It was on September 3 2014, at 32 years of age, that I sat across from my mum at our kitchen table and told her I was gay. I had lived away from home for almost 14 years and coming home to visit was the thing I looked forward to the most every year.
This trip though was one I was fearful of and one that I never thought I would make. My relationship with my family is unbreakable, we have always been a really close unit. I also felt so lucky to have such amazing parents, but it wasn’t until I moved away and worked in various environments did I truly appreciate how blessed I was to have such great role models.
My mum is my idol, she is possibly the strongest, most loyal and determined human being I know. My dad is my hero and I treasure the relationship we have built over the years, I have always been his tomboy. And the things my dad has taught me have been invaluable. But still, for someone who told the truth for a living, sitting at that kitchen table in 2014, to tell my own truth was one of the scariest moments of my life.
My parents raised me and my two sisters to be loving, kind, independent and fiercely strong. My upbringing is the reason why I left to pursue my ambitions to create and produce documentaries. I went to Ballyfermot College and studied television production.
I left for London in 2002 to gain work experience during the summer. The idea was to go away and try to get a runner’s job to earn some experience and then return to finish my Master’s. During that time “I’m a Celeb Get me Outta here” was on air and Katie Price and Peter Andre were all over the news. The whole world was watching their love story unfold. I was working part-time in a bar when I realised that the “Newlyweds” and “The Osbournes” – MTV reality shows – were taking America by storm. So I decided that pitching a reality show around Pete and Kate would be ideal. I found a contact for their management and after a conversation over coffee I basically pitched the show, “When Jordan Met Peter.” The next minute I found myself hiring a camera in the middle of Soho and the next day I met with Peter and we flew to Glasgow for a signing of his number one single Mysterious Girl. It was a whirlwind – spending almost every day with them for three years.
While in London I created produced and filmed numerous reality shows as well as cutting-edge documentaries, “Teenage Vampires”, “The Real 40-Year-Old Virgin”, and the series “999 What’s your Emergency” for C4.
My reputation for dealing with sensitive subject areas and building trusted relationships was at the forefront. I was then offered a contract to work on a series in the states called “Too Fat For Fifteen”, the programme centred around a number of morbidly obese teenagers who were battling weight and self-esteem issues. I was nominated for an Emmy for this series and my move to the US was permanent.
In New York, my objective was to challenge myself and that came in the shape of Discovery and National Geographic. Growing up watching these shows was so alien as America seemed such a distant dream. I produced various shows looking for truffles in Portland Oregon, to catching gators in the swamps of Louisiana to living off the grid with families out in Minnesota or living in teepees out in Montana.
Going back to the night three years ago with my own family, while I sat across from my mum, I needed my truth to come out. I looked at her and instantly my eyes filled with tears. Ironically even three years on as I write this the tears are falling just as fast as they did that night. It’s still quite hard at times to talk about.
My mum looked at me and asked me what was wrong, and has struggled to contain my emotions I told her I had a girlfriend. I never said I was gay, I said: “I have a girlfriend”. Even at the point of finally coming out, I was struggling to utter the words.
My dad then came into the kitchen to get his cup of tea when he instantly asked what was wrong, I looked at my mum and she said, “It’s OK angel tell him.” I blurted out the same sentence: “I have a girlfriend”. My dad’s reaction was “so what” as he threw his arms around me. We group hugged, I was crying uncontrollably at this point. It’s very difficult to put into words that feeling at that moment, it was such a surreal experience. My entire life I had internalised my feelings and suppressed any ideas that coming out was ever going to be OK. And yet here I was being hugged and comforted by the most important people in my life.
It was pretty overwhelming not just for me but also for my parents. We sat around and talked at the table and my mum had said that she had an idea about me being gay but never wanted to force me to “come out”. For my siblings and my closest friends it was completely out of the blue I spent so much time away and on the road in the states that keeping my sexuality under wraps was so much easier. But I was so fortunate that everybody was extremely supportive I cherish having such amazing people in my world.
I think one of the things that were hardest for my parents was that they could see how much this “secret” had affected me. For me, at that moment the burden of years was lifted but I don’t think I could ever fully appreciate what it must have been like for my parents. I often wonder about their conversations that night when they lay in bed. It’s one my biggest regrets actually not giving them more time to ask questions. The next morning I was on the red-eye back to New York and as always my dad dropped me at the airport like he had done every time for the last 14 years. The hug my dad gave me outside the car at drop off was one of the warmest and special moments of my life.
It’s not that I didn’t want to give my parents the opportunity to ask questions, it’s just that I never thought about what it must have been like in their shoes at that time. I think it’s hard for parents, I really do but for me personally, it was like: “It’s out now” and processing that in itself was a challenge. The flight back to New York seemed like an eternity, I sat by the window and replayed the conversation over and over, it was still very raw and at times throughout the flight, I again couldn’t stop the tears. I remember my mum asking me if being gay was the reason for me leaving Ireland.
It wasn’t, my main reasoning for leaving home was to go abroad and challenge myself and to build a career in TV. However, now looking back subconsciously there was a factor of my sexuality that played in me going. There was an ocean in between for safety so being “outed” wasn’t a worry.
I got back to New York it was back to work and although I had come out to my family I wasn’t ready to come out at work.
My reasoning for this was pretty much fear, it was ingrained over the years. My career was so important to me, I had worked extremely hard to get there and I didn’t want anything to get in the way of that especially my sexuality. This fear stemmed from one of the many experiences I had it was a comment that was made in the early years when I was working on a production. There was a female who I was working for and she was very high up in the media world and she was extraordinarily talented in her field. I was part of an all-male crew and they had just finished a meeting and post that meeting there were comments like “ she is so cold, she has to be a lesbian” and “ total dyke acting like a man” these words never left me. This is one of the occasions that I saw how the perception of lesbian was negative. There were many comments over time where I knew it was easier to play it straight. All these factors pushed me further down the rabbit hole. I was set on silencing thoughts and emotions in order to continue to be successful.
