If I could sum up my experience with GRT culture in a sentence, it would be: “unintentionally homoerotic”. Men talk to men; women talk to women, and the whole culture revolves around heightened perceptions of masculinity and femininity. It is known, it’s expected, and it’s accepted.
That’s the way with Travellers; many things are expected and accepted. Sadly, very few of these things help a closeted homosexual with any aspect of life. I struggled for years to hide the possibility that I might be gay because I was raised a Roman Catholic in an Irish Traveller household. Similar to other Irish Travellers and Roman Catholic households, my household shared the belief that homosexuals were sinners who are heading to Hell.
I spent a lot of my childhood struggling with self-acceptance, but I finally realised that who I loved had nothing to do with whether I was a decent person and that other people’s biases were a result of their own ignorance and fear.
I never experienced confusion about my sexuality. I knew what I was and knew who I fancied, and that was men! Any confusion I felt was around trying to balance both worlds and appease my family. Unlike the movies, this realisation was not a light bulb or flick the switch moment. This was years and years of horrible lived experience of me trying to humour and appease people who ultimately put other people’s opinions above everything else.
My life started in the early 90s, and like many gay boys born to the GRT community at this time, we were born to the lasting legacy of Rocky Balboa. Every Travelling father whose wife popped out an unfortunate son had somehow convinced themselves we would be the living embodiment of the Italian stallion himself. Needless to say, I never grew up to be the next Italian stallion. What he got was the living embodiment of Xena the Warrior Princess and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Tragically, my earlier years were spent watching bare-knuckle fighting on tapes sent straight from the motherland of Ireland. These videos were my first experience of homophobia in my family and in my community. These big strong men roared every type of profanity one can imagine into the camera. Words like “Queer” and “Faggot” and the constant referrals of men’s behinds as being “well used and bigger than buckets” were phrases that often entertained the family during my dinner after school.
Suicides are something that is tragically linked to our community. Every year the number of attempts gets higher, and the age of the victims gets lower. To say that all these victims are LGBT would be a lie, but to say a fair share of these people would be more truthful. Many of us are hounded to death by our own families. Our own brothers and sisters are the ones that lead many to the path of suicide.
And why is that? Because they think they are helping. They are shaming the “gay” away. They are bringing to light a great evil that needs to be routed out by the right hand of the god, which often turns out to be your own father’s right hand to the face.
Many families go on to mourn these statistics. They stop and hold their hands to the sky and cry. But others laugh and dismiss them.
Absolvent of sin is what the church preaches, and it’s what the Traveller community delivers to the bullies of our community. They forgive the bullies screaming profanity at those in need and forget the endless attacks against many who can’t help themselves. When the tragic decision to take one’s, life is made, these families blame the victim. You hear things like “they were sick”, “they were weak,” or “they brought it on to themselves”.
The community is in a terrible state that leaves many of us longing for a life outside of our communities. This has got to change. We shouldn’t have to leave the community to be our true selves. Listening to the other Travellers here today, it is clear that everyone has taken their own path and each is unique to them. From their experiences, we can see that there is no right way to be a Traveller. For my own safety, my pathway looks different right now, too. But, although my journey looks different, I know that being LGBT does not mean I am any less of a Traveller.