Cameron's story: Growing Up Queer in Rural Ireland
Updated: Jul 1
By Conor Kelly
EMPWR contributor Conor Kelly speaks to Cameron Keighron (Pronouns: he/him) a transgender man from Galway who is currently the Vice President and Education officer for NUIG Student Union.
Growing up queer in Rural Ireland, Cameron reveals he did not know that the LGBT+ community exsisted.
"The only time you heard the word 'gay' was when it was used to bully someone in school." he began. "I used to try and convince myself that I was like everyone else, there are no words to describe this burning feeling within yourself when you try to suppress something so core to you out of fear of violence and rejection,"."
"I looked up supports, websites, leaflets but was always too scared to reach out, fear of someone finding out, fear of making it real."
"Where I lived there was an LGBT+ group in the town (during my teenage years) but if I wanted to go it meant that someone had to drive me 25 minutes into town to it, which was not accessible to me as a queer person in rural Ireland who wasn’t even ready to come to themselves let alone those around them."
Cameron said that the only things he heard about the LGBT+ community growing up were negative.
"I think that pushed me further into the closet," he said. "I didn’t want to make myself a target and I didn’t want to be what other people despised so much. When I was 17, I went to Dublin with a few friends for the weekend, this was the first time I had ever heard of Pride and it happened to be that weekend."
"This was the first time I saw people happy to be LGBT+ and proud to be themselves, this changed my life. I remember I bought a rainbow whistle, a little piece of pride for me, it stayed under my pillow every night until I moved to college, it was my little connection to that happiness and pride to be myself, even if I couldn’t feel it then."
"Around this time, one of my best friends in school confided in me that they were gay and in turn I confided that I thought I might be too," he recalled. "At the time, this felt like our secret that no one would ever know, we had conversations about how we thought we’d never be able to tell anyone, and what our lives might look like."
"We didn’t have the answers for those question’s, but I think the fact that we weren’t alone anymore made that ok."
Cameron explained that when he came out as transgender and bisexual to his family they took the news really well.
"I have the most supportive parents and siblings, but the culture in rural Ireland at that time took any of the trust you had that it would be ok away from you."
Cameron continued by explaining his experience with accessing the healthcare system in the West of Ireland and how it affected his transition: "I think for most people in Rural Ireland there are very limited access to proper LGBT+ healthcare or resources."
"Often this can lead to persons not seeking medical care in time or at all, can lead to anxiety about seeking medical care and can make people feel like they are the problem."
"Rural Ireland is chronically underfunded for LGBT+ resources often relying solely on volunteers and donations, services in the West of Ireland tend to be the only services not funded by the government or forgotten about," he explained.
"Often people who are seeking medical care must explain their identities in detail to get somewhat decent care."
"I think education is key here, and also health reform, more decentralized access to healthcare, informed consent and mandatory training in third level education on minority communities could tackle a lot of the stigma that LGBT+ people face in rural areas."
"For this to happen in rural Ireland" he said, "we need to first acknowledge that we have a vibrant LGBT+ community here and not everyone in rural Ireland is unaware of it,"
"Realistically, rural Ireland is probably 5-10 years behind the likes of Dublin in terms of the supports that our community has and needs."
Speaking about the supports needed for the LGBT+ community in rural Ireland, Cameron said they need outreach workers and community development workers. He thinks the stigma of coming out as LGBT+ in small villages needs to be dealt with as well as well as providing visibility to show them that their voices are heard.
"Rural Ireland has vibrant communities who are supportive and empowering and those need to be highlighted. "
Cameron hghlights the importance of internet for those in the LGBT+ community in rural Ireland to connect with resources. Having access to the internet through using platforms like Facebook, Snapchat and/or Instagram can affect the outcomes for a young queer or questioning person who wants to connect to the LGBT+ community or resources in their village or town while growing up in a rural part of the country: "Having access to social media and WIFI can be extremely important for people who are reaching out for support in relation to being LGBT+, the likes of LGBT Ireland online chat could save someone’s life."
"When you are questioning your identity, you can never underestimate the power of someone telling you that this is normal, that there is nothing wrong with you."
"Through social media, people can explore their identities and ask questions in a way that feels safe to them. They can also find people in similar locations or situations to them, finding out you are not alone, for me was like lifting a huge weight of my shoulders."
On the advice he would give to a young Queer person struggling while growing up in a rural part of Ireland Cameraon said: "When I look back on being that awkward, sad and unsure teenager I never imagined I would be where I am today. What I felt and went through made me determined to try to change things, try and make them better."
"Education and attitudes are slowly changing across the Island of Ireland, we see more LGBT+ representation in the media and we see more stories of young people coming out at younger ages. However it can still be the scariest thing you ever do, I still remember how hard my heart was beating in my chest when I told my parents."
"If I could talk to 16-year-old me again, I would tell myself to not care so much about how others think of you, I would tell myself to find something that made me happy and do that. I would tell myself not to try too hard with people who will hurt you in the end and I would tell myself to reach out for that support that I really needed, whether that’s a friend in School, someone you trust in your life, a youth group and online support."
"There’s a quote that I think sums up that advice I wish I heard when I was young – 'If you are trying to be someone else, you will always be second best, you are the best version of you.'"
"There is something simple about that that I wish I had learned earlier, all I need to do is be me and that I am the best me I can be at that time."
For me growing up in Dublin, I was always very oblivious to the struggles of those, like Camerona, who don’t live in Dublin. I grew up in a working-class community where it was obvious how drugs and gangland crime affected. I live in the middle of Dublin where I am a less than 20-minute bus journey to the city centre, two hospitals, my college and a wide range resources lacking the necessary funding for young queer working people.
I think I can best describe Dublin as a liberal bubble where everything seemed to be very progressive and good, but it still didn’t cover up the affects austerity policy.
I have always strongly thought that the government was very detached from society and that the ministers in government didn’t care but that’s just my opinion to be honest. When I become involved in the LGBTQ+ community it opened a lot of doors for me such as making me understand that it's not normal to be normal and that we all sometimes need to express our true weird selves.
I can never experience the hardship of Cameron growing up Queer in the rural west of Ireland because we are who we are because of what we’ve been through. What I say next is not because I want to say to be labelled a victim but the simple fact is that Queer people in Ireland have a pretty horrible time, I see more and more queer people becoming victims of hate crime and legislation is still not been brought in even after the rise of the violence of queer, race and religious hatred.
Even when I say all this if the Queer community is one thing, we are strong, we are resilient, and we always look after each other because when you hurt one queer person, you hurt us all.