Orla has been interviewed by Michael Russell for the West Highland Free Press.
An intimate, honest and lovely Profile.
and a wee note by herself –
On being weird (and gay, or both)
Last week my local newspaper, the West Highland Free Press ran an article about me. The piece was written by Mike. He came to my home and asked me lots of questions. I answered him as openly and as honestly as I could. He quizzed me about sexuality, my sexuality, because my debut novel has been long listed for a big gay book prize.
I told him I grew up in Wicklow town. I gave him details of family life. He found my Father a rather fascinating character and ascertained my mother must be a saint. He did not convey all his gleaned information in the article. I also omitted quite a few details. I neglected to inform him that I was quite weird as a child, that I was quiet, shy, sweet but most decidedly odd.
In sixth class in Holy Rosary I was fascinated by one girls’s growing bosom, one larger than the other was her daily lament. I was then obsessed to the point of stalkerish with the neighbour’s daughter. I didn’t know what a lesbian was. I didn’t have a word for ‘gay’. Hey, I didn’t have a word for sex, I didn’t even know such a thing existed.
In Kent at 17 I fell in love with another girl. We had a full on intense sexual relationship for quite some time (on and off and on and off again for years). I loved her and I loved the sex. It was all absolutely marvellous and right and I knew that this was the kind of thing that I should be doing. I still had no concept of gay as any sort of identity, with struggles and stigma, but I knew I was gay.
One day I tested the validity of my new found identity on my mother. I said plain and simple ‘mum, I am gay.’ She reacted as though I had attempted to stab her in the heart. She made me promise to never mention the subject again. I didn’t.
Over the passing years, various members of my family have met my girlfriends and lovers. I never mentioned that these were women I loved, that I kiss them, make love to them and would hope to die for them should such a situation arise. (Such is the mentality of young lesbian love).
The last time I was in Wicklow was to say goodbye to a dying friend. At that time, several years ago, I was still hovering between public and private truth. I had a secret life. Only those closest to me knew my truths – for instance that I wanted to write a book. I kissed that dying man and made a promise to both of us that I would just go on being me, weird or odd or gay and I would never mind the begrudgers.
It takes a certain quirkiness of character to actually desperately want to sit down and write a book and then do it. It is compulsory to be a bit odd. The hours are terrible. The pay is worse. Any half sensible eejit would aim for a 9 to 5 with a pension plan and regular holidays. Placing word after word to form a sentence is not rocket science. Exploring your heart in order to allow others in is excruciating. My debut novel is not about being gay. It is about a woman who has to find a way to be happy. Mary the main character is just any woman. She is an ordinary woman who goes to extraordinary lengths to find love. Then she realises it was all right there inside her all the time.
It remains a mystery to me why my mother reacted so strongly that day 22 years ago. I can only presume it was the result of the culture and the religious preachings of the time. Maybe some day she’ll tell me why. I am pleased with Mike’s article but it has to be remembered that he is reporting a story to the inhabitants of the Hebrides where weirdness is rife and gay is still an unfamiliar word