Less about the world, more about me.

Month: February 2013

Column: Voting for Marriage Equality

My column in The Kerryman 27 February, 2013

I imagine it’s a frightening and lonely experience, growing up gay in Kerry. There are no famous gay role-models here. Our schools are dominated by a religion which dismisses homosexuality as disordered. Relationships between gay people are given second class status. Even worse, it is not safe for a gay couple, to walk hand in hand down any street in Kerry.

That’s the environment our State, our Church, our schools and our parents have created. It’s the environment in which we expect vulnerable teenagers to grow up in. This toxic environment in which studies show, gay teenagers are more likely to self-harm and/or to suicide, than their straight peers. We’ve created an environment that’s fatal to gay children.

Last week however, our Kerry politicians took a small step towards reducing the poison we’re subjecting our gay brothers and sisters to. They took a small step towards making homophobia less acceptable in Kerry. That’s not to say that a public display of affection between two men in Kerry, will not now most likely invite violence. No, but in voting to support marriage equality, our Kerry politicians sent a message to Kerry’s gay community, that yes, finally we recognise you should be full citizens and you are deserving of the respect and the protection of our laws.

One small step, but not yet enough. This symbolic motion was opposed. We heard councillors talk of homosexuality not being natural and fears expressed for the adopted children of gay couples. Yet no scientific evidence was cited. No reason. No insight. Just please protect the status quo.

The next step in this change, is up to the people of Kerry. It is the people of Kerry who must now decide how to contribute to ending the vicious anger and hatred their gay neighbours endure. But no one is going to knock on your door and demand you take responsibility for your part in this process.

That first step though, can take place in your own home. There’s a good chance that if you’ve children, they’ll be straight. There will however be someone in your child’s class who’s gay. That child’s life is in your hands.

Your son or daughter, no matter how different they think they are from you, will learn almost all their values from you. Ten, twenty, thirty years from now, they will use a particular phrase or clear their throat or tug their ear and they will instantly realise that they are doing it exactly as you do. As you bequeath mannerisms, you instill values. And by your actions and words you will decide how your child behaves towards others. You decide how the ‘different child’ gets treated.

If you’ve been taught to recoil, taught to fear, taught disgust, then it will be effortless for you to pass this hatred onto your child. Without thought, you will empower your child to attack the ‘different.’

Are you prepared to make the effort to teach your child a different lesson? Those who hate homosexuality say that Marriage Equality is about children. They are right, it is about children, but not in the way the haters presume. It is about teaching children to embrace and support and celebrate difference. It is about making the teenage years of our gay children no more awkward than what they were for the rest of us. It is about sending a message through our laws and our words, that what went before was wrong.

Our politicians have spoken loud and proud in support of equality. Is it not time that we found our voices too? Surely our children deserve no less of us?

Kerry Column 48

Column: Magdalene Laundries, A Legacy.

My column in The Kerryman. 20 February, 2013

There is a generation of people who remember exactly where they were when they heard President Kennedy had been assassinated. They took his death very personally because he was one of us, an Irish Catholic. The closest I’ve come to that, is on that Sunday in September when Kerry lost to Offaly.

It was 1982, I was eight and I watched the match in my aunt’s house in Ballyduff. At eight I’d no conception of Kerry losing matches, never mind an All Ireland Final. It just didn’t happen. WE never lost. WE were the best. WE were entitled to our five-in-a-row. WE are Kerry.

We are Kerry. Even at eigth, I thought in terms of we. This ‘we’ business is not something we tend to think about, nor wonder the whys and hows of the process. A child is born an individual, but family, schools, the media and friends, teach that child to see themselves as part of a collective. This has positives. We club together to pay taxes which go to ‘our’ schools, ‘our’ hospitals’ and ‘our’ roads.

We’ve even invented symbols to make that process run smoother. We have anthems and emblems and festivals and we have jerseys. The ‘green and gold’ of Kerry, ‘Munster Red’ and the ‘green jersey’ of Ireland. Symbols fed to us from such a young age that we think them natural and real.

