It was the one line I was nervous to say when I had my first conversation with my new flatmate. I had travelled to Belfast from Dublin to view the two-bedroom apartment that was only a few minutes’ walk from what would be my new job. I wanted to see if I’d be comfortable there, and because I’d need to be comfortable living with him, it was a question that needed to be asked.
He seemed surprised by my statement, almost as if he wouldn’t have guessed. A compliment in disguise, I felt, as I wouldn’t like to think that I would be stereotypically gay – each to their own of course, but camp wasn’t my thing. Either way, it was clear that he chose his words carefully when responding to the sensitive potential issue.
“Well, I’m glad you’ve told me now rather than to be told later,” he replied, “but I don’t mind… as long as it’s not something you’d be rubbing in my face.”
Fighting back my laugh at the innuendo I found in his reply, I smiled and said that he was more likely to find me shouting at a rugby game on TV then prancing around and listening to ABBA. We both laughed it off and moved on, before he offered me the room in the apartment.
At 23, I was finally leaving my family home in Dublin and found myself moving to Northern Ireland to start a new job. I was preparing to miss my mother’s cooking, my father’s nagging and the ability to randomly text any of my friends; “you around town for a coffee?” Instead, I’d be pressing a big fat reset button on my life; new friends, new city, new place and new job. Daunting? Just a tad, but I was hardly the first Irishman to migrate for work, and I wasn’t moving too far.
It struck me, however, that a straight guy would not have had to ask a similar question to a potential house- or flatmate. It’s not necessarily a horrific fact, though; although the LGBT community has been somewhat normalised in the mainstream eye, it’s not the norm. That said, to use a political party slogan, there’s “a lot done, more to do.” Or, is there? The fact that my new flatmate said that he didn’t mind my being gay as long as I didn’t “rub it in [his] face” didn’t exactly insult me, but it made me feel that I can only be open to a certain degree with him. Was it homophobia, or am I being compassionate to him to let him adjust gradually to living with a gay guy? I felt he was comfortable when we both discussed our long-distance relationships; him seeing a girl in England, me having a boyfriend back home in Dublin.
Will there ever be a case when coming out never has to be done? That one day, you can just mention having a boyfriend as another would mention having a girlfriend? Not until full marriage rights are given to LGBT people in most Western countries, in my opinion, but younger generations seem to be showing a glimmer of hope.