlight without doing anything to deserve it. Slowly but surely I withdrew into my room, leaving only for secondary school and mass. I was still small for my age at 13 - this conversation happened in my first week in first year:

Guy in my class: Hey, I just wanted to say, you know, that I really admire you. I think it's great.
Me: Eh, oh, thanks. For what?
Him: You know for being here, for getting in and everything. Your parents must be proud.
Me: Oh they are, very. Yeah.
Him: Cos it can't be often a seven year old gets into first year. Good for you.
Me: Seven? I'm 13!
Him: Really? And you're that small? I heard you were 7...
I was an easy target. I was used to wipe blackboards, to be placed in bins, to be locked in rooms. Because I was fragile my mother thought it best I didn't do sports in the first year, so while the lads ran around pitches developing muscles and rapport on the field, I was on the sidelines, reading, being different. I hated the changing rooms because I felt so different, so small, so underdeveloped compared to everyone else. I was ashamed of who I was. Being a bit of a nancy boy. A cissy.

I floundered through secondary school, awkward, insecure, annoying. I tried to mix but failed miserably. Girls were a complete mystery having been in all boys schools for the past eight years and so I was an easy target for ridicule. Having a big head, big ears, a big nose, a lisp and properly pronouncing my "TH"s all were up for grabs. At the time I had been reading a lot of religious books so I felt I had a vocation. I felt different.

But was I gay? Were they all right all along? Was it because I was homosexual that I was frail, that I was awkward, that I felt different? You're told something often enough you start to believe it and I wondered. Because I didn't have any friendships with girls I formed close relationships with male friends. Nothing sexual but I was quite dependent and needed acceptance. When I didn't get it I withdrew even further.

I became a Boo Radley figure, only seen running through the town early morning in an effort to not talk to anyone. I was pale from the darkness. Illness had followed me. All I wanted was the comfort of my room, my books, my writing, my solitude. I wanted to hide my difference. I couldn't accept who I was because I didn't know.

Over 10 years after leaving home, as I sit typing this, I can't help wanting to give that kid a hug, to tell him it would all turn out far better than he'd ever believed possible, that labels didn't matter and just because they said it didn't make it true. That he'd have amazing friends who loved, accepted and respected him, that he'd have loved and lost but at least he'd loved, that he had so many great opportunities and that he was trying to make the most of his life, his talents and his skills.

I'm going to strip naked with hundreds other people tonight for Spencer Tunick. Like so many others I'm putting the "traditional" need to be ashamed or embarrassed about who I am, how I look and being better or worse than anyone else behind me as I join the masses in welcoming the Midsummer sun over the port of Dublin.

Tomorrow the Dublin Pride parade, now in its 25th year, takes place, and others who have felt they're different, who have been bullied and persecuted, given labels like dyke, lesbo, faggot, queer, perverts, poofs, homos and worse all for who they are and how they were born and who they choose to love take to the streets to celebrate being themselves, being just the same as anyone else, being alive. Being proud of who they are. As they should be.

As I am of who I am
. It's taken a long, long time. But here I am. This is me. Hiya. :)
If you were gay, that'd be okay
I mean 'cos hey, I'd like you anyway
because you see, if it were me,
I would feel free to say that I was gay (but I'm not gay).
For anyone out there who may feel different and think that's a bad thing, it's not. Trust me on this. Be proud of who you are. Enjoy being you.


  1. Mr Doyle, you've told me much of this before, but it's beautiful to have it laid out like this.

    I think most people are aware at this stage that I pretty much rock. I am truly awesome. But even I, awesome as I am, must bow to you and your inspirational self.

    I don't entirely subscribe to the idea, but there is something to be said for those who claim you need only look the awful parts of your past to see the wonderful things in your present. I think most of us rebel in some way or another. For some of us, we rebel against the idiocy and cruelty of others by becoming 'good' people.

