I was 13 years old when I began to realise that I was gay. It began gradually, a slow creeping of an idea that felt more and more right - it was a frame that suddenly my life, even that young as yet unformed one, began to fit itself into - suddenly who I was, how I was, started making sense - it suddenly found structure.
What was very hard at that point, and what tortured me most, was the idea that being gay hadn't been part of my "plan". The plan, as theoretical as it was, was that I would fall in love with a very handsome man (possibly Dean Cain or Angel from Buffy), we would get married and have lovely little babies, and those children would grow up and follow that life path also. Falling in love with a woman, being in love with a woman, living, in love, with a woman - it just wasn't part of that. I couldn't see any future as a gay woman with the level of happiness I had expected as a "straight" one. The sands had shifted under my feet, and suddenly I was adrift and I felt very, very alone.
I work with teachers and youth workers, and I tell them a story about how I didn't believe I could be a lesbian when I was a young teenager because I genuinely didn't believe they existed outside of America. I didn't know a single gay or lesbian person in my life, as far as I was aware, and being gay existed in a reality that was far beyond mine. As for being gay and being happy, in a committed relationship with someone that loved you? That didn't exist in any reality I was aware of.
Then something, seemingly innocuous and perhaps ridiculous happened. Anna Nolan went on Big Brother - and it changed my life. This seemingly happy, NORMAL, lovely lesbian was from DUBLIN - it blew my mind. I watched the show every night with my parents, I saw her describe her life and her coming out and her realisations and this spark of hope was lit within me - it's the spark that still stays alight. The notion that this world can be brighter, can be loving and welcoming and that the reality I grew up with - a world of silence and despair - is one that can change. Big Brother ended, and I told my best friend that I thought I was gay - the first time I had said the words aloud to anyone except my cat (my faith in cats still hasn't wavered). It may seem silly - but that one indication that life went on beyond the despair - that after the struggle could come a life that, while maybe it didn't fit "the plan", it was an alternative that was just as enjoyable, just as valid- just as cherished as the original path I had envisioned myself skipping along.
Which brings me to our current debate on marriage equality.
Young people are realising they're L, G, B or T everyday. Every single day from the age of roughly 12 years old* there are young girls and boys questioning assumptions they have made about themselves since an adult first joked with them about having a crush on a boy or a girl or since they first read a storybook where a prince and princess fell in love. We all grow up with assumptions - most people never have to question them, most people's plans don't have to be reworked and changed to fit around huge new pieces of information about themselves during puberty.
These young people are watching the decisions that are made about their future - they are looking for signs that everything will be alright. They need it - and we owe it to them.
I don't want another young person thinking their life or their relationships, their love and the families they will form are worth less than their heterosexual friends' and families' lives and loves. We have come such a long way in Ireland, even in the time since I was a teenager. Let's go all the way, let's take this next step towards a place where we can say to our young people with all honesty - you are a child of this nation, you are cherished equally, you are loved, you are welcomed, you are embraced and you are free to live life as happily as anyone else and to make any plan that you wish.
*Mayock, P.; Bryan, A.; Carr, N. & Kitching, K. (2009) "Supporting LGBT Lives: A Study of the Mental Health and Well-Being of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender People" Dublin: BeLonG To Youth Services