I’ve wondered in the intervening years if any of the Irish people I encountered eventually traveled to Canada. If so, they were likely surprised to find the main thoroughfare in Quebec City is not named Celine Dion Boulevard, as I’d claimed.
At a pub in the village of Clonmel, I met Danny, the owner of the local pizza parlor. He was around 30, and the only gay man in town. He sniffed me out with relative ease, using that beautiful sixth sense that every homo in a small town has: Attuned to every gesture or pop culture reference, any indication that they’ve crossed paths with one of their own kind.
He invited me back to his flat, to see the view. It was good to know that closeted or not, regardless of culture, every gay guy has the same few cheesy pick-up lines.
Danny wasn’t out. Not to his family, or his employees, or even the guys with whom he shared this flat. The concept of living a life where he could be out to everyone, even strangers, was beyond his imagination. When I tried to describe the experience of marching in a Pride parade, he couldn’t picture it.
“But you’ve seen movies, and TV shows, right?” I asked.
“That’s just Hollywood fantasy,” he said.
I couldn’t believe I was having this conversation. In an age of the internet and gay marriage debates, people remain who cannot begin to fathom the concept of living their lives honestly. It made me profoundly sad, and a little angry.
“It’s not fantasy, Danny. It’s my life. And all my friends, too.”
“Lucky for you,” he said, and the subject was closed.
I returned to my vodka tonic. When he kissed me, it was startlingly intense — forceful and hungry. I followed him inside, careful not to disturb his roommates.
“You don’t have to hide, you know,” I told him later, lying on his bare mattress. “You could have this every day if you wanted.”
“Leave it. My shop’s doing well here. Not a bad life.”
“But if you know something is a part of you, something that defines you… don’t you owe it to yourself to fight for it?”
Danny gave a heavy sigh.
“Some things you can’t fight by yourself.”
“Then move! Sell pizzas someplace else! You’re a great guy. You shouldn’t be alone.”
“I’m used to it,” he said.
“You shouldn’t settle for getting used to it.”
We meant to exchange e-mail addresses, but it never happened, and I left the country a week later. But he never left my mind, and he serves as a consistent reminder whenever people raise the question of if Pride festivals are still necessary.
Pride is essential, because there are some things you can’t fight by yourself. Wherever and whenever we can gather to show the strength and validity of our lives, we are called by conscience to do so.
We gather to celebrate, to grieve, to fight, and please for God’s sake please GATHER TO VOTE, as a show of our collective strength. Because there are guys like Danny all around the world who believe that the life we have is some unattainable fantasy.
It isn’t. It’s right here in front of us. And if we demand to be recognized, support each other, and are willing to battle for the lives we deserve, eventually people like him might feel strong enough to join us in the fight.
Topher Payne is an Atlanta-based playwright, and the author of the book “Necessary Luxuries: Notes on a Semi-Fabulous Life.” Find out more at www.topherpayne.com