- 04 Feb 11
But the position of gays in Irish culture and society has.
Eighteen years ago, I started writing this column. It’s now time to hang up the boots. I’m not exactly getting out the slippers, there’s still life in the old dog yet, but I am in need of a rest, and hopefully later this year something else will start bearing fruit creatively.
It is not just a coincidence that legislation acts as a bookend to the beginning and end of this column. I have always found that the law has a profound effect on my psychology, on my self-esteem, and I know I am not the only one. When this column started, I was still a criminal in the eyes of the law, subject to life imprisonment for having sex. As I write, the first gay couples in Ireland are enjoying legal recognition for their foreign marriages/civil partnerships, or are planning their weddings in a few months’ time. I call them weddings because, having been to a few civil partnership ceremonies in England, it’s the only shorthand word that fits – they feel the same, look the same, and are the same as any other wedding. In time, the novelty will wear off, in the public imagination, and my hope is that gay partnerships become so commonplace and ordinary that we move away from all victimy identification, and begin to look honestly and compassionately at the problems that many men have in forming long-lasting relationships with each other.
I may be still angsty that we don’t have full equality here: Irish civil partnership is, after all, a second-class institution. I bemoan the fact that children are left out of consideration when it comes to civil partnerships and, more crucially, (un)civil separations. But I now see that that is more to do with the way Ireland deals with children, not with the way it deals with gays. We are child-haters, institutionally, and a large part of this is the last vestige of toxic Catholic thinking, the curious blind veneration of the holy Family Unit, that we need to extirpate from our culture. We are on the threshold of doing something about it, if the amendment to the constitution on children’s rights is passed. Perhaps our society might begin to do what is necessary to ensure that no Irish child is abused or neglected or impoverished or poorly educated. If all our scarce resources for one generation were poured into this effort, our society would be transformed forever. Children in lousy heterosexual families need protection. Parents should apply for licences if they want to start a family, and prove they’re fit to do so, by going to parenting skills classes, and passing an exam. Is that too queer of me?
Of all the themes that have concerned me, over the years, HIV and AIDS has been the scariest, the most harrowing. In 1993, the disease was still killing people, the combination therapy had not been yet developed, and familiar faces on the Dublin gay scene, as well as international household names, were dropping like flies. Sex became terrifying. I wrote about it, especially in the ‘90s, and documented my feelings when a boyfriend in London went out and got himself infected, while he was still going out with me. That experience changed me profoundly, and led to lots of wondering about compulsive, dangerous, transgressive sex. As treatments for the virus became effective, the mortal dread has receded, but young friends of mine are still, sadly, telling me they’ve got HIV. I am angry about it, but also there’s a muted sense of resignation, knowing how anarchic and lawless the sex drive can be. We, and in particular I mean we men, are often slaves to our desire natures. My dear old recently departed dad, when he read one of my many earlier pieces on being gripped by desire until it shook me to pieces, confided in me that he wished I hadn’t got that from him. It was a most treasured confidence, and the most wonderful encouragement to continue my wonderings in these pages.
The name “Bootboy” came from a small ad in the back of Hot Press in 1992 – a fetish ad, from a guy wishing to lick another man’s boots. Sex for a lot of men is not about emoting, connection or intimacy – it’s an escape into imagination, it’s an exorcism, it’s a shattering of conventions, of masks, of egos, losing the pretence that we are anything but bestial.
Men have far more in common with each other than with women, when it comes to sex and relationships, and this commonality, to my mind, is far greater than that which divides us when it comes to the gender of our sexual partners. The less we are pathologised or scapegoated as queers, the more obvious it will become, I believe, that our understanding of the human condition is something of value to all. Paradoxically, as we move beyond our own narcisstic wounds as queers, the world around us is becoming more narcissistic, more body-obsessed, more hedonistic. These are interesting times.
Publishing is changing, and I’m worried about the future for print journalism. The internet has transformed the landscape, and I am not sure it’s for the better, yet. It is hard for professional journalism to survive, by which I mean people who earn a decent living doing a job solely consisting of journalism. Certainly whenever I’ve tweeted about an article of mine in Hot Press, I’ve got blasted for daring to publicise something that people would have to pay for, for the price of half a pint of beer. Inevitably, the future lies in advertising-supported publication models. And what will this cost us, in terms of the independence, ethics, and professionalism of journalists, when the primary source of revenue is not a steady stream of direct sales, but the fickle indirect trickle from the likes of Google adwords? We’re all bloggers now, or soon will be. But passionate, eloquent amateurs, however much they may have the finger on the pulse of the trending zeitgeist, are not necessarily a quality replacement for professionals.
However, I got this gig not because I had gone to journalism school or had any training or track record – I just bombarded Niall Stokes, whom I’d never met, with sample columns every week, until he gave in. And for that, I am eternally grateful. It’s been a privilege to write for this magazine. I would encourage anyone to do exactly as I did, if they want something badly enough: ignore what you’re supposed to do. Just do it.
My first published article was about my scary experience of being hassled by some Youth Defence types as I was following the first gay float in the Dublin St Patrick’s Day Parade. This year, Mary McAleese sent a clear message to the world about modern Irish values, when she declined to be Grand Marshall of the New York St Patrick’s Day Parade, because it excludes gay people.
Eighteen years is long enough to witness that pain and fear can be transformed into dignity and pride, that former criminals can dare to be presidents, that theocracies can be overturned, that boys can point out that Emperor Popes have no clothes, and find that, eventually, an entire country believes them. There are reasons to be cheerful.
Unfortunately, GUBU politics haven’t changed much at all. Perhaps, however, that era is drawing to an end, and that finally, we might this year get a government that we deserve. I’m always hopeful.
Thanks for reading, folks.