It was the summer of 2015 I was working on the final edits of my second novel, The Hades Contract and Jess West, my editor, had a question.
“Why isn’t there a sex scene here?”
Okay, I might be paraphrasing on the exact words: it was last year. This book itself is epic fantasy, the Greek gods meet the X-Men with a touch of horror and ultra-violence. After a big action scene, I hit the brakes, slowed down the story to deal with some characters before working to a dramatic finale. Key to this slow-down were two characters, gay guys comfortable with their own sexuality, finally giving in to their attractions to each other. After two books of dancing around each other, forever distracted by something else, this couple finally kissed. There was a little bit of superpower shenanigans in there and the characters relocated to the bedroom where I allowed the door to close, respecting their privacy.
I’d left my editor with blue balls, and she was intrigued as to why I’d done it. Especially when my first novel, Godhead, had included a scene where the villainess unzipped her target’s pants and mounted him, ready to manipulate mind body and soul.
Why didn’t I follow these characters into the bedroom?
Because I didn’t know if people wanted to read that.
Because even though I was a gay man, writing a book about gay characters and Greek gods, I was more comfortable writing about manipulative straight sex than addressing any sort of gay sexuality.
It was easy enough to figure out why that was the case: I didn’t have to look far. It’s an Irish thing.
Sure, it’s something of a joke in all sorts of media, but when you live in Ireland, when you’re from Ireland, there’s a certain problem that’s ever-present in the air. Sex has been a dirty word in Ireland for a very long time, along with every variation thereof: sexy sexuality and everything that goes along with it.
The Ireland that I was born into in the mid-80s has changed, but the memories of that old world still remain. Gasp in astonishment as you discover that divorce only became legal after a bitterly fought referendum in 1995; squirm as you discover condoms could not be bought in this country before 1985; raise your eyebrows in confusion that the government refused to decriminalise homosexuality in 1988 until the European Court of Human Rights got involved in 1993.
That’s right: for about a quarter of my life in this country, it was illegal just to be gay. Thankfully, it was a time when that issue didn’t really affect me, but that’s not to say that the memories of that world don’t linger.
Ireland is a small country, and the majority rules over a lot of things: the majority haven’t always been the bad guys, but they often just don’t know any better. TV shows have established the Irish Catholic family struggling to survive in the modern world, but those shows are usually based in the US, and forget some of the important factors of Irish life.
Because Ireland is a small place, the majority culture rules the roost. It’s not always intentional: it just sort of works that way. In Ireland, there’s this societal expectation that you’re Catholic, that you’re straight, that you’ll be marrying a member of the opposite sex and having kids.
I know plenty of people who defied those expectations and lived their own lives regardless, and I know families and friends who accepted those people. I also know of family and friends who did not accept these people.
I know plenty of people who moved to the UK or even further afield, away from a world of expectations. Some of those people moved away just to have more work opportunities, to go on a grand adventure: others saw a world that did not accept them and the people they wanted to fall in love with.
Is it any wonder that I would self-edit my own novel to remove this element of sexuality? Is it any wonder that I speak to someone from outside of Ireland, or anyone significantly younger than myself, and they don’t realise how truly messed up this country can be?
I wanted to address these thoughts, and encouraged by my editor, I wanted to address some of my own issues. But like a proper Irish man, I didn’t want to address them myself. I adopted a pseudonym to keep this project distant from my other work; I even used initials rather than a full name, in some ways ashamed of admitting that this was a look at gay life, written by a gay man and written for gay men.
I dressed this up as erotica, pure sexuality, but my attempted narrative was curiously dark and unwelcome. Determined to give an Irish spin to a story about two men attracted to each other, these characters took on angry and scared tones with very deep scars that had been left by the country around them. Apparently these characters had grown up in a similar Ireland that I had: they had seen the world through similar eyes, reacting in ways I had seen and reacted myself.
After some initial reviews, I realised that my assumed name and my attempts to keep things distant form this project weren’t really fare or honest to this story. Dressed as erotica, the people who were reading my work for escape and fantasy were horrified by these characters with their issues and their flaws and their anger.
So I’ve changed the name and I’ve changed the purpose, but the story remains the same. Tackling The Issue remains an attempt to write erotica, but it turned into something very different: it turned into a study of internalised homosexuality, the kind of self-loathing, the anger and the depression that is triggered by some of the messed up sexuality that has haunted Ireland for years.
There is an expectation that Irish writers can write these happy endings, these worlds where a smile and good humour can heal all woes.
I’m not that kind of Irish writer. Happy endings don’t happen in the real world, and Ireland and its people have spent too much time pretending that magic realism is real. Let’s deal instead with a world where not everyone gets on with each other, where not everyone likes each other.
We’ve a lot of catching up to do on sex and sexuality, and it’s about time we start.
“Garrett O’Mahony would like to be your friend on Facebook.”
This is new. This is something I never expected to happen.
Garrett has ignored me for the best part of a decade, ever since we lived together, ever since he snuck out of my life, too afraid to admit who he was and how he felt.
Now, Garrett O’Mahony is one of the best rugby players Ireland has seen in years. Back then, he was my roommate; back then, he was just another Irish-man desperately trying to convince himself that he wasn’t gay.
I’ve changed since then. Ireland has changed since then. I don’t know if Garrett has changed too. But I guess there’s only one way to find out?
About the author
He’s always been obsessed with stories, reading, writing and playing them; that explains the massive collection of books, comics, video games and discarded Word documents. His writing is a combination of all the things that he’s passionate about, all the way through high-and-low-brow.