    Doyle, as I have said MANY TIMES you have been a ridiculous inspiration to my life in the short time I've known you. And even though you're not gay, I love you to bits anyway.

    Keep on trucking, you big pansy!

  2. @darren - what can I say but thank you. Not only for the comment but for the friendship, the love and the beers. All very important.

    I'm blessed with the life I have, the family and friends I have and the opportunities I get. If I'm rebelling against anything, it's the notion that other people define you and limit you. Be who you think you are and who you want to be.

    We share inspiration dude. That's why it's so great :)

  3. Wow. All I can up with right now is 'awesome', but I know your words and story will be resonating with me all day, and longer.

    More power to your elbow, Darragh, and I hope you know, and can remember, what a great guy you are.

  4. That all sounds so tough, and your Mum who sounds amazing!

    I read Darren's post earlier in the week and tried to comment and couldn;t for some reason. I will go back and try again.

    He mentioned in his post how people have said all those experiences make us who we are. I can nearly read his frustration at that remark, after all why should anyone be subjected to that abuse. And I know many of these experiences we could do without. But they really do make us who we are.

    At the very least for both you and Darren they have made you empathic which I think is a very admirable and worthy quality.

    I'm sure your finger hovered over the publish button and I'm glad you did.

    On a lighter note don't you be taking any pics at the nudie, have fun there and in Belfast, its a wonderful town. (local comedy song google it :) )

  5. Darragh,
    Thank you for sharing. I am humbled and enthralled by it but also how it could be any boy we know in the school yard who is being name-called. I hope you enjoy Spencer Tutnick-I have my sisters 21st to go to so I will be unable to attend However I am sure there will be many other of my fellow gays and non-gays in attendence to cover my absence-literally ;-)

    Seriously though thank you.


  6. thanks for the inspiring story, wish I could meet you in belfast today to congratulate you on your honesty but alas i'm heading away for the weekend

    We're all weird, enjoy it while you can.


  7. Excellent post.

  8. Hi Darragh,

    I've been reading your blog for a while now and haven't commented, but really, this is just an excellent post. Just wanted to say it.


  9. A Chara Darragh
    As a horticulturist I like to say that no pansy was actually hurt, suffered mentally or physically throughout the writing of this blog. However Darren did tell me that he knocked over his mothers hanging basket and two panseys suffered multiple broken limbs.

    That said Darren does rock. In fact I wote a post nee an ode to the great man himself.

    On a lighter note... darragh I feel a bulaidh bós is due here. A very well versed piece I might say. I was only old last night that I was uique. It wasn't a compliment or an insult. But I've never subscribed to the just do what everyone else is doing portfolio. That has caused heart ache and hassle alon the way. A lot. Not so mch as I feel the need to be accepted...

    In fact growing uo in the '80's where all of my pocket money was spent on plants magnetically warranted the 'you must be gay' hiding at least once a week. Garden ing was no rock and roll then. An awful time in my life...

    I applaud, admire you and empathise in most. And dont mind Darren, trucking isn't much fun.

    love it - slán agus beannacht

  10. Good on you. I hope you had as much fun as I did.

  11. Great article, those photos look extremely old... what age are you?

    So what does a 7 year old do at a mensa meet-up? Give older members mental breakdowns by beating them at chess?

    Can't help but feel my idea of a post on bullying may've been inappropriate though.

  12. What a wonderful post Darragh. I could have written a lot of it myself and I think maybe we're siblings, because we obviously have the same mother! :)

    It seems like you are making up for lost time. You are a beacon of light in our little virtual community, constantly engaging, reaching out to people. INSPIRING people.

    I guess I have to ask a question. How did you come around to finally accepting yourself? Was there a lightbulb moment or was it a long process?

    I am in awe of you!

