Men usually come looking for help through the women in their lives, and the first contact is usually a phone call from their partner.
This is nearly always from their wife, mother or sometimes even their daughter. What made Tony unique, however, was that this first contact came for his grandniece Niamh.
Niamh explained to me that her granduncle Tony, who was now over 70, had been having panic attacks all his life. Niamh had recently sought help for hers and had very successfully overcome them.
Tony, on the other hand, had never opened up to anyone before Niamh that he had ever even had them.
Niamh had picked it up by instinct that he was like her and had pleaded with him to at least give me a chance.
The less I judge others, the happier I am. By not judging others, I don’t judge myself
When she finished her story, I suggested that I see them both and that is how I eventually met Tony.
When we met, what touched me most was the bond that I saw between them. A bond that was far more than I would expect to see from even a daughter for her dad.
There was an empathy between them that exceeded far more than just family.
Curiously, it was Tony who had originally got Niamh to go for help. He had pleaded with her to not end up like him and to at least give herself a chance that he never had.
You see, Tony could never have tried to get help for the simple reason that before 1993, Tony was considered a criminal for… being Tony.
Panic attacks weren’t the only thing that Niamh and Tony had in common. The real bond they had, was that they were both gay.
Tony had lived all his life in a small rural community where he had to be forever on his guard that no one ever found out his truth.
His tragedy was that he had lived all his life with panic attacks, but could never seek help, because if he did, he risked his truth coming out. He lived his entire life in the shadows.
As this was Ireland of the 1960s and 1970s, he could have been arrested or even forced to undergo treatment for just being Tony.
Similarly, in the valley of squinting windows that was his community, any indication that he was gay would have been met with rejection, ridicule, judgment of hellfire proportions, or even worse.
As Tony watched Niamh’s journey, he gained the confidence to be able to believe that it was OK to be gay.
He was able to reverse the conditioning that society had forced on him and as such, he was able, with Niamh’s support, to seek help for his panic attacks.
Living and coping with a life of pain gives you a depth of character that only those that have lived through it can ever achieve.
As Tony learned to accept himself as he was, he found his whole world open up and discovered that he could feel both joy and fulfillment.
Courage replaced fear and he was able to stand up straight in his community.
He learned that those who mattered to him didn’t care if he was gay or not, and those who did care, didn’t matter anymore.
As 10% of the population are LGBT, by my estimate, there are at least 13,000 LGBT farmers in Ireland.
Prior to 1993, every one of them was regarded as either criminal or mentally ill for no other reason than for being themselves.
If gay people were discovered, they were subjected to such horrific “treatments” such as electro convulsive therapy (ECT), brutal aversion therapies or given drugs that caused horrible deformities and irreversible side effects.
Today, gay conversion programmes are still allowed to operate. So, is it any wonder that the LGBT community has two times the rate of self-harm, three times the rate of attempted suicide, four times the rate of depression and that over 40% of transgender people have attempted suicide?
No one “chooses” to be gay. As humans we are all capable of loving sexual relationships with members of either gender.
You may dispute this all you like, but its true. We are all LGBT.
Human sexuality is more like a pendulum rather than an either/or. As we grow through childhood and adolescence, it is perfectly normal to swing between attraction to both genders.
Eventually, most of us end up swinging in either one direction or the other. Problems occur when we demand that we must be either one or the other.
Believing that to be heterosexual is “normal”, is based solely on various cultural and personal beliefs that fly in the face of both science and psychology.
If we demand we must be solely attracted to members of the opposite gender, we are denying our true nature. The more we demand, the more we drift to extremes of rejection, fear, hate and homophobia.
Judge not lest you be judged does not mean that if we judge others that they will judge us. It means that if we judge others, we end up judging ourselves using the same whip.
By condemning others, we condemn ourselves to a world of anxiety and depression.
By demanding that we must not have these traits in ourselves, we become depressed when we eventually do find them.
The term LGBT has no more significance than to describe people from Limerick, Galway, Belfast and Tipperary.
If you believe that you have the right or qualification to judge people from any of these places, you will always believe in the vast superiority of Leitrim hurlers or that Cork could have done a better job in building the Titanic.
To be happy, you must first learn to accept yourself, and you can’t ever achieve this if you believe that you can judge others as acceptable or not. So let he who is without sin, cast the first stone.
I’m far too aware of and struggle with my own character defects to regard myself as having any kind of qualification to judge what I perceive to be anyone else’s.
The less I judge others, the happier I am. By not judging others, I don’t judge myself.
You might know as much about LGBT, as a lesbian woman from Dublin 4 knows about your combine harvester, but so what? You don’t have to understand to accept.
Acceptance of others leads to inclusion and inclusion opens the door to all the benefits that diversity brings, be it cultural, racial or sexual.
The mark of a society can be measured by how they treat their unwanted. In Ireland, we didn’t want single mums, children born out of wedlock or anyone who didn’t fit in with a vague stereotype of what certain people in society thought was “right”.
Well-intentioned they may have been, but with little or no understanding of what was normal.
The more we try to build societies based on rejection and hypocritical beliefs, the more backwards and numb we become. Changing our attitudes is fearful, but fear stems from ignorance.
Unconditional acceptance opens the door to understanding. Understanding leads to growth and growth improves the quality of all our society. By embracing diversity in all its forms, we all win.
For more from Enda, visit www.seeme.ie