FAILING OUR YOUNG PEOPLE…..

Dinner table discussions are one of the best things about family life.. and like good wine they get better as the kids get older.  I had the rare experience of gathering my three daughters and my husband around a big roast dinner last night in advance of my eldest’s journey back to Perth after a short visit home. 
The last day with her is always awful.  Emotions are raw and all just below the surface.  We  are all walking on eggshells like Basil Fawlty in that famous episode of Fawlty Towers afraid to ‘mention the war’ or in our case ‘the parting’.  We usually make lots of nonsense small talk to avoid opening the floodgates of tears.
But last night was different as the talk turned very quickly to the Marriage Equality referendum.  My emigrant daughter found it hard to believe that there was a concerted campaign for a No vote.  However it was my other two daughters, aged 16 and 14 who were most vocal on the issue.
They had both recently discovered a number of families known to them who are voting no. This stunned them.  
But what upset them most, was that in the majority of cases, the off spring in these families are very angry at their parent’s stance on this issue.  Living, in Dun Laoghaire/Rathdown in supposedly one of the most liberal constituencies in the country, I was also stunned at this revelation.  One of my daughters told us of her friend who is gay and his parents are also voting no. 
Conversation continued as I recounted my rather surreal experience of debating the issue on air on East Coast Radio earlier in the day.  I talked about the misinformation and fear being spread by the No side which is very difficult to counter.  Then my youngest who is 14 exploded. 
“In this referendum we should be allowed to vote.  This is an issue that will affect our lives and the lives of our friends.  It will have no affect whatsoever on these parents who are straight and already married. They also grew up in an era when homosexuality was illegal and under the radar.  It was OK to look down and judge gay people.  And now they might be the ones who may get to decide on this very issue.  It is not fair that we cannot have our say.  That our voices will not be heard.”
And she is right.  Once again we in this bloody country are doing a disservice to our young people.  Not only can they not vote on this issue but we are not even hearing their views.
We finished our meal almost more depressed than if we had visited the issue of saying goodbye to the eldest. 
However on a more positive note, the girls also told us that their school, which is a former convent school with a very Catholic ethos, is festooned with Yes stickers and they are not being removed by the staff.  This cheered me somewhat until I realised that only a small minority of the school population will have a vote!

The clarity with which our teenagers view this referendum, seeing it clearly as an issue of equality and not one of parenting is also making me rethink my stance on the other issue we vote on on May 22nd.  Maybe a young President is what this bloody country needs?

MY GOOD NAME WAS DEMOLISHED TOO…

A reply to Breda O Brien’s column in The Irish Catholic 20thFebruary 2014
I really do have some sympathy for Breda O Brien, particularly after reading her column in The Irish Catholic (published 20 February) entitled ‘My Good Name Was Demolished’.   Like Panti, I think that “the woman writing in the newspaper” is probably a very nice woman.  And I do believe Breda when she says “I have never written anything designed to hurt or harm anyone”.  I particularly feel sorry when she says that all of the publicity around the so called ‘Panti-gate’ episode has led her 15 year old daughter to ask whether they were in danger from all the vitriol.  It is sad that anyone is left feeling so vilified and vulnerable.
Breda’s latest column in The Irish Catholic outlines all of this and then goes on to explain why she is against what she calls ‘gay marriage’ and yes, it revolves around children. 
Breda says “No gay couple can bring children into their relationship without the assistance of at least one person of the opposite gender. This fundamental difference, with all the profound implications for children of being raised either without their mother, or their father, is supposed to be politely ignored so that adults can receive their ‘rights’”  She goes on to mention about online forums where those who were conceived “through gamete donation” are desperately seeking their biological identities (actually Breda refers to them seeking their siblings and parents which I am sure is offensive to many, if not all, of those who are seeking this information).
These are two completely separate debates.  I agree that all children, whether they are conceived naturally and adopted or via donated eggs and or sperm have a right to their biological information.  I believe that to be a human right.  But Breda – you admit that most parents who use donor assistance are heterosexual.  So why is this relevant to marriage equality?
And what are the ‘profound implications’ for children raised without mother or father?  Breda you must know that for decades children have been raised without two parents, usually by a lone mother who conceived the ‘natural’ way – no gametes required at all.  These women, who decided to parent alone while the biological father resumed his life with little or no interest or support for his child, had to endure the same nonsense about children needing to be parented by a mother and father.  And the tragedy Breda is that for many of us, although educated and reasonably smart, the baloney that was peddled during endless debates in the 80s and 90s about ‘unmarried mothers’ sank in.  Like you Breda – my good name was demolished and demolished regularly.  It resulted in the fact that somewhere in my subconscious there was always the feeling that I was not a good enough.  In fact, like thousands of other single mothers not only was I good enough, I was actually as good as many couples.
My eldest daughter is now a wonderful woman of 26 and I have two more daughters – teenagers, who were conceived within marriage.  I can tell you there is no difference Breda.  Children need security, love and protection and yes it is easier if there are two sets of shoulders to bear the responsibility, particularly financially.  But if there aren’t – one set can  do just fine.  But as to the gender of those shoulders – it matters not one bit. 
I am still angry that it took my daughter reaching 21 years of age for me to really believe that I had done a good job.  But the experience has given me the empathy to know how it feels to be ‘oppressed’ as Panti described it in her Nobel Call at the Abbey Theatre.  I know how it feels to be on the outside; in the minority and having my life choices questioned and my child’s future maligned.  I know where you are Breda and it’s not nice. 
Then I read the last paragraph of your column where you talk about “dissolving a child-centred institution like marriage which is designed to bond parents with biological children, and replacing it with an adult centred institution designed primarily to act as a state-sanctioned approval of romantic sexual relationships” and I get angry all over again! I get angry on behalf of single parents, of childless married couples, of celibate married couples and gay couples seeking equality. 

