In the lead up to the 2015 marriage equality referendum, Cork native Jack O’Rourke had a hit with the single ‘Silence’, which was about his experience of growing up gay. The song went on to win an International Songwriting Award, and now the singer/songwriter is releasing his debut album, which he describes as a “journey towards self- acceptance”. Here he talks about coming out aged 25, his day job as an out gay teacher in a Catholic secondary school, masculinity on the gay scene, and his ideal man
I was about four when I discovered I was different. I asked Santa for a kitchen, while all my mates had asked for hurleys and the like. When I brought it into school it was one of the first things that singled me out.
I’m from Ovens, which is a rural parish in Cork. Hurling and Catholicism reigned supreme; still my local school nurtured my love of music and allowed me to be. My parents indulged my creativity, I think I was one of the lucky ones of my generation because even though I knew I was different, I was embraced.
I suppressed my sexuality for a long time. I was in self-imposed exile. I never even experimented; I went out with a lot of girls.
A lot of the artists I looked up to, like Bowie, Tom Waits and Rickie Lee Jones, their live performances are based in different personas. I was using the same kind of thing when I performed with my band, but it was about hiding.
I watched a video of myself back one night, and I thought, ‘Christ, I don’t like that’. I was just being obnoxious.
One day when I was 25 I was cutting the hedge in my parents’ garden, working like a dog. It was like working off excess shame and guilt, not being able to face up to the fact or at least say it to anyone that I was gay.
My mam knew there was something up, and she asked me what it was. When I told her, she was upset, not about the fact that I was gay, but that I’d kept it hidden for so long.
It was anticlimactic because I’d built it up so much in my head. My family and friends completely accepted me.
I came to realise that most naturally minded people don’t really have an issue with it, and if they do you have to wonder if it’s something in their own sexuality that they’re not comfortable with.
A lot of my songs were clouded in ambiguity. The song ‘Silence’ was the first really direct one I wrote. It was the story of my experience of being young and gay.
Just before the referendum, when it was released as a single, I got a huge amount letters from people who had come out, sometimes in their senior years, or who had yet to come out.
Even people who were going to vote No wrote to me. I think it was because it’s the story of a gay child; they found it very disarming.
Some of the songs on my new album are ten years old, so there’s a huge journey of self- acceptance running through it.
It’s about my first relationship, and it finishing, and finding my own feet. I wanted it to be hopeful at the end. A lot of the reviews have picked up on those elements, which is very gratifying.
Click below to find out what O’Rourke has to say about masculinity, his ideal man, and Public Displays of Affection.
…public displays of affection
My new single ‘On the Downlow’ is a companion piece to ‘Silence’. It’s very much referring to myself and an ex of mine, or universally its about people who fall in love and aren’t able yet to take that leap into being who they are, into being affectionate with each other in public.
Masculinity holds a lot of currency in the gay world. There’s a lot of shaming of people who are naturally flamboyant, like on the gay apps when people write ‘no fems’ or ‘straight acting’. We’re all guilty of the shaming, and it may be about internalised homophobia, but I think camp is something we should embrace.
My day-job is teaching music in a secondary school. It’s a Catholic school but there’s never been an issue with me being gay. It has an ethos of mutual respect. Kids sometimes come to me if they’re thinking of coming out or if they’re worried about something to do with their sexuality. I went to an amazing secondary school but I didn’t know any teachers who were gay. I think if I did it would have normalised it a bit more for me, maybe.
…teens coming out
Kids are coming out in my school earlier and earlier. I don’t think my generation is there with it yet – we think it’s great, but the kids themselves are pass remarkable. It’s the same as someone being black, or being from another part of town. I’m not naive enough to think that bullying doesn’t happen, there’s bullying everywhere, but there’s a lot of support for kids in my school who come out. If anyone has an issue with it, it’s quickly shut down.
… feeling good
Everyone’s got demons, but mine are silenced at the moment. I’m proud of the album – it’s entered straight into the top 20 in Ireland and is getting great reviews – and I’m looking forward to the tour. When all the madness dies down I’m looking forward to travelling more and meeting someone special.
…my ideal man
I’d like a like-minded soul who I find ridiculously attractive, who will be in the front row at all my gigs, throwing a jockstrap at me.
Jack O’Rourke was in conversation with Brian Finnegan. His debut album ‘Dreamcatcher’ is currently on release. He plays Whelan’s in Dublin on Thursday, November 3 as part of a national tour, Follow @JackORourkes on Twitter and Facebook.
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