  13. "Over 10 years after leaving home, as I sit typing this, I can't help wanting to give that kid a hug". I want to give that kid a hug too and give you, as the amazing adult you have become, a great big hug also. You have overcome so much in your life and even though I call you a friend I realise I don't know that much about you. Congratulations Darragh for becoming such an incredible person. Keep up the good work with the blog also and in enjoying life to the full!

  14. Darragh

    Having watched in total admiration as you performed online (livestream) at BarCamp Belfast today, I can only add...

    you have every reason to be proud!

    You and Grannymar make a great team! :D

    btw would love to hear more about last night's photo shoot. It was a beautiful balmy evening in town, not like tonight!

  15. well done darragh, great post & great photos !!

    all the best

  16. Another post from the heart! You know I read it yesterday before heading to Barcamp (we talked about it) but did not have the time to comment. When you speak from your heart it always touches others.

    You travelled through the dark tunnel of life and come to daylight a much stronger person for it. As Debs said 'You are a beacon of light in our little virtual community, constantly engaging, reaching out to people. INSPIRING people.'

    Yesterday was your first time to speak at BarCamp and I hope it won't be the last. You have so much to offer, talents still latent and directions untapped. You not only reach out to people you reach right into their core, their heart; yesterday was proof! We were not confronted with a heads down audience; they were all willing and comfortable with interacting with you. They want to continue the conversation, I know you will too.

    Thanks for the hugs and I will wear my badge with PRIDE!

  17. Darragh.

    What a fantastic post, you have turned out to be a fantastic person, one who tries to help others as much as he can, be it by volunteering or just by being there when someone needs you.
    I am glad to have you as a friend. xx

  18. Well written post; with such great message for us all. Well done to you, for writing and posting it.

  19. Beautifully written post Darragh, I'd find it difficult to write about something so close to home. I don't know how difficult you found this yourself, but well done.
    Having met you for only the second time at Barcamp Belfast I feel like I've known you much longer. You have a great gift for making folk feel welcome, you're an excellent listener (I've noticed) and an inspirational, prolific blogger.

    I'm also a huge fan of Hugh McLeod's gapingvoid blog - he talks a lot about the 'Social Object', it's interesting stuff to be sure.
    So you've worked out 'who' you are but I think I've workout out 'what' you are...

    Darragh Doyle IS a Social Object!

    In the nicest possible sense ;-)

    And there ye go, a possible T-Shirt slogan right there.

    As Hugh would say, Rock On.

  20. I admire your courage to write such a post. I usually write some kind of witty response to people's blogs and posts, but in this instance I just have to applaud.

  21. Good post. Started out like a Zürich advert though.

  22. Folks, I'm overwhelmed and deeply honoured by the fact you read, you shared and you commented. Thank you all.

    @debbiemet - thank you, mnmy dear. Much appreciated.

    @red mum - my mother is amazing alright :) Darren and I share both that empathy and a desire to help others, which makes our friendship an extremely positive one. Thanks for the compliments and for your original post - very inspiring indeed.

    Belfast is a wonderful town! :)

    @john james - thanks for visiting and for the comment, Sir. You're welcome for my sharing, I just hope it makes someone think a different way. Spencer was interesting.

    @markvader - thanks for the comment sir, appreciated. There'll be other opportunities to meet, never fear!

    @roosta - thanks! Appreciated :)

    @conall - thanks for commenting and for reading. I'm chuffed that this post helped you add to the conversation.

    --I'll reply to the other comments in a seperate comment --

  23. @peterdonegan - a chara, go raibh míle maith agat. Táim cinnte go bhfuil do chroí i do focail agus mar sin de, tá do imchaint araon spéisiúil agus measúil.

    Being unique is something to be treasured. The world is full of cheap imitations so any opportunity to step out of the norm is always to be appreciated. Look who is laughing now - the name callers or you with your gardening business and name as an expert out there.

