Gay Irish man opens up about his experience of self-isolation

Tony Kavanagh reflects on how life during #StayAtHomo has changed as, like his clothes, the world has shrunk and bolstered an appreciation for connection.


Lockdown: what a word. So visceral. So dystopian. It summons my inner drama queen. It conjures the echoing metallic slam of shutters; the muffled sobs of “please, my hair hasn’t been cut in almost a fortnight.” Masked guards make shite of the heels of my boots as they drag me backwards along the disinfected concrete route I came. The scenario may or may not involve them supervising a Silkwood shower without the benefit of Molton or, indeed, Brown.

The truth is a lot more mundane. Chez nous, the air is thick with the smell of endless coffee and toast. The incessant flicker of the TV news distracts from the dust bunnies that are reproducing like rabbits in every corner.

At first, I tried to make the most of this “new normal.”

I had a to-do list. First, I was going to research and email every LGBT+ magazine and blogger in the world in an effort to generate some smidgen of attention for my single and forthcoming album.

Perhaps I’d also follow some of the myriad social media suggestions and make a glorious Indian feast from scratch, or dabble in the sorcery of sourdough starters, or maybe write page two of that novel I started in 1994.

Such industry was necessarily interrupted by the important work of homeschooling our 7-year-old, officially The World’s Most Perfect Boy. I fancied myself as a serene and patient purveyor of academic excellence, life hacks and music appreciation. These scholarly endeavours would take place at a gingham-covered table, a host of golden daffodils trembling prettily in a ceramic jug, kissed by a light breeze from a nearby open kitchen window.

In reality, copybooks battle daily for space among the toast crumbs and coffee mugs. The enterprise is soundtracked by back-and-forth bickering about rubbing out mistakes and trying again. Work-from-home phone calls interrupt every few minutes. For a week now, I have blessed the Tiny Baby Jesus for the invention of RTÉ’s Homeschool Hub, which daily shaves an hour from my shoddy contribution to these endeavours.

I have also realised the immense danger of stockpiling. Having denuded the local shelves of Cadbury products early on, my shirt buttons will threaten the ocular welfare of others should I need to breathe out. I feel that Demis Roussos (Google him, kids) will become a style inspiration before long.

If my resolutions, good intentions and lesson plans can turn to shit in just three short weeks, who knows where I’ll be by, say, mid-May? Or the end of June? Will my marriage survive cutting my husband’s hair a second time? Can deliver that kaftan before I turn into Gilbert Grape’s mother? (Google it). How soon will my hands be worn down to the tendon from all the additional handwashing? Will I ever figure out how to get Disney+ on the TV and not just the iPad?

It’s a shock to find that it’s only three weeks since the schools closed. I’ve been working at home since then. It feels like decades have passed. The whole world has changed dramatically in that short time. People have recalibrated all kinds of priorities and adjusted their way of living, because there are people dear to all of us who may be more vulnerable to this virus.

We may be more vulnerable than we think. A good friend of mine is a nurse in New York and his unstinting battle-ready spirit is inspiring. But the anxiety in his messages is palpable. Here in Dublin, another friend is just emerging from a period of isolation, having contracted the infection.

He’s one of the luckier ones. So you’ll understand that I was aghast that my neighbours invited a group of friends over last night to ooh-and-aah over their new garden furniture. They huddled around the chiminea, impervious to the nip in the wind but not to the chill of my glare, dispersing soon after. This crisis will make a full-blown busybody of me.

I love Una Mullally’s suggestion of a mahoosive Mother bash, where we can revel in direct human contact. Where we can jostle companionably at the bar, make eye contact that’s not buffered by a phone screen or Perspex shield. Where the simple joy of a hug won’t put anyone at risk. Such a happy gathering seems almost utopian to me right now.

This may seem like a strange admission but, for me, the prospect actually carries a small glint of nervousness right now. When I see crowd scenes in movies and TV shows these days, my fists sometimes tighten slightly and my mind starts calculating transmission risks. How fast will our return to the “old normal” be? Will our grá for the craic find an arm’s length built into it for a while? Or will that arm dissolve with the application of alcohol?

Like my clothes, my world has shrunk. Just three of us in a tiny house. I know how incredibly privileged and lucky I am. My mother died 17 years ago, yet for some reason, her friend has been on my mind for the last few weeks. I tracked down her number and reintroduced myself. She doesn’t live too far away and I wondered whether she might need anything.

Despite her age, she’s in robust health and enjoys the friendship and support of brilliant neighbours. She was cannily ahead of the curve, cocooning before it was an official thing. We chatted and caught up and promised to stay in touch. I ended the call with a lump in my throat.

That’s another thing that this lockdown has brought: throat lumps. My emotions seem much closer to the surface these last few weeks. Even simple pop songs can bring me close to tears.

ABBA’s Super Trouper was on the radio recently and I was suddenly in another decade, with an old friend in the threadbare living room of the flat we shared, lip-synching into serving spoons.

Such a simple and innocuous memory, but it moved me. She tweeted the same thing from where she lives now.

Throat lumps across the 2-kilometre divide.

I hope this newly bolstered appreciation for human connection and life’s simpler things survives the return to a broader life.

If you would like to be featured as part of #StayAtHomo, send your ruminations, thoughts and reflections to [email protected]

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