It’s not unique to Ireland. Every country uses the same tools to instill loyalty to the idea of ‘we’ above the individual. And we treat those foreign symbols as seriously as we treat our own. Remember when the English rugby team played in Croke Park? There was so much symbolism about, that we almost burst when ‘God Save the Queen’ was played. And when it passed without incident ‘we’ patted ourselves on the back and thought ‘ourselves’ wonderful altogether.

We do love collective self-praise. Unfortunately we aren’t so good at self-criticism and collective responsibility. In fact, we’re awful at it. All through the 20th Century we locked-up women who didn’t toe the line. Some for a few months, others for life. We worked them hard, we took their babies and in the end we disposed of some of them in mass graves. We did that. Hundreds and thousands and tens of thousands of individuals making hundreds of thousands of decisions for an entire century, all resulting in the enslavement of Irish women, by Irish people, in Irish labour camps. We!

There aren’t many of our victims left, but I’m confident and content that these few remaining women, will be compensated from our near empty coffers. But we should not let ourselves off so lightly. Money alone for historical crimes is too easy. Let’s not pat ourselves on the back again, for merely doing the barest of bare minimums.

Why not instead create a legacy that may eventually wipe the slate ‘almost’ clean? Today we don’t have Magdalene Laundries but we have innocent men, women and children being daily reduced in dignity, freedom and hope. We have 5000 Asylum Seekers, who must endure up to seven years of tortuous legal entanglements, to have their escape to Ireland approved. These are the new powerless. This warehoused mass of humanity, starved of the right to say ‘we’ are now safe, ‘we’ are now free and ‘we’ are now equal.

5000 men, women and children, from some of the worst places on Earth. Imagine allowing them to take the Oath. To become ‘us.’ We could save 5000 lives by merely saying yes.

Isn’t that a chapter in a history book ‘we’ would just love to know ‘our’ grandchildren will one day read?

