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Dil Wickremasinghe is a broadcaster, comedian, journalist and social entrepreneur who grew up in Italy and Sri Lanka before moving to Ireland 16 years ago. Dil’s incredible journey has involved struggles with her Jehovah’s Witness parents who disowned her in her youth because of her sexuality. Dil is a courageous survivor of sexual abuse and has overcome depression and thoughts of suicide to transform her life in amazing ways. She has been a flight attendant, a dish washer, a recruitment consultant and lots more.
Dil arrived in Ireland in June 2000 with little savings and no plan of what she was going to do. Since then she has become a national figure championing social inclusion, love, and justice in a world that so badly needs it. Part of this work is her award winning Global Village national radio show on Newstalk.
As if all that wasn’t enough Dil is also the co-founder of the Insight Matters counselling centre which reaches 100s of people on a weekly basis.
The Love and Courage podcast
The Love and Courage podcast features interviews with inspirational people who are making a real difference in the world today. Guests are typically people passionate about social justice, and who have demonstrated courage and conviction in their lives.
Host Ruairí McKiernan is leading Irish social innovator, campaigner, writer and public speaker. He is the founder of the pioneering SpunOut.ie youth organization, and helped set-up the Uplift and the A Lust For Life non-profits. In 2012 the President of Ireland Michael D Higgins appointed Ruairí to the Council of State, a national constitutional advisory body whose members include all current and former leaders of the country. Ruairí is the recipient of numerous awards, including a Fulbright fellowship, and he contributes regularly to the media on youth, health, community and social justice issues.
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[00:00:39] DW: So, when you go into that place of self-reflection, you have an opportunity to actually change your life for the better. Because life is just so short. The last thing you want to do is plod along in a life that is not fulfilling for you.
[00:00:53] RM: My guest in this episode is the remarkable Dil Wickremasinghe. Dil is a broadcaster, comedian, journalist, and social entrepreneur who grew up in Italy and Sri Lanka, before moving to Ireland 16 years ago. Dil’s incredible journey has involved struggles with her Jehovah’s Witness parents, who disowned her in her youth because of her sexuality. Dil is a courageous survivor of sexual abuse, and has overcome depression and thoughts of suicide to transform her life in the most amazing ways. She has been a flight attendant, a dishwasher, a recruitment consultant, and lots more. She arrived in Ireland in June 2000 with little savings, and no plan of what she was going to do. Since then, she has become a national figure, championing social inclusion, love, and justice in a world that so badly needs it. Part of this work includes her award-winning Global Village national radio show on Newstalk. As if all of this wasn’t enough, Dil is also the co-founder of the Insight Matters counselling center, which reaches hundreds of people on a weekly basis. Now, get yourself nice and relaxed, and enjoy this interview with the wonderful Dil.
[00:01:58] RM: Dil, thanks very much for joining me on the podcast. I’m delighted to have you.
[00:02:04] DW: I’m delighted to be here, Ruairi, thank you so much for asking.
[00:02:06] RM: Excellent. And I’m just looking at your cup, here – you have a lovely cup of tea in front of you, and I can’t see what it actually says. Oh, it’s: “Little Miss Dil.” Wonderful – I wish…
[00:02:15] DW: It’s actually “Little Miss Bossy.”
[00:02:16] RM: Oh, is it? [Laughter]. OK, so I’ve never come across this side of you.
[00:02:20] DW: My birthday just a couple of weeks back, so Anne Marie bought that for me. And I think it’s a private joke between me and her.
[00:02:30] RM: OK, you’d better tell the listeners who Anne Marie is, for those that don’t know.
[00:02:32] DW: Anne Marie is my missus – we’ve been married since April 27th. And yes, she’s the love of my life. And she gave me this cup for my birthday – and her birthday was just last weekend, and I bought her the “Little Miss Princess” cup [laughter]. So, tit for tat.
[00:02:52] RM: OK, right, so you’d better expand upon the bossiness factor, here. Is this accurate?
[00:02:57] DW: Bossiness, I suppose… I [inaudible 00:03:01] that I have a quality of being pushy. But, as in pushing for something I believe in. And that’s one thing she’s always said to me, from the time she’s met me. Whether it’s career-wise, whether it’s from a personal perspective, whether it’s starting a family – I’m the one who’s like: “OK! Let’s do this. Let’s get going.” Where Anne Marie would be…being a psychotherapist, as she is, she’s more about being, and about thinking, and about, maybe, processing things, and letting things unfold naturally. Where I’m like: “Hang on a second – I don’t have time for that. Come on, let’s go.”
[00:03:39] RM: Yes, I think I have that dynamic in my relationship with Susan, as well. I actually think… [Laughter] Well, I need to be careful, here. But I think there’s a role for both, basically. There’s times when I’m like: “Come on!” But then I see how she does get things done, in a much calmer way. It’s like, sometimes, the tortoise wins the race, and I’m busy sprinting away, panting, running out of breath, and it doesn’t get done.
[00:04:08] DW: [Laughter].
[00:04:09] RM: So, I don’t know, a bit of both. But I would say that it might be a little bit of a misnomer in that cup, then. It’s not necessarily bossiness – I’m going to call it “Little Miss Determined.”
[00:04:19] DW: Good – sounds good to me.
[00:04:21] RM: So, when I was coming to meet you, Dil, I was thinking: “What am I going to talk to Dil about?” And one of the first things that came to mind – obviously, there’s so many strings to your bow – but one of the first things that came to mind was fun. And now, we see this in the cup as well, but… Any my phone rang when I was on the way, on the bus, and I said: “I’m on my way in to meet Dil.” It was somebody from Suicide Or Survive, the organization that we both know. And they said: “Ah, Dil – Dil’s great fun.” And it’s a great thing to be known as, as somebody that’s fun.
