This Heartbreaking Coming Out Letter Proves Why Visibility Still Matters
This Heartbreaking Coming-Out Letter Proves Why Visibility Still Matters
\u201cThis is one of the most touching things we've read about the referendum \nhttps://t.co/mZrDVMQncq\u201d— Her.ie (@Her.ie) 1431759902
Ursula Halligan, an Irish journalist and editor for the television network TV3, a CNN affiliate, came out publicly as a lesbian in a heartbreaking op-ed in The Irish Times last weekend. What prompted her to exit the closet after more than 30 years? The people of Ireland will vote Friday on a marriage equality measure; if it passes, people would be able to marry same-sex partners nationwide. With the vote coming up, Halligan says she couldn't hold back as an observer, knowing that she is a lesbian who holds a public position in media.
In the op-ed, Hannigan revealed that while going through the attic in her home recently, she found a letter she wrote as a closeted and confused teenage girl who was in love with one of her classmates. The words of her 17-year-old self were heartbreaking:
“There have been times when I have even thought about death, of escaping from this world, of sleeping untouched by no-one forever. I have been so depressed, so sad and so confused. There seems to be no one I can turn to, not even God. I’ve poured out my emotions, my innermost thoughts to him and get no relief or so-called spiritual grace. At times I feel I am talking to nothing, that no God exists. I’ve never felt like this before, so empty, so meaningless, so utterly, utterly miserable.”
Hannigan's story revealed how dramatically Ireland has changed in the past few decades. "Homosexuality was an evil perversion" in 1970s, she says, particularly in her Catholic and conservative family.
"It was never openly talked about but I knew it was the worst thing on the face of the earth."
Halligan pretended to be straight because she thought that it would alleviate her anxieties that she may be a lesbian.
"I played the dating game. I feigned interest in men. I invented boyfriends. I listened silently to snide remarks about homosexuals. Tried to smile at mimicry of stereotypical gay behaviour."
The most gut-wrenching part of Halligan's letter is her acknowledgement that she missed out on universal coming-of age experiences such as dating and partying because of the secret she was keeping.
"Over the years I watched each of my siblings date, party, get engaged, get married and take for granted all the joys and privileges of their State-acknowledged relationship."
An accomplished journalist and editor, Halligan pushed herself into her work and studies. She was named TV Journalist of the Year in the prestigious ESB National Media Awards in 2000.
"And never once did I openly express my feelings. I suppressed everything and buried myself in books or work. I was careful how I talked and behaved. Nothing was allowed slip. I never knew what it was like to live spontaneously, to go with the flow, to trust my instincts ... I certainly couldn’t trust my instincts."
Hetereronormativity kept her in the closet, she writes.
"It’s a part that heterosexual people take for granted, like breathing air. The world is custom-tailored for them. At every turn society assumes and confirms heterosexuality as the norm. This culminates in marriage when the happy couple is showered with an outpouring of overwhelming social approval."
Halligan doesn't want to waste any more time pretending to live someone else's life.
"For me, there was no first kiss; no engagement party; no wedding. And up until a short time ago no hope of any of these things. Now, at the age of 54, in a (hopefully) different Ireland, I wish I had broken out of my prison cell a long time ago. I feel a sense of loss and sadness for precious time spent wasted in fear and isolation."
It took her 30 years to be comfortable with her truth, she says.
"Twenty years ago or 30 years ago, it would have taken more courage than I had to tell the truth. Today, it’s still difficult but it can be done with hope — hope that most people in modern Ireland embrace diversity and would understand that I’m trying to be helpful to other gay people leading small, frightened, incomplete lives. If my story helps even one 17-year-old school girl, struggling with her sexuality, it will have been worth it."
Graham Norton, an Irish entertainer and actor, tweeted in support of Halligan, and the marriage equality referendum in Ireland, which will be voted on May 22. Halligan also urges the Irish to vote "yes" for marriage equality.