"My story is going to be about being brought up gay from the age of 13 - whenever I realised. I kept it to myself for about three years".
I’m Sean from west Belfast and I’m 16.
R: So where does your story begin?
My story is going to be about being brought up gay from the age of 13 - whenever I realised. I kept it to myself for about three years, and then I actually ended up coming out as bisexual first because I always thought that it wasn’t normal being gay. Like if you’re gay you’re still something abnormal. Like now that you have friends and family to help you out, it made me realise that it’s okay to be gay, like it’s nothing that big. It’s nothing to be afraid of or anything.
R: And what was it like growing up then in Belfast?
Growing up in my area, oh God, it’s really difficult as a gay person in that area. Cos there are smicks, you’re seen as different, whereas everyone else is all the same cos they’re all smicks and people who are gay are scared of them. But whenever you’re seen, you’re just like, oh it’s okay, like there’s nothing wrong. Like I feel as if people wouldn’t acknowledge you. I still feel that like. Like if you just walk past people and they act as if you aren’t there. But I feel like that anyway.
R: And why is that?
Because if you live in that area like no-one else can really say cos they’ve never been there. I’ve been living there for thirteen years so you’re the only one that can really speak for yourself. Like no-one else can speak for you.
Obviously, no-one knows someone’s sexuality, like you could have an idea, but like you would never want to say to someone like “are you gay or are you straight or bisexual?”
In that area I would say there’s not a lot of people that are gay, so you are always going to be seen as different. I don’t really know what to say. For me it’s just that you can’t really tell unless you live there like.
Like my friends’ group in school, like everyone is gay in it. There’s about six of us. So, whenever you’re with them ones like you maybe feel as if you’re always getting dirty looks, or you’re always seen as different cos well my school’s crazy. Because most people would be seen as hard lads. I would have got bullied but not for being gay or anything, but for like other reasons. From first year to fourth year. Then fifth and sixth year was okay, cos sixth year it only started. But fifth year was okay because I would have known everyone from the start of school. But sixth year was somewhat crazy cos I’m out from just before starting sixth year, so I’ve been out from it, so you would always feel as if you were getting looked at differently or judged or stereotyped.
It was scary coming out and telling people for the first time, that’s the way it is for everyone. The first person I actually told was my cousin because she told me that she was lesbian. So, you would feel as if you would have that bond with them. And then I kept telling close friends and cousins, but I didn’t get to tell my Mummy. My cousin went and told her without me knowing, so she told me a month ago. It was in October that she told my Mummy that I was gay, so I didn’t really get to tell her first. But I asked my Mummy to tell my brothers and my Daddy and all about it. But that was when I told them all that I was bisexual, but obviously my mummy has now told them all I’m gay.
They’re all supportive like. Even the older brothers, they always say if anyone says anything to you, come and tell me and I’ll go and get them, but obviously they wouldn’t go and get them, they would just say something to them like. They wouldn’t actually go and beat someone for it like, so they’re very protective like and supportive. Mummy and Daddy always says to me if you ever need to talk about it go and talk to them. Whenever I said to my Daddy, my Daddy said that it’s something that he’s new to; he’s obviously never experienced it in his generation, so he doesn’t really know what to be doing or how to be dealing with it. I don’t even talk that much to people about it, like I would talk about it if it came up, but I would never go and talk to someone out of the blue about it. Like I would never go and just say to someone “oh yeah, I’m gay,” I would always like to keep it to myself. Like I’m not uncomfortable talking about it for now like, but whenever I’m older hopefully it’s not such an awful topic. I just want to be that comfortable with it.
R: What about society as a whole, what do you think they think of the LGBT community?
Most of society like, they would be accepting of it. Then obviously you’re going to get the moron that would not be okay with it, cos you would always be seen as different or I don’t know, like you would always get judged. That’s why I kept it to myself for that long, like I probably would have kept it to myself if my cousin hadn't have come out to me. That’s what I like about that, you see with the community you’re in, your own, like the LGBT community, like you see how much people share their stories and their experiences, that gives you the confidence to tell others about it. Society as a whole I think, most people, they agree with it. I think in Northern Ireland as gay marriages aren’t legalised or anything, I don’t like that so obviously I want that to change. But obviously I can’t change it.
R: That was going to be my next question. Why then did you want to get involved with this project?
Well it’s such a different thing to do like. I don’t think it’s seen as normal because there’s such a small minority of it. This project will hopefully make a good impact for the LGBT community in this area cos it’s such a different thing to be. The LGBT community in this area is so small - you wouldn’t really see that much LGBT people.
Hopefully this will give them the courage and confidence to come out. But I don’t think it should ever be a difficult thing to come out. Like I don’t think it should be so difficult to come out as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, whatever. It should be seen as normal. That’s my point of view anyway, like it shouldn’t ever be seen as such a difficult thing, but it is, because I think society makes it a difficult thing to do. People don’t have to come out as straight, so why do LGBT people have to?
R: I think you’re very brave for sharing your story and being open and honest and for trying to then help other young people relate to your story so that hopefully they find the courage to come out and talk.
