Having been bullied by teachers and fellow students alike, Pearse Egan left school seriously lacking in self-belief. But as a new documentary on RTÉ One next Monday shows, joining a gay rugby team helped him let go of his past and find new goals.
He still has nightmares about it to this day. He had just started secondary school and desperately hoped things would be different this time, that his new classmates would be less cruel and that he would finally be accepted by his peers. Unfortunately, Pearse Egan was wrong.
His memory of walking into the classroom and spotting the words ‘Pearse is Gay’ scrawled on the blackboard marked the start of the darkest period of his life. From that day on the abuse worsened, the bullying became increasingly vicious and his sense of despair increased on a daily basis.
The homophobic taunts were at their most intense on the sports field, forcing the Dubliner to avoid the team games he craved to be a part of in his final years at school. Which makes it all the more extraordinary that rugby – that most macho of sports – would eventually prove the unlikely vehicle through which Pearse, now 26, found redemption.
While in Australia last year, Pearse was persuaded to try his hand at the sport for the first time by joining up with The Sydney Convicts, the first club of its kind in Australia to openly embrace gay players. The positive experience was life changing. It gave him a feeling of self-worth and acceptance for the first time in his life. In fact, he has emerged as the charismatic star of a poignant new documentary film, charting the personal journey of several members of The Sydney Convicts.
Darkest Childhood Days
Pearse spent six months with the Convicts before heading on to the Far
East on a backpacking adventure, and it turned out he was rather good at the sport. As a loose-head prop with the club’s 2nd XV, he helped his side reach the semi-finals of last year’s Bingham Cup, otherwise known as the Gay Rugby World Cup. The club’s first team were the eventually winners, thrashing the Brisbane Hustlers 31-0 in the final.
Recalling his darkest childhood days, Pearse says: “I still have nightmares about my time at school. One of my earliest memories at primary school was one day when every child in my class received a birthday invitation, except me. I was very upset and couldn’t understand why nobody liked me.
“When I went to secondary school, I assumed all this would change. But I was wrong. Instantly I was disliked. Any time I opened my mouth to speak, I was called a ‘fag’ or a ‘girl’. My Mum suggested I join a sports group in school, since I was a fast runner, so I joined basketball. I enjoyed it to begin with and pretended not to hear some of the comments, like, ‘I don’t want the ball, he’s touched it’.
“I could almost handled the verbal abuse, but one day it turned physical…
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