ShoutOut to my teenage self: Robbie Lawlor

ShoutOut to my teenage self is a series of letters from inspiring figures in the LGBT community and allies to themselves as teenagers. Our fourth contributor is Robbie Lawlor.

Robbie Lawlor has spent the last few years trying to break the silence and stigma around sexual health and HIV. He believes our vision of reaching, Zero New HIV Infections, Zero AIDS Related and Zero Stigma & Discrimination by 2030 can be achieved. As the worlds biggest Youth Power advocate, he believes that using youth voices will be paramount in making these goals a reality. Robbie works for Youth Stop AIDS, ActUp and European AIDS Treatment Group. He's currently fighting for PrEP to be subsidised by the HSE. Follow and support Robbie's work on twitter: @Robbie_Lawlor

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Dear Robbie,

Right now I know you are having really conflicted feelings. You have had girlfriends, you have romantic feelings for women, you are even (kind of) sexually attracted to them. Right now you don’t fully understand why your friends are so obsessed with getting girlfriends and talk about sex all the time. You won’t fully understand why your friends say they love their girlfriends or feel heartbroken when they break up. You don’t really think about it. You seem to think that maybe you just don’t have it in you to feel as strongly about women and sex like they do. It will be another three years till you figure out that it is because you were looking for all those feelings in the wrong gender.

You will be angry because you wish you grew up with all those experiences, but with men. Don’t fret though, those feelings for men will come. Your future relationships will be great. You will fall in love. You will have sex that feels natural. You will have breakups. You will be heartbroken. You will regain those lost teenage years.

You won’t fully understand that you’re gay until you’re 18. It will be a scary time for you. However, we are in luck. In one year time, Sara (our sister) will come out as lesbian. The family will have a bit of a negative reaction but this quickly blows over. You still won’t fully understand it about yourself, but on reflection, her coming out has helped you understand that being gay isn’t a bad thing. She will be the first person you come out to. She tells the family but that’s ok, it takes some of the pressure off you, and you know she couldn’t hold a secret for the life of her. It will run smoothly. Everyone will be supportive. Top Tip for coming out: video record all reactions. Our reaction videos could make a million hits on Youtube. You may as well capitalize on our coming out experience.  

You will love college and have a great social life. You will feel part of a community. Life will be everything you wanted it to be. Then you will turn 21 and you will get a shock diagnosis. You will become HIV positive. You won’t fully understand what impact these three letters will have on your life. You will go through a really bad time. You will start to believe that you are “unclean” and a second-rate human being. You will have really bad reactions to HIV medication. You will develop mental health issues and you will feel like you hit rock bottom. You will feel like you will never get old Robbie back.

There will come a point, thanks to friends and family, that you will finally begin to understand that you are not less or unclean. You are like everyone else; just trying to live their best life. You will make a decision, just like you did when you came out, that nobody’s words will make you feel bad about yourself again. You will make the decision that HIV and your sexuality will not define you in a negative light but you will carry with Pride all the teachings and experiences they will bring you. You will happily let go of old Robbie and decide to embrace a new Robbie.

Growing up you will meet some of the most amazing and inspiring people you could ever imagine meeting. Then you will see the negative effects an intolerant and sex shaming Ireland will have on these people. When you are thrust into a world that doesn’t always see you and your friends as equals, something will snap. You will decide to do everything you can to help change society for the betterment of people living with HIV.

You have great dreams at 15. Well, life will give you something above and beyond your dreams. You will go through hard times but do not change a thing. Those hard times in life make who you are today.

P.S. Buy Bitcoins.

Robi

ShoutOut to my teenage self: Ivana Bacik

ShoutOut to my teenage self is a series of letters from inspiring figures in the LGBT community and allies to themselves as teenagers. Our third contributor is Prof. Ivana Bacik

Senator Ivana Bacik is one of Ireland's most prominent LGBT allies. She is a barrister and Reid Professor of Criminal Law and Criminology at Trinity College Dublin. First elected as a Senator for Dublin University in 2007, she was re-elected in 2011 and 2016, and currently leads the Labour group in Seanad Eireann.

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Dear Ivana,

As a teenage girl in secondary school in the 1980s you would be amazed at how much positive change has come about in Ireland over the decades since. One of the biggest changes has been greater equality for women and for LGBT people. In the 1980s, secondary school students would not have been very aware about LGBT issues, and indeed the term ‘LGBT’ was not generally used. Homosexuality was still a criminal offence (it was only decriminalised in 1993 in Ireland). Only when I started at university, in Trinity College Dublin in 1985, did I begin to learn about Gay rights. We had a very active Gay Soc on campus, as well as a Women’s Group, and we used to run joint campaigns on sexual liberation and on lots of other issues – student fees were rising annually, unemployment was very high (18%), and most of us expected to have to emigrate when we left college, so a lot of our campaigns were on economic issues. But Trinity staff and students also led the way on social campaigns around decriminalisation of homosexuality, women’s rights and contraception. David Norris was lecturing in the English Department, Mary Robinson in the Law School; we knew our lecturers were on our side in these progressive social campaigns. We even had an (illegal) condom machine in the Students’ Union shop; although it kept getting vandalised by those who disagreed with it! 