I am glad that the priest who married me didn’t seem to share your view Breda, as I walked up the aisle behind my then ten year old daughter.  As for ‘state sanctioned approval of romantic sexual relationships”….em., was I nuts?  I got married for love.  

GENDER DISCOMBOBULATION

I got married in October 1996 and I made a speech.  I had something to say.  And I wanted to say it publicly. 
I began by stating that although I was clearly very happy to be now married to the very nice fella beside me, I was also feeling a bit disappointed with my new title of wife.  Because being a wife meant that I was now respectable.  I had returned to the warmth and security of ‘polite society’ from the draughty corridor where I had lived for the previous ten years.  I felt a bit like a traitor and wondered how I might hold on to a little of my ‘disreputable’ status as I began married life.
My eldest daughter was born in 1987.  Three years after Anne Lovett died with her newborn infant in a freezing graveyard in Longford.  The term ‘illegitimate’ was still very much used to describe children such as my daughter.  I was a working woman of 25 but I was an ‘unmarried mother’.  And while not as scandalous as it would have been decades earlier it was still a status that made the rest of society very nervous. 
I was reminded of my awkward wedding speech last week as I listened to Panti Bliss make her eloquent Noble Call on the Abbey stage.  She spoke about the so called little things that felt oppressive.  Things like listening to TV debates where nice people debate about her and what rights she should and should not be allowed.  Things like reading newspaper columns written by a nice middle class woman arguing reasonably about how you should be treated less than everyone else.
As I listened to her I remembered.  I remember being asked, by people I knew, if I was collecting “the mickey money” for my trouble.  They thought they were making a witty, light remark.  It felt oppressive.  I had ‘friends’ who stopped inviting me to dinner because I had wandered into some kind of no man’s land of being single but not being free.  Or was it because they assumed I had some kind of less moral code than they did.  Yes, Panti, it too felt oppressive.
But as she continued her talk I realised that I was now that middle class woman in the coffee shop that Panti referenced.  The one that Panti thought just may have agreed with the nice newspaper columnist who thought gays were less equal.  Here I am buried in a nice suburb with my husband and my now respectable family.   Panti said we are all homophobic and sure how could we not be having grown up in Ireland?  Oh my God, I thought, have I forgotten what it felt like on the outside?
And yes I had forgotten.  I am now married almost twice as long as I was an ‘unmarried mother’.  But what Panti articulated so gracefully brought back vivid memories.  I also spent years listening to the reasonable middle class commentators debating about me and my likely impact on society.  And the worst part is that after a few years I subconsciously started to believe some of what they said.  Us ‘unmarried mothers’ of the 80s and 90s were told, time and time again, that we were likely to cause society to break down. We heard some of the very same rhetoric that is now being rehashed in the marriage equality debate.  The main point which was always that children need a mother and father in order to grow up right! Our single parent households were bound to produce children who would grow up to be dysfunctional at best and most likely be delinquent.  It was a huge relief and surprise to me when in a stunning moment of clarity at her 21st birthday I realised that I had done a good job and my daughter was OK.  Just like thousands of other single parents in this country.
I have had the pleasure of meeting Panti Bliss last year, when we were both on a panel on TV3’s Midday programme.  I had never met a drag queen before.  Hell, I have never been to a gay bar and until very recently I had never had a gay friend, as far as I knew anyway.  I had to check with the programme’s producer as to whether I refer to Panti as ‘her’ or ‘him’.  I was so way out of my middle class suburban comfort zone. 
This week Panti’s Noble Call has made me take a long honest look into my soul.  Am I homophobic?  More importantly are my children growing up with homophobic attitudes that they are subconsciously picking up in my home.  I certainly hope not.

But it’s not enough to say yes to marriage equality because in my view, that’s easy.  And it’s straightforward.  Equality can’t come with conditions or limitations.   But are we sure we are all sitting comfortably with what Panti refers to as “gender discombobulation”?  That, that Bard might have said, is the question.