[00:04:51] DW: That’s so lovely! It’s so lovely to hear that people think of me like that. Because sometimes I think because I’m so passionate about social justice issues – whether it’s home births, or whether it’s trying to create a better, inclusive society – sometimes I think: “Gosh, I hope people don’t miss the fact that I’m genuinely all about fun.” I’m all about having a joke, and sometimes jokes… And that’s why I actually did stand-up comedy, because I found stand-up comedy is a great way to get a message across, but then get a laugh at the same time, you know? Because people are more about to listen to you, as opposed to you standing on a soapbox all the time. But yes, I think life is too short – enjoy yourself, for sure, but I’m all about hard work as well. But you can do both. You can’t live without one or the other.
[00:05:43] RM: I often think there’s this tension between carrying the light and the dark at the same time. In the sense of taking on the problems of the world, or the challenges of the world, which aren’t necessarily going to fix themselves. So some of us have to – or, ideally, all of us would – muck in and take action on that. But that requires us to sometimes face up to some dark realities, whether it be human rights abuses, or poverty and injustice. But to be able to carry that with all the lightness of the world, as well – because the world is still an amazing place. And it feels, to me, that you have a good balance in that regard.
[00:06:19] DW: Absolutely – because if you didn’t think the world was a good place, then what’s the point in fighting for it? So, for me, I’ve forever been a glass is half full type of person. And forever, for me, the world will always be, mostly, good. But just, sometimes, the good can be eclipsed with really, really bad times, and maybe some event that could literally make you stop in your tracks, and make you forget, and lose hope. So I suppose, especially in those times, it is easy for people to forget. But for me, I’ll always carry in my heart that the world is mostly good, people are mostly good, but it’s really important that we talk about these serious issues, and make sure that we continue advancing and getting people to realize: of course, it’s good to enjoy life and have fun, as well – however, there are some urgent issues around the world that we need to address, as well.
[00:07:22] RM: So, I want to go back and give listeners a sense of who you are, Dil, for those that don’t know already. Obviously, you’re pretty well known, I’d say, at this stage.
[00:07:31] DW: I might be [laughter].
[00:07:32] RM: Yes – I would go so far as to say that you’re becoming a bit of a national treasure.
[00:07:36] DW: Oh dear! Oh dear! I think only [00:07:42] is a national treasure in Ireland.
[00:07:43] RM: No, well, I didn’t say you’re there yet! [Laughter]. But no, how long have you lived in Ireland?
[00:07:49] DW: 16 years.
[00:07:50] RM: OK. I won’t ask you your age.
[00:07:52] DW: Ah, I’m 43.
[00:07:53] RM: You’re 43, you’ve lived here 16 years, and you have made a considerable mark, in 16 years.
[00:08:00] DW: And it’s so interesting, because when I came to Ireland, I started washing pots and pans, as a kitchen porter in a hotel. And I remember being, from the moment I got here… I think everybody can make a mark in this world, if they are given the opportunity. If they are able to be themselves – and I think that’s what Ireland gave me, from the moment I got here. I wasn’t able to be myself in Sri Lanka, or Italy, or Bahrain. But when I got here, of course my arrival coincided with Dublin Gay Pride. That gave me the permission to be my authentic self. And yes, I started washing pots and pans – but then that, very quickly, I moved up, between working as a receptionist, and as a recruitment consultant. Then I remembered my dream of working in media. And every time I reached out for a job, or reached out for a career, people actually opened the door to me. Because they didn’t care what package I was in. You know, they didn’t care what I looked like, or what my sexuality was – they just cared: “Can this person do the job?”
So that’s why I feel I’ve been able to make a mark in Ireland, is because I was given… People believed in me, and they opened the door to me, as opposed to… I would have probably been able to do the same mark in Sri Lanka, Italy or Bahrain, but the doors were closed even before I got there, because they wouldn’t entertain someone like me.
[00:09:27] RM: So, obviously Ireland has a lot to do with that – but I would say that your attitude has an awful lot to do with that.
[00:09:33] DW: [Laughter].
[00:09:35] RM: Because, you know, there’s many other people washing pots and pans, still.
[00:09:37] DW: But that goes back to what Anne Marie says.
[00:09:40] RM: And there’s nothing wrong with washing pots and pans.
[00:09:41] DW: Nothing wrong with that at all, absolutely – I had great fun doing it. But that goes back to what Anne Marie picked up about me, from the very start. About that relentless need to keep pushing forward. And I felt that – because I remember the days that I was working as a kitchen porter, or as a waiter, or as a catering assistant, I had this fire in my belly. I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to do – but I knew there was more to me than what I was doing. I knew that I had a… Something that I could really contribute to the environment around me. And I think, little by little, I just managed to do that. And then I think, especially in the last three, four years, I’ve gathered momentum. And I feel that now… Obviously I feel, in a way, since I’ve become a mom, I’ve taken a little step back because I want to enjoy the early years of my son as much as possible. But I genuinely feel the sky’s the limit, Ruairi.
[00:10:43] RM: Good, yes. So, have you any idea of what might be up in the sky for you? [Laughter]. Obviously, it’s limitless – but have you… Do you go with the flow with all of this, and take every mountain as you see it, or do you have Everest in front of you, where you’re going: “OK, I’ve got my radio show, I’ve got my business, I’ve got my family.” In 20 years’ time, do you have this kind of vision?
[00:11:08] DW: I have a plan, I have a plan. Because right now, from a family perspective, we want more kids – so, that’s definitely one thing we’re going to do. Then, as far as Insight Matters goes, because we’ve created such a great model in mental health support service – we have 35 therapists, and we support the mental health of 200 clients per week – our vision is to replicate that, and then maybe have Insight Matters nationwide. So definitely the bigger cities, and then…
Because the model works. We’re only 5 years old, and we’ve achieved so much – so we definitely want to get Insight Matters out of Dublin. And then, in relation to my media work: well, I love my radio show on Newstalk, but ultimately, I’d love to have a similar program on TV. Because I feel radio is absolutely wonderful – and it is my first love – but you will reach more people through the TV. So, that’s the ultimate goal.
[00:12:13] RM: OK – have you, can I be so bold as to ask: have you developed that idea yet? Have you pitched it? Or is that not yet..?