In general, the atmosphere in Trinity was very socially and sexually liberated – much more so than in any secondary school, or even any other college, in the deeply conservative Ireland of the time. But we were still greatly affected by the social and religious conservatism around us. As President of Trinity Students’ Union in 1989, I and my fellow officers were taken to court and threatened with prison because of our advocacy on reproductive rights. I am very proud that we students took a stand in support of our beliefs despite the threat of legal sanctions.

Of course, Ireland has changed so much since then, with decriminalisation of homosexuality after David Norris’ brave court case in the 1980s, the legalisation of contraception and divorce in the 1990s, the wonderful marriage equality referendum success in 2015 and greater economic prosperity, that’s it now hard to understand the incredible difference that the liberated Trinity College atmosphere made to all of us lucky enough to be in college then. 

As a young woman and a feminist, my natural inclination was to support my friends and comrades in Gay Soc with their campaigns and actions. Since that time, I have always endeavoured to be a strong LBGT ally. In fact, after leaving college and qualifying as a barrister, I represented Katherine Zappone and Ann Louise Gilligan in their courageous High Court case seeking the right to marry – a case which paved the way for the referendum some years later. These campaigns take time, but we have now won many of them and I hope we will win more.

So my message to you is, keep up the fight, keep campaigning– don’t give up – things will get better! Finally, as an LGBT ally you must always speak up and advocate for those who are discriminated against, bullied or given a hard time because of their sexuality. An injury to one is an injury to all. We are all together in the fight for an Equal Ireland.

Ivana

 

ShoutOut to my teenage self: Sharon Nolan

ShoutOut to my teenage self is a series of letters from inspiring figures in the LGBT community and allies to themselves as teenagers. Our second contributor is Sharon Nolan.

Sharon is a queer activist from the West of Ireland and a coordinator for Bi+ Ireland. She dreams of making the world more inclusive of the entire LGBTQIA+ community whatever way she can, and getting the 8th repealed. She’s can usually be found (giving out) at @sharmander_says on Twitter.

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Hey Sharon,

I know you’re stubborn and that you think you know all there is to know about the world but I think I’ve got some tips that’ll help you navigate your way through the next few years and beyond. Firstly? You’re going to finally let yourself free from behind your pile of books. You know all of those opinions, passions and love you have, that you were just too scared to show? You’re pretty damn outspoken about them now! That crippling lack of self-confidence does ease off with time too. Even if it doesn’t disappear, you learn to power through it regardless!

You’re going to go through a lot of phases. Historical vampire theories, true crime novels, mini top hats with every outfit, and neon blue eyeshadow being your staple look to name a few.  But your bisexuality? It will end up being one of the aspects of yourself that you’re most certain about.

There are going to be some hurdles along the way because not everyone is as sure or as comfortable with your bisexuality as you will be. There will be a lot of coming out, and (frustratingly) repeated coming out. There will be awkward dinnertime conversations and late night DMCs (deep meaningful conversations). They’ll even be talking about being bisexual on TV, and the sky doesn’t fall in!

Also? You don’t have to be the ‘perfect’ bisexual. You don’t have to defensively tell people you like boys and girls 50/50 (because we know that’s a lie about how you feel), or accuse others who aren’t bi+ in the ways you imagined it as ‘not being bi enough’. That’s just some internalised biphobia, but you’ll work through it and come out the other side better than ever, and ready to recognise that our community all experience attraction in different ways, and that doesn’t make anyone any more or less bisexual. Your frustrated annoyance at gay bars and pride events wasn’t the bigotry you thought it was - but instead a reactionary frustration for not experiencing the acceptance, welcome and representation in those ‘gay spaces’ that you expected.

I can’t lie, the unexpected biphobia within your new LGBT+ home will hurt. You expected some of your straight friends to have doubts and questions, and to assume ugly stereotypes, but your fellow community members? That will sting. This experience leaves a fire in your belly though, and lead to you making a commitment with yourself to work towards changing that experience for others who come out as bisexual, pansexual, or anyone who’s attracted to more than one gender. While on this journey, you will find your community. You’ll meet some of the greatest friends anyone could ask for - all while you’re growing, finding your feet and speaking out more.

