Irish queer farmer opens up about finding his happiness and being LGBT+ in a rural community

Speaking about loss, safe spaces, creativity, and rural communities, Irish queer farmer Colm Conlan shares his path to feeling comfortable in his identity.

Irish Queer Farmer: Split screen image of a man sitting in a tractor on the left and on the right he is dressed in drag waving a rainbow flag in a field
Image: @dubhsongs

Irish musician Colm Conlan opens up about his journey back to his home farm and finding a place where he embraces being an out queer farmer. 

Before working full time on a farm, Conlan followed in the footsteps of many LGBT+ youths from rural backgrounds who journey to a city as a way of building a life for themselves. He said, “We feel in our hearts of hearts when we are 17 or 18 growing up rurally we have to go to Dublin and that’s where we have to find our life and our careers and our community.”

Around 2016, Conlan returned to his home farm seeking guidance after his mother’s passing. He began finding his way towards a place where he could find comfort in his identity. He shared, “I realised I could coexist, live rurally, work rurally and still have a community.”

Conlan further expressed, “Losing her made me reevaluate a lot of things and reflect inwardly on my own happiness and fulfillment. Because although I was kind of going through the motions, when I look back on it now, at the time I thought this was where I need to be. It sometimes takes those cataclysmic events to make you take a step back, take stock on where you could find happiness.” 

Three years prior to the Marriage Referendum and among a changing Ireland, Conlan came out at the age of 18. He shared, “In 2012, it was a very different time for a lot of people, especially young queer people, when the tides were turning away from begrudging acceptance to a little bit more equality. I’m very grateful that I grew up when I did because I think if it had been 10, 20 years previously, it could be a very different story.”

Conlan fondly remembers the Marriage Equality referendum as he recalls, “On the day of the count, the day after the vote, RTE Radio 1 were talking through some of the initial tallies they had. They said ‘we now go to a very rural area of north Kildare’, they sounded kind of surprised, and it was my village and how it was an overwhelming ‘Yes’. I felt really vindicated and accepted in that moment even though it was indirect. It was a flash bulb moment for me. My perception might be slightly different to what I thought it was of how accepting rural communities can be.”

Conlan acknowledges his deep gratitude towards the support systems around him, counting himself lucky to have strong family relations, to come from an incredible community, and be a part of a loving chosen family. Before lockdown began, he became close friends with fellow musician Cmat after performing in her music video and praised her for championing him to keep up his songwriting.

Speaking about the queer community in Ireland, Conlan states, “We are at a strange point where we have lost our safe spaces and our physical spaces. So a lot of us will have to get online to find our community again and keep in touch. Even before COVID, we were losing spaces in the city and further afield. Our community has flourished but it is also being undermined constantly by factors that are out of everyone’s control, such as access to services.”

How do you find the balance between farming and your music?

Anytime I’m near machinery, I wear ear protectors and funny enough what that lends is to an extra bit of reverberation inside my own head so I can hear myself quite well. I’m in this very loud machine, doing this monotonous work, so I can just sing at the top of my lungs. If I get an idea, I shout it into the voice notes of my phone. And then when I get in in the evening, I sit at the piano and decipher what was going through my head.

I’ve always been a musician in some shape or form. I used to see it as a hobby but then I started to work at it really hard and forge a career for myself. For me, songwriting is very cathartic. There were a lot of negative aspects for total lockdown but positives were that time for introspection. To revisit songs, to write from my own experiences of grief, to get those down and into songs. In the hustle and bustle, I found it difficult to access those feelings. I never in my life thought I would get time to sit down and get to know myself and my music a bit better. 

What would be your go to song while out on the fields?

My go to song in any situation when I need to feel better or lift me up is Pure Shores by All Saints. So when I’m feeling stressed, that song’s my go to for sure. 

What advice would you share with queer young people who come from an Irish rural setting or farmer / farming backgrounds? 

It’s not to put pressures on yourself or external pressures from the past. My past has been completely wild and it led me back here. If you are from, like myself, completely middle of the midlands and you find yourself thinking ‘I need to go to a city to find my community, my chosen family’, I would say do that and don’t let anything else get in the way of that. And if your path finds your way back to the farming lifestyle, the farming community, then brilliant! When you are at that point, get online. That’s where I found a lot of community especially in Ireland and the UK among out farmers.

Over the years, groups such as Macra na Feirme have been launching initiatives towards promoting inclusivity in rural communities, what does this mean to you?

It gives me a lot of great hope. I’m not involved with Macra na Feirme personally because I have struggled for a while with my own place and identity within the communities I am a part of. I felt like I wasn’t good enough or wasn’t a real farmer, so I never felt like I could approach them, it’s my own insecurity playing up there. All the while navigating my own identity within the wider queer community, within spaces of activism and everything that is very important to me and part of my life. 

But seeing their move towards inclusivity is really inspiring. I would actually love to be a part of it because I’m now in that space where I am fully comfortable within my own role, my own identity as an out queer farming man.

During lockdown, Irish queer musician and farmer Conlan entertained people with his playful Jukebox style performances, which you can check out here

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