[00:12:22] DW: Uh uh.
[00:12:23] RM: OK, so it’s obviously about timing as well.
[00:12:25] DW: Oh, and I want to write a book, as well [laughter].
[00:12:27] RM: Ah, yes. I can see the book’s almost written inside of you, somewhere – it’s about the time to… Well, you certainly have a big story to tell. And a large part of that is what you described, there, as a fire inside you. And I can definitely see that you are someone with a fire that burns bright. Was that always the case, even as a child? Can you talk to me a bit about what life was like, for you, when you were a six-, seven-, eight-year-old? Were you a fiery child?
[00:12:55] DW: Yes, 6, 7, 8 – they were good years, now I think back. I was in Italy, at that stage. My parents were in a good place. My parents were doing very well. I come from a wealthy family, so they had a beautiful home, and they had all these staff, and I went to this great school. And I know my parents would say that I spoke my mind from very early on. They knew exactly what I wanted. So, I wasn’t a shy, quiet type of kid. I was quite loud, quite bubbly, and would chat to anybody. So, I don’t think much has changed, there. But in relation to what I wanted to do in life, and who I wanted to be: I hadn’t…
You see, I think a big part of that would have been connected to my sexuality. So because, I think, at that stage, I would have started suppressing my sexuality, I think in a way I would have started suppressing my dreams of who I wanted to be. Because everything kind of started, really, unfolding, when I embraced my sexuality. So, at the age of 6, I didn’t know I wanted to work in media, I had no idea that I was working in mental health. I thought I was just going to work in the family business, and get married, and have kids – because that was the messages I was getting from my parents.
[00:14:18] RM: Well, I think at the age of 6, there isn’t necessarily that external sense of yourself, is there? But I’m just wondering… In a way, is it accurate to say you came from a very traditional kind of background? Your parents were pretty conservative?
[00:14:33] DW: It’s… My family is very interesting, because they are conservative – say, my parents…my mom’s parents were very conservative. Her parents forced her into a marriage when she was 17. And then, she was married to her first husband for several years.
[00:14:47] RM: How unusual or usual would that be?
[00:14:51] DW: That’s very usual in Sri Lanka.
[00:14:52] RM: Still?
[00:14:53] DW: Still! Still, yes, unfortunately. And it’s all down to your caste, as well. You know, if you married for love, it’s still not something that’s common. Because if you meet someone, you still have to get approval from the parents, and you still have to get horoscope done, and all this nonsense. So then, when my mom left her first husband, her parents turned their back on her. And she then started working as a model. And at that stage, she had an 8-year-old child – this was my sister. So, she became…she was this very liberal woman, working as a model for Vogue Italia.
[00:15:32] RM: Wow. In Italy?
[00:15:33] DW: In Italy, yes.
[00:15:35] RM: So, did she leave her first husband in Sri Lanka?
[00:15:39] DW: In Italy. Yes. Because her first husband actually worked for the UN, he was stationed in Rome. So she was 17, got married off to this stranger – then put her on a plane to go off to Rome [laughter]. So, a new language, new culture, new everything. And when she told her parents: “Look, we’re not really getting on – I think I might want to part ways.” Her parents said: “Absolutely not. If you do so, we never want to talk to you again.” So, she really had no choice. So she went off into this very glamorous life – modelling and all the rest. And she set up her own fashion label, and she opened up a chain of high fashion boutiques, and she was doing really well. Then she married my father. They had this, again, very liberal… I had a very liberal upbringing, up until the age of about 11, 12, when they… The marriage started crumbling, and then the Jehovah’s Witnesses came knocking at the door. And literally, overnight, we became this conservative, closed-minded family – and I couldn’t believe it. That we went from a family living in Rome, very open-minded, very liberal: my mom would encourage me to wear mini-skirts, and we’d go out night-clubbing together, and she bought my sister her first packet of cigarettes. You know, she was saying: “Look, if you’re going to smoke, smoke in front of me.” And then [laughter] a few years later, she became this religious fanatic.
[00:17:01] RM: This is in Italy?
[00:17:02] DW: Yes. So then, I was shipped to Sri Lanka when I was 12, when my parents separated, and my mom was kind of shuffling back and forth: Sri Lanka and Italy. So they were liberal, and then they became very conservative – and that’s when the troubles really started.
[00:17:18] RM: And what do you think left them so exposed to that dramatic change?
[00:17:23] DW: Because they were in a very bad place.
[00:17:26] RM: So, they were offered hope, essentially?
[00:17:28] DW: Yes, exactly. As individuals, there was domestic violence between them – physical, emotional, and financial. And I know my mother was desperate, both my parents, were desperate to get their parents’ acceptance. And they weren’t getting it. And I think, also, living in a foreign country – they were desperate for a sense of belonging. And I can totally empathize with them, because I know this is something, this is a journey that I’ve travelled, when I came to Ireland, where you’re in a place where you literally would do anything to get a sense of belonging. And the Jehovah’s Witnesses gave them that. And I think it’s the greatest tragedy – because everything went downhill ever since religion came into our family. It literally split us apart.
[00:18:15] RM: And this is around the same time – you say you’re 11, 12 – you’re definitely aware of your sexuality, at this stage. And then you have the religious…
[00:18:23] DW: I wasn’t 100%... I wasn’t aware of my sexuality – it was something that was there, but I thought, genuinely, I thought: maybe it’s a phase. Because all my friends were lusting after all these – George Michael and Boy George and you know, they’re gay as Christmas [laughter] – and I was lusting after Madonna. But I think what clinched it, for me, was: at that stage, my parents completely lost sight of me, and I became a victim of a sexual predator. So I was abused for about two years – and that was my first sexual experience, at the hands of this older man. And I think that just made me realize that this is who I was. Unfortunately, when that happened, I failed my junior cert, my O-Levels, then I got expelled from school, and then I was about 16 when I met this other Jehovah’s Witness girl. And that’s when I realized: “OK, I’m definitely a lesbian.” [Laughter]. But it was a very, very dark few years.
