I’ve been a part of a minority group, or several minority groups, since I was born. My people lived in a small townland in Donegal that was mostly Protestant. We were the minority in the area and that had absolutely no effect on me as I had no idea that our friends and neighbours were in anyway different to my own family.
When we moved to Dublin, I realised that my own family was quite different to those of most of my school friends. Apart from being a ‘culchie’ and a ‘blow in’, I had no dad. My mother left her husband, my father, shortly after I was born. It was something that I was reminded of often by the other children – and something that was practically unheard of in Ireland at the time.
As a married single mother, my mother became a non-person in the eyes of the state. She couldn’t return to her ‘good job’ in the bank because of the marriage bar. Almost every official document required ‘Father/Head of the House’.
My grandfather, who died before I was born, had instilled in my mother to respect people of different faiths and she expanded this to include sexual orientation and race. I never had a ‘come to Jesus’ moment with gay people or people of colour because it never occurred to me to discriminate.
I had a ringside seat watching how the Irish State treated women. When I was still in single digits a neighbour had to adopt her own child because she was unmarried. Then came the Divorce Referendum where women like my mother were pilloried and called all sorts of horrific names. It made me very angry – at the Church and the Irish State. Given my circumstances, I could not be anything but a feminist.
I went to university and one of my best friends was gay. We marched and went to protests to get the law criminalising homosexuality repealed. After doing my masters in the early 90s, I left Ireland because there were no jobs. In London, I was a Paddy, an immigrant, a minority. I got verbal abuse from people when they heard my accent. “IRA bitch,” was a common theme. I got a job as a waitress in a fancy restaurant. The manager who hired me was an out gay man from Donegal. We are still friends 30 years later.
Then I got a ‘good’ job in investment banking, which I loathed. Work was made bearable by the guy I sat opposite. He was a closeted gay man (it was the early 90s), and the best of craic. He’s out now and still one of my best friends. I had other friends of course – I was in my 20s – out socialising almost every night of the week.
Then I got a Green Card and went to live in New York. Once again I was an immigrant, a minority. I didn’t get called an IRA bitch, but people assumed, when they heard my accent, that I was a nurse or a nanny and yes, I resented being judged by a stereotype. I loved New York: I was still in my 20s and had lots of friends, plenty of them LGB. I went to Pride, Wigstock and the Halloween Parade in the Village every year.
I met a black guy from the South and fell in love. We lived together for two years before breaking up. A few years later I fell in love with an Irish guy and after five years became pregnant. I was extremely ill with Hyperemesis Gravidarum and almost died. I came home to my Mammy, who now lived in the UK. Once again I was an immigrant, a minority but worse I was a single mother, a minority group that is demonised regularly. (Yes, honestly. You would not believe the ways).
I’m not sure when I first heard the term ‘transgender’, but I assumed it was some gussied-up version of transexual – like that nice Hayley from Coronation Street. I’d met many cross-dressers, drag queens and transexuals in my partying heyday in London and New York and not one of them claimed to be a woman or female. I was an ally. Of course I was.
Then, in September 2017, I saw someone claiming that “a woman can have a penis”. I disagreed and suddenly, I was labelled a homophobe, a racist, and a transphobe. And a bigot.
All it took for me to become a bigot was for me to say ‘no’ to men, something I’d been cheerfully doing since my early teens. I haven’t changed, but the definition of ‘bigot’ certainly has.
Anne Marie Scanlon is a regular writer for Genspect and has worked as a journalist and a writer for over two decades.