The Second Class Citizen Box

On May 22nd of this year, my country, which I love endlessly, is to hold a momentous occasion. We, as a nation, are to vote on the Thirty-Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, in a move which has the potential to put Ireland on the map as one of the world’s most progressive states. I say this because, for those of you who don’t know (The non-Irish readers, or the Irish readers evidently living a) under a rock, or b) in outer Mongolia, for the past two years) we will vote on the legalising of Same Sex Marriage.

Many of you may not know, or have limited knowledge on the fact, but within my own lifetime, (that’s just over 22 years, by the way) not only was Civil Partnership not an option for gay people in Ireland, but homosexuality itself was criminalized . In Norris v Ireland, after a condemning judgement in the highest court in the land, which makes for embarrassing reading in Liberal-Ireland, the European Court of Human Rights declared our illegality of homosexuality to be a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights. In just over 20 years, we have the potential to move from a state of complete illegality and taboo to full acceptance and equality. For now, however, this remains only a potential.

Although in the minority, as the day of the referendum approaches, many people have begun to speak out against a Yes Vote in favour of maintaining the status quo and denying the right of people who love other people to mind their own business and marry each other. If you are on the fence, if you are unsure, if you are certain about voting No or if you are uncaring and intend not to vote, I implore you, I beg you: Read on.

A No Vote will force a person, who never did anything to harm you, or more accurately, whose sexual identity never did anything to harm you, to remain in their little socially constructed box of “Second Class Citizen”. That Box is one in which we still put women who want a right to their own reproduction (the audacity of those girls. Back to the kitchen with you), immigrants with immaculate but unrecognized qualifications, the disabled and so many others who don’t fit into the stereotype of shiny plastic normality. The members of the Box are suspect, wrong, to be changed, altered, molded and never to be trusted. The are to live their lives always anticipating social rejection, bullying and hatred. We have created an unacceptable class divide and we have change at our fingertips.

We, for the first time in our history, are being given an opportunity to let a whole category of person out of that Box in the most legally significant process possible in Ireland. The State is saying “Your Constitution, written in 1937, says marriage is only between a man and a woman: We want you to decide whether this is fair or not” They are giving us the opportunity to allow a perfectly good human the right to love another. It is also giving us the opportunity to allow a perfectly bad human the right to love another. Because, being gay isn’t the same as being good. It’s also not the same as being bad. Much like heterosexuality, it has absolutely no effect on a person’s character. Because character ought not to be relevant in this argument. Equality is funny like that.

Increasingly as May 22nd approaches, I see more and more articles pop up, videos make their rounds on social media purporting an idea of “normalcy” and expressing a view that we must protect the youth from such abnormality, such strangeness. They cite religion as, among other things, a justification for inequality and its maintenance.But this discussion is not a religious one. Nor should it be.

The various churches of the world can choose whether or not to dictate themselves into irrelevant obscurity through a refusal to change if they so please, I don’t really care. The issue is whether or not we allow a mighty injustice to be eradicated. The issue is whether we can actually mean it when we tell children to “be who you are” and whether that mantra will be backed up by our legal system. The issue is whether we can legally permit two people to stand next to each other and say “I love you” and for the state to say that it’s ok. Religion can say what it likes. Religion is not a horse in this race.

The issue is that right now in Ireland, people are being put in a Box and labelled as abnormal because of something as immaterial as the sex of person they love. How dare I, or anyone else in the “majority” situation define what is normalcy? How can we be so arrogant as to portray ourselves, our deepest and most intimate desires as the standard to which all people may be held? How can we deny the most basic and pure part of life, the right to love and to be equally recognized in love, to anyone? How dare we say that the love of one person is somehow impure, unnatural and wrong? How can we sit on our pedestals and declare that all of those who are “different” are ill-equipped to join us in our privilege?  We have created, as humans love to do, a situation of “Us and Them”. The Us and Them is what fuels racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia, anti-Semitism, islamaphobia and every bad ism and phobia that I can think of. A No Vote keeps the Us and Them culture alive.

I have many friends who I love so dearly who also happen to be part go the LGBT community. I also know that there are thousands, millions of people world wide who identify, privately or publicly, as part of the LGBT community. Whether I know them or not, love them or not, is entirely irrelevant. What I do know is that the biological make-up of the person with whom you are in love does not define you as a person. Certain commentators on our upcoming referendum, however, have a difficult time perceiving this.

