A 66-year-old man who went through conversion therapy has said he was less lonely during lockdown than when he was hiding his sexuality from friends and family.
Tom Cavanaugh was married for 30 years and before that as a single man, he sought medical help because he was led to believe that 'sexuality was a learnt behaviour'.
He is one of the people being featured in the ‘Coming Out With Dublin Bus & GCN’ campaign that will see Dubliners coming out on advertisements on the side of buses and bus stops across the city.
Speaking to Brianna Parkins on Newstalk Breakfast Weekends, Tom shared his story and offered some advice for people who may believe it's too late to come out.
"Initially, I wasn't aware of my sexuality, it wasn't until I developed an almighty crush on somebody I knew socially that I suddenly copped I had feelings towards men," he said.
"He was very straight anyway, but at that stage, up until 1993, being gay was a criminal offence so I could say I have a criminal past.
"I would go out drinking with my colleagues and my other friends and then sneak off to gay bars and the gay disco in the Hirschfeld Centre so it was very much a dual life, that was probably the case for most gay people in my generation.
"It's like having two parts of you and you have one part of you that you keep secret."
Tom said living this secret life wasn't good for his mental health, and this was one of the reasons he wanted to "get rid of" his feelings for people of the same sex.
"That's why I went to a GP and that's why I was referred on to a psychologist," he explained.
"I told them how I felt and that I wanted to have a normal life where I would meet a woman and settle down and have a marriage because socially, that really was the only option for people in Ireland at the time.
"At that stage, the church really was in charge of the country."
Tom was told to "amuse himself" by thinking of women instead of men and was given exercises to meet women.
"Once I met a woman, as far as he was concerned and I was concerned, that seemed to be the solution to the problem," he said.
"After that, it just meant that part of me was locked away and I got more and more depressed as time went on.
"I went through what some people would term the Mary Poppins of conversion therapy and that led to long term depression."
He added that other people went through worse experiences than him when it comes to conversion therapy and he has heard of stories in the years since that are "quite shocking".
Tom described his 30-year marriage as "quite good" and said his former wife is still his best friend.
"We get on tremendously well, we still have a lot of similar interests, we have a lot of similar friends," he said.
"We had a good relationship other than the sexuality part of it."
It was "very difficult" when she found out her husband was gay, he explained.
He continued: "She had suspected that I was bisexual because she copped who I had a crush on.
"But she was quite shocked and very upset that I was gay and basically it felt like an insult to her sexuality and her as a being.
"There were an awful lot of hard and heartfelt conversations between us that went on, on and off, over years discussing how both of us felt."
Never too late
Tom came out a few years ago in his 60s and said he is relieved to be able to live as his true self now.
"I had a great relationship with my wife and I wouldn't give that up, but at this stage now, I'm just so glad to be me without a filter, to be totally me and not have to hide any part of myself," he said.
"Even though I was in a new village a separated from a lot of my friends by the social distancing and the lockdown rules, I wasn't as lonely not seeing people from one end of the week to the other as I was when I was in the closet and among friends.
"A lot of people can say you can be alone and be in a crowd because you're not communicating who you are to your friends and family.
Much of his life since he came out has been in lockdown, so his plans for when normal life returns are to join some gay social groups as a way to meet people.
"It's a nice way to meet people with similar interests who also happen to be gay," Tom said.
His advice to people who may be of similar age and who have not come out yet is it's never too late.
"A lot of people think it's too late for me to come out, well I would say the only time it's too late to do anything is just after your last breath," Tom said.
"That applies to everything in life, not just coming out."