Cuckoos, or a Natural History of the Gay Child

Author: Ed Madden (University of South Carolina)

The common or European cuckoo, cuculus canoruscuach in Irish—is a migrant.[1] It spends its winters in Africa, but summers in Europe, showing up in Ireland in April when its song is considered one of the earliest signs of Irish spring. Unlike any other Irish bird, the cuckoo is also a brood parasite, which means that it lays its eggs in the nests of other birds—in Ireland, usually the meadow pipit and the dunnock, or hedge sparrow, both birds smaller than the cuckoo. When the female host bird is out of the nest, the female cuckoo swoops down, quickly pushes the host bird’s egg out of the nest, and replaces it with her own. In some species of cuckoos, the evolutionary adaptation includes egg mimicry, the cuckoo’s egg marked like that of a specific host bird. The bad egg looks like one of its own. Typically, too, the cuckoo eggs hatch before those of the host birds, and the chick will shove out the eggs of the host. If the host birds have already hatched, the cuckoo chick will push the smaller nestlings out as well, so that—as the bad egg turns bad seed—the surrogate parents focus only on the singular strange offspring.[2]


I begin with this ornithological lesson because it informs a resonant metaphorical figure in the work of Dermod Moore, an openly gay writer and for many years a member of the queer Irish diaspora in London, now a practicing psychotherapist in Dublin. In European cultures, the strange breeding behavior of the cuckoo metaphorically and etymologically grounds the figure of the cuckold: the appearance of the strange child in the nest, the home, suggesting the unfaithfulness of the wife. But it is not the fidelity of the mated pair that is at stake in Moore’s use of the cuckoo (though monogamy and its discontents are a concern in his work). The critical meaning of the figure is the sense of difference located in the child—monstrous, alien, misplaced. “We were born like cuckoos, most of us,” he wrote in 1999, “aliens in our family and schoolyard, with feelings we weren’t supposed to have.”[3] While this is obviously a fable—a natural history, we might say—of sexual difference, it is perhaps charged as well with the variable identifications and disidentifications of the queer Irish migrant. In this essay, I hope to draw attention to the cultural work of Moore, a writer of the queer Irish disapora who has received no critical attention. Specifically, I want to explore the psychological and rhetorical efficacy of his figure of the cuckoo in the nest, not only as a naturalizing figure of sexual difference, but also a figure of disidentification across multiple psychic and cultural registers of identity.


Dermod Moore grew up in Dublin, the child of progressive parents; his mother was Phil Moore, active in the struggle for gay rights and in the campaign for decriminalization.[4] In 1980, Moore cofounded the first Irish gay youth group, which met at the Hirschfeld Centre, Dublin’s first gay community center, and he later worked as an actor at the Abbey Theatre. Moore moved to England in 1993, just before the decriminalization of homosexuality, in part because he found Ireland to be small and confining as he became more sexually adventurous. That same year, he began writing a monthly sex column for Hot Press, Dublin’s music and pop culture periodical, using the nom de plume, Bootboy.[5] Like Candace Bushnell, who started writing her “Sex and the City” columns for the New York Observer about six months later, his project was to document contemporary sexual mores from his position as a participant and a member of a sexual subculture. A reference to his own identity as gay skinhead, Moore says the penname was intended to evoke a personal ad (“Bootboy seeking ___”), and the premise was to write from the persona of that person, “whoever he was.” Moore says he “was to write about sex as much as possible,” for a mostly heterosexual audience, and “without embarrassment.”[6]


Though the remit was sex, he also explored cultural differences; the evolving practices, communities, and spaces of gay subcultures; and the relation of personal identity to community identity, particularly as he compared the commercial and anonymous gay sexual subcultures of London to the increasingly visible and commercialized gay culture of an “increasingly unfamiliar”[7] Dublin—teasing out (or insisting on) connections between sexuality and community, sexuality and sociality. That is, as Moore navigates the sexual subcultures of both Ireland and England, he simultaneously explores in his work the tensions between individual and collective (sexual) identities. In 2005, Moore published a collection of the Bootboy columns under his own name (Dermod Moore, a.k.a. Bootboy) as Diary of a Man. Pulled together, these essays make clear the persistent theme of identity that suffuses his work—sexual, familial, political, and cultural. Indeed, questions of identity—of how and why we become who we are—might be said to animate Moore’s evolving careers as actor, astrologer, sex columnist, documentary filmmaker (his sweet short “My First Kiss” [8] a finalist in the 2009 Dublin Pride film contest), and now practicing psychotherapist.


