In our last issue, we featured Edmund Lynch who started the SLM with nine other compatriots on the campus of Dublin’s Trinity College. One of those compatriots is Mary Dorcey.
Born in October 1950, Dorcey grew up in Dalkey before moving to Paris in the late 1960’s. While there, Dorcey discovered her blossoming sexuality through reading the French writer, Colette, and by going out to gay nightclubs. “Through one of my lecturers in Paris, I went to this wonderful gay nightclub, which was a huge event, something like 300 gay people in the room. Fantastic, beautiful, energetic figures, vital people, like you’d never seen in your life and certainly hadn’t seen in Dublin. I thought ‘these are the people for me’. So, that was what it meant for me. It was about excitement; it was about freedom. It was about redefining yourself,” Dorcey said in an interview with Edmund Lynch as part of the Irish LGBTI+ Oral History Project in 2013.
While her love for the streets of Paris was strong, a 23 year-old Dorcey returned to Dublin in 1973 determined to find, if not establish, the same kind of creative queer community she’d found in that nightclub. “I came back with a determination to find people who were different. People with imagination, a bit of a spark, because the Ireland that I left was just so regressive, so conformist, so depressing, in every way damaging to individual spirit,” Dorcey continued.
It was through this search that Dorcey attended a meeting for the Women’s Liberation Movement. “The first thing that struck me [was] the intelligence of these women and the courage and the vitality. But it happened that the discussion that night was about marriage and romance. All the women who spoke said they dreamed of marriage. ‘We all want the certificate’, I remember them saying, and ‘We all want to get married, in spite of whatever else we might want’. I was so disappointed. I thought,’ God is this the best we can do?’ One woman followed me down to the bus stop that night and she just tore strips off me…because she said that she was gay, I must have said something about being gay, she said ‘People like you are going to ruin it for the likes of me’. She said, ‘I can go to any hotel in Ireland with any woman I want, and nobody asks questions because they think we’re just sisters, and people like you are going to ruin it.’”
Discovering that Ireland’s first Women’s Liberation Movement was not quite ready to embrace her queer identity, Dorcey looked elsewhere to find her tribe. Shortly thereafter, Dorcey joined forces with Edmund Lynch, Ruth Riddick, Margaret McWilliam, Irene Brady, Michael Kerrigan, Gerry McNamara, Hugo McManus, Peter Bradley, and David Norris to establish Ireland’s first Sexual Liberation Movement.
In the months following the establishment of the SLM, Dorcey speaks of a “revolutionary fervor in the air”.
“Those of us that came out at this time, who were involved in SLM and in the women’s liberation movement, [there was] excitement [in] our lives, the sense of revolution, the sense of camaraderie, the sense of idealism was so extraordinary that the hostility meant nothing… We just thought they were basically ancient eejits, pathetic ridiculous people who would be washed away in the great flood of revolutionary feeling. We thought everybody was going to be gay in another year or so. I remember again the sense of excitement, the liveliness of the people, the sense of freedom, because I had never met people like that in Ireland.”
Unfortunately, all of the joy Dorcey found in the early months of the SLM would soon be challenged. Dorcey recalls an early meeting where the group was physically attacked by a group of men. “They had heard about us and they were determined to get rid of us and queer bashing was all too real and, of course, in some places, still is.”
Despite the attack, Dorcey remembered feeling in awe of the community she had found and founded in Ireland, describing it as almost impossible to believe. “The kind of freedom, the kind of openness of our lives, the pride, the self-direction is extraordinary. I could have imagined it happening in California but I couldn’t imagine it in Ireland. I couldn’t imagine any of this being the reality in Ireland.” Today, Dorcey continues her work for Women’s and Sexual Liberation in Ireland, as well as being an awardwinning poet and novelist, taking home the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature in 1990 for her short story collection, A Noise from the Woodshed.