Ironically one of my most favoured documentaries to produce was “Age 8 and Wanting a Sex Change”. To be honest I wasn’t overly familiar with transgender, however, when C4 commissioned the project I couldn’t wait to make it. I was so intrigued by how these children realised they were born into the wrong body at such a young age. It made me think about my childhood and when I started to feel different, the truth is I can’t put it down to one time, all I can say was I just knew that something was different with me. I remember really admiring the certain woman in my life but just put that down to roles models and being impressionable. During my school years, there wasn’t one “out” person so it was hard to relate.
During those years being part of the clique is so important, fitting in and not being “that girl” is so essential. This again was part of my suppression. Lesbian was a foreign term and definitely only brought up to be used in slagging situations. Through these years sport was my outlet, I loved playing camogie, I played for Good Counsel GAA in Drimnagh for many years. I loved the people involved in this club there was always a sense of acceptance and belonging and although I was never “out” I was always me there. My closest friendships to this day are with my teammates from my teenage years playing at that club.
Clothing too has always played a part of my identity, no matter if it was a football jersey, a fashion label or a name of a band on my shirt you can always relate to somebody who is rocking the same style as you. For me, sexuality, identity and clothing started to merge in my 20s.
I was still struggling with my sexuality but always found comfort in being able to express that through my outfits. However, at times throughout my life, I never felt so isolated when it came to my sexuality. As I slowly started to socialise in LGBT places I started to feel part of the community. The majority of my LGBT friends and I had similar styles and these styles became our ways of setting our own trends. It was me slowly coming out in a way.
I was living in Asheville, North Carolina when I really found my feet, my circle of friends were super hip and socialising was usually on a porch swing or around a fire, listening to bluegrass music and having few beers. Some of my friends were gay and wearing the v-neck T-shirts alongside snapback hats and check shirts was a daily thing. I would always find myself buying or borrowing one of the hats or check shirts before the night was out. We felt connected through our clothes. There was no weird looks or nasty comments it was a “safe” place.
I met my first girlfriend in North Carolina, the relationship was everything that relationships are when you first fall in love, however, it was still hidden. When I would Skype or Facetime home the guilt would eat me up, the lying and the hiding. My partner at the time was also not out and on a daily basis, we would do all we could to not be seen together as we would become increasingly worried that people would start to figure it out. This eventually caught up to us and living in secret behind closed doors began to cause problems.
A couple months on I was back on the road working I was sitting on set with a really good friend Patrick Conway, he was like a big brother to me when I first moved to New York. He was married with two kids and he was talking about being a parent. I asked him how would he feel if one of his kids were gay and he without a second thought said: “why would that matter?” And I looked at him and I said: “Patrick I’m gay…” He literally laughed and said: “Are you serious?” and then said “good for you”. It was the first time I had told anybody at work and his reaction and response were paramount.
I did feel anxious about going to the office the next day but the minute I sat at my desk it was business as usual. However, internally my struggle was still an ongoing battle, so I decided that I would stay hidden where I was. Only a select few people knew and I could contain that and continue to live in secret and blend into the New York background without anybody asking questions.
However, a major factor came into play when my niece (my sister’s daughter) was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour. My niece would start chemotherapy immediately. This completely devastated our family I would fly home as often as I could to support and then return to the states living only half a life. Those flights became increasingly lonely but they were my thinking time, it wasn’t long before I decide to make the move back to Ireland to be with my family.
When I returned home it was such a huge adjustment, everything had changed as it should, but my world especially. I started up my production company, Empire Elite Ltd and as always I started to do what I loved most creating documentaries. I did realise that in order to live a happy life I had to be honest and open which meant acknowledging my sexuality. The one thing I can always go back to and always feel good about is when I am being creative. So when I was asked to come on board to co-direct the “Only Gay In The Village” it was an empowering way for me to give an truthful and honest depiction into what it’s like to be gay in Ireland. It was also me taking ownership of my sexuality.
However, I was still going through my own acceptance, when you spend years living in denial or hidden, just because you come out doesn’t mean the next day your life switches and all the heaviness has been lifted. It most definitely helps but it takes time to live as “gay”. That might sound crazy but it’s true, I still found it hard to acknowledge at times or avoid situations that I may find uncomfortable. I was in the middle of creating a documentary which involved a psychologist and during the filming I was learning so much about CBT – cognitive behavioural therapy.
During this time I realised that the issue with my internal acceptance was me and not the people who I surrounded myself with. My family and friends never changed, in fact, their love and support grew stronger so I decided I would go to therapy. I go once every two weeks and personally it’s been the best investment I could have made in myself. It’s not just to deal with my sexuality, it involves all aspects of my life. And I firmly believe it really helped in moulding where I am today extremely happy and comfortable in my own skin.
The idea for the clothing line was always in my head, it has been for years. Creating a line that has a branded logo (5428 standing for LGBT numerically) is a subtle but strong message to feel connected and included within the community. Inclusion and progression are at the forefront. I have weekly calls with the US and it’s so uplifting to hear how people talk about Ireland. I am so proud of being Irish and this country is leading the charge for change.
I always felt that with Pride there was always clothing available but it was always very heavily branded. For me being able to wear one of the range daily is key. I have designed a range specifically for this year’s Pride and this will be exclusive to the first launch. It’s also my way of giving back something to the community as a percentage of the sales goes to the LGBT community.
The 5428 range will be available to in Street 66 and you can log onto the online store where the rest of the range and styles are available. www.5428apparel.com