Moore first sought training as a Jungian psychologist. “It was a deep wound for me,” he says of learning that he would be excluded from the Jungian profession because of his sexuality, “a deep, deep wound.”[9] As he explained in a follow-up email, a colleague in the London-based Association of Jungian Analysts told him that “of course” he wouldn’t be acceptable as a candidate for Jungian training because of his homosexuality. Moore says now that his colleague was not speaking for the AJA and was likely mistaken about any official policy, though he adds that anecdotes like his may suggest a “clear bias” at least in practice if not policy at the time, confirming a “very heteronormative concept of what an analyst should be.”[10] As Robert Hopcke notes in Jung, Jungians, and Homosexuality (a study published in 1989, only four years before Moore’s move to London), homosexuality receives very little attention in Jung’s own writing.[11] Hopcke further argues that Jung’s apparent attitudes toward homosexuality allow for a range of therapeutic understanding. There is always, for example, a presumption of meaning peculiar to the individual, which would allow for an understanding of homosexuality as part of the process of individuation, not a pathology, yet Jung also usually portrayed homosexuality, the few times he addressed it, as immature or infantile.[12] Furthermore, even though Hopcke suggests that more and more Jungian analysts were moving towards positive valuations of homosexuality at that time, many Jungian writers continued to view homosexuality as “a result of a mother complex and therefore inherently pathological and immature.”[13]


Looking elsewhere for a therapeutic discipline, Moore discovered in psychosynthesis an approach similarly grounded in individuation but less heteronormative in practice.[14] A branch of psychology founded by Italian psychiatrist Roberto Assagioli, psychosynthesis emphasizes a self-awareness that is spiritual as well as psychological. Describing himself as a “humanistic psychotherapist,” Moore characterizes the psychosynthetic approach as “inclusive,” drawing as it does on both spiritual traditions and psychoanalytic thought, and also as holistic rather than allopathic. Assagioli, a contemporary of Freud and Jung, insisted on an objective attitude toward sex: the sexual drive is “pre-moral,” he argued, and an objective “scientific” attitude would eliminate “fears and condemnations.”[15] Moore stresses that psychosynthesis does not gender the psyche but focuses instead on “universal” drives of need and will. (Though he practices in Dublin, Moore now teaches The “Sexuality and Gender” modules for the Psychosynthesis Education and Trust in London.) Psychosynthesis also emphasizes the harmonious social integration of the individual within larger collectives, and practitioners stress this transpersonal dimension—the “sense of human interconnectedness” or a desire for unity with a larger collective.[16] The emphasis on the transpersonal may help to explain the insistence in Moore’s writing of connecting the individual to the collective.


Describing his own “search for something,” Moore wrote in 2003, “Identity? Community? A pantomine horse with two front ends, I want to be both as individual as possible, and as tribal as possible: to belong to somewhere, someone.”[17] This pushmi-pullyu of the individual and the social is mapped with difficulty onto sexuality, with Moore insistent on the possibility of a sexual collective, even though he sometimes finds sexual experience alienating. Though urban anonymity critically “offers the opportunity for re-invention like no other,” it often fails to offer sociality. “Once you have reinvented yourself,” he writes, “then you need to put roots down again somewhere, or something fundamental about life is lost.”[18] Elsewhere he writes, “Community matters to me, and in a huge metropolis that’s oddly hard to find.”[19] Although he glibly refers to the “often oxymoronic business of being a gay Irishman,”[20] he also thinks nostalgically about being gay in Ireland: “What memories I have of the gay scene in the ‘80s in Dublin are fond. It wasn’t perfect, nothing is, but there was a sense of people giving of their time to help out, politically, socially, creatively.”[21] Moore’s essays are constantly negotiating—reclaiming, rejecting, reconsidering—the (im)possibilities of identification in both England and Ireland. Indeed, he enacts what Tina O’Toole has described as a central project of queer Irish migrant literature, “an ongoing series of queer interventions by migrant writers, resisting, rejecting, and questioning the dominant sexual economy, whether ‘at home’ or in the diaspora space.”[22]


In early 1999, three years after he had begun classes in psychosynthesis and self-development in London (in 1996), Bootboy published “Let’s Stick Together” in the Hot Press. The essay is a call for gay male community—as perhaps is evident by its later publication online under the simple title, “Tribe.”[23] Central to the essay are tensions between individual and the collective and between orientation and choice. Moore argues that gay men must choose to identify as part of a community, for their common good, even as he affirms the innate and thus unchosen sense of sexual identity—the central image of which is the cuckoo. “We were born like cuckoos, most of us;” he wrote, “aliens in our family and schoolyard, with feelings we weren’t supposed to have.”[24] That he wrote this only three years after beginning analytic training suggests that this is not a metaphor he uses lightly. Indeed, in an interview in summer 2014, Moore told me that he used the image earlier that year in a class for other therapists. “It is still with me,” he said.


The column starts with a call for gay stories, gay voices, then moves into a condemnation of the ways that gay sex has been “commodified, packaged, exploited and corrupted.”[25] Moore insists that he’s not anti-sex; he just wants to recover the personal, affectional, and ultimately affirming and humanizing elements of sex. To do so, he calls for a different kind of gay community—a tribe—and insists that gay men move from the alienation of sexual awareness in adolescence to a chosen identification that is both individual and communal. “Somewhere along the line,” he says, “I think it’s important to choose to be gay.” He explains, “I don’t just mean acceptance of the fact […]. I mean, at some later stage, one chooses to join the tribe of those like you, and take on the privileges and support and responsibilities of being a life-long member […]. For what draws you together is not that you share similar tastes in shopping and fucking, but the capacity to love.”[26]


Suggesting that “the concept of tribe is a way forward,” Moore offers twelve affirmations of community identification, surely a revision of “The 12 Steps.” (Moore repeatedly criticizes twelve-step programs as addressing symptoms rather than causes, and as perpetuating the very cultures of shame that sustain addictions.) The first affirmation: “I choose to join this tribe of men who love men.” This community is emphatically male. “What if,” he asks, “at some stage, gay men could choose to join a queer clan or a fag fraternity or a benders’ brotherhood?” Tribe, clan, fraternity, brotherhood: his image of community is emphatically fraternal. In a later essay on domestic violence, he contrasts the emotional literacy of girls and boys, insisting that even as our culture has begun to emphasize empowerment for girls and teaching assertiveness, it fails to develop emotional literacy in boys: “Sisters are doing it for themselves,” he writes. “Brothers, where are you?”[27] Lamenting the self-hatred, loneliness, objectification, and addiction he sees in the gay men around him, he concludes: “Hurt little boys (of all ages) need to grow up and make a choice, and take on responsibility for our own well-being, supporting each other.”[28] The call is to move from individual identity to collective responsibility.


