We share an irreverent sense of humour, a spirited mouthiness, and an unfortunate fondness for sweet-shop rubbish, but my best friend and I are two very different people. I'm prone to ranting, tend to be overly sentimental about lyrics, and am worryingly susceptible to cultural snobbery. She's addicted to celebrity gossip, has too many pairs of pyjamas, and spends far too long in the shower. I joke that someone who cares that much about the Kardashians should be kept under house arrest. She rolls her eyes when I'm in a politically-charged bluster. We're very different people, but we’re equally Irish.
Oh, wait. There is one thing. I like boys. She likes girls. I’m straight, and my best friend is gay.
This has never been an issue in our social sphere. She came out to me via text, and my first thought was, 'Well, that makes sense'. Her other friends, too, seemed to shrug, grin a collective, ‘Well, d’uh,’ and just got on with being her friends. It wasn’t as if the final piece of the puzzle had been found – that in coming out, she now seemed whole, her personality and character finally entire. It was as if no one had noticed there was a missing piece in the first place. It’s hard to explain, really. I remember not having to think much about it. She was who she was: nothing changed, apart from the assumed gender in the conquests we teased her about.
None of my other buddies have baulked at the idea of having a lesbian go for pints with them. Male, female, from whatever class or creed, no one in my social circle has ever batted an eyelid. Friends who aren’t strictly mutual enquire after her, and ask ‘Is she still seeing so-and-so’, stuff like that. In short, there has been an overwhelming lack of giving a shit who she wants to go to bed with.
I always thought that this was a good indication of the feelings of wider Irish society.
Except now the same-sex marriage referendum’s coming up. And oh my Jaysus, but the hand-wringers are out in force.
Those who bang on about ‘traditional’ family values and the erosion of their privilege – oh! Wait! Not ‘privilege’. Never call it ‘privilege’! – irritate me something powerful. Those who’ll conceal their prejudices behind bloated poll results and skewed studies, those who’ll never admit to wanting things to stay the same because they can only feel valued with state-bolstered superiority. This ‘traditional’ family rubbish. The hard-line Catholic brigade that deemed natural, but undesirable parents ‘unfit’ to raise children for decades now spins to spew that children have a ‘right’ to ‘natural’ parents. That same hateful gassing and béal bocht-ing that hampered, since the beginnings of our state, any chance of domestic progression now comes out as the champion of the religiously-mandated ‘traditional’ family. Traditional! What’s ‘traditional’, when it’s at home? The concept of marriage is one that’s ever in flux, not a notion that escaped de Valera’s head in a tasteful explosion of proper order and rose petals. Besides, a regime that’s still struggling with its onetime penchant for sticking girls into Magdalene Laundries has no place at all rigidly defining the domestic and the personal, and no place at all educating those of us living it what exactly ‘love’ is.
I was raised by my grandparents because in the 1980s, children born to unmarried mothers were saddled with the legal status of ‘Illegitimate’, and my family wanted better for me. Where was the Biological Is Best! brigade then? Busy whinging about how distasteful young mothers were, I imagine.
Who knew that there is still so much fear and hatred out there? And not just from the violent oafs who spew repulsive nonsense amongst themselves because they can’t bear the thought of something they’re never going to witness; amongst contemplative, educated, respected people, people who live on your street, or whose kids go to the same school as yours, or who work alongside you. That gay people shouldn’t be given full marriage rights simply because it’s traditionally a heterosexual privilege. That a child is automatically better off with one male and one female parent, because biology. That gay people have the right to be accepted, and not beaten in the streets for holding hands, but still not the same rights conferred on their heterosexual brethren. For no other reason than that they prefer partners of the same gender.
It’s the insincerity of it. It’s the Helen Lovejoy-ing of it.
Obfuscators gonna obfuscate.
It’s distressing that there is still homophobia in modern Irish society, a society shaped by the suffering inflicted on its populace throughout the ages. We Irish have had to struggle for a very long time. Our national identity is charged on a history of toiling against the odds – occupation, emigration, prejudice, poverty. That we divide ourselves into classes based purely on differences in personal identity is mind-boggling.
But it’s changing.
Make no mistake. Homophobia, masquerading as concern about values – upholding the status quo – is on the way out. Slowly but surely we are ridding ourselves of this ridiculous scourge. Because most of my generation really don’t give a toss. We might be living in a bubble where people are judged more on their opinion of the Kardashians than they are on their choice of romantic partner, but it’s a grand strong bubble. And so, to those worried that we are pushing the gay agenda, that we’re twisting family values and picking away at the foundations of moral society . . . yes, we will change this world. We won’t even know we’re doing it. We have no agenda beyond getting on with it. And - ah, how deliciously appropriate! - we are Legion.