Dear Strangers... |

4 mins

Dear Strangers...

While growing up in a small town can cause challenges when it comes to finding the confidence to live out and proud, Beth Healy shares how one stranger’s random act of kindness helped her accept her sexuality.

I check my phone yet another time: she should be here by nowher plane landed nearly half an hour ago. I readjust the flowers I brought, shuffle my feet, and glance nervously at the arrivals gate, skipping a beat every time I see a flash of dark curly hair, only to breathe a sigh when I realise it’s not her.

I’ve been waiting for my partner to arrive from Madrid, the city where we met. It’s been two months since we last saw each other and I’m overcome with emotions. I start to imagine the moment we see each other: will I have the courage to kiss her? I look around at the crowds of people moving through the arrivals gateyoung and old, families and kids and same-sex couples. No one will notice, I tell myself. If there’s anywhere it’s acceptable, it’s here.

Being from a small town in the north of Ireland, these were very familiar thoughts to me. I grew up with effectively no representation in TV, media or school. I had no role models and no basis for what life would look like as a queer woman. That is until I moved to Madrid two years ago.

When it comes to LGBTQ+ equality, Madrid is probably one of the most accepting in Europe, and it shows. It was as common to see queer couples walking hand in hand as straight couples, and almost every friend I made was LGBTQ+. For the first time, I never thought twice about holding a person’s hand or kissing them on the street, no matter their gender. It was a glimpse of a reality that felt unimaginable to me in Ireland.

My thoughts vanished when she finally came through the gate and burst into a smile upon seeing me. All of a sudden, it didn’t seem to matter what other people thought, we were together again and I felt so happy. I pulled her into a hug and kissed her right there in the airport, unaware of who was looking.

My happy obliviousness continued the long bus journey home. Naive that I was, I convinced myself no one could see us holding hands between the seats, or was noticing me resting my head on her shoulder. As the bus pulled into Cavan and came to a halt, I became aware of a presence standing above us, I looked up to see a man who was about to speak to me.

I’ll admit, I immediately felt panic: we’d been seen. He was going to say something horrible, I was sure of it. What came next took me by surprise. He passed a piece of paper into my hand and said, “Have a pint on me later, you’ll understand when you read the note.”

I’m sure I probably looked dumbfounded as I mumbled a thank you and shot my partner a look. It was a €10 note, wrapped in a handwritten letter. When I read the words that followed, I couldn’t believe my eyes.

“Dear Strangers, “This might seem weird but it’s worth sharing kindness randomly. When I was younger two women holding each other affectionately used to draw looks of judgement and toxic hate. I’m so happy that we live in a society where you can celebrate your authentic cherishing of one another.

“You’re the future society I was hoping might happen so people can be together as they want in their love. Any time you give each other flowers or hold hands it’s a shining beacon of a better world. I’m not gay but I am an ally and I fought hard for the rights of my gay friends.

“So it makes me happy to see people like you now happy to live as expressively as you want. Thank you so much for shining your affection. It made a random stranger happy today.”

I was speechless. It wasn’t until later that the full weight of these words sunk in. The very thing I was so afraid to do brightened someone’s day and meant something to them. I was expecting judgemental looks at best, direct hate at worst, but what I got was the opposite. In fact, the words this stranger wrote to me were words of acceptance that I had never heard before from anyone.

As I return to Ireland to live for the foreseeable future and encounter new situations where I have to come out or be open about my sexuality in a way that is new for me, I often remind myself of this note and I’ve kept it to look back on. It’s a reminder that authentically expressing myself is nothing to be ashamed of.

I want to share this note to all queer people in Ireland; know that these beautiful words apply to you too. No matter what rejections you’ve received from family, friends or culture, sharing your authentic love might be the reason you brighten someone’s day. There are horrible news stories about LGBTQ+ people every day, but this moment is proof to me that Ireland is changing.

Maybe there aren’t as many queer couples walking down the street in Ireland as there are in other places, but this stranger helped me to see that I get to be a part of that change. Just by being myself without fear, I’m part of creating that new world we all want to see, where everyone is free to be exactly who they are.

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