These people, fearful of change, allow hate of the unknown to cloud their judgement. They use the age-old myths about gay people, quoting a book written too long ago to be relevant in legal reasoning, purporting the message that children need to be protected from such abnormality and scaremonger with warnings of the destruction of the institution of marriage between a man and a women as a means to muddy the pure and unoffensive waters of love.

Recently I’ve heard a lot of discussion about whether or not a gay couple ought to be allowed to adopt children. The argument supporting this is that “Children need a mother and a father”. That a mother and a father each bring a unique set of characteristics to the upbringing of a child that cannot be obtained from only one sex. I am burning inside from the gender-stereotype that this argument smooths over (Mammy can’t teach you how to play football and Daddy can’t show you how to bake? The sexism is giving me a migraine!) But this is not a feminist post. This is a post about the potential to right a great wrong that my country, and the whole world has promoted since the beginning of modern legal systems. What a ridiculous argument! Firstly, although I am lucky enough to have been raised by two parents who made me the person I am today, I have many friends who are wonderful, accomplished and well rounded people who were raised by only one parent or no biological parent at all. Single mothers, single fathers, adoptive parents, guardians, widows and widowers are a reality with which no one has an issue. Why then would social acceptability of the addition of another willing parent be hinged on that second parent’s gender?

Furthermore, as a student of law, I have had the displeasure of reading some of the most harrowing and heartbreaking cases where children are abused. Many of these cases, more than I care to recount in fact, involved one or both parents perpetrating abuse. My point is this – heterosexuality is in no way indicative of one’s ability to raise a child. Neither is homosexuality.

We would then, arrogantly deny the right of a couple to raise a child, even when their process of procuring a child is much more complex than the “normal” couple. How dare we? How dare we say that these people who would willingly put time, effort, money and stress into a long and complex procedure just so they may show love to a child, are somehow inadequate as parents?

I am not asking anyone to instantly love all gay people. That would be akin to asking you to love all straight people. What you must do, however, is look inside your heart. Look deep inside yourself and ask yourself how would you feel if you too were put in the Second Class Citizen Box. Ask yourself how torn up would you be if you were prevented from expressing your love in the most fundamental and traditional way to the one person who made you feel whole, who completed you, who made you the very best version of yourself. Picture your child, never being allowed to walk down an isle to meet the person who will make them most happy and unite as one happy little, legally recognised family. How on earth could you live in that world? I am almost brought to tears just imagining the injustice of being denied such a happy celebration of love, before all of my friends in family. The thought alone of the injustice saddens me and yet it is the harsh reality of millions of people world wide and so many of my beautiful, wonderful friends.

I beg of you, not to let this referendum pass you by. Don’t stand by with the assumption that it will be a success. Register to give a right to your friend, your neighbour, you brother, sister, accountant, barista, doctor, teacher, librarian. Stand up and be counted. Don’t let the fear of the unknown, the prospect of change affect your judgement. Give all people the right to love and the right to be happy. This may be our only chance to vindicate the rights of so many Second Class Citizens. Allow these people, these perfectly good humans to escape the Box, and allow them to take one more step on the road to equality. Let us all stand proud of our country and our people and when our children one day ask us if we stood up for the rights of one of the most marginalized groups in society, we may proudly answer in the affirmative

If you’re unsure about whether or not you’re eligible to vote, check the register here: 

Also, for more info on what we are actually voting about, check out these pages.

  • Referendum Commission which talks independently about the facts of the Marriage Equality, but also the Lowering of the Presidential Age referenda.
  • This site, one of the many useful sites devoted to marriage equality
  • And finally, for a look at the ridiculous and awful scaremongering approach to a No Vote, I present you with this abominable video.
  • If my ranting doesn’t convince you about what not voting, or voting No will do, then this video certainly will. This video is all like “Logic and reason? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯  Nope!” Good luck getting those 4 minutes of your life back.

Lost in Translation

“I’m sorry, what?” 

“I said ‘Can I have a Large Black Tea’?”

“Oh! Certainly. I’ll get that right up for you. Where is that accent from? Australia?” 

