It was on her way to a poetry gig in Belfast when Cat Brogan, the wife of Co Tyrone and organizer of the first Omagh Pride parade, finally told her mother she was gay.
“That was just before I was reciting a poem that was pretty graphic about female desire,” she laughs.
The 36-year-old is burning honest and bursting with energy and opinions. So I suggest it must have been like torture to keep such an essential part of it secret from family and friends for so long.
“When you’re used to hiding such a large part of your life for who you are, you end up hiding other parts of your life,” she says.
“Instead of being authentic just yourself, you always do calculations. Will that cause problems? Will that be an issue? Do I have to explain that?
“Coming out definitely made me less angry, calmer and more peaceful.
“I didn’t feel like I had to be on the defensive or under constant attack.
“For many queer people there is a lot of guilt and shame and an element of religious trauma.”
The toll that living with a lie can harm both mental and physical health is well documented.
According to the Rainbow Project – which works to improve the physical, mental, and emotional health and wellbeing of the LGBT community – research shows they are particularly vulnerable to mental health problems due to homophobia, discrimination, and oppression.
As a result, they are sometimes prone to harming themselves, feeling suicidal, experiencing depression, abusing alcohol and drugs, suffering from anxiety, or developing problems with eating.
Bronagh Starrs, an Omagh-based youth psychotherapist, says the reason young LGBTQ people suffer disproportionately from mental health problems is because of discrimination, which directly affects well-being.
Cat’s “Out of the Closet” trip likely resembles many others who lived in a rural community in the 1980s and 1990s.
As one of three children in a close, loving family, she grew up in Killyclogher, near Omagh.
“I think I was always aware that I was attracted to women, but I really buried it,” she explains.
“It was the early days of the internet so there was no way to find out these things and what there was was very negative.
“As a woman, I was really taught that a friend is an essential accessory for a teenage girl. It made you cool.
“When I was younger, I was bullied so often that I stopped wanting to be bullied.”
Then why was she bullied? “I was kind of middle class, very eager and eager, and I loved studying,” she recalls.
“Then I had the pink NHS glasses and my mom couldn’t do fancy things on my hair because of her disability, so I got a bowl cut – it was just a disaster.
“It wasn’t until I moved to London at the age of 23 that I came out. I’ve had relationships with men – lovely men who are still very dear to my heart – but you feel like you’ve been living a lie for a long time.” Time.”
Writing and performing poetry during her time in London and later in Malaysia proved to be a cathartic experience as the performances really allowed her to articulate her feelings.
Cat returned to Northern Ireland with her partner this April after being out of the country for 13 years.
The trigger for the move was Covid and the desire to spend more time with her family.
“Because my mother is disabled, I would have come home three or four times a year and with Covid I would have had a chance not to go back to the country, so I had to make a choice,” says Cat.
Her mother Dympna suffered a “catastrophic” head injury in 1974 at the age of 20, which resulted in her being paralyzed on her right side and having to learn to read, write and speak again.
She still suffers from asphasia, which causes speech and language difficulties, as well as mobility problems.
In fact, Dympna wrote a book, I’ll Be All Right Tomorrow, which records her experiences and determination to live a full and meaningful life despite everything that has happened.
As for your daughter’s coming out, how did that go?
“She was super calm and pretended everything was fine, but she really wasn’t feeling well. It made things a little difficult between us for a couple of years, but while it was hard for her, she didn’t” make it difficult for me, “says Cat.
“She could see that I was so much happier. My mom thinks the most important thing in life is that you have a loving partner who loves you. So when she saw that I had that, she was happy. She said that she was angry with them because she was afraid it would make life difficult for me.
“I already told my father [Vincent] a few months before and he was great. “
In fact, both her parents and other family members attended the Omagh parade in September, which drew 500 spectators.
Cat, who has a degree in Politics and English from York University and a Masters in writing / teaching from Goldsmiths in London, has worked in a number of teaching roles and is an award-winning poet who performs her works on the radio and at literary festivals.
Back home, she took up a position as an active tour guide at the Sustrans cycling and hiking aid, which she accepts with the usual enthusiasm.
She strongly believes that the life of the LGBT community, especially in rural areas, has improved significantly, thanks largely to the internet, which gives people access to information and a like-minded community.
But she also believes that there needs to be “a lot of healing”, especially for older LGBT people here, “who feel deprived of their chance to live a full life openly and honestly and without judgment, shame or fear”.
The Pride Parade, which she co-organized with friend Lorraine Montague in just three months, was her way of bringing the local LGBT community out into the open and celebrating an opportunity for the whole city to celebrate diversity, inclusion and equality.
“But then there can be this dissonance between the world you discover online and the world you are in,” she adds, referring to the opposition to the parade, the protests, leaflets through doors and one Advertising included.
“I think I’m incredibly lucky because of my family,” she adds. “This is your main community, so this love and acceptance from them is the foundation on which everything else continues to grow.”
Cat was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) this year, which she admits was “not a massive surprise”.
“It’s a bit of a superpower. It gives you the ability to get a lot of things done and act very quickly, but it’s also important to be aware of how it affects your loved ones,” she explains.
“The diagnosis made me more aware of my behavior and how problematic it could be.
“It’s about becoming aware of who you are and accepting that you don’t have to belong and seeing the beauty of it. That’s pretty powerful.
“If we try to make everyone equal, we will lose as a community.”