That’s it. Well whenever I first came out to my friend, he ended up coming out to me, and then my two other friends, they ended up coming out, so I’m thinking that I’ve given other people courage enough in our group of friends so that now my friends can step up and I don’t really focus on who’s gay or who’s straight or whatever. It doesn’t really matter now. I don’t think it should matter to a lot of people.
No, obviously it hasn’t always been so easy and straightforward, people go through different experiences like. For me, I self-harmed and got suicidal about it but you didn’t really talk about that to other people like, you would usually keep that to yourself unless you really, really, really trust someone. I think there would only be like one other person I would talk to about that. But for most people, some people find it easy and some people couldn’t care about what others think about it. But for some people, you don’t have tough skin, or you can’t ‘man up’ because it’s such a difficult thing to do. Whenever you’re getting slagged for being gay like, someone shouting “gay boy” or “faggot” like affects me, but for most people it doesn’t affect them because they’ve tough skin, but for the ones that don’t, well obviously that gets to them. It got to me like because I self-harmed a couple of times, but not just because of being gay like, obviously for other reasons. I would never just self-harm because like I say, for being gay or whatever. There’s a lot of other reasons building up to it but that would be one of the main reasons.
Suicidal thoughts only happened this year. I think speaking helps a lot. I only ever talk to a very very very select few. I would talk to a few people, if I self-harm, or if I think I’m going to, or feel suicidal, I would go and speak to someone about it. So, if I keep it to myself, who knows what will happen.
R: Well I suppose that’s the whole domino effect of everything - like the bullying and keeping it all to yourself and not being able to talk to people.
Then, it being in your mind leading to self-harming and suicidal thoughts. But once you start talking about it, you’re going to feel better. I kept it to myself for three years. In society you’re always seen as like growing up with a wife and having children, but obviously you can still do that, like you can have like husband/husband, wife/ wife and still have children. You can adopt, or you’re able to foster, but that’s why I always kept it to myself because I thought it wasn’t ever normal to be in a relationship with the same gender. But whenever I came to terms with my sexuality I ended up saying, it’s normal like, it’s nothing to be ashamed of. So, for me, in the future, I would love, like I would want to have a husband, and I would love to have a daughter and my own house but hopefully I’ll have them.
R: And I hope so too. And I hope you’re able to get married in this country.
Hopefully. I think that being homophobic or transphobic etcetera is wrong, and it shouldn’t still be a thing in today’s society. There’s not a lot of places where I feel comfortable being who I am. Quakers is one of them and the youth club I go to, but that’s about it. I hate it whenever people say that being LGBT is a ‘lifestyle choice’ because it’s not. It’s the way a person is born, and they can’t help that, so society just needs to learn to accept it.
I like Belfast itself, but I don’t like the people in it. I don’t think conflict should be a thing. I think it’s come from the older generations, but it’s got brought down upon us like. I don’t think it should be affecting us, but it is. It’s weird to think about.
R: What would you want for Belfast in 5/10 years’ time?
I would want the peace walls to be taken down. I just don’t see why they aren’t getting along, Protestants and Catholics, I don’t see why not. I don’t think it should be a big deal. I don’t think there is enough trouble (for peace walls to be there), except whenever there are bonfires, that’s it.
R: Do you think we have peace today?
I don’t really know. There is a minority who do have peace between them and there is a majority where there is not. There is always fighting, I would always see it on Facebook and all. You would see that there has been an attack or something. I don’t like it, it scares me. The fights can be over anything. It pointless, they will find a reason to fight because of their religion. Religion always gets brought into it no matter what. Like if it was a fight over personal problems, religion would end up being brought into it. I would think that anyway.
R: Do you think Belfast has come a long way from what it was?
I think so anyways, well… my Granda was shot like in the troubles. So that’s been a big part of it, and I have no other recollection of anyone else getting shot from that, in my family anyway. So, from that it’s came a long way. He’s going to be in a wheelchair for the rest of his life. I’ve never seen him walk like. I’m almost sure it was before the Good Friday Agreement. My daddy wanted to kill the person that done it because he knew of him.
It’s still affecting us, it’s been such a big part. My Granda had to do a storytelling project too; his story is in a book.
It affected our view of the other side, but from Quakers and all, my relationships with Protestants hasn’t been bad. Mine has been all good experiences, but obviously for my Granda it wasn’t. But I feel like that opinion is trying to be brought down onto us four. But it hasn’t worked for me.
I just want peace. That’s all I want. I think it’s a good place, but there’s just too much conflict and too much fighting.
R: How would you help young people to stay away from any religious conflict?
I don’t know, it’s their decision if they want to start it. But if they don’t want to, they can go to places. They don’t have to always be out, they can go to youth clubs and stuff like that. But it’s their decision if they want to or not.
I’ve only ever been to one integrated residential centre, I’ve never been to an integrated youth club. I don’t know of many integrated youth clubs, but it would be good for that to happen. Everyone can come and get along.
Maybe one day.