Looking back at his invocation of a tribe, Moore says now, “It was a word that seemed almost absurdly the opposite of what I was experiencing, and I didn’t think it applied to the gay world at all.”[29] He compares the gay world of 1990s London to the welcoming community he experienced at the Hirschfeld Centre—the “mixed world of the early eighties, the men and women and quay queens and teenagers and lesbians” at the center, where programs, such as the youth group and discos, were sustained only through volunteer efforts. He says the word “tribe” also suggested to him the berdache or two-spirit figure of Native Americans. Despite these gender-inclusive resonances, however, tribe remains exclusively male in the Bootboy essays, reflecting, as Moore says, the gay world of that cultural and historical moment—“it wasn’t about women at all.”


Moore compares his call for male community to the Million Man March of 1995, a mass mobilization of black men in the U.S. Moore thus emphasizes the threat of minority male mobilization while also suggesting an ethnic resonance to this sexual community.[30] It is this shift—from gender to race—that mostly deeply inflects Moore’s use of the word tribe, a word that perhaps mostly clearly marks the ethnic inflection of Moore’s imagined (male) community. Indeed, if this identification with maleness seems counterintuitive to his desires for emotional connection, we might consider the particular resonance the concept had in (Anglo-)American gay and lesbian discourse at the time.


Moore uses a word that threads gay and lesbian discourse of the late twentieth century, especially in writing of the 1990s focused on the desire for or the development of queer communities. For example, Nancy Wilson’s popular queer theology, Our Tribe: Queer Folks, God, Jesus, and the Bible (1995) proposes a “tribal agenda” for queer people, focused on “healing our tribal wounds and boldly exercising our tribal gifts.”[31] She uses “tribe” to describe non-normative queer communities,[32] but she bases her sense of the word in her experience of the eucharist as a participatory community and a family reunion as safe place. Her image of the family tribe is simultaneously an image of disconnection from the nuclear family and displacement into a larger transpersonal network—“a child in a huge family gathering” who “had lost contact with her parents” but who finds “deep consolation” in the family resemblances around her. “If I lost my parents,” Wilson writes, “my family, my tribal connections of whatever type, I was still safe in the arms of this extended tribal network.”[33] Lesbian poet Judy Grahn posits the “tribal and spiritual roots” of a global, ancient, and transcultural gay culture.[34] As Christopher Nealon notes in his study of “historical feeling” in lesbian and gay culture, “tribe” signals an imagined community of gays and lesbians; it registers a desire for heritage, community, and collective agency, understood in ethnic terms.[35]


The word seems even more charged with a desire for social community and history in writings about gay community in the wake of HIV and AIDS, especially in the popular work of American gay writer Paul Monette. In his 1992 memoir, Becoming a Man, “tribe” is gender-inclusive (“the women and men of my tribe”) and yet emphatically tied to the devastation in the gay community caused by the AIDS epidemic. After burying another lover, Monette says that “every memoir now is a kind of manifesto, as we piece together the tale of the tribe.”[36] Eric Rofes’s 1996 study of the catastrophic impact of AIDS on the social fabric and structures of gay community life (the destruction of “group ties and coordinated patterns of existence”) is titled Reviving the Tribe.[37] “Tribe,” in Rofes’s work, names connections both social and sexual; one man he interviews even describes the sharing of bodily fluids, pre-AIDS, as indicative of a “tribal” need for connection.[38]


Even as Moore deploys a word with rich subcultural meanings in the historical context—sticky, one might say, with erotic and social affect, with various forms of mourning and desire for collective belonging—the emphasis on maleness may also draw on the centrality of father figures elsewhere in his writing. Though community is fraternal, one might argue not only that male identification and desire fuse in this fantasy—the distinction between desire (wanting the other) and identification (wanting to be the other) being, as Diana Fuss has argued, “a precarious one at best”[39]—but also that the desire for multivalent connections with other men is melancholic, impelled by a primary identification with the father. It is perhaps telling that a few years before Moore used the cuckoo to figure sexual difference, he used the bat in an allegorical column that clearly substitutes paternal nurture for maternal abandonment. “I offer the bat as a symbol […],” he writes, “to those of us who feel, sometimes, that nature has played a practical joke on us. Those of us whose nature marks us apart. Those of us who love our own sex.”[40] Like the cuckoo, the bat, neither bird nor mouse, registers (sexual) difference in Moore’s bestiary. Moore offers two narratives, however, that inflect this image—the first, a nostalgic memory of his own father and an encounter with a bat, the second a fanciful evolutionary parable about the first time a female bat gave birth upside down, watching “her babies fall to their doom.”[41] Between those two tales, Moore notes that biologists had recently discovered a bat that was the first mammal known to have male adults produce milk and suckle infants. Like many of his essays, this one is out to interrogate masculinity, and he suggests the bat as a symbol “empowers men to feel that their own nurturing and caring side is natural.”[42] Psychologically, however, the image of the lactating bat-father seems to exceed this interpretation, especially when Moore concludes the essay in a rhetorical flourish that collapses identification and desire in a fantasy of the father’s breast: “The symbol is father’s milk.” The primary drives of oral incorporation and the Kleinian good breast are both relocated onto the body of the lactating (bat) father.


