My name is Martin. I’m 25. I’m originally from Galway, Ireland, now living in Limerick. And I am gay.
My life has been marked overwhelmingly by love and acceptance. I have the most amazing parents anyone could ever ask for. A sister that is a best friend. Friends who have never quit on me and always been by my side through thick and thin. I feel comfortable in a crowd, and can deal with being the centre of attention - I am energetic, extroverted and love conversation. I recognise I have privilege in being able to live a life on my own terms. But all that said, I know what oppression is. It is a daily experience. It is a rot that comes with a life of plenty for so many in the LGBTQIA+ community.
I came out to my friends and family when I was 21. I knew, all my life, I was different, and I was gay. My earliest memory being when I was 13. But I never admitted it until then. For at least 8 years, I led a life of confusion, anger, self-hatred and denial. In a country that has a past of institutional and societal silence around anything beyond the norm, even though I had all the necessary elements for a happy life, I could not have been further from that reality. I had no idea how to begin becoming myself, no end goal in site. The horizon is impossible to see when everything is pitch black - the land and sky are the same unknown blur.
I had no idea who I was, other than the fact I was different, and showing that difference could shift me into an existence I had no footing in. When you live in hiding for such a long time, that you come to feel safe and don’t want to be found, being pulled into the light of day is something you want to avoid at all costs. I checked every single thing I did; who I was friends with, how I showed affection, how I spoke, how I dressed, how I styled my hair, what stories to tell, how I walked, what I drank on nights out, which countries I should avoid if I wanted to go on holidays, what roads to walk down. I struggled, and I was alone - because letting anyone know how I felt would start a conversation I wasn’t ready to have.
I don’t say any of this to say “woe is me”, or garner any sympathy. And so much has changed between now and then - I am in a long term relationship with a man I love, who supports me in everything I do. I am fully out to my friends and family and have no shame in living my life. And I have network of people that love me for the real me, and not the scared boy in the dark. I outline all this to show, that even with a seemingly perfect life, and so much privilege and love afforded to me, I was still genuinely terrified of what my friends, family, society and even myself would think of me once I admitted I was gay.
Imagine how this scenario plays out for those that don’t have this afforded to them? Whether they be gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual, asexual, pansexual, gender non-binary, queer, a member of an ethnic minority, in dire financial straits, homeless, or a whole other multitude of things - think about the plethora of things that prevents someone from coming to terms with who they are. Today, I live with and am medicated for anxiety, and I contribute this largely to the circumstances surrounding my inability to confront my sexuality for so long, even when I should have had the perfect circumstances to do it.
Imagine how someone’s lived experience can be different in so many ways, that they might feel ostrasized for their sexuality, and so utterly alone and scared. And for some in the worst conditions and places imaginable, coming to terms with your sexuality and who you are is not defined by a price tag of what you could lose. It is a toe tag in a morgue. If they are even afforded that kindness, and not left where they fall. That is reality for so many in our LGBTQIA+ community.
I see Chechnya. I see Tanzania. I see Russia. And I even see the United States, and I feel the weight of my brothers, sisters and siblings that will never get to live the life of plenty I have been so lucky to live, due to fear, hatred, ignorance and small mindedness. Oppression is real. It comes in many forms, and nothing can shield you from it. It finds us all.
In my experience however, there is one thing that has led me out of fear and to the person I am today. It is such a simple word with an unfathomable and inexplicable impact - and that thing is love. And this isn’t romantic love necessarily, but the love of a friend who asks how you are and won’t take the answer you give to everyone else as the truth. The auntie that doesn’t bash an eyelid when you mention your partner in passing. The stranger that sees you holding hands with your partner and smiles rather than looking away, embarrassed. The other queer person who you see unashamedly be themselves, who lets you carve a path to becoming who you are. This is love. It comes in many forms, as many as oppression does, if not more.
This is why The Pashion Froot exists. I wanted to find a way to get to those people that feel alone, or those that want to show them love. My metric for success with TPF is that someday I’ll hear a story of two people that don’t know each other, recognising the Froot on the other, and, if only for a second, they feel love, acceptance and a sense of home. We are bombarded in the LGBTQIA+ community with stories of our evil, how we are never enough, a scourge and a problem to be solved. I want to change that narrative.
I want to showcase all the ways we can connect with each other, show acceptance and make that the powerful image, the thing that is showcased and aspired too. I want people in danger or fear to know there is a community that loves them unconditionally, and that exists somewhere in the world. If not next door, then at least at the touch of a button on a phone, or a laptop. Our experience can be lonely - I know mine was. And still to this day those voices of self-hatred and internalised homophobia rise up in me. But I have the experience and knowledge now to say, “you have no power here anymore”. And that has honestly changed my life. I want everyone that can experience it to feel the power of coming terms with who you are, and how unstoppable that makes you feel.
If you know someone struggling, even if they don’t want to talk about it, let them know you’re there. If you are struggling, know those people are there. We cannot go through life alone, and trying to, even though society tells us that’s what strong people do, it’s a total fallacy. We need one another, we need communities to be part of. Never feel shame for who you are, because that is an emotion created by others that you come to think is your own. Find the opportunities for love in everything you do, both for yourself and others. There’s no one else like you, so why deny that to the world?
I am one person, with a unique experience. I do not speak for all members of the LGBTQIA+ community, as we all have equally unique and unknowable experiences and lives. But I wanted to start something, with the privilege that has been afforded to me in my life, that would bring those unique experiences of others to the fore so they can become known, and shown the kindness and love they deserve. Or if not that, to at least be a comfort to the people who are in the dark, so they know that one day, at least, the light will crack in. The more of us that connect, the more visible we become and they less we can be denied and marginalised. We cannot see the horizon, not because it doesn’t exist, but because we are on it. We are what people are looking toward. And it’s about time we rise.