[00:19:28] RM: Very turbulent, by the sounds of it. And so, obviously, that inner turbulence manifested in the outer turbulence, in terms of… Was that core to how you left school, and failed the exams?
[00:19:42] DW: Yes, no – the reason I got expelled was the school… I mean, I was a good student. I got A’s in every subject – except maths.
[00:19:52] RM: Me too [laughter].
[00:19:53] DW: I got a U, which is not even good enough for an F. It’s Unclassified. So every time the maths paper was put in front of me, I just blanked, because I kept – obviously – the flashbacks of the abuse. And the school I was in was very particular about the standard and the average. They were very proud about having a certain amount of students doing really well, and going off to college, and all that, that they just said: “OK, she’s failed the O-Levels – failed her maths – let’s expel her.” So, it wasn’t like I was a bad kid, acting out. I didn’t act out.
[00:20:28] RM: Just that reference to the maths – I think I did read about you before, something in the newspaper, that the predator in question had been your maths teacher. And that was the… OK, OK. And was there ever any justice served?
[00:20:46] DW: The bizarre thing… When I came to Ireland – this was like 2006, that I started unravelling, and I had my mental health problems, and my depression, and my suicidal thoughts – after a long period of struggling, I found the services of One in Four. And I entered group therapy in One in Four. And one of the things that came up was: you need to talk to your parents about what happened. And I remember this filled me with dread, because when the abuse was just about to begin, I had an inkling that this maths teacher…that there was something wrong with this man. And when I told my mom, her first reaction was: “No one we know would ever do a thing like that.” So, that was the response I got that time.
So, when I was told as part of my therapy that it would be really helpful for me to actually address this issue with my parents, and I spoke to my mother, she said: “Actually, I knew about this situation.” Because years after I had…after the abuse had finished, she had heard about it from a… Basically, there was three girls in this class, right? Myself and three other girls in this class. In the very first class that we went to, we realized that this man was just touching us inappropriately. So we thought: “OK, we’ll tell our parents, and they’ll take us out of the class.” Now, the other three girls told their parents, and they were taken out of the class. But when I told my parents, they didn’t.
So, years later, my mother bumped into one of the other mothers, and this mother told my mother: “Isn’t it great that we took our children out of this man’s class? Because it turns out that he was actually a…not a nice man.” And then my mom obviously remembered what I had told her – she then paid some thugs to beat this man up. I was about 15, 16 when this happened, right? So, she’d got some thugs to beat this man up. And then she just told me: “Oh, by the way, I heard your maths teacher broke his arm. So maybe you should go over and see, just say you’re sorry, go visit him, because he’s unwell.” That was her way of sending me to this man – and I think she thought if I saw this man… Actually, when I went to see him, he apologized to me. And I was wondering… He’s this old man with this broken arm, crying and apologizing to me, and I was so confused. I said: “What the hell’s going on.” This is a memory that was, obviously, in the back of my head. And then my mom said: “Do you not remember, I sent you to this chap’s house? I had him beaten up for you.”
And I couldn’t believe it – that she had known that this had happened, and she had never talked to me directly. Because if she had talked to me directly, at least we could have actually worked through it, and I could have got on with my life. As opposed to me carrying this horrible secret for decades, and then having to go through therapy, then having to then talk to her and realizing: “Oh my God! She knew all along.” So there you go – the justice was, I suppose, my mother getting this man beaten up. But for me, I would have much preferred if she had just told me, and said: “I’m so sorry for not having listened to you, and not having believed you.” That’s all I would have needed. Getting this man beaten up doesn’t make me feel any better.
[00:24:14] RM: Yes, yes. And I think that’s a common theme within justice, in general, in that you can incarcerate people, or there could be capital punishment, or whatever it is – but it doesn’t necessarily heal things for the…
[00:24:30] DW: That’s why, even in One in Four, they have a program that helps sex offenders. And I’m a huge supporter of that. I didn’t have any issues going into the same building, knowing that there I am in a therapy process with a group of victims of sexual abuse – perhaps in the next room, there is a group of sexual offenders being helped to work through whatever has happened for them, and helping them to correct their ways. So, I think that’s a good thing – and I never felt it was right to throw them in jail and throw away the key kind of mentality. Because it doesn’t make sense.
[00:25:06] RM: Yes – just as you’re speaking, I can kind of feel the conditioning kicking in in my head, here, where it’s almost like: “No, of course, you have to throw them away and lock away the key – that’s what we do.” And that’s where the conversation tends to end – but it actually doesn’t address the underlying issues, here. RT had a very interesting documentary on, recently, [inaudible 00:25:24] on Canada, where they worked with abusers to identify that we have to actually take this head on, and not sweep it under the carpet – or lock it under the carpet. But the other thing that’s coming to me, Dil, is: you’ve got a lot of awareness around this issue. And it is still such a big issue in Ireland that, personally, I don’t feel we’re still talking about it at the scale we need to.
[00:25:49] DW: Because I remember, that’s why I started having mental health problems in 2005-6 – because I couldn’t put on the TV or open a newspaper without hearing a story about abuse. And I just remember the shame bubbling up. You know, my ears would…I felt they were on fire, because I could feel this shame that I’d been carrying for decades and decades. And when I went through the services, One in Four – I’m so thankful, at least, my abuser was not a member of my family. So, once the abuse finished, I never had to see him again. But I was shocked at the amount of victims that I met, through the One in Four services, whose abuser is their own brother, or sister, or mother, or father.
And many of them feel they can’t open up about the abuse, because by doing that, the whole family would implode. Because maybe that was their experience of this particular person, but maybe the other siblings didn’t have this experience. So, I always think around Christmas – especially around Christmas, where you throw everybody in a house for a number of days and throw alcohol into the mix [laughter] – I just think: “Gosh, some people are just getting through it, and not saying a word, just to keep the family together.” And it’s absolutely horrific that this is still an issue. And the mentality hasn’t changed, I think, in Ireland, around… Even the fact that women are abusers – this is something that Irish society doesn’t want to, doesn’t seem, to accept. Because they think a mother could never do that to her children. But the reality is, the statistics are like 50/50. Men and women are both capable of abusing children. And yet, we are more suspicious about children being minded by other men. Whereas, you know, any woman could come off the street and mind your child.