Kerry Column 49

Blue Eye Shadow

Jason carefully applied the blue eyeshadow to his left eye as he remembered the very moment the pain had stopped. Phil and Sam had trapped him in the changing rooms and pinned him down as Meg painted his eyes with this exact shade of eyeshadow, none too gently of course. Then she had spat in his face. Phil and Sam had let him go and called him a fag as they walked away, satisfied that they had done their work for the day. Jason decided at that moment he was going to die and as if by magic, the stomach churning agony that he had carried with him every day for the last eight months, just fell away. He now knew how to end his suffering. And that knowledge was like as if his body was being flooded with a wonderful anesthesia. He walked around the school in a daze for the rest of the day and the rest of that week.
He endured the petty humiliations, the casual brutalities, the gradual annihilations, as if they were happening to someone else. Even his parents were moved to remark that he seemed happier in himself. He smiled and hugged them, knowing that they were planning on going away this weekend. As a responsible fifteen year old they were leaving him unsupervised. He knew the pain would be stopped forever then. All would be better. No one would ever hurt him again, no adult would get to continue turning a blind eye to his suffering and he would not have to see the terror in his parents‘ eyes as they continually failed to see that his agony, was not just a phase.      
He waved them off from the front porch. It was a beautiful and sunny Saturday morning. He went back inside the house and locked the door. He took a long shower and standing naked in front of his bedroom mirror, applied the blue eyeshadow to his left eye but not the right. He stood back and looked at the mirror. His body was slight and lacked the hair most of his peers were proudly showing off in the locker room. That first day in the locker room, that first comment, that first invisible bruise, all began with his body. Someone had pointed at his crotch and called him a girl. The laughter had almost deafened him. Within a week the cheerleaders were in on the joke. By the end of the month, he was a cock sucking faggot and everyday was a waking nightmare. Everyday they would push each other to find new ways to remind him that he was scum. He was an AIDS ridden homo. He was a cum guzzling perv. 
He tried to endure. Tried to follow the code of never telling, but his resolve cracked and he told a teacher. The teacher assured him he’d inform the Principal. He was summoned to the Principal’s office where he was lectured at, by the Principal and the School Nurse about the importance of fitting in. About boys being boys, about manning up, about good Christian values and the dangers of alternative lifestyles. Perhaps he had done something to deserve this abuse? Did he have a girlfriend?
He did not complain after that. He just endured. He attempted to shield his parents from what was happening. But they heard his nightmares, they knew he threw up before school. They saw his grades drop from A’s to D’s. But they thought it was a phase. Perhaps he should listen to different music. Get a girlfriend. Have a party and invite his classmates. He smiled and didn’t tell them what it was like to exist as one tender bruise. How even alone, safe from the bullies, their words continued to flay. How he had begun to wish he was gay as they seemed able to endure these kind of attacks, while he also grew to hate their very existence, because it meant he was receiving the abuse meant for them.  
He spared them the truth and he intended to spare them from the trauma of finding their son’s dead body. He looked once more into the mirror. Looked at the body and the face he had been taught to despise. His pain would end and he would spare his parents. They would get over him. He did after all, deserve to die. He was a disappointment to them. They worried all the time and never once did they think to protect him. They would have a new son, a better son. A son who wasn’t faggy and weak and who didn’t deserve to be spat on by the beautiful girls. 
He went to his closet and chose his favourite boxers, jeans and tshirt. He looked in the mirror again. Yes, he should at least look well when he died. It was important to make a good impression on strangers. He would hate to think his parents would have to face the doctors and cops knowing he looking unkempt. His constant failures were shame enough. He opened his drawer and reached under all his spare stationary and found the baggy of pills. He took them out and examined them. There were three different colours. Anti-anxiety tablets he had been prescribed when the nightmares began. His Mom’s sleep medication, which he had stolen earlier from her bathroom and several oxycontin capsules that were left over from when his Dad had broken his leg at work. Altogether twenty tablets and a bottle of Scotch in the den. Jason smiled to himself. No more pain.
He took his laptop with him to the Den, remembering to unlock the front and back doors on his way. He looked at his Mom’s prized glass display cabinet. It was her pride and joy. All that shiny crystal from all over the State. Anywhere they holidayed, she had to have a crystal vase, or a crystal goblet. And on very special occasions, she and Dad would use two of the tumblers to share a few drinks of his finest Scotch. His parents appreciated the best things in life. He sighed in annoyance. It was so obvious to him now that he was not the appropriate child for such people. He was just not up to the mark. 
He opened the cabinet and chose the most beautiful of all the glasses. He placed it on the mahogany side-table, next to the leather couch and then looked at the bottles on the drinks table. He wasn’t an expert but he assumed the oldest would be the best. He saw a 50 year malt. It was unopened. Yes. His father would surely forgive him this liberty. He may have been a let down as a son, but the end of a life required a certain solemnity. He unscrewed the bottle and poured himself a generous measure of whiskey. He opened the baggy and blindly took a handful of pills from it. He crammed them into his mouth and gulped the whiskey down.
He promptly plonked himself down on the couch and tried to stifle his desire to both cough and scream. The whiskey burned in a wholly unexpected way. How could something so smooth looking taste so harsh? His parents drank this shit for pleasure? He got his breathing under control. He swallowed the pills and the burning sensation disappeared, to be replaced by an almost instant glow of satisfaction. Oh. So that’s the point. He grinned to himself and switched on his computer. He logged onto his twitter account. He ignored the stream of invective and porn-bots that littered his timeline and typed his message. His last message, hoping this would get someone here before his parents got home.  
@jason1998abc: Today it ends for good. None of you will ever hurt me again. Please, no fake tears at my funeral. 
He hit send and sagged back into the couch. He switched off the laptop and poured himself another large measure of Scotch. He picked up the baggy of pills and took one put. He popped it in his mouth and took a sip of whiskey. He sighed contentedly. He decided to take his time. He didn’t want to risk throwing up and ending as one of those sad cases that try to kill themselves and just come across as pathetic attention seekers. This had to work. It was his only option. The only alternative was pain. He could not take anymore pain. 
He grew accustomed to the fiery taste of the whiskey. He grinned to himself, imagining that if he had lived, he would one day have shared a tumbler or two of this with his father. Oh well. perhaps Dad will have another son. A better son. A son he would be proud to share a drink with. He took more and more pills. He could feel his breathing beginning to slow. His mind dimming. His eyes beginning to unfocus. He felt contentment. A real and beautiful contentment. He was almost free. His escape was at hand. He pictured his Mom, he pictured her face as she hugged him and told him how much she loved him. Tears began to flow from his eyes. The glass dropped from his hand. His brain vaguely aware of it smashing against the hardwood floor. His Mom’s face filled his head. He fell sideways. Panic beginning to grip him. He tried to call for his Mom. His hand fumbled uselessly at his hip, wondering where his cell phone was. Confused as to why he couldn’t move properly. He tried to call for his Mom. His tongue felt like over large buds of cotton, stifling his voice. He tried to pull himself off the couch. He could only manage to fall heavily, face first, onto the floor. He heard his nose shatter and wondered when his body would react to it. He waited for the agony. His tongue tasted the bitter iron of blood. He reached it out and felt a gap where his front teeth had been. 
He sobbed in terror. What was happening to him? Why wasn’t his body working? Where was his Mom? With one last gargantuan effort he heaved himself onto his back. He struggled to regain his breath, but every moment that passed, he took in less and less air. His chest was gripped with a stabbing tightness. He was aware of blood pooling in his throat but was now incapable of swallowing or spitting. He stared blindly at the ceiling, tears flowing from his terrified eyes. He could no longer call his Mom. His bladder let loose. An uncomfortable warmth spread from his groin. Then he knew a growing coldness, beginning with a numbness spreading from his feet. In minutes he could no longer feel the piss warming his crotch. Even the hot red pokers lancing his chest disappeared. He closed his eyes and mercifully lost consciousness. His bowels loosed as finally his heart stopped. And there he lay, the dead body of a child, resting in a pool of shit, blood, piss, whiskey and tears. And there Jason Beglan was found. The reek of his passing, making the house uninhabitable for weeks.
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Column: Valentine’s Day and Darwin Day