Only two months after the cuckoo appeared in Bootboy’s column, Moore further developed his ornithology of sexual identity in a psychological reflection on the image of Ganymede, cupbearer and catamite for Zeus, who abducted the boy in the form of an eagle and whom Moore calls both “King of the Gods” and the “Divine Father.” In a strikingly masochistic and perhaps pederastic revision of his own ornithological imagery, Moore writes: “It hasn’t really registered with you that I’m queer, has it? That the person I’m waiting for is male? Well I use the term person loosely. I’m waiting for a divine claw to grab me by the scruff of the neck and whisk me away to his eyrie.”[43] This identification with the mythical image of a desired young man becomes, in Moore’s essay, a call for a dedication to child welfare, the “notion that no child should ever be unwanted or harmed in any way.”[44] Despite that attempt to denature the figure of the raptor, however, the image retains a powerful charge of sexualized filiality represented as ornithological rape. In a 2001 Bootboy column on loneliness and the failures of romantic love, Moore would recycle the image: “Some just fumble their way through life, like a child searching in the dark for some big strong hands to reach down and make it alright.”[45] Closing the essay with that image, he displaces romantic desire into an image of paternal care.


When a reporter asked Moore, in 2005 (after the release of Diary of a Man) if “a search for the father” propelled him, Moore quickly countered, “The mistake one could fall into is to think that there is something wrong with that.” Further, he insisted, whatever our sexuality, we may fall in love with people who mirror, in some way, our original love affairs with our parents. But he was quick to add that he uses the words mother and father “more symbolically and in terms of archetypes,” that he was not talking about “my real father.” And when the reporter posited the pathological narrative that “gay men […] hope to find in other men the love […] that they didn’t receive from their actual fathers,” Moore bristled, not only refusing the etiology (“it just doesn’t work that way”) but also resisting a psychological emphasis on lack. “In that question you are assuming there is a lack at the root of sexual orientation,” he said. Being gay, he insists, does not have a “compensatory dimension.[46]


The cuckoo, then, is a significant image. In an essay filled with the rhetoric of choice, the cuckoo naturalizes sexual difference and sexual identity as innate, essential, biological if not genetic. Given Moore’s familial figures of desire and community, the image oddly naturalizes the (sometimes eroticized) search for fraternal and paternal connection beyond the domain of the biological family. In doing so, it replicates as well Nealon’s insistence on the foundling as a primary figure of the lesbian and gay historical imagination: like Nealon’s foundling, or like Nancy Wilson’s child, who loses contact with her parents but finds comfort in the “tribal network,” the cuckoo exemplifies the split identifications queer children may feel between families of origin and chosen families.[47] Further, because we use animals to tell stories about ourselves, as both Donna Haraway[48] and Jennifer Terry[49] have demonstrated, and because the discourse of nature has been used so insistently to condemn homosexuality, the metaphor has rhetorical efficacy in an anti-gay culture. One thinks, for example, of the force and enthusiasm with which the 1977 discovery of lesbian seagulls off the coast of California was widely circulated in gay and alternative press, or more recent coverage of gay nesting penguins, stories that use the natural images of nest and offspring to raise questions about the presumed “unnaturalness” of homosexuality.


Metaphorically, the cuckoo offers a natural history of the unnatural child. Inevitably, given the ornithological facts of mimicry, parasitism, and eradication (or infant sacrifice), this natural story may still be marked with pathological residues—queer as false or counterfeit, queer as a threat to the family. Yet the emphasis of the figure is this: the child is both of and not of the nest, both of and not of the family, both of and not of the culture. The child is governed by a sense of (sexual) difference that is located both within the self and outside, beyond the nest, in biological progenitors or psychic projections—a sense of difference that grounds its disidentifications from family and culture.


Unlike the spectral father/Father who rarely appears in Moore’s work, the Mother is a more substantial figure. And if the father/Father informs Moore’s figures of desire and identification, the mother/Mother is more clearly an image of the embraced/disavowed family and culture—of disidentification. In Bootboy’s 2004 column, “An Irish Coming Out,” “the Irish Mother” is the reason gay Irishmen don’t come out.[50] The column reviews the book Coming Out: Irish Gay Experiences, edited by one Glen O’Brien, a pseudonym, whom Moore mocks at first for editing a book called Coming Out and not coming out himself. (Tellingly, Moore signs this “aka Bootboy” column with his own name.) He writes,


