As part of the #BeYourself campaign we have encouraged people across the LGBTQ+ community to share their wise words and give strength and encouragement for all of us to be ourselves. Tiarnan is a role model and teacher with some great insights on what it means to #BeYourself.
The Importance of Being Different: Building Blocks
By Tiarnán F. M.
I am a gay man, and I have privileges that a lot of gay men and women are not accustomed to around the world. I have a family that loves me and supports me irrespective of who I am or how I am made up. I have friends who I know in my heart will be my friends long into the future. I am healthy and on the whole I am happy. Not everyone can boast these things, particularly in our community.
And yet despite all of this, at times I can feel isolated and alone, just as anyone else can. I had what I imagine was a pretty normal experience for a gay boy growing up in Belfast. I don’t recall ever being bullied in a significant way that teachers could signpost, and yet I never felt that I fitted in. Not really. I was different in how I walked, different in how I talked, different in how I interacted with others and different in what I liked and in what I was interested in. In an environment still by and large dictated by heteronormative roles, I was an outsider, and to a young child this is never a nice thing to be.
As an adult I aim to make a difference in this regard. A year ago I qualified as a teacher, and I have worked with children for the last few years. I strive in my teaching and in my work as a role model to set an example to the children in my care; that is, I stress to them that it’s fine to like singing and dancing, and to like sports, and to like the colour pink, and to have lots and lots of different kinds of friends no matter what they like and how they act, and to like whatever you happen to like. I feel that this is my duty because, frankly, I didn’t have this growing up. As an educator I cannot stress enough the importance of making children aware of the openness of the world around them and their potential from a young age, because this is organic – it is not natural that they should be prescribed gender roles and told that they can’t achieve something or strive for something purely because they are a boy or a girl.
Despite my work in this regard, sometimes I still feel lonely and I see my difference as a negative. Just tonight I was at a bar, and I was struck by the men around me who I regarded as guys who, whether I want to admit it or not, I see as more desirable or attractive than me. I worry day in and day out that I won’t find someone who can love me, purely because I don’t fit the mould that society has prescribed as an attractive male. I don’t like to admit this – to my friends I’ll stress that personality comes first and foremost, and that I’d much rather be with someone who is confident in themselves and treats others with respect in love. In my heart I’d like to believe this. And yet why is it that I myself feel that I won’t be happy because I don’t fit a certain mould?
The reality is that rules and guidelines of the past still linger on to this day. Whether we want to admit it or not, often we perpetuate these norms in our words and in our actions. I don’t know what I aim to achieve by writing this, but I do know that in some way I’d like to articulate the importance of accepting the different beauties that lie around us, and the different facets that make each and every person unique.
In this moment, I am proud of who I am. Tomorrow I might doubt this again; I might want to shrink and I might reawaken those lingering doubts that knock on my door so often. And yet as I write this, I know that a part of me recognises that I am my own unique person, and that I bare qualities and talents that make me stand out. It might sound elementary, but it’s true, and I’m proud of that.
I suppose I’m asking you to choose to look beyond the norms that society dictates we view as attractive, or important, or special. Recognise that everyone has the capacity to be special, and to be beautiful. We’re a long way off being completely comfortable with this concept, and I don’t expect that this mind set will be fully realised in my lifetime. Indeed, I can guarantee that I can open an app right now and find at least a dozen profiles in my vicinity bearing statements like, “Masculine men only”, or “If I wanted to date a girl I’d be straight.” But eventually things will change – I have faith in this. We are all building blocks, and we should take pride in the fact that we are helping to piece together a brighter future, a future that is constantly evolving and changing for the better.
I am a gay man, and my goal tonight is to take pride in being different, and to be happy in who I am and in what I have to offer.