The urge to roll my eyes is so great I almost pass out trying not to. I have no idea why people think I am Australian. I’ve lived in the US for 5 months now and I have been assumed an Aussie more times than I have been thought British, Canadian, Irish or Finnish combined. I’m starting to think the problem is with me, rather than the rest of the world. So I engage in small talk with the guy in the coffee shop. I natter on about how I’m Irish and when I order tea, I mean black tea, “breakfast black” as the Yanks call it. He laughs and smiles and says something general and it doesn’t even cross my mind that in his head he is screaming “WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU SAYING?”

I wait to be called. “Yo, Australia, your single shot soy Latte is up!” I hear him say. No, that can’t be mine. There must be another, actual Australian in the house, with a lactose intolerance who gave him the initial idea of South Pacific-ness. I wait. He calls again, this time waving and pointing at me. Seriously?! We had a conversation about tea! About why I like tea! And then it hits me. I’m like Bruce Willis in the Sixth Sense, watching the wedding ring roll towards him and suddenly realising he’s been dead the whole time. I have the same sudden realisation that the conversation that occurred was completely me the whole time, a monologue that this poor employee has endured, being too polite and too governed by “the-customer-is-always-right” to question me. I look down at the coffee. I hate coffee. I look at him. He’s 80% sure that he guessed my order, pulling similar sounds out of my jumbled speech and creating a dairy free beverage with them, I can see it on his face. I give him a false smile. He tried his best. I take the coffee, heap enough sugar in to simultaneously mask the taste and bring about diabetes and shuffle over to a table.

Again, America has heightened the clarity of a fact I have always been mildly aware of. Ireland is a tiny country. Yet within that little country, there is a huge variety of accents and ways of speaking that it is often possible to tell from what part of a city a person comes from, based on their voice. I drew the short straw when it comes to Irish accents. Mine is the worst of the worst. It’s the butt of all jokes, and every time I hear a person on TV or radio with an accent like mine, I cringe and start pronouncing words like “rather” and “articulate” in my best Stephen Fry impression for days. For those of you not from Ireland, think of it like Cletus The Slack Jawed Yokel from the Simpsons, but the Irish version. In Laois we do not put butter on our bread. We, instead, lather that tasty goodness up with Bu-er. Our taps do not dispense water. Ho ho, no my friend, they spout “wa-er dah we pu in arr ke-el ta make tay wi.” [water, which we put in our kettles, with which to make tea] The “th” sound has been completely abandoned in Laois too. “Dis, dat, dem and dose. Dat’s de way de ‘TH’ goes” apparently.

I always try my best to cover it. It’s difficult to be taken seriously in Ireland with such a midlands droll to one’s speech. So people are often unaware of my shameful secret, my sinful ways of communication. Yet every now and then, I get comfortable. I am chatting to friends, people I have known for some time. Yes, they may even be aware of where I am from, but they accept that perhaps I am one of the lucky ones, without such an accent, and are not ashamed to be seen conversing with me in public. I am absent-mindedly relating some story to these people and suddenly, I drop my guard. I mean to say “…and so I told her that the other book was better..” but instead, before I can stop it, from my mouth escapes the phrase “…and so I told her dat dudder book was b-er”. My eyes widen in horror before my lips can even form the last syllable. I look around and I instantly know it’s too late. One friend has started to choke on her drink in shock. Another has the expression of someone who has just been handed a dead bird. I can read their thoughts from their horrified and furrowed brows; What is this daemon that has just escaped from Gearóidín? Do we need to contact an exorcist? Has anyone got the Vatican on speed dial?!!! 

Most of my friends in America are not native English speakers and hail from all over the world. And yet there I stand, at the desk of a car rental company, trying to ask about insurance and my Moldovan buddy, who has known me for the past 4 months and developed immunity to my gibberish, is translating to the clerk everything I am saying. After the first few weeks of utter confusion among international friends and bewildered Americans alike, I constructed a substitute accent. It’s my Made-Up-American accent. I hate it. I can hear it when I speak. I can hear the horrendous twang in my vocal chords as I refer to a ‘sidewalk’, ‘grocery store’ and ‘mailman’ instead of a ‘path’, ‘shop’ or ‘postman’. This accent that makes a little piece of me die inside, each time I use it, means I don’t have to endure that sympathetic head-tilt people do when I make noises with my face that are completely foreign, forcing them to assume a east European and uneducated origin. I avoid people speaking s-l-o-w-l-y and LOUDLY in sentences void of those definite articles and prepositions that foreigners like me seem to find so tricky. I avoid the awkwardness for everybody when I sigh and say “No, I’m actually Irish, I’ve been speaking English my whole life, it’s my first language.”