I knew intuitively what was preventing ‘Glen O’Brien’ from coming out properly—the Irish Mother. Not the real thing, (she’s often underestimated) but the archetypal, culturally omnipresent psychological phenomenon that is our Mammy, and the Mammy of our children—the one who keeps us in check, the one who pours drops of ‘Irish Shame’ into our milk so we don’t get too out of line.[51]


Citing both Melanie Klein on the good and bad breasts and the spectral mother of Patrick Kavanagh’s “The Great Hunger,” Moore argues for a particularly intense and particular Irish modality of this psychic projection in a column published only a few months later, again insisting that this psychic projection, “spawned by the tortured imagination of the Irish male,” far exceeds any flesh and blood mother.[52]


In a 2009 essay, he uses the mother/Mother to elaborate further on the ideological knot of culture, family, and identity—the Irish Mother being the sign and symptom of that knot. “Gay people don’t come out to their families or workmates because ‘it would kill the mother,’” he says, explaining, “We are not an individualistic culture, it’s tough to get by here without family, to forge an identity that is separate, true to oneself.”[53] Though the essay argues for the exposure of sexual, economic, and political truths after the collapse of the Celtic Tiger, the essay’s explanatory truth is a sexual one—“sexual secrets are the most toxic in Irish society,” Moore says, “because if they are revealed the family can get ripped apart.” The sexual secret then is ideologically opposed to the family but opposed to and by the Mother.


That said, there are psychic mothers and there are real mothers, and one writer in O’Brien’s book calls Moore “the gay guy with the mother,”[54] and it is clear, in talking with Moore, that his mother’s public activism on behalf of gay rights casts a shadow on his own sexual behavior. It wasn’t simply that everyone knew his mother, but that her presence was felt in his sexual life. “I had to be a good gay then,” he explains. “The pressure on me to be a good gay was intolerable.”[55] He laughed, in our recent interview, about a session of anonymous sex in the park—“that moment when you pull out the tissues,” and the fellow said, “I saw your mum on the news.” Worse, as a young man, he would walk through a cruising area in Phoenix Park on the way to his grandmother’s house, meeting a man along the way. He later discovered that his mother’s first kiss took place in the same bushes. “She and I both kissed a man in the same spot,” he says. To some extent, this is why he left Ireland, not simply because he craved more sexual adventure, but as he says, because “here, everyone knew your mother.”


So like others in the gay Irish diaspora, Moore fled to London where he could find some sense of sexual and psychological autonomy, enacting a rural-urban migration narrative that he calls “archetypal” for gay men.[56] It is a narrative echoed in other writing by gay Irish migrants. Colm Clifford, for example, described his 1973 migration: “London that beacon of lust and potential occasions of sin was, I decided, where I was going to come out; get myself together, find other queers […]. London was where it was all going to happen.”[57] Like Moore, Clifford links sexual identification to collective identification (“find other queers”). Both link gay sexual identity to migration, “migration being,” as Tina O’Toole has noted, “central to the Irish ‘coming out story.’”[58] Eithne Luibhéid calls this narrative of movement from rural repression to urban freedom a “liberationist” narrative of migration, which depends on simplified myths of oppression and freedom and ultimately minimizes the complexities of migration, the “struggle, suffering, and resistance experienced by subordinated groups.”[59] Though Moore instantiates the narrative, he is constantly testing the validity of its myths, offering, to quote O’Toole, “an ongoing series of queer interventions” by which to question the sexual economies both at “home” and abroad.[60] But as the narrative of Phoenix Park suggests—“She and I both kissed a man in the same spot”—identifying with, yet escaping from, the mother/Mother is the pivotal and paradoxical movement of this narrative.

Actual mothers, archetypal Mother, psychological projection, the Irish Mammy, maybe even Mother Ireland—these figures shift and merge in Moore’s work, and it is this slippage that suggests to me the importance of disidentification as a frame for understanding his work, an exploration of disidentification across a range of psychic, sexual, ethnic, and diasporic registers. In psychoanalytic literature, disidentification is defined as a shedding of or disengagement from identifications and introjections, the relation of the boy and his mother a primary example. As one source puts it, “‘Disidentification’ is evident in the boy’s development when, in order to consolidate his sense of masculinity, he moves away from [the] mother.”[61] In psychoanalysis, disidentification is work that the analyst and analysand pursue. As Thomas Helscher describes it in The Second Century of Psychoanalysis, disidentification means to recognize (but not eliminate) early identifications, in order to “loosen their hold upon us” so that “’the true self’ can emerge.”[62]Disidentification,” he says, “…gradually allows for the past to become history rather than unconscious repetition.” Disidentification has a similar charge in psychosynthesis: it is an exercise of will by which one consciously detaches oneself from elements of personality, including subpersonalities within the psyche.[63]I have a body, but I am not my body,” reads the psychosynthetic exercise. “I have emotions, but I am not my emotions.”[64]


Similarly, the migrant queer might say I am from there, but I’m not like that. Or as Moore asks in one of Bootboy’s interrogations of gay culture in London, “Am I really like that?” [65] Or as his figure of the cuckoo suggests: the queer migrant is both of and not of the family, both of and not of the culture.[66] I have in mind José Esteban Muñoz’s use of the word in Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics, in which Munoz insists on a cultural and political form of psychological disidentification that allows queers of color to “identify with ethnos or queerness despite the phobic charges in both fields.”[67] To do so, he argues, they must neither identify with nor reject the hegemonic and essentialized versions of race and sexuality in dominant culture, but rework and reinvest those forms. Neither the “good subject” who may easily identify with dominant culture nor the “bad subject” who resists and rejects the dominant culture, the “disidentificatory subject” says Muñoz, “tactically and simultaneously works on, with, and against a cultural form.”[68]