My column in The Kerryman. 13 February, 2013

February was once a difficult month for the sellers of chocolate, greeting cards, flowers and decorations. Broke from the excesses of Christmas, we would throw our empty purses and wallets into a kitchen drawer and not expect to need them again till Easter or Saint Patrick’s Day. Then our American cousins happened upon a wonderful caper to extend the spending through the bleak poverty of February. They invented Valentine’s Day.

And no, this isn’t one of those ‘I’ve no partner so I hate Valentine’s Day’ articles. I have a partner. Honestly. And while I can be cynical, I really am a romantic. I will see my other half tomorrow and there will be hugs and knowing smiles, that acknowledge that it is a day we are expected to be all lovey-dovey.

There will be no gifts or cards though. Tomorrow is not something I choose to celebrate, and it isn’t because it’s a bogus holiday, but because I will have been celebrating something much more important. Tuesday was the 12 February and it was Darwin’s Day. The day on which we mark the birth, in 1809, of the man who, more than any other person, has shaped our understanding of our species. It’s the day we remember the great Charles Darwin.

It was Darwin who first explained that all life on this planet has a common ancestry. That the amazing diversity of life we see all round us, stems from the same primordial soup. We now know that it took our species millions of years to evolve into the world-dominating bipedal mammals we have becoem.

He developed his theory of Evolution, in a time before genetics were understood and before we knew just how old this planet is. (Approximately 4.5 billions years) Science has unlocked more and more wonders since Darwin’s time. We now know that there have been almost 30 different human species, since we diverged from the ancestor we share with chimpanzees, about 6 million years ago. All of them extinct, except for us.