Don’t get me wrong, people in the States love the way I speak, something I can never get used to, given the 20 years of accent-based torture I have endured. The love my “Irish Brogue”. [For Americans reading: I first became familiar with this term when I met one of your people in France. I thought he was high. But I encountered it again in your fair land. Brogue? Know what a bróg is? It’s a shoe. Google it. I’m not kidding.] and it takes them back to their roots. Their eyes glisten and glaze and they listen to the sound of my voice, rather than the actual content. They expect me to start jigging and supping guinness any minute but I prove a disappointment on both counts. All that remains is an incomprehensible freckled woman who thinks the conversation is give-and-take. It is not. It is give-and-do-not-receive-and-return-generic-responses. Cue my American counterpart:

Nancy-Lou America (as I like to call my alter-accent) might be from Billings, but you’re not entirely sure, because her accent is a little weird. Maybe she has been out of state for a while, in some place fancy, like Florida or Iowa. But Jee Wiz and Golly, she certainly is from America!

Genetic Modification and Me.

The USA is big. Seriously big. As in, it’s the biggest place I have ever been to outside of, you know, the world. They like that fact here. They like being the biggest and the strongest and the loudest. You can see it in every aspect of American culture. Sport is huge here! Even college sports are massive affairs, a far cry from a few hundred people spectating during a Sigerson Cup match between CIT and UCC on some rainy Saturday. In America, college sport is something the whole community, and in Montana, the whole state, live and die by. You can literally buy anything with the team logo on it. I wouldn’t be unsurprised to see Albertson’s selling a mop and bucket with the Montana Grizzlies logo pasted all over, in shiny maroon and white.

What America does better and bigger than anyone else, however, is food.

“Better” might be the wrong word, but lets continue.

I arrived here in late January. After 23 hours of travelling I was tired. So tired. I slept on a sofa in a flurry of jet lag and confusion for the first few days. I remember very little about first arriving here due to the fact that my body clock was as confused as a dog trying to learn Finnish. Seriously. Confused. But I do remember one thing, I remember it really well. I was hungry. Hungry for what? I didn’t care. Just feed me. Someone feed me. Now. So I stumbled to the food court, drunk on tiredness, my body swearing it was 3am when the sun was beating down on the crisp Missoulian snow, the whole town buzzing with midday activity. What to have? Tacos? Burritos? Sushi? That all seemed a little exotic for someone like me who was used to every meal containing some for of potato, meat and gravy. Ah, a sandwich bar. That would do. I took my time reading the menu, keen to make the right choice for my first American meal. I chose carefully. I understood what all the ingredients were – a good start – and I asked in my best fake-American accent for the sandwich in question. What size did I want? That was a good question. Let me just lift the reader out of the current moment and offer a little insight into me.

I have the capacity to eat about as much as a domesticated song bird. Not very much. My mother has had a truly terrible time raising me. I probably peaked my food intake at age 7, despite her best efforts to put more food on my plate. I can count the times I have actually finished an entire meal. I regularly order from the children’s menu – not because I like foods named after a cartoon character – but because the portions more than satisfy me. A lot of my friends love having dinner with me, because not only do they get their own meal, they will always get two thirds of mine afterwards. If someone decides to heap my plate with lots of food in the divine hope that I will gobble every last morsel, I will feel sick and push the mountain of cajun tuna pasta away from me, appetite obliterated. I don’t hate food. I am just indifferent to most forms of it. (Except chocolate. Chocolate is my one true love. Mmmmm.)

So there I was, facing an overly happy American in a silly hat, who was cheerfully asking the sleepiest person alive what size sandwich she wanted. I had heard the rumours. American food was big. I was hungry. But I could always ask for more if I needed. Better play it safe. Small. I waited in line and was duly handed a brown paper bag containing my sandwich. I paid, fumbling with this alien currency. I couldn’t have looked more foreign if I was wearing lederhosen and a feather cap.

