Traveling While Bi: My Trip To An Irish Village
I had the opportunity recently to take a trip to Ireland to participate in a language immersion course where I would be learning Irish within the Gaeltacht regions in the west. I had never been abroad before, in the sense of flying across an ocean. In fact, I had never been to any other country other than Mexico. That country is only a few hours from me, a quick drive, so taking a complete day to travel by plane was something I was unprepared for. But I was excited.
I had been learning the language for several years now, from teachers from Ireland who came to Arizona just for that purpose. Now I was going to an area where I would be among folks who speak Irish on a daily basis, the language of my ancestors. So I was a bit excited.
When my family came to the United States in the mid-1800s they engrossed themselves so much into becoming American that they forgot their Irish language, their Irish culture, and even their Irish surname. For generations my family had no idea they were even from Ireland, until the day I got back my results from a DNA test: I had an Irish haplotype on my paternal side.
It turned my life upside down.
Being a white American male, at least for me, you just get told that your ancestors are all from England. I have a last name that sounds English, but it is in fact an extremely common Irish name and was once spelled Mac an Bháird. I learned this in the areas in Ireland that I visited, and I was shocked and ecstatic to find my people and my place in this world, in some sense. By keeping my ancestors language within my family for the generations to come, I felt that I was honoring them in some way. This excited me even more.
But, I was also nervous. Extremely nervous. Before my trip, I knew I was going to an area akin to backwoods areas here in the States, where people might not take too kindly to LGBT community members. As a bi man, who is completely open about my sexuality, I was unsure about whether I should be out in Ireland, a country who was the first in the world to vote, by the people themselves, for same-sex marriage, but also a country where only a short while ago, a same-sex couple was beaten up at a bar for showing affection. The city where this happened was near where I would be on my trip. Could I talk about my sexuality? Could I be openly bi?
Just before my trip I decided I would not talk about my sexuality and I felt awful about it.
Throughout my week, I gauged the people I met. Were these people pro-LGBT? Did they have views that were detrimental to queer people? In some sense, I felt like a secret spy. No one had any idea that this guy who stayed in their homes, who ate meals they prepared, learned Irish history, language, poetry, stories, music, dance was in fact a bi man who was in a same-sex relationship back in America. Every day I wanted to say something but I just wasn’t ever sure.
I thought about the places throughout the world where people with sexualities like mine (fluid, gay, lesbian, or ace) must hide their true identities because of the backlash that would come. There are unsafe environments everywhere, and although Ireland would not be considered one of those places, by most, I still had this uneasiness I couldn’t quite shake. I was back in the closet, in a strange way, and it felt uncomfortable. It was like I was that kid again wanting to scream “I’m bi!” at the top of my lungs.
Although my sexuality is only one part of who I am, it’s still just as important as every other part of me. I’m usually straightforward about it. I can’t hide it. I talk about it daily. I run a state-level nonprofit that helps bi, pan, ply, omni, flexi, non-mon, queer, open, curious, and non-labeled people. Had I betrayed all of them with my secrecy abroad? Was my cowardice justified? Am I fit to lead, if I can’t always be the example I set? So many questions and insecurities floated through my brain throughout that week in Ireland like accusatory Furies from Greek mythology.
On the last day of the course, however, I decided to take a stand. We were on a break (a ‘sos toitín’, if you will) from class that afternoon, and I was talking about my boyfriend to my teacher, but not directly saying he was my boyfriend, and I got to a point in the conversation where I just couldn’t not say he was my boyfriend. So, I said it. It felt refreshing and the reaction I got was lovely. There was a look of approval in this person’s eyes. I was okay. I was in this small village and I was okay. I knew it at that second.
So my next question, as the course started up after break, was to ask what the Irish word for ‘bisexual’ was. It was thrilling just to say that out loud and on the last day of our course I felt it was time. I didn’t need to bog people down with my sexuality all week, so it was appropriate, I felt, to get into it then. My teacher wasn’t sure what the word was and happily looked it up for me in a dictionary. They also looked up the Irish word for ‘fluid.’ But because of the area we were in, they probably didn’t say these words too often and I had asked about local words people might use for ‘bi people’ but my course teacher just didn’t know, but they said they would find out for me.
I felt vindicated from my rumination furies.
It’s not always easy to be yourself. I had to go to another country to get a reminder of that. I had to get out of my comfort zone to remember that there are people everywhere who have it far worse than me. That’s why I got into this work, however. To find those people and help to ease their transition out of the bi closet. And it’s not easy, it seems, even for me. So, for the people I help over the next several decades, we’ll have to do this together, as I still have a lot to learn about being out of the closet.
Go raibh maith agaibh! Thank you!