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How a little birdy let me know even the blind can see I'm gay

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Bliss' book

Bliss' book

Rory O'Neill

Rory O'Neill

Dog

Dog

Andres Rodriguez

Author

Author

Bliss' book

I live in a large, well-known landmark building in Dublin city centre. You probably know it. It's thought of as an office development, and indeed it mostly is, but there is a small residential part to the complex. The building was finished in 1980 and at the time it seemed decidedly modern, even swanky, with its fountains and copper and tinted glass.

The apartments themselves have fine big rooms, thick solid walls and are heated 'New York style', centrally through the whole building.

It sits, however, in a part of town that is decidedly 'old Dublin' - working class and commercial, full of pizza slices and phone repairs, discount stores and first generation immigrants, bus stops and a visible drug problem.

The kind of area that has a mosque above a betting shop. Like myself, it's seen better days but it retains a hint of exotic glamour. That's what I'd say if I were an estate agent anyway.

When I first moved into the building there were a number of older residents. Phyllis, already in her late 80s when I met her, was remarkable looking - tiny, fragile, stick-thin with a dancer's elegant neck and carriage, always in black cigarette pants, plimsolls and a neat bun. But she was a formidable woman, and she'd been a giant of Irish theatre. She gave The Field and Big Maggie their world premieres. I got to know Phyllis when I'd meet her in the lobby and she'd scratch my dog Penny's ears. She was very fond of Penny.

I got to know the other residents because of Penny. When you have a dog, people interact with you. Mostly they want to pet her, but even the ones who don't like dogs get to know you. There's a lady in the building who has a dog-phobia and doesn't like to share the lift with us. And there's a quirky ould fella who shuffles about and doesn't like to talk much who gets grumpy when the lift door opens and we give each other a fright and Penny barks.

Over the years I've been in the building the character of the residents has changed. Now there are young Chinese couples with small babies and one of the apartments is a now short let so one month it's a French businessman and the next it's an American tourist.

And then there's Frank. Frank lives in the apartment next to mine. When I first moved in he was approaching retirement. A big man, chatty, inquisitive - a good neighbour. Of course he's still all those things, but now he's also blind. It happened very suddenly. The first I knew there was a problem at all was one day when he asked me to dial a number for him because he couldn't read it off a piece of paper. And just a few months later he was totally blind. He has coped remarkably well. Admirably well. An assistant visits every day to help him with things, or take him for a stroll. He calls Penny "The Hound" with affection.

Everyone in the building (and most of the street) knows me because of Penny, and likewise everyone knows Frank because of his blindness. They are aware of the little dog, and they are aware of the blind man in his big, black glasses.

naturally

I have never told Frank I'm gay. I assumed he knew of course - he's blind, not in a vegetative state! - but it never came up naturally. We talk about Penny, the weather, the news, the wifi (he piggy backs on my wifi for his digital radio, but insists on giving me a few quid), not about sex or relationships. Of course we talk about PantiBar and he's always threatening to come for a drink so I guess my sexuality is implicit, but it's never come up directly and to announce it apropos of nothing would seem odd. Not that I'd ever spent much time dwelling on it. It simply doesn't come up between us.

The other day I met Frank in the corridor when I was coming back from Tesco. "Penny was barking at something earlier," he said. "I think a seagull must have been on your balcony."

"Probably," I said. "One of them s**t on her out on the balcony a while ago. You don't usually hear her barking do you?"

"No," he said. "I was on my own balcony. Sure with these thick walls I never hear anything. Well…" he smirked, "hardly ever."

I looked at him curiously as I struggled to get the key in my door while holding onto my groceries.

"Well, I don't know exactly what he was doing to you, but when you were seeing that last Brazilian fella I'd say they heard you in Dublin 4!"

And with that he felt his way into the lift with a mischievous cackle.

Woman In The Making; A Memoir, by Rory O'Neill, is published by Hachette Books, price €17.99


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