Richard Hogan: When it comes to sexual identity, don't label your child, let them be who they are meant to be

Ireland has long since moved from a homogenous insular society to one that is diverse and progressive. The 2015 same-sex referendum illuminated just how far we had come as a small Nation.
Richard Hogan: When it comes to sexual identity, don't label your child, let them be who they are meant to be
The Cork LGBT+ Pride Board and Committee are re-imagining Cork LGBT+ Pride Festival 2020, likely to take place September 19-26. Cork Pride Photos: Courtesy of Jed Niezgoda for the Cork LGBT+ Pride Festival

Ireland has long since moved from a homogenous insular society to one that is diverse and progressive. The 2015 same-sex referendum illuminated just how far we had come as a small Nation.

The myriad Rainbow flags flying full mast over Government buildings was a seminal moment in the history of this State and one that provoked incredible pride in nearly all of us throughout the country.

For it signalled the growth of the State and the loosening of the Catholic Churches grip on how we thought about ourselves and the people we love. I vividly recall feeling immense pride in that moment.

Pride, knowing that children coming up in Ireland would no longer have to hide who they are for fear of attack or humiliation because there was a shift in our anachronistic ideas about sexuality.

Pride, because we were beginning to celebrate uniqueness and moving away from demanding that we should all be the same or that there are only two ways to be in the world, gay or straight.

Pride. It’s a word that has come to represent the LGBTIQ community. And it’s a word I find myself using a considerable amount in my clinic working with children, teenagers & adults who identify as LGBTIQ.

The Cork LGBT+ Pride Board and Committee are re-imagining Cork LGBT+ Pride Festival 2020, likely to take place September 19-26. Cork Pride Photos: Courtesy of Jed Niezgoda for the Cork LGBT+ Pride Festival
The Cork LGBT+ Pride Board and Committee are re-imagining Cork LGBT+ Pride Festival 2020, likely to take place September 19-26. Cork Pride Photos: Courtesy of Jed Niezgoda for the Cork LGBT+ Pride Festival

We should all feel pride about who we are in the world and who we want to love. And yet, I know we are still quite far from the shores of equality.

The very fact that we still think in reductionist terms of letters to define people suggests there is a bit to go yet. The fact that we have to talk about sexuality at all brings into focus the distance we have yet to travel.

For a real society, one that is truly inclusive and celebrates diversity, does not discriminate because of gender, sexual identity, race or religion. And yet, images on our screens of cities burning in America are a stark reminder to us all about the inequity that still exists in our rapidly changing world.

This Sunday we will celebrate the beginning of Pride week.

This is a week where we publicly acknowledge difference and come together as a nation to say we support all of our citizens. It is a very important week because I know that there are many children living in homes across this country still reticent to express the truth about who they are.

Over the years I have found that children who are slow to ‘come out’ believe that the environment they are living in is not safe for such a declaration.

And an event like pride week tells those children; ‘you are not alone, you are not weird, you are normal.’ What an important message for a young mind to hear. For too long children have had to grapple with issues of sexual identity in the shadows because of the negative messages they were receiving from society.

Often when I’m talking with an adolescent about identity I try to debunk the constructs they have been labouring with. I utilise an analogy of an alternative club and say 'if I walk into the alternative club in my suit and tie, am I not the alternative one?'

This usually garners a pause and a laugh. What I’m doing here is simply showing them how silly these constructs are and how dangerous they are to believe. There is no gay or straight, there are only people and even that is up for philosophical debate.

So why do we still struggle with our children’s sexual identity? One of the main influencers on how we perceive the world is the family we were raised in.

Generally, modern parents would have grown up in Ireland of the ’70s and ’80s. Which wasn’t a very progressive place. Homosexuality was a criminal offence up until 1993 and was listed as a mental health disorder in the DSM until the late 1980s.

The damage of this history is incalculable. And if I could remove one phrase from parents lexicon around sexuality it would be this, ‘I don’t mind my child being gay but I just know it’s a harder life’. The irony being, it’s only harder because of sentences like that.

I think we have progressed considerably as a society but we still have a long way to go. In 2018 a report launched by the Irish Council of Civil Liberties -ICCL) stated that Ireland has one of the highest rates of hate crime against transgender people in the EU.

In 2014 a total of 13% of Trans people surveyed reported having been physically assaulted or threatened with violence. From these statistics we can clearly see we have still a long way to go.

The only way to eradicate prejudice from society is through education. Inclusion is not about saying we’re all the same but rather celebrating our differences. Schools need to go further with their policies on inclusion.

Teachers, in my experience, still do not feel safe to be openly gay in the school milieu. What message does this give students?

When parents ask me what can they do to support their child they believe is gay I always tell them the same thing. Whether your child is gay or not create an environment that allows your child to thrive.

When a child is brought up in a nurturing environment that isn’t restrictive they won’t think in terms of being accepted. But rather will know that telling you about who they are will be a celebration.

Even though you are eager to know your child’s sexual orientation, don’t pry.

And don’t put a sexual label on your child. The world can often seem devoid of magic, but being who you were meant to be and being proud of that fact is pure magic.

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