It’s an honour to represent Ireland at Mister Supranational, one of the world’s most prestigious pageants, where I will compete against pageantry delegates from over 50 countries. This years finally takes place in Krakow, Poland on December 8.
There is a lot of eye rolling when it comes to modelling/pageantry, particularly when it comes to the male pageantry. However, as a campaigner, pageantry offers a national and global platform to raise awareness about the issues delegates are passionate about. My advocacy is ‘Men’s mental health & equality in all its forms’. As someone who lives with anxiety and depression, I know how vital mental health awareness is. In Northern Ireland, youth suicide and mental illness among males aged 18-35 have reached epidemic proportions, made worse by the current political stalemate.
I believe education is key, information is power and encouraging people struggling with their mental health to speak out is paramount to recovery. We must continue to demolish the stigma.
I think of mental illness as the ‘invisible plaster cast’. Just because you cannot see it, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. People need to know that they’re enough, they deserve to be happy and there are support organisations. We must take ownership of our mental health as we do our physical health.
My Experience With Homophobic Violence
I’ve been attacked twice, once in a nightclub in Dublin when I endured a broken orbital and temporary blindness due to ‘being well dressed’. Then, I was punched and sent tumbling down a flight of stairs in a concert venue, with the rationale for this attack being ‘my appearance and looking like one of them’. During the second attack, I suffered four bleeds in the brain and a broken shoulder.
We need to find our own means of coping that enable us to become resilient.
The irony is that I wasn’t out actively seeking a partner of the same sex. Apparently, the ‘if the shoe fits’ complex is enough when it comes to homophobic attacks. It’s only now that I can fully appreciate the horror that was living with a brain injury: personality changes, insomnia and memory loss, but it was the devastation that was the hardest emotion to digest.
I could not comprehend how a human being could do this, especially when these attacks were completely unprovoked, aside from me being ‘well-dressed’. I have never been uncomfortable in crowds, but in the subsequent months, having people walking behind me or coming into my personal space gave me anxiety attacks. I do not know exactly when, but I had enough and decided that I was not going to be anyone’s victim.
I believe that everything happens for a reason. A week after the last attack, I met my partner for the first time. He was so kind, compassionate and understanding. It sounds incredibly cliché, but when I met Jay, it just felt right and it was a connection that I had never experienced before. I can understand what people mean when they talk about love at first sight.
Coming Out, Mental Health And #CheckMate
I can’t say that coming out has been easy. I have lost friends and modelling work with long-standing clients.
Everyone’s experience of coming out is different. For me, it was almost like a grieving process, accepting that the life that I thought I would have would now be very different, not in a negative sense, but different. Coming out, living with a brain injury, having associated anxiety/depression and grieving for my late mother just became overwhelming and I attempted suicide that June.
Can I say that I regret it? No, because at that moment my irrational mind saw it as the only logical solution. However, I am glad that I did not succeed. I regret the hurt I caused my friends and family, but for me, this period represented a ‘phoenix complex’. I had reached my rock bottom and realised that I needed to create my own sense of peace and happiness.
For men, there is still a perception of emasculation surrounding speaking about your emotions. A real man asks for help.
Having already tried anti-depressants and anxiety medication, I knew it was not for me. I tried counselling and it helped by clarifying my thought processes, but it was not for me. I found that exercise, clean eating and meditation was my fix. I say ‘my’ because I do not believe that one solution suits everyone, we need to find our own means of coping that enable us to become resilient.
As a nurse, I understand the public’s general dependency on conventional medication, but you only have to read the known side effects of most anti-depressants to realise it may not be an effective resolution. Anti-depressants are a breakthrough and integral element of management plans for a lot of people, but I want to assure people that their coping strategy can be as unique as they are.
Ireland is in the midst of a mental health epidemic. Ireland and Northern Ireland have some of the highest rates of youth suicide in Europe, unfortunately, due to issues such as homelessness, substance abuse, and lack of support services. There is an ever-present need to support each other, speak up and ask for help. I believe that in life we are only offered limited certainties, that we will encounter tough times and we will die.
It can be incredibly hard to be positive and incredibly easy to be negative. However, I feel that when you commit to being more positive in your thoughts and actions, coping becomes feasible, as you gain clarity of mind and are more likely to avoid the all-consuming irrational thoughts that are complicit with anxiety.
Do what works for you. Take a break from social media and, where possible, remove negative people and influences from your life. I found that spending time with nature and committing to getting more sleep definitely helped.
Some suggested that I compete in a “gay” pageantry system, but why should my opportunities be limited due to my sexuality?
Speak up and tell someone that you’re struggling. For men, there is still a perception of emasculation surrounding speaking about your emotions. A real man asks for help. Swallow that awful sense of pride and you might be surprised as to how many people share your feelings.
It doesn’t matter who you speak to, whether it be a GP, healthcare professional, or a helpline. Realise that you matter and that you deserve to be happy.
This notion of being mindful of not only our own mental health but that of others inspired me to develop #CheckMate. Its ethos is very simple. In a world of constant exposure to social media, it’s very easy to lose touch with the world. When was the last time you picked up the phone or visited a friend?
#CheckMate reminds us to check in on friends who might be struggling. Never underestimate the power of “how are you?”. It can be the cornerstone of change and facilitate the healing process for those who are living in a state of distress. We are not getting out of this alive, so let’s make the most of the life that we have. Happiness is a mindset, not a given.
Homophobia And Body Image In Pageantry
What has been fascinating and horrifying is the amount of homophobia in pageantry. Don’t get me wrong, the love and support from the pageantry community have been overwhelming, but I have received countless nasty messages, some saying that I should not be allowed to compete or will not win because I’m gay.
Some of the requests and sexually charged comments [from pageantry fans] make Grindr look whiter than white
Some pageantry fans have been apologetic in explaining that I appear to be a worthy finalist, but they cannot openly support me in pageantry due to religious/political views regarding sexuality in their culture. Some suggested that I compete in a “gay” pageantry system, but why should my opportunities be limited due to my sexuality? My sexuality is a single aspect of who I am.
The reason I am proud to be associated with the Mister Supranational brand is the fact that they have a strict policy that forbids any discrimination on the basis of race, religion and sexuality. Thankfully, my fellow delegates have been very supportive and I can’t wait to share this experience with them.
Some of the requests and sexually charged comments [from pageantry fans] make Grindr look whiter than white, but I simply dismiss these comments. The messages and comments outlining the list of cosmetic procedures I should invest in, a nose job tops the list, along with recommendations regarding weight loss are not so easy to ignore.
I have worked in the modelling industry for 11 years so I know critique is part of the industry. However, some of the pageant fans need to realise the amount of work that goes into these competitions, on top of full-time jobs and other commitments and remember the age old saying “if you haven’t got anything nice to say, then say nothing at all”.
This process has reminded me of how empathetic and progressive Ireland is. I hope to make my family, friends and country proud when I step onto the global stage.
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