GAY men cheered and women wept when Tom Daley came out. But when he added that he still fancies women, he highlighted the folly of boxing people off in terms of something as potentially fluid as sexuality.
While the Olympic diver’s words touched the hearts of all young people who are wrongly assumed to be heterosexual, they were particularly poignant for older gay men. Many, like Daley, had male love affairs in their youth, but instead of naming it as he did, they suppressed the truth of who they were, and married women.
Leitrim born Donal MacAodh was one such man: “In my late teens I had a couple of brief encounters with males,” he says. “Back then, admissions of homosexuality were typically greeted with horror. Because of that negativity and because of my strong desire to become a dad, I dismissed my previous relationships as ‘experimentation,’ made up my mind not to investigate whether I was homosexual and buried what was within me.
Twenty years ago at the age of 28, MacAodh married a woman. Seven years later he told her he was gay. “I loved her absolutely,” he says. “My coming-out came after a lot of soul-searching and the realisation that I couldn’t continue to live a lie. It brought turmoil, as I had three children aged between 2 and 5 at the time.”
Ted O’Connell’s experience was similar: He got married in 1984 when he was 27 and came out when he was 40. “Hand on my heart I had no idea about my true sexuality at the time of my marriage,” he says. “But with the benefit of hindsight, I can say that there were questions in my mind, which I dismissed.
“Back then, I thought all gay men were camp, limp-wristed queens. I didn’t know that the vast majority looked like everybody else. Because of that, it took me a long time to realise why I was so unhappy and why I was drinking so much. I saw a counsellor but didn’t understand what was bothering me until I heard a man talking on the radio about his experience of being gay and married.
“Then I said: ‘Good God. That’s me.’ That said, I have no regrets about having married. I have two wonderful daughters who are a huge bonus in my life.”
Reflecting on Tom Daley’s coming out, Mac Aodh says: “We still have a long way to go in Ireland: I know young men who’d be horrified if anyone found out they’re gay. Legal equality for homosexuals is one thing, but social equality is far more difficult to achieve, particularly when then there’s so much internalised homophobia.
“Nowadays, young gay men don’t tend to marry women to have children. But those who are considering doing as I did and burying their true sexual identity should think twice, as mental illness, substance abuse and alcoholism are common among men who live a closeted life.
MacAodh knows many gay men who are married to women: “They fulfil their needs in dangerous liaisons up lanes and down by rivers,” he says. “Ultimately they’re on a road to disaster.”
Ted O’Connell is more optimistic: “It’s pretty cool to be gay nowadays, so older teens and young men struggling with their sexuality are less likely than my generation to get into a relationship with a woman.”
While you’d imagine that anyone marrying in their late teens or early twenties would know by then if they were gay, Kate Moynihan who runs LINC (Lesbians in Cork) says this isn’t necessarily so. “Many women realise that they’re lesbian or bisexual at a young age, but for some who are married with children, that awareness develops later in life.”
In his role as manager of the Cork Gay Project, Dave Roche is often contacted by men who are having doubts about getting married. “So many feel pressure to marry women they might have loved since they were 16. Their problem is that while they still love these women, they love them in a different way.
“We also see men who sacrifice themselves by waiting until their children have grown up before coming out. I say ‘sacrifice’ because in the gay world, youth culture is magnified, and coming out in your mid 40s and 50s can be tough.”
Interestingly, Kate Moynihan is not aware of any young lesbians who marry men in order to have children, and Dave Roche says desire to have a family is not top of the list of reasons why gay men sometimes marry women. “They do it because they want to fit in,” he explains. “They choose to be invisible. But that comes at a price.”
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