McAleese uses establishment voice to speak out on gay sexuality
Monday, October 01, 2012
Comment: Here is an Irish leader, woman, and one who is definately intouch with her feminie divine. She sees beyond the narrow strokes the hierarchy paints to people and describes well the pain youth feel, hide and try to live with. How interesting the Irish culture recognizes sexual identity is pinned on youth by their own.... I have seen it time and again in all my years of teaching. We are obligated as Christians and Catholics to help the hierarchy catch up with culture. The question is-how do we do this?
IF Mary McAleese wanted to reach teenagers rendered miserable every day by knowing that they’re gay, she picked the wrong programme when she appeared on The Pat Kenny Show to talk about the topic.
Kids in their teens are rarely in a position to listen to that show, even when they’re not on their phones, their iPods, or music programmes. It is fair to assume, then, that her chosen audience wasn’t young gay men and women, but their parents and grandparents, as well as the Catholic Church.
It was an arresting interview. She sounded more presidential than when she was actually president of Ireland. Central to her argument was the prevalence of suicide among young Irish men, a factor often attributed to the overuse of alcohol by young men.
Inevitably, alcohol plays a lethal role in many suicides, particularly of men in their 20s. However, what Mary McAleese was hammering home is that we have a cohort of still younger men dying, and that one of the hidden reasons is their sexuality.
When broken down, the research makes it clear that young gay men are one of the most at-risk groups in the country.
That’s because they grow up in a context of condemnation, where references to being gay are freighted with negativity, if not contempt. The talk of cyber-bullying tends to ignore how teenagers, and indeed pre-teens, can spot, astonishingly early, the subliminal indications that one of their number is gay, and how speedily observation can turn to harassment and stereotyping using social media.
For a 13- or 14-year-old boy, this is horrific. But the youngster’s problems come not single file, but in battalions. For one thing, if they have been reared in a traditional Catholic home, they have heard references to homosexuality as something to be rejected, either because it is a disorder or an evil choice. Last week, Pope Benedict XVI told a meeting of bishops in Castel Gandolfo that homosexuality is "a faulty conception of human nature".
For another, young people pick up references in every gathering, like for example, when a gay man appears on TV and snide comments are made.
It is into that mangled context that the realisation of their own sexuality arrives — and Mrs McAleese made no bones about the nature of its arrival.
"When they make the discovery, and it is a discovery and not a decision," she said, "when they make the discovery that they are gay, when they are 14, 15, or 16, an internal conflict of absolutely appalling proportions opens up".
That internal conflict often, as she put it, drives young gay men into a place that is "dark and bleak".
Mrs McAleese was not being general about the problems facing young gay men. She was specifically stating her belief the Catholic Church is becoming increasingly isolated in its views of homosexuality.
She was stating that belief from a unique position, first of all as a woman who had delivered on her own bridge-building rhetoric, but much more importantly, as an overt and unashamed Church-going Catholic wife and mother.
The solid respectability of who she has been and what she has done for the past 14 years allowed her not just to make key points, but to make sure those points were heard past the static that would have been created had she been anybody else — that static best summed up in the phrase: "Well, she would say that, wouldn’t she?"
Many a middle-aged mother, listening to her, will have wondered about the sexuality of her own son, and perhaps also considered how hard her loving family might be on that son, were he to discover he was gay. Even that concept — discovery rather than choice — would not have been as easily accepted from many speakers other than Mrs McAleese.
She did a great service to families, to the humanity of the Church, and to the teenage boys who won’t have heard her on the programme. And she was rigorous in her line-drawing. When Pat Kenny put to her that the orthodox Catholic position was "love the sinner, hate the sin", she brushed it aside, making a previously respectable device seem suddenly spurious.
Girls of the same age going through the same process of self-discovery did not figure, as is understandable given the framework of suicide within which the issue was being addressed. Not widening the interview to take in lesbian teenagers kept the narrative simple.
Which did not prevent one reader of this column extrapolating from what was said and applying it to herself. In her 20s, working in the manufacturing industry, this individual has yet to tell her parents or her sibling that she is gay, and doubts that she will ever get the courage to do so.
However, she wrote, hearing what Mrs McAleese had to say on the topic gave her new hope. "Although she was talking about young men, she described the internal conflict that goes on inside the head of anyone who ‘discovers’ they have an attraction to the same sex.
"It is head-wrecking stuff. We are brought up in Catholic families. We go to Catholic schools. We get our sense of right and wrong from those places and then we discover, in our fragile, formative teenage years, that something inside us doesn’t fit or match what’s supposed to be normal.
"And it is a terrifying discovery. It is not funny. It is not a ‘get over it’ issue like having thick ankles. The impulse to conform is powerful. No one wants to be the freak.
"Few teenagers are equipped with the mental strength to resist the need for the safety of the closet.
"But the self-denial, self-loathing, confusion, fear and suppression of authentic expression that accompanies the impulse to conform is destructive and inimical to living a fulfilled or happy life. If a person can’t be sure of their own identity, how can they be sure or confident about anything?
AND just because it is no longer illegal doesn’t mean modern Ireland is a "gay-friendly" place, so get over yourself; the world has moved on. No, it hasn’t. Prejudice and hatred is everywhere alive and kicking. I witness some form of homophobia almost every day.
"Anyway, I thought Mary McAleese was courageous and brave to publicly address the issue. I mean what’s it to her? What’s in it for her? She’s a happily married woman. Why should she care? And yet she does.
"I knew from her comments not only had she thought deeply about the plight of young gay men but she empathised with them. I also believe her concern is not human in source but comes from a transcendent, loving, supreme being.
"Her compassion springs from her Christian faith. Mary McAleese prays. She communes with God. I believe she has become a channel of God’s grace and that God is seething with the Catholic Church for the pain it has inflicted on generations of people over the centuries.
"One last thought about McAleese. I get driven more and more into denial when I see extremely camp figures championing the gay cause. They are more tolerated by the general public than respected. Mary McAleese, in contrast, is respected. She is mainstream establishment. People listen to her. She might make a difference."
She has before. She might again.