With this, you’ll also get the opportunity to join the amazing Bi+ Ireland team! You’ll get to help create events and spaces for anyone under the bisexual umbrella to meet each other and support each other, you’ll get to help represent the community at different prides across Ireland, and together you’ll work towards bi+ visibility and inclusion throughout society. I may be ‘bi’ased (heh), but we have a fantastic coordinator team and you’re going to love them all so much. The most amazing part of it all though is that you’ll get to help be part of the movement to create spaces for our bi+ community throughout Ireland, ando work towards making the spaces you and so many others dream of!

With being bisexual, this happens to lead to you dating people of different genders over the years. The main difference isn’t how you feel about each of them - but how society reacts around this. Holding a girl’s hand in public the first time will be a scary experience, and seeing how the social dynamics of being read as ‘queer’ for the first time has the world viewing you through a whole new lens. Luckily, Ireland is a much kinder and compassionate place in 2017 to be LGBT+ than when you first come out, so as the years go by it’s going to get easier, with further support from the wider community.

Most importantly? You’re still as big an emo kid as ever - and yes, you do finally get to see Taking Back Sunday and My Chemical Romance in concert!

In all seriousness though - you’ve got this better than you ever realised, I promise, and you’ll be Taoiseach before you know it!

Love always

Sharon

For more information on Bi+ Ireland's work visit http://www.biireland.com/ 

 

ShoutOut to my teenage self: Aoife Martin

ShoutOut to my teenage self is a series of letters from inspiring figures in the LGBT community and allies to themselves as teenagers. Our first contributor is Aoife Martin. 

Aoife is an IT professional and outspoken advocate for trans rights. She trended on Twitter once and has been dining off the glory of that ever since. In her spare time Aoife enjoys wrestling her unwieldy book collection into shape and having opinions on film. She can be found babbling away on Twitter where her handle is @aoifemrtn. 

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Dear Aoife,

Is it okay if I call you Aoife? I know that's not your name at the moment and you haven't even thought of it as a name, but maybe when you read this letter you'll consider it. I think of you often, you know. Especially during those troubled years - the dreaded teenage years, as mam liked to call them. They're never much fun, are they? I probably shouldn't tell you then that you're going to have to do it all over again - only this time instead of testosterone coursing its way through your body it's going to be oestrogen. Maybe that makes it easier. It's not everyone who gets a second chance at puberty but at least this time it'll be the correct hormones.
I know it’s not easy being at an all-boys’ school and having to wear those bland scratchy grey trousers and bland woollen grey jumper that makes sure you’re not seen as an individual. Nor is it easy for you to fit in. You don’t want people to realise. You make jokes and you laugh so that people don’t realise. You act the eejit so that people don’t realise. You talk the talk so that people don’t realise. Your body is changing but not in the way that it should but you don’t want people to realise.

If I tell you that you’ll get past this will it make it easier? If I tell you that one day you won’t have to sneak around stealing chances where you can to try on a skirt or a dress or some makeup will you believe me? That one day you’ll be out and proud of who you are and not embarrassed or ashamed to be you? That you’ll be able to go out in broad daylight and not be terrified that people are laughing at you or worse? That you’ll have friends who will accept that you are a woman and treat you as such? Or that one day, you will refer to yourself as trans woman and be proud of that fact? What? Sorry, yes, trans woman. That’s a word you won’t have heard yet. It’s a nice word. Much nicer than transvestite or transsexual, those clinical words that do their very best to obscure the person underneath. We are so much more than our labels, aren’t we?

If I could tell you two things, other than buy shares in Apple, is first of all that it’s okay to be transgender. That’s important and worth repeating. It’s okay to be transgender. I know you might think you’re the only person who feels this but you’re not. How do I know? Wait until you discover the internet, Kiddo. The internet? It’s too hard to explain but it will open your world. You’ll meet people who love you and accept you for who you are and you’ll have a grand old time.

The second thing I’d say to you, and I hope I’m not going all preachy on you here, is talk to people. People who love you. People you can trust. I know it’s not easy because what you’re hiding inside feels so shameful and embarrassing but it’s not. I repeat again: it’s okay to be transgender. Trans people are awesome. How do I know? Because I’m one, you’re one and you, Aoife (I really like that name you know), are amazing. You belong to a unique group of pioneering people who have been around since time immemorial and who challenge the status quo. That makes people uneasy. People don’t like to be challenged. But this is your life, not theirs. They can’t tell you to be someone who you’re not. Be you. Be strong. Be awesome.

I won’t lie and tell you that it’s going to be easy. It’s a bumpy road ahead and you’ll take many wrong turns, but that’s life isn’t it? In that respect you’re no different to anyone else. We all make mistakes and sometimes we even learn from those mistakes. But remember this, it’s those mistakes that make us who we are. Try not to beat yourself up over the ifs and the buts and the what-could-have-beens. Someone wiser than me once said that which does not kill us makes us stronger. And it’s true.

You have a long and difficult journey ahead but you will get there. How do I know? Because I did. We did.  

Sincerely yours,

Aoife.

PS It’s okay to be transgender.