My Irish Experience

“A land without a language is a land without her soul.”

—Padraig Pearse

An Irish woman living in America for the last 50 years recently asked me, “What is it with Irish women that we can’t seem to speak up for ourselves, that we would rather sit quietly in a corner, the world running rings around us, than trouble anyone with our needs?”

I knew exactly what she was talking about, that sense of something amiss in myself that I have been mourning for a lifetime, that constant grappling for a sense of agency, of permission to be more than the sum of the life mapped out for me.

Indeed, that mapped out life of marriage, children, sacrifice and selflessness seemed at one point, in my early twenties, inevitable and inescapable.

As a closet lesbian, such prospects were horrifying.

As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse within the very village where I was now teaching, indeed encountering past abusers on my short walk to school, the social demands for a woman in my position began to close in early.

People asked if there was a nice man in my life. They wondered what a fine girl like myself was still doing single? They worried that I was wasting my child bearing years and those ‘fine hips and tits?’

My mother even once, in a fit of worry over this very gossip and with her own suspicions as to my lesbian inclinations, asked ‘when are you going to settle down, have children and be miserable like the rest of us?’

This was the extent of what she knew to offer me by way of safety, and possibly even companionship.

This was in the mid 90’s when the notion of being a lesbian in a Catholic village school was enough to have you viewed as deviant and perverse, enough to have men follow you late at night to show you what a real man was made of.

It was also enough to get you fired.

When I eventually did come out, or more accurately, was outed by a gossip hungry community, the impact was instant. Overnight, I became a ghost of my former life, a pariah, a persona non grata.

The one thing that remained constant in the fifteen years of ostracism and exile that followed was writing.

Trauma research shows that the fundamental premise of any therapeutic work “is a belief in the restorative power of truth telling.”

This is why I facilitate writing workshops, so that anyone who has ever experienced exile and exclusion can, through their truth telling “regain the world they have lost” and much more.

 

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