Tony Murray has adapted Avtar Brah’s concept of “contingent positionality” to examine the variable registers of cultural identification in Irish male migrant narratives;[69] similarly, Tina O’Toole adapts Sneja Gunew’s term “serial accommodations” to understand the “series of queer interventions” migrant writers make.[70] While both seem useful for understanding Moore’s serial publication and the shifting positionalities they may demonstrate, Muñoz’s analysis of disidentification in the performances of queers of color allows for the disjunctive identifications across ethnicity and sexuality in Moore’s writing, and foregrounds the psychic work involved in such (dis)identifications. Moore recognizes, in his own use of psychoanalytic theory, that even though “the archetypal Mother” is not the biological mother, the Symbolic Mother may be represented by a man’s real mother, “an institution like Mother Church, or a nation like Mother Ireland.”[71] Moore thus connects mother to culture—so that the primary psychoanalytic definition of the son’s disidentification from the mother resonates across other registers of psychic and cultural disidentification. Further, the Irish Mammy puts drops of “Irish Shame” in your milk, shame thus connected to the oral imagery of primary identification and incorporation, but also to the larger cultural imaginary of which the Mammy is a simultaneously nurturing and disciplinary figure.


In 2008, Moore returned to Dublin—returned to the nest, we might say. “I needed to come back and remember who I was,” he says. Specifically he notes the sense of Irish social community he missed in the “brutal” anonymity of London, and he says he needed to revive his sense of the connection of the sexual self to the social.[72] So this attempt to “remember [re-member, or put back together] who I was” seems also an attempt to integrate self and community, the queer and the Irish. Tellingly, in a Bootboy book review he published that same year, the cuckoo reappears, almost a decade after Moore had first invoked it as a figure for the queer child. In the essay, “Queer Craythurs,” Moore reviews Terrible Queer Creatures: Homosexuality in Irish History by Brian Lacey, and Our Lives, Out Loud, by Katherine Zappone and Ann Louise Gilligan. Moore describes Lacey’s book as a


salve to the wound that, I believe, every gay person experiences at some stage of their lives, especially when coming out. It happens when it first dawns on us that a part of our identity, our sexuality, marks us out as cuckoos in the nest. For the vast majority of us, having grown up in heterosexual households, when we realize we are different to our family, in one crucial aspect, our natural urge is to research who else is like us, and who else has been like us in the past.[73]


“Our natural urge” to research those like us, in the present and in the past: this phrasing expands the rhetorical work of the figure as well as the drive for collective identification, naturalizing the search for connection as both community and history—for predecessors and well as progenitors.


Moore suggests that every library should stock the book “with great big arrows point[ing] to it, to direct all curious adolescent cuckoos.” That is, though the metaphor suggests we are born different, he wants there to be signposts on how to understand that difference, and more obvious instruction in how to become that difference. Echoing his first use of the cuckoo almost a decade before, he insists on a community outside, beyond, and prior to sexual awareness, which sexual awareness alone fails to access or create, though it may instill in us that “natural urge” for connection. The queer child may be born different, but he has to learn difference—how to accept, live, act, manage, understand that difference.


As we think about the place of psychoanalysis in Ireland, it is important to consider the work of Dermod Moore, a.k.a. Bootboy, a voice in Irish popular culture insistently and critically inflected by psychological training and principles. Insider and outsider, he has offered an openly gay voice about Irish and gay sexual practices, Irish and English sexual cultures and communities, a voice advocating a progressive sexual politics in Irish popular culture. When I spoke with him in 2014, Moore suggested to me that the cuckoo, his figure for the queer child, may offer an instructive image with more expansive liberatory implications. “There’s cuckoo-ness in all of us,” he said. (“Queer problems are everyone’s problems,” he wrote in 2003,”—we just seem to have been sensitized to them earlier.”[74]) Understanding this “queer sensibility,” he says, may, in fact, help others understand “what it means to be human—to have a sex drive, to be gendered.” It may, that is, help them to understand “heteronormativity,” the disciplinary norms and confining narratives—the cramped nests within which we all, no matter our sexualities, find ourselves.



[1] I am deeply grateful to Dermod Moore, who met with me to discuss his work in Dublin in 2014. Unless otherwise noted, biographical information and quotations in this essay are taken from that interview, June 17, 2014. I am also deeply grateful to the participants at the 2014 Ireland and Psychoanalysis conference at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, for useful feedback and suggestions on this essay.

[2] On the cuckoo, see Richard Collins, “The Cuckoo: Ireland’s Most Scandalous Bird,” Mooney Goes Wild, RTÉ Radio 1, accessed December 15, 2014.; see also “Cuckoo” at the Bird Watch Ireland website, accessed December 15, 2014,

[3] Dermod Moore, Diary of a Man (Dublin: Hot Press Books, 2005), 122.

