I first heard this song belting out of the big Phillips transistor wireless sitting on the mantelpiece of the breakfast room in 9 Dollymount Grove, Clontarf, Dublin 3, Ireland, The World, The Solar System, The Milky Way, The Universe, in the Autumn of 1967. I was 16 at the time and quare stirrings were going on inside of me as well as quare goings on stirring inside of me. It was by that new English pop group called The Beatles. Being a bit of a rebel without a clue, even back then, I hated De Beakels and was a Rolling Stones fan. They were real bad boys and Mick Jaggers lips and hips; oh by Jaysus…
I had a best friend, let’s call him Seán, who lived across the road and we used to go on long walks in St Anne’s Park or on Dollymount Beach and talk about life and books and poetry and all the things of momentous and immediate importance 16 year olds talk about. He was tall, had long blond hair and was athletic. He was the youngest of the family and his da, a Garda Sergeant, had died many years ago. His ma was Principal of the local girls school. He had an older sister who was a bit mannish and an older brother who was a bit girly. His house, unlike mine, was always quiet and empty. There we played the Rolling Stones on the gramophone to our heart’s content, smoked fags and drank Nescafé. On my sixteenth birthday, a few months previously, Seán gave me a copy of the Collected Works of Oscar Wilde. I didn’t get it. No, I REALLY didn’t get it. And didn’t for ages.
When I first heard that song, almost half a century ago, the thought of getting old and having no hair was inconceivable but not as inconceivable as being alone and lonely. You see, there was something quare about me, something not quite right. I didn’t know what this was but suspected that it might have something to do with the strange but pleasant feelings I got when I saw Seán bend over in his tight jeans to change a record on the gramophone. By that time, I was a master of the averted gaze and the fine art of subterfuge, so nobody knew my strange, dark and terrible secret, least of all Seán. A year or two previously, I was an alterboy at St Gabriel’s Church at the end of our road. I used to serve at weddings as well, usually for the half crown or five bob I’d get for it. I used to look at the bride and groom walking up the aisle and know that bejaysus, I’d never walk up that aisle with a woman on my arm. But still, I had no language for these thoughts and feelings, only vague sensations and stirrings.
Although I didn’t like the song, I couldn’t help but hear the lyrics and the sentiments expressed. I remember how they used to rake a claw across my gut, as Christy would say.
But today, not only is this the first day of my sixty fifth year but it’s also the first day of a new Ireland where I conceivably could walk up the aisle with a man on my arm and it would not be awful or terrible. The silence has ended and we can now sing out our love with joy using a shared language with our brothers and sisters of all sexual persuasions or none.
Seán went on to get married and have a gang of beautiful kids with his school sweetheart and my life took its own course. I’m probably, with a bit of luck, as near the grave as I was near the cradle when I first heard that song. Now that’s a hoot.
I’m here and I’m queer and most of the time I’m all there and alright.