[00:27:41] RM: So, you’re saying the statistics are 50/50 in terms of the potentiality?
[00:27:46] DW: Oh no, of abusers. Of actual abusers, yes.
[00:27:49] RM: Is that the variety of abuse – emotional, physical, and sexual – or are we just talking about the sexual?
[00:27:54] DW: Well, we’re talking about… Obviously, men and woman are capable of the same things. But as a society, we don’t want to think that a mother is capable of giving birth to a child, and then…
[00:28:07] RM: Of course.
[00:28:08] DW: And then that’s really problematic – because that’s why abuse continues, and neglect continues. Because social workers think… Like, for example, at the moment there’s a big campaign with…around domestic violence, about trying to get people, bystanders and witnesses, to do something. I think the website is whatwouldyoudo. And if men experience physical violence, domestic violence, the authorities are…often, they don’t take them seriously, and often say: “Ah, sure, we can’t arrest her, because what about the children?” So, there’s still this mentality that women are the primary care-givers, and surely they could never do any wrong.
[00:28:53] RM: Yes, I’ve actually heard of a scenario recently, as well, where a man is trapped in a relationship, and he doesn’t feel like he would be believed if he speaks about it. And socially, that would be the norm, is that the man couldn’t possibly be abused. But that’s not to say that there aren’t horrific abuses of women going on. Because even, I think, in today’s newspaper, there’s a horrendous case of a woman being stabbed in Limerick, trying to escape from the window of her house.
[00:29:21] DW: In my case, the reason why I’m quite passionate about domestic violence is because I witnessed it. As a child, I witnessed it – and there was domestic violence on both sides. My father would be violent towards my mother, and my mother was violent towards my father. And, oftentimes, the violence that I saw my mother inflict on my father was greater than the violence that he inflicted on her. So, women are capable of being destructive, too. We can’t just think all men are bad.
[00:29:51] RM: Now, how does that work, Dil? Without a doubt, there’s a rise of feminism, in so many ways, in the last couple of years. Although, with the Donald Trump era, you would not think it.
[00:30:01] DW: Don’t mention..!
[00:30:03] RM: I was trying to go without mentioning the word [laughter]. But that’s a different reality. So, you see it all the time on Twitter, particularly. Woman, particularly, trying to highlight issues that need to get heard and, for the most part, I’m supportive of that. A lot of guys will reply and say: “Well, it’s not all men.” And then this becomes a hashtag on Twitter, NotAllMen, and then women will reply and say: “Yes, all women.” But there does seem to be a polarization there, somewhere, where it feels that there isn’t necessarily an acknowledgement that men can be suffering, or victims. So, one of the stats that surprised me is: one of the rape crisis centers reports showed that 20% of their clientele were men, at a rape crisis center. Yes, it’s a big topic – and even as we dive into it, here Dil, I can find myself wanting to change the subject, and get into some fun stuff. But that’s why you and I are doing the work that we do – because we want to unpack this, and get people thinking and talking. Because if we don’t, we can’t actually heal.
[00:31:13] DW: I think, since I’ve become a mom and have a son, I have to say, my view of the world and how…what feminism is… I think a lot of it has just opened up a lot more. I would have been, perhaps, in the years gone by, been in the camp where it’s: “All men are bad, and all women are downtrodden.” It’s much more complex than that. And now, I’m very conscious that, having a son, I’m so conscious: how are we parenting him? How are we… What responsibility do I have in making sure that he grows up to be not just a law-abiding citizen, but a man who is sensitive, who is able to express his emotions, who is able to stand up if he sees someone being…if he sees any wrong happening? And I think we can’t… It’s really quite shocking, the more I think about it… Most of the violence that happens in the world, unfortunately – like murders – if you see the stats, the perpetrators would be mainly men. But that has happened because of how we raise our boys, you know? So, everyone knows this. The whole thing about “Boys don’t cry.” We’re constantly suppressing boys from accepting their emotions.
And then, what’s going to happen is: they will act out. So whether it’s homicidal violence or suicidal violence – that’s their way of acting out for all the years of suppressed emotion. So, it’s very easy for us to say: “Ah, it’s his fault.” And: “It’s their fault.” But it’s not – it’s our fault. From the very toys that we give them, the T-shirts that boys are wearing, with the logo saying: “I’m a brave little man.” All this stuff is actually sending the wrong messages – so we all have a responsibility. I think… Absurdly, I’m a feminist. But we need to realize that we all have a part to play in all of this. We can’t just say: “It’s men’s fault.” Mothers who raised the men have to take some responsibility, as well, of how we condition our children.
[00:33:43] RM: Yes – I definitely think there’s a bigger discussion there, around that vulnerability for men. For instance, last week I got an email from a friend of mine in his 50s, works for a multinational, and he’s just crashed and burned in terms of stress and burn-out. I’m not entirely sure how much of it is work-inflicted, and how much is other stuff. But I’ve talked to him a few times on the phone, since, and I can really tell that he’s struggling to just be vulnerable. Because he feels like he needs to be back on the saddle, and being a tough, successful man in the workplace, and providing. And I’m like: “No – you need time out.” And employers need to allow that, the state needs to allow that, you and I need to allow a man to stay at home and cry for a month, if that’s what’s going on for him. But he feels he’s been trained to be back on the horse next week.