I took the nearest seat I could find and emptied the contents of my paper bag onto the table, barely able to contain my starving excitement. Wait. There must be a mistake. The “sandwich” that appeared before me was not a sandwich. It was a monster. It was the size of a healthy baby. Huge! I had ordered a small! I sighed in irritation. They had given me the wrong sandwich. Somewhere in the food court, some hungry American, probably named Chuck was opening his own paper bag to find a little-girl-sandwich and he would get mad and demand a show-down with me at noon outside the local saloon for stealing his lunch. Because that’s how Montanans settled scores. I went back to the cashier and calmly explained my problem. I had been given the large sandwich, when I had actually ordered the small. It was no big deal, I would wait for them to give me my sandwich. Sorry? What’s that? This is small? I think you’ll find, good sir, that by all definitions, the sandwich that I am brandishing at you, is not small. It has never been. But I was wrong. For then, out of the corner of my eye, I spied another sandwich being made. It was the size of a toddler. I looked more confused than ever, as I wandered back to my seat. My constant surprise with American food had begun.

Since then I have yet to go shopping and not be shocked by some aspect of the food I find. Most of the food here is modified in some way. I am not going to claim that Irish food is 100% natural. When I left home we were in the midst of a crisis involving beef burgers that were actually made of horses. Horses that were unfit for human consumption. However back home we have this crazy concept called “food-regulations” that I had somehow grown to consider a basic necessity in a western society. Once again, America, you have proved me wrong. It’s like Inception. Nothing I see in the stores is real. It’s just a projection of what I perceive to be real.

Milk. I thought that all you could do was pasteurise it and all that craic? Nope. I don’t know what deal dairy companies have signed with the devil, but whatever it was, milk does not go sour here. You literally have to leave it open and in the oven for 3 weeks in order for it to go a little lumpy. How is this possible?? The same applies to bread and cheese and ham. It’s a little worrying, despite its convenience. On the point of ham, and worrying things, its unnerving to read the ingredients on a packet of lunch ham and be told that “Ham” is ingredient number 12, behind words you’re not even sure are English. Apples here are huge. Unnaturally large and vibrant enough to suspect foul play of some kind. What is “Hamburger helper”? I had made hamburgers before America. I had rarely needed help and when I did, the help I sought did not come in a small sachet for $1.99.

I have become increasingly health conscious since coming to America. I wanted to keep active and it’s incredibly easy to do so in Missoula, because people are always busily exercising here. I have the greatest admiration for Montanans. They are perpetually clad in hiking boots and always carry a water bottle and a backpack with essentials, just incase they have to hike somewhere and it snows. An alarmingly high probability, all year round. In my effort to maintain a healthy lifestyle here, I have taken to a bizarre hobby. I read packet labels. I have been here a while now, and I manage to stay conscious after reading most packets, but at first, it was all I could do not to shout in confused outrage while standing in Walmart’s cereal isle. A small tub of porridge. Why does it contain 11% of my RDA of sodium? Why does it contain sodium at all? What is this sorcery?! Why is there enough trans fact in this box of dried bananas to kill a horse? I was recently speaking to a friend while he ate a pot of something pretending to be chicken noodle soup. The small pot contained 47% of ones guideline daily amount of salt. What. The. Heck?

I said before that I have always been indifferent to food. Not since coming to Montana. For the first time in my life, I miss food. I miss it, on some days, as much as I miss living, breathing family members. I miss rashers. I miss toast. I miss butter that doesn’t contain “corn starch” and “stabilisers” as primary ingredients. I miss milk that you have to drink within 3 days of opening. I miss best-before-dates (sell-by-dates in America mean that long after such a time, the food you are consuming is still scarily edible) When I return home, I have a list of food I want. I imagine I will have to start small. To wean myself onto the food I grew up with. I will be like a crack addict checking into rehab. If I go cold turkey on this involuntary GM food dependence I have acquired, I will surely die, my system incapable of dealing with such a shock. I will have some toast first, with butter. And some chocolate milk, to balance out the sugar intake I have grown to expect with a meal. It may take months. But by Christmas, 2013, I hope to be able to consume that traditional dinner, in all it’s natural goodness.

Don’t get me wrong, America has some pretty awesome foods. Like pancakes for breakfast. Wow. Those things are phenomenal. Maple syrup (ok, I know it’s Canadian, but I had never had it before coming here) on those bad boys? Well, that’s just heaven. Apart from that….?

Note to Americans: Just because it’s good on pancakes, does not mean it’s good on everything. Stop putting maple syrup on your eggs, it’s a sure way to cause death.