    Thanks once again sir. :)

    @emordino - thanks for the comment. Don't know if I'd describe it as fun but at least I have something to bore people about :)

    @b - thanks for the comment. I'm 29. I know I look a lot older but in my day there were no such things as digital cameras, polaroids were major technology and mobile phones up there with the Jetsons. You young whippersnappers dont know how good you have it!!

    At a mensa meet up a 7 year old sits and listens to conversations and learns things to look up. Chess was always a great thing as well :)

    Couldn't find your post on bullying?


  24. @deborah - thank you my dear, and equally ditto. Your can-do attitude, your honesty and above all your warm, friendly attitude permeates your blog and are a great indication for the success of your business.

    As for your question, well simply it's an ongoing process. Not by any means an exact science but comments like all these are a help!

    The awe is mutual :)

  25. @stella - thank you my dear. I appreciate that. We all have a way to go on this journey, stories to share and all that so being there for one another is always important. I'm glad to have friends like you to help me along the way.

    @Steph - Steph, you are always so positive and supportive and I thank you for that. Sincerely, because it's things like that that help. Photo shoot post long but live :)

    @connector - cheers Conor!

  26. @grannymar - I don't really know how to respond to that GM. Not properly without just saying Thank you, it's appreciated. Like Steph, Debs, Marian and others your constant support and encouragement surprises, delights and humbles me as I randomly bounce words together hoping they will help someone. I had fun with you in Belfast - we must do it again soon!

    @Mary - thanks Mary and much reciprocated and appreciated, as always! xx

    @coastal aussie - ah my dear, another commenter who I love to hear from. Thank you for the message, your support and encouragement are (as GM says) the Ready Brek for me to continue!

  27. it involves me beating the sh!t outta the bully.
    my equivalent of your mensa was a hitachi B&W television inexplicably tuned into the sh!tbucket that is ITV.

  28. "That's the second insult I remember being hurled at me when I was growing up."

    Dare I ask what the first was?

  29. Darragh that is brilliant. I'm always late to the party in reading blogs and sometimes I wonder why I bother as I think so often it's meaningless noise. Well you just justified my time spent so I thank you for that.
    I'm going to write a blog post in honour of it I think as it's inspiring and emotional.

  30. Great post, thanks for sharing.

  31. I'm sort of stalking your blog this afternoon. There's so much good stuff here.

    What a touching and engaging post. You're a wonderful writer. Your mum sounds like a star, allowing you to be the boy you had to be. My most dear aim for my children, is that they know they're accepted and loved as they are and are supported in their endeavors.

    The idea of reassuring the younger self is something I often consider. I was a bit of an awkward creature as a child too.

  32. Thank you for pressing the publish button on this post. I'm really glad I browsed through your blog, if only because this post was sooo worth reading.

    Your description of your youth resonates with my memory of my brother's experiences growing up.

    He was bullied for being gay in school. He's not gay.

    I was never bullied for being gay in school. I am gay.

    It's not only queer youth that homophobia and gender stereotyping hurts. You know that first hand and shared it. Fabulous.

    I hope that some day my brother can get to the place on his journey where you are on yours. Now that would be truly fabulous.

  33. Hey Doyler,

    Well, what can I say? A bit of a painful read. I read every word you wrote and in my mind I could hear all thoes fools from home - and do you know something,they are still at it to this day - but they have new targets now.

    It's amazing how things change when you leave home and start a life of your own! Unlike the poor sad unfortunates who never left the town (most of them thinking they'll fall off the edge of the world if they pass the town limits!!) the likes of you and me and others like us, soldier on! We have realised that the experiences from our childhoods made us stronger.

    Blog on Doyler! Oh, and absolutely loved the Pics! Classics!!


  34. great post. cool stories.

  35. WOW this is a brilliant post. Why oh Why do so many ppl suffer this as children. I know exactly what it was like. I am nearly in tears reading it.

    From my own memories of being Labeled different, a label i was tagged with and persecuted with in School and beaten up with. It is amazing how all these years latter it can still hurt.

    Thanks for sharing