Most scientists agree that our species originated in Africa, and that all of us outside of Africa descend from one small tribe of Africans who crossed into Asia about 100,000 years ago. One of the reasons they think this, is how remarkably similar, on a genetic level, all non-Africans are to each other. While there is a huge amount of genetic diversity in a relatively small area of East Africa.

All these amazing discoveries began with Darwin’s, On the Origin of the Species, published in 1859. Of course his theory was, and is controversial, though no credible scientist questions Evolution anymore, as there is just too much evidence.

We once thought this planet was about 7000 years old. It is impossible to think such a thing and be from Kerry. Could a peninsula such as Beara, be cut from solid rock so quickly? Could the boulders that were pulverised to make the sand on Banna Beach, be made so fast? Did the rivers of ice that drove a path through a mountain to make The Gap of Dunloe not need time? Does anyone think it took mere millennia for the waves to create the rugged majesty of Slea Head?

That which is most beautiful in Kerry appears timeless and our existence in comparison, fleeting. So perhaps today, we should combine Darwin and Valentine. Visit somewhere beautiful, a very easy thing to do in Kerry. And just revel in the splendour of our ancient landscape and appreciate evolution for giving us the ability to perceive that beauty.

Kerry Column 50

Column: Drink Driving by Permit

My column in The Kerryman. 06 February, 2013

After finding horse DNA in cheap burgers, we may find ourselves taking magnifying glasses when we go shopping. Anything to see the small print, showing every ingredient being squashed into products we hope to be good quality food. We may also need dictionaries and degrees in biology and chemistry. We will do this because, though this recession is squeezing the life and joy out of our existence, we still retain enough self-respect to expect to be told honestly what we are eating.

Unfortunately we are less demanding about what our politicians are selling us. We appear content with having all kinds of offal and dodgy matter shoveled down our throats. And we say thank you for it as well. And say Sir and Minister and three bags full too. Never do we take the magnifying glass to these suspect products and examine closely what the ingredients really are.

Let’s for example look at our Kerry County Council. 27 individuals, who have managed to make them and us, famous nationally and internationally for voting in support of drink-driving by permit. That Kerry is a laughing stock at the moment is not something I’m unduly bothered by. Politicians and scandals are by their very natures, frequent and easily forgotten. So the laughter we must endure will quickly pass.

Drink-driving by permit though? Drink-driving by permit so isolated seniors can go to the pub and not succumb to the pain of loneliness. Drink-driving by permit so pubs can sell alcohol to those afflicted by loneliness and depression. Drink-driving by permit so misery can be used for profit. Drink-driving by permit so politicians (and the rest of us) can avoid dealing with the very real problem of maintaining community ties, in rural areas in a cost effective manner and that allows us to keep onto that bit of common sense which tells us, drink-driving kills.

Five councillors (not all from the pub trade), voted to call on the Minister for Justice to allow drink-driving by permit. Three voted against. Seven abstained. Twelve weren’t there. Last year five people died on the roads of Kerry. In 2006 it was 21. In the last three years, the number of people failing the breathalyzer test has almost halved. We increasingly see drink-driving as an immoral act. Since politicians began to take drink-driving seriously, they have, to their eternal credit, managed to save lives. Hundreds nationally and dozens in Kerry. Five councillors, now wish to snatch defeat from the jaws of that victory.

Look closer though. These councillors, have no power to make this proposal anything other than a witless wish. No Minister in any government, would ever entertain a law permitting certain people to drink and drive. What we seem to have, are five councillors, being allowed to get a huge amount of publicity for themselves, through this cheap stunt.

And as regrettable as the behaviour of these five councillors is, it is the seven who abstained and the twelve who weren’t there, who allowed Kerry to announce to the world, that drink-driving is tolerated in Kerry by our politicians. I just hope that the five councilors (who are not all involved in the pub trade), will volunteer to change our “Welcome to Kerry‘ signs, so that they say; “Welcome to Kerry, stay off the roads at night. Drink-driving officially tolerated.” After all, we wouldn’t want to mislabel our county.

Kerry Column 51

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