[00:34:36] DW: And it’s absolutely wrong. And I think, that message he would have got since he was a small boy. And it’s just interesting, just today… Phoenix loves his cars. There’s real masculine qualities. The first time he saw a wheel on a car, he was just… For an hour he spent, just spinning the wheel – he just found it so fascinating. So, you could…definitely, he has masculine qualities. But he loves his dolly, right? The other day I saw him, and he was trying to breastfeed his dolly, you know? And today we were in a play café, and he went up to this baby – who was maybe about 6 months – went right up, and put his cheek next to his cheek, and caressed his head. And I could see the mother, the baby’s mother, kind of looking horrified, going: “What’s this toddler going to do to my six-month-old baby?” And then the relief, when she realized: “Oh God! This little boy means well.” And she said to me: “God, you don’t see that very often – little boys coming up to babies and being so tender.” And I remember thinking: “Well, there’s a reason for that – because we…” And in our household, we are encouraging that. We are encouraging him to be nurturing. And I think that’s what’s wrong with our society – we are making our boys become really hard, and not feel that sense of nurture that we all have.
[00:35:57] RM: What do you say to the inevitable critics, or detractors, or people that are out there thinking: “Well, we can’t be turning them all soft. The world is a hard place – you can’t be just going round rubbing your cheek up against everyone.”
[00:36:14] DW: [Laughter] Ah, why not, Ruairi?
[00:36:17] RM: Well, I’ve this beard, I’d be scratching people.
[00:36:19] DW: But Ruairi, it takes a lot of strength to be soft. The power of vulnerability – it’s so hard to be able to say: “I’m having a tough day today.” It’s the, probably, most difficult thing you can do – I know for me, it is – to ask for help when I’m struggling. It’s much easier, for me, to put the brave face on, and keep going, keep going, keep going, until I actually fall flat, you know? So, it takes huge strength for a person to say: “Look, I don’t know what to do, I need help. Can somebody else who maybe has a better idea..?”
So, I think the leaders of the countries, if they could be vulnerable, and say: “Look, I don’t know how to get us out of this mess – can somebody else come and give us a hand?” You know, that’s real strength, to me – not this idea that we are absolutely invincible and able to do everything. Because that’s real courage, for me.
[00:37:17] RM: So, we’ve touched on some very difficult topics, Dil, and I’m conscious there may be people who end up listening to this podcast who it definitely touches nerves for them, or touches memories, or difficult thoughts for them. I’m just wondering: obviously, we’re in a therapy center here, we’re in Insight Matters – what do you say to anybody that hasn’t, maybe, gone on the journey of therapy, or seeking help? Can you give people, maybe, some advice on those issues? I know it’s a wide-ranging area.
[00:37:48] DW: It’s really quite simple. Really. Because, for me, mental health issues are just a symptom. It’s like, if your left arm hurts, you think you have heart problems. It’s just like that – mental health problems are just a symptom that your life has taken a wrong turn, that you are not in the life that you are meant to be. So, I think if people realize that, and look past depression, and anxiety, and all of those wonderful, scary labels that the psychiatric world has given us, people would realize: “Actually, if I did something about this, if I listened to myself, the fact that I’m depressed is my body’s way of saying you need to do something.”
So, take that as an opportunity – don’t take that as a failure, don’t take that as a weakness. Take that as an actual manifestation of the real strength in you. Your body is telling you: “Something’s wrong, you are not well – go get help.” Because, if you get help – say the likes of counselling, whether it’s mindfulness, whether it’s taking a holiday – however that’s going to look like for you, if you really commit to that process where you go into a place of self-reflection, and start thinking about: “Why am I feeling this way? Is there something that I’m not happy with? Is the relationship that I’m in maybe not helping me? Or the job that I’m in, maybe is not the job that I’m meant to do.” So, when you go into that place of self-reflection, you have an opportunity to actually change your life for the better. Because life is just so short. The last thing you want to do is plod along in a life that is not fulfilling for you.
And mental health problems are our body’s way of saying: “Hang on a second – you still have a chance to correct your life, and go towards a more fulfilling life, where you can be your authentic self.” So, don’t look at it as a weakness – look at it as a blessing. I always think, my life, up until 2006: I had the job, I had the house, I had the relationship. I thought I should be very happy. But I was absolutely relationship, but I was absolutely miserable – because I was not in the right job, or the right relationship, or in the right environment. And it’s through that process of self-reflection that I find myself, now, here, doing a job that I love, in a wonderful, loving relationship, and having a son. None of this would have happened if I had not gone through that horrendously hard depression. But here I am, now – and I couldn’t be any happier, Ruairi.
[00:40:26] RM: Is it the case that all the clichés are true? That what doesn’t beat you, you will get stronger and stronger? Because it does seem like you have layers and layers of resilience, that it would take a lot to push you over, I would imagine. Because you’ve gone through time after time of overcoming, haven’t you?
[00:40:46] DW: Yes, it’s funny – because I have layers and layers of trauma, and to balance that I have, now, layers and layers of resilience. Look: for me, I don’t want to be in a place… I could never be in a place where I could say: “Oh, nothing’s going to knock me.” Because the reality is, you don’t know what could happen tomorrow. Things like health, things are so fragile. For me, all I can say is: I have the tools, I have the know-how that… And I will get knocked down. I know something will happen, it’s part of life. I know, if things were to go south, I’d have tools that I have developed over the years, that I have maintained over the years, to get me out of it. So, I’m not for a moment going to say: “Nothing can knock me down, I’m invincible.” That’s never going to happen – but I know how to pick myself back up. I might take a month, two months, three months – however long it’s going to take, because depending on whatever happens – but at least I know I have it in me to be able to overcome what comes my way. But I know I have some great friends, I have a great support circle, and I feel very blessed.
[00:42:00] RM: Because you’ve certainly put yourself out there, as a public person – obviously, a radio show is going to do that – but you’ve done TV, you’ve done press, you’re active online, and you’ve put yourself and your heart out there. You know, your full self. But you’ve also been attacked for that – particularly during your pregnancy. Can you talk to me a bit about that? Because that must be a horrific thing, and maybe the resilience kicks in there and it wasn’t a problem, but I can’t imagine that it didn’t get to you. Did it not get to you?
