For Pride month, we asked some of our members if they would like to tell their story and why they are proud. If you would like to contribute, please email email@example.com Here’s Aaron’s story:
by Aaron McCarter
You might say I was late to fully appreciate my Irish ancestry, as a child, born in the Yorkshire town of Keighley to a Northern Irish immigrant, I was never able to fully appreciate my Irish roots as my father was born in Derry during the troubles and moved to the north of England as a child. The scars of that trauma as a kid stayed with him for a long time and he was always wary of taking us ‘home’. I always loved hearing my dad speaking with his 8 brothers and sisters in that wonderful Derry accent where I never realised the word fuck could be used so commonly as a verb!
I understood I was a little ‘different’ at an early age when my older brother would be playing football and fighting, I would be playing dress-up and performing with my little sister for home concerts. My Irish granda sadly died of cancer when I was a baby, but I always looked forward to seeing my granny, a rather stoic woman, full of love and warmth, but tried her best to hide it. All I remember as a kid was a thick Derry accent, with NHS prescription glasses and nylon dresses. She would always ask for (in that wonderful accent) ‘a cup of tea and a wee slice of bread’. This woman was an enigma to me as we didn’t see her often, but when we did I was always excited to see her. Years later (a month before lockdown), I would find out that ‘she always thought of me fondly and worried about how much I got bullied at school’.
Unfortunately living in a house with a mother who has a borderline personality disorder (undiagnosed) and very strange religious habits, one week we were born again Christian’s, the next devout Mormons. The one constant in all this was my close relationship with my sister, who was always destined to be my closest confidant as a make-up artist and hairdresser.
I always had one constant in my mind, I needed to escape this psychological abuse and move to London where I could be myself. Where I wouldn’t hear phrases from my mother such as, ‘it is ok if you’re gay, but it is sick and wrong’, or ‘they should put the paedophiles and gays on an island and blow them all up’. It is difficult to find yourself, be yourself or express yourself when there is constant gaslighting and negativity.
Fast forward to 2010 and I got the job of my dreams, managing a radio station in Leeds and my life was set, or so I thought. That was until the coalition Government came into power and all our grants were cut, I had a decision to make, move in with my parents or move to London with nothing.
I chose to move to London, arriving in February 2011, the pavements were not paved with gold, but I could be myself, I could breathe and slowly started to create my own little piece of London just for me. Every now and then I would visit Yorkshire, to be told I am a horrid person and I should consider what it is like for my mother while I am ‘being gay in London’, whatever that means.
In the last 10 years, I have opened a radio station, been awarded a fellowship for the RSA, lost 50kgs, had my heart broken too many times, broken a few hearts myself, had a lot of therapy and now I am a role model for LGBTQ+ colleagues at work, where it is my job to promote culture and inclusion globally.
What does all this have to do with Ireland? In 2016, right after the referendum, I got myself an Irish passport, I felt whole, knowing that this wonderful forward-thinking place with a Gay Taoiseach was somewhere I wanted to visit. The ‘Ireland’ I had always been told as a kid was a backwards place seemed to conflict with what I was seeing on the news.
In the 10 years, I have lived in London, not one of my English family has made any effort to spend time with me or even to check how I am. In February 2020 I flew into Dublin and RAN across the airport to catch my coach to Derry, only to realise the bus timetables are ‘advisory’ in Ireland. I arrived in Derry and there was a notification on my phone ‘first confirmed coronavirus in Northern Ireland’. I spent the first few days with family, who were the most welcoming people I had ever met in my life.
We visited a pub, and I asked them to sing Danny Boy (Londonderry Air) for my dad…Danny….he cried and it was a beautiful moment. My uncle, who my dad hadn’t seen for years, came to join us. He sadly passed from COVID in October of the same year. I am grateful that, regardless of the fact I have never met my family living in Derry before, the Irish stew and warmth were absolutely wonderful, oh and the fact that me being gay was not even an issue, shows how far Ireland has come since I was a child.
The point of all this, I felt less self-conscious about being gay in Derry than I ever have in Yorkshire. It shows that Britain still has some progress to make.
Happy Pride Month.