Damian McShane used the Voices website to tell his story...
“Ok, so being gay in Newry is probably not the best place for me to start from so I won’t. I do remember as far back as being four or five years old and being different to most of those around me.
“There were many reasons for this but being gay wasn’t one of them. Politics, economic and social deprivation and class all had a bearing on me being different.
“As I moved into my school years I found that I couldn’t allow myself to partake of physical education because I was embarrassed to change my clothing in front of other pupils. The result of this, coupled with the other influences at that time, allowed for me to become generally disruptive (or a junior delinquent) and so the result was that I missed school and got myself into all types of bother.
“Rebellion was the order of the day, hence my difference. My self esteem was beginning to hurt, but I could not articulate what was happening to me at all.
“Over the years, nothing changed, excepting of course a heightening of an awareness to my being gay within myself. By God, I fought against it. Thoughts such as what would people think etc flooded my mind.
I also took on board thoughts of others who were homophobic and, due to this, I felt that being gay was somehow equated to being dirty, murky, sordid.
“So I continued to cover up my gayness through my rebellious nature and many journeys through police cells and prison life, not to mention my many running away trips to other countries and counties. I even went as far as to study theology in order to find some type of moral justification for my mind set of hiding my gayness.
“I journeyed through life as a kind of zombie, only to find that I could also hide in drink, drugs and even in marriage to a straight girl. Callously, I took a prisoner and conformed to the norms of straight society and when things began to encourage in me they became fatalistic and damaging to all around me.
“A life of hiding my sexuality caused mayhem and despair and as someone else said before me, i wouldn’t wish this type of life for anyone or on anyone.
“I came out in Newry a couple of years ago through some very good straight friends of mine who saw the madness in me and helped me to overcome some of the difficulties I was experiencing at that time. I then went to my family, and extended family, apologised for all the hurt I’d caused them over the years and told them of my being gay.
“The reception was absolutely fantastic and certainly unexpected. I had prepared for the worst scenario in my head but instead got the best they could offer - their acceptance of my being as an individual with an alternative sexuality. I said to one of my friends ‘hey you know what, I’m gay’. His response showed me how pathetic I was being, and indeed the readiness of some straight people to accept gay people in Newry. He said “shush, don’t tell anyone, but i’m straight’. What a response, eh?
“From then on I moved quickly onto the gay scene and into the hub-bub of Newry’s alternative community. I found myself meeting people who are genuine, complete and helpful in my development as a person in my own right and as a gay male within the community at large.
“I have now gotten into a relationship and continue to work within the alternative sphere of life through the NRC. and others. I find that anything that is there to help our community must be tapped into and utilised for the benefit of our section of the Newry people. I feel I must support, at whatever level, the gay community in Newry, quite simply because I am gay.
“I do not wish to sit on the fence any longer, nor would I allow myself to retreat into the closet just so that straight people wouldn’t have to face issues surrounding my sexuality. No way, jose! I’m out and staying out because, as I look over my life, I can see how damaging I was to myself and to those around me, all because I hadn’t the cop on to come out and be myself.
“I don’t need other’s identities nor do I need to conform for the sake of a peaceful life but what I do need is the help, support, and encouragement of others of like mind to continue as a productive member of society, albeit in my capacity of being gay.
“I definitely would not wish my past on anyone. But, if anything here has being helpful to someone else then my purpose for telling my story has been achieved.
“Do not stay too long hiding, running, conforming - it is damaging to health, both physically and mentally, and has the potential to keep you a prisoner or worse, it may allow you to take prisoners.
“Please, please allow yourself to be you and join in your community through the various groups and activities that take place through it. Passion Disco needs to be supported, maybe this is a means for you to help while at the same time developing yourself? I don’t know. But I know where I have been and what I have been party to.
“Do not let yourself go down a road like mine. Each of us has the key to unlocking the prison that imprisons us all in today’s society and shouldn’t be afraid of using it to open the doors of hearts and minds to our needs as gay people in this city.
“My story didn’t begin with a knowledge of my being gay, but I can tell you it certainly ends with a much more fuller knowledge of where I have come from, where I am at and where I want to go to.”