[00:42:28] DW: Yes, just when you said heart, there – Dil actually means heart. So, in Hindi, Dil means heart. So this is me – actually, my name fits me perfectly, because that’s what I am. I am heart. Yes, the reason why I was very open about my pregnancy – it was in the run-up of the Irish referendum. And I knew there was a fear amongst people who weren’t sure how they were going to vote in the referendum: “Oh my God, if we give gay people the right to marry, they’re all going to have children!” So, I thought: “OK, so they’re scared about us having children. Let me be open about what a lesbian couple, what a gay couple expecting a baby looks like.”
So, I suppose I hoped that people would see that there’s actually no difference. When you’re pregnant, you’re worried, you’re hopeful, you’re scared – all that kind of stuff. So I was hoping: if people hear our story, they’ll see that we’re actually very responsible, we are putting a lot of thought into becoming parents. That was the main thing – it wasn’t some publicity stunt, or anything. It just so happened that the pregnancy was, literally… I was pregnant in September, and Phoenix was born in the week of the marriage referendum. I mean, Ruairi, you couldn’t have planned it better! But it wasn’t – it was just, we had tried a couple of cycles, and it just worked. So, when I put it out on Twitter, I told Anne Marie that I knew that shit was going to hit the fan [laughter]. I knew! That there was a lot of people who were going to be upset by it. But I didn’t think it was going to get that bad.
I think the low point was when David Quinn of the Iona Institute, on Twitter, said: “Who’s the father?” And that, then, literally opened the floodgates. Because anyone that was on the No side, that was any way extremist in their views about same-sex couples having children… We had to call the guards. That’s how bad it got. Because we didn’t feel safe – we thought that somebody was going to come and attack us, and just make our life miserable. So, it was a tough time – but the good thing is: when you’re pregnant, people think that you are actually very vulnerable. But the reality is: when you’re pregnant, you do become superhuman. Because you have way more blood pumping through your system – you’re actually quite resilient.
[00:45:04] RM: So, David Quinn is a relatively prominent person. He’s got a weekly column in the biggest-selling newspaper, he’s a major advocate… I mean I don’t know, fully, how to describe him, but he’s certainly a leader, for some people. And that’s exactly what happened: he gave permission. Why do you think he done that?
[00:45:22] DW: I… Ruairi, I don’t know.
[00:45:24] RM: Do you know him? Have you ever met him?
[00:45:26] DW: No, I’ve never met him. And I don’t want to meet him [laughter]. Because there’s just some things I don’t need to do in my life. You know, you wouldn’t ask that of a single parent: “Who’s the father?” And yet, he felt he could do that in a public space. So, I have no idea what made him do it – but it certainly backfired on him. It made him look very bad. I think a lot of people realized just how dark that group was – for them to actually be able to attack a pregnant woman. And I think a lot of people who maybe were on the fence about voting Yes or No in the referendum, actually it maybe pushed them over to the side to vote Yes. Because they realized: this No side can actually have some dark parts to it. So, maybe it worked for the better.
[00:46:23] RM: Hmm. I’m sure you could have done without it, at the same time.
[00:46:25] DW: Look – I think, as someone who… Look, I knew that we were going to ruffle feathers. And I think that’s what my work as a social justice broadcaster does. You know, my job is to create opportunities where people have conversations. And sometimes, I know I’ve used my personal experience to provoke that conversation. Because I think people, sometimes… It’s very easy to debate about certain issues if no one has provided the human face for the issue. And I’m able to do that, because I’m already in the public eye. So, if I can do that, and make life easier for the many lesbians and gay couples out there who are having children and trying to keep a low profile, I can say I’ve done my job. And I just hope, in the years to come, when Phoenix grows up and he hears about the big debacle that was happening in the run-up to his birth, I hope he’s going to be proud of me. That’s all I ask for.
[00:47:27] RM: I’m sure he will. I said I wouldn’t mention Trump again, but I’m breaking my own rule, here. You know, race is one of the big issues of our time, unfortunately. Because, personally, I think climate change should be [laughter]. If we don’t have a planet, the race…we don’t need to worry about all that [laughter].
[00:47:44] DW: Absolutely.
[00:47:45] RM: So, let’s kind of save our home – as in the planet – and then we can take care of… Anyway…
[00:47:52] DW: It’s a great way to avoid the issue.
[00:47:54] RM: Yes, dodge the bullets.
[00:47:55] DW: This is all smoke and mirrors.
[00:47:59] RM: Trump – and there are many like him, and there are junior versions emerging in Ireland – they opened the door. And what you see, now, there are all these other floodgates flying in. And it’s like this Pandora’s Box of madness. And he’s sort of stepping backwards to go: “Well, that’s nothing to do with me” – and it’s everything to do with him. But I can really see this happening in Ireland, now. It’s definitely where it wants a voice, it wants a platform. You get a lot of those kind of texts on your radio show.
[00:48:32] DW: Ruairi, it’s always been there. This is… I suppose Trump is like the whole incident with David Quinn. It’s given permission. Trump being elected, it’s given permission to a lot of people who thought: “I’d better not say the wrong thing, or I’ll get shot.” But now people think: “Oh, hang on a second.” There’s a lot of these people, like Katie Hopkins, all these people are on the bandwagon. “So, I might as well be open about my thoughts.”
But I know from when I first started working on Newstalk, my first producer actually said this to me: “Dil, you’d better have a thick skin, because you’re going to get some really tough texts regarding your race.” And I was like: “Really?” I mean, by that stage I’d been living in Ireland for 8 years. I thought I’d heard it all – but it really got bad. And again, this was another time when it got so bad that we had to call the guards [laughter]. At this stage I have the guards on speed-dial. No, I’m joking – but it was awful. Because, again, we thought there was going to be a personal attack. And my producers, over the years, have been kind enough not to show me all the texts. Because they can be pretty toxic. And I think if I read the texts myself, every week, I would probably be depressed. But thankfully… I do some, just to keep my ear to the ground. But this has always been there. Racism has always been there. It was there in the good times, it was there during the recession, it’s still there now – I don’t know whether these are good times or bad times. But it’s still there.