[4] Phil Moore was the spokesperson for Parental Equality. She appears in the iconic photograph celebrating decriminalization in 1993, raising a toast with fellow GLEN (Gay Lesbian Equality Network) organizers Kieran Rose, Suzy Byrne, and Chris Robson. See, for example, “GLEN celebrates the 20th anniversary of decriminalization,” EILE magazine, June 24, 2013, accessed December 15, 2014,

[5] Many of these were later reposted on Moore’s Bootboy blog,, or bonhomie. If “Bootboy” suggested a sexual type, suggests Moore’s insistent focus on male sociality.

[6] Moore, interview with author, June 17, 2014.

[7] Moore, Diary of a Man, 148.

[8] My First Kiss is online at “My First Kiss,” YouTube video, posted by Dublin Pride, June 16, 2009,

[9] Moore, interview.

[10] Moore, email to author, Oct. 3, 2015.

[11] Robert H. Hopcke, Jung, Jungians, and Homosexuality (Boston and Shaftesbury: Shambhala, 1989), 12-13.

[12] Ibid., 50-56.

[13] Ibid., 104-105. He adds that “examples of this sort of insidious condemnation of homosexuality, carried out by discussing homosexuality in the context of psychopathology, are distressingly frequent in Jungian literature.”

[14] It is not within the range of this essay to explore psychosynthesis as a discipline or practice, but I hope I foreground here elements that seem relevant to Moore’s thinking about identity. For more on psychosynthesis, see “Psychosynthesis Psychology,” Institute of Psychosynthesis,; and “What is Psychosynthesis?” Psychosynthesis, See also Psychosynthesis,

[15] That said, in cases in which the sexual drive’s “natural expression is unwarranted,” Assagioli also insisted on the active “transmutation” (though explicitly not repression) of the sexual into an expanded “love-energy” (friendship, “brotherly love,” social and philanthropic action) or creative activity; see Roberto Assagioli, Psychosynthesis: A Manual of Principles and Techniques (New York: The Viking Press, 1971; Psychosynthesis Research Foundation, 1965), 270-273. Citations refer to the Viking Press edition.

[16] See, for example, Diana Whitmore, Psychosynthesis Counseling in Action (London: Sage, 1991), 6-7, 15-16. Whitmore describes psychosynthesis as “one of the prime forces in transpersonal psychology”; ibid., 7.

[17] Moore, Diary of a Man, 122.

[18] Ibid., 148.

[19] Ibid., 123.

[20] Ibid.,149.

[21] Ibid.,124. Tellingly, Moore’s first column as Bootboy in March 1993 described his experience of seeing the first gay float in the Dublin St. Patrick’s Day parade.

[22] Tina O’Toole, “Cé Leis Tú? Queering Irish Migrant Literature,” Irish University Review 43, no.1 (Spring-Summer 2013): 142-143. O’Toole adapts Sneja Gunew’s term “serial accommodations,” a phrase that seems particularly apt for Moore’s serial publications; see O’Toole, 142, and Gunew, “Serial Accommodations: Diasporic Women’s Writing,” Canadian Literature 196 (Spring 2008): 6.

[23] On the Hot Press website, where like most of his essays it falls behind the archive paywall, the essay is dated February 17, 1999; see Hot Press, It is dated February 4, 1999 in Diary of a Man, where it is published under the more polemical title “Hurt little boys need to grow up and make a choice” (118-122). Moore published it as “Tribe” on his own website at the archived site; see Bootboy,

[24] Moore, Diary of a Man, 122.

[25] Ibid., 118-119.

[26] Ibid., 119-120.

[27] Ibid., 142.

[28] Ibid., 122.

[29] Moore, email to author, Oct 15, 2015.

[30] See Moore, Diary of a Man, 122. “The concept of a group of people, especially men,” he writes, “banding together in such a way can provoke the most intense opposition.”

[31] Rev. Nancy Wilson, Our Tribe: Queer Folks, God, Jesus, and the Bible (New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 1995), 23, [original emphasis].

[32] Ibid., 26. For example, Wilson refers to “the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender communities and tribes.”

[33] Ibid., 22.

[34] Judy Grahn, Another Mother Tongue: Gay Words, Gay Worlds (Boston MA: Beacon, 1984), xiv.

[35] Christopher Nealon, Foundlings: Lesbian and Gay Historical Emotions Before Stonewall (Durham: Duke, 2001), 6-7.

[36] Paul Monette, Becoming a Man: Half a Life Story (New York: Harper, 1982), 1-2.

[37] Eric Rofes, Reviving the Tribe: Regenerating Gay Men’s Sexuality and Culture in the Ongoing Epidemic (New York: Harrington Park Press, 1996).

[38] See Norman, “Tribal Writes,” San Diego Update, Dec. 29, 1993, A-11; qtd. in Rofes, 291; and see Nigel Gearing, Emerging Tribe: Gay Culture in New Zealand (Melbourne: Penguin Australia, 1997). “One part of my love of sex is swallowing cum,” he writes. “I feel as though the person—their seed—is inside of me, even though I’m not going to have a baby. It’s valuable. I don’t know if it’s tribal, ancient, or what, but I think it’s important to be able to drink another man and have him drink you”; qtd. in Rofes, 147. Similarly, journalist Connie Norman described HIV-negative gay men’s organizing in 1993 as “tribal rites,” and Nigel Gearing’s1997 study of New Zealand gay culture is the study of an “emerging tribe.”

[39] Diana Fuss, Identification Papers (New York: Routledge, 1995), 11.

[40] Moore, Diary of a Man, 180-182. The essay is dated October 16, 1994.

[41] While the (female) cuckoo abandons her children to surrogate parents, the bat in the fable simply sacrifices them to the imperatives of evolutionary development.

[42] Ibid.

[43] Moore, “Reflections, Dermod Moore on Ganymede,” Apollon: The Journal of Psychological Astrology 2 (April 1999): 66.

[44] Moore, “Reflections,” 67. “The divine child in me,” he says, “loves children.”

[45] Moore, Diary of a Man, 28. The image here seems to have been filtered through Tennyson’s In Memoriam rather than Greek mythology, in which the speaker stretches and gropes with “lame hands of faith” in the darkness, and cries out like a child, but later in the poem insists that “I was as a child that cries, | But, crying knows his father near.”

[46] Joe Jackson, “Not alone in loneliness,” Irish Independent, September 25, 2005, accessed December 21, 2014,

[47] See Nealon, Foundlings, 10-11.

[48] Donna Haraway, Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (New York: Routledge, 1991).

[49] Jennifer Terry, “‘Unnatural acts’ in Nature: The Scientific Fascination with Queer Animals,” GLQ: Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 6, no. 2 (2000): 151-193; see esp. 152-153.

[50] Moore, “An Irish Coming Out, Hot Press, February 20, 2004, accessed August 21, 2014, Not collected in Diary of a Man and falling online behind the Hot Press archive paywall, the essay is available on Moore’s blog:, April 16, 2007, accessed December 21, 2014, at

[51] Ibid.

[52] Moore, “Mother, Should I Build a Wall?” Hot Press, November 22, 2005, accessed August 21, 2014,

[53] Moore, “The Truth Will Out—At Last,” Hot Press, May 15, 2009, accessed August 21, 2014,

[54] Moore, “An Irish Coming Out.”

[55] Moore, interview.

[56] Moore, Diary of a Man, 56. He writes, “The trajectory of leaving towns or villages to find love in Metropolis, common to so many gay men, is archetypal in this period of our history, in this part of our world.”

[57] Colm Clifford (as Colm O’Clubhán), “Sexuality for Export,” in Out for Ourselves: The Lives of Irish Lesbians & Gay Men, ed. Clodagh Boyd et. al. (Dublin: Dublin Lesbian and Gay Men’s Collectives and Women’s Community Press, 1986), 87-92, 90.

[58] O’Toole, “Cé Leis Tú?” 131.

[59] Eithne Luibhéid, “Introduction: Queering Migration and Citizenship,” in Queer Migrations: Sexuality, U.S. Citizenship, and Border Crossings, ed. Eithne Luibhéid and Lionel Cantú, Jr. (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota, 2005): xxix-xxv. On this narrative, see also Ed Madden, “Queering the Irish Diaspora,” Éire-Ireland 47, no. 1-2 (Spring-Summer 2012): 176-181.

[60] O’Toole, “Cé Leis Tú?” 142-143.

[61] Salman Akhtar, Comprehensive Dictionary of Psychoanalysis (London: Karnac Books, 2009), 81.

[62] Thomas Helscher, The Second Century of Psychoanalysis (London: Karnac Books, 2011), 249.

[63] Psychosynthesis posits three levels of unconscious—lower, middle, and higher—and theorizes that subpersonalities existing in the unconscious must be recognized and integrated in order to achieve a more authentic and “transpersonal” self.

[64] See, for example, Will Parfit, “The Disidentification Exercise,” pages 3-5,, accessed July 20, 2017; or “Psychosythesis Exercises for Personal & Spiritual Growth,” compiled and edited by Thomas Yeomans, Psychosynthesis Practice, vol. 1, pages 7-8, accessed December 21, 2014, online at

[65] Moore, Diary of a Man, 122. I am reminded of Mister Climanis in Roddy Doyle’s A Star Called Henry: “I am a Jew but I am not Jewish. I am a communist but I am not a Communist.”

[66] Moore specifically connected disidentification and the figure of the cuckoo in our recent interview. He said the mother senses difference in her son and acts even more protective. As a result, he says there is a curious “disidentification” with the father, “who is perhaps mystified by this really tight mother-son bond.” Further, for the gay son who is “so close” to his mother, the sense of difference, “the cuckoo-ness is exaggerated, feels more intense.” “I speak in cliché,” he smiled, “but only because it is true”; Moore, interview.

[67] José Esteban Muñoz, Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1999), 11.

[68] Ibid., 11-12.

[69] Tony Murray, London Irish Fictions: Narrative, Diaspora and Identity (Liverpool: Liverpool UP, 2012), 173; see also Avtar Brah, Cartographies of Diaspora: Contesting Identities (London: Routledge, 1996).

[70] See O’Toole, “Cé Leis Tú?” 142. She cites Gunew, “Serial Accommodations: Diasporic Women’s Writing,” Canadian Literature 196 (Spring 2008): 6.

[71] Moore, Diary of a Man, 130.

[72] Moore, interview.

[73] Moore, “Queer Craythurs,” Hot Press, October 23, 2008, accessed December 21, 2014,

[74] Moore, Diary of a Man, 197-198.