And the reason for that, I think, in Ireland: from a media perspective, how many migrants do you see? How many migrants do you see in the Dáil? So, we have now, here, at least 16 years – the bulk of migrants came in 2000, like myself – and yet, when you look anywhere, you very rarely see them. So again, it’s very easy to say horrible things, and debate, and say: “Oh, keep them out,” and all this horrendously offensive stuff when you don’t have a face to the issue. So, I’m always very open about the fact that I’m a migrant, and I came to Ireland, I had nothing, and I went through the hoops of the Irish immigration system – and I’ve done well. But that’s because I spoke English, and because I’m very confident. I’m so aware of migrants…
I do a lot of work with migrant job-seekers, and a lot of them could be here 10 years and are struggling to get a job. And that’s pretty frustrating – and that’s because employers are still very picky about who they hire. And if the likes of the Dáil, if the likes of the Seanad, and the media, they don’t change the people who are in front of the camera or behind the microphone, then employers up and down the country can think: “Ah, sure, we can pick and choose who we want to hire.” So, racism has always been there – but I think we have a responsibility to do better.
[00:51:37] RM: Yes – I think it’s about getting to know each other. And, unfortunately, we do have a lot of social segregation. And you see it very much in Dublin. Like this part of town we’re in now, around Mountjoy Square, you see a lot of different-color faces, a lot of diversity.
[00:51:52] DW: Love it.
[00:51:53] RM: You go two miles to different directions – you’re going to live in a totally white area, totally different income bracket. And then you have another area that’s just destitute, poverty. Whereas a more healthy society would have a more integrated approach, where we get to meet people of all colors, shapes, sizes, and classes. And we can’t, then, go blaming each other for all our woes, and take responsibility for the actual real causes of our problems, particularly the economic one. Because I know that you did not come and steal my job [laughter]. Because in fact, Dil, you – and the studies would show that most migrants – are actually job-creators, in so many ways, because they have to work that bit extra hard. In fact, sometimes double-hard.
[00:52:33] DW: When I was working as a recruitment consultant, I was bringing in 70% of the annual income. And I thought: “OK – if I’m bringing in so much income, surely I should have shares to this company.” And when I approached them for a piece of the pie, they said no. And that was in – again – 2006! [Laughter]. That’s when I realized that the only way I could actually make something of myself, in Ireland, is if I become self-employed. And I think a lot of migrants would have been in the same situation as I was, but would have decided: “Oh, better not rock the boat. Stay in the job I’m in, work for somebody else, even though I’m actually doing all the work, and not set up on my own.” But it was the best thing I ever did, setting up on my own. And I always say that to migrants – if you feel you have an idea… And once you have… Seeing your name over the door, you don’t mind working those extra hours – because you’re working for yourself.
So, I was always very keen to say: “Look, I didn’t take anybody’s job – I actually created my own, and also created jobs for others.” But I really do wish that Irish society would see… Because we would be called economic migrants. I would be an economic migrant – and I hate that term. I’m not an economic unit. We didn’t come here just to make money. I came here to give all of myself to the country that has opened its doors to me. If Ireland was to see… You know, 12% of the Irish population, now, is made up of migrants. The majority of us are here wanting to set down roots, obviously work, raise our families, and contribute to our environment. But many of us don’t feel we can do that, because the people around us don’t allow us. Even now, I’m an Irish citizen, since 2010. And I hate the fact that they call me “new Irish.” What do I have to do to make Irish people see that I’m just another human being, doing my best, and maybe trying to contribute to the country I’m in?
[00:54:40] RM: You have to be here for 10,000 years [laughter]. You’ve 16, done. In 10,000 years, your great-great-great-great-great… It is an interesting thing – because Ireland, people have been migrating here for tens of thousands of years. They’ve come from the Basque country, they’ve come from Poland, they’ve come from Egypt. And Irish people were already sort of racially mixed, albeit mostly white. It’s an interesting one. And tell me… We don’t want to be too down on Ireland, because every country has its gaps and woes. And I sometimes have to remind myself that it is a wonderful country – for all its weather problems, particularly, would be the one that gets me. And we did start off this interview with you saying you walked straight into a Gay Pride Parade, and that’s where your identity started to fully flourish, as a human being. What are the other aspects of the country and culture that you particularly love?
[00:55:40] DW: The thing is – I suppose, why I’m so passionate about social justice, and provoking conversation in Ireland – is because I know Ireland is, predominantly, good. I remember, when I was working for a hotel – it was The Hilton. And they said: “Look, if a customer complained about a meal, that’s a good thing. Because it takes a lot for a customer to complain about a meal.” Because normally, if someone didn’t like the meal, and didn’t like the place, they would just go off and never come back, and tell 12 people: “Don’t go to that place, because that place is crap.” But, actually, the way The Hilton looked at it – if a customer takes the time to complain about a country, that’s actually their way of saying: “We actually like the place, and we’d like to continue to come here. Please, could you just rectify that little thing? That will then enable me to come here for years to come, and bring my family and friends, and all the rest of it.”
So, that’s really why I’m so passionate about it – because I know, predominantly, Ireland is absolutely wonderful. The Irish people are wonderful. And I knew from the very start that I got here, after I…within 24 hours of arriving in Dublin Airport, I found myself marching down O’Connell Street, singing ‘It’s Raining Men’ [laughter] as part of Dublin Pride Parade. That moment, I realized: this country is fantastic, and I want to live here. Ask Anne Marie. Anne Marie, when I met her, she was ready to get on a plane and emigrate. She was one of these young, Irish people who thought: “Once I get my qualification, once I’ve done my degree in psychotherapy, I’m going to go off and live somewhere else.” And I remember saying to her: “But why would you?” Because I lived in Italy, Sri Lanka, and Bahrain – and this is, by far, the best country I’ve lived in. And six years later, after seeing Ireland through my eyes, Anne Marie has fallen in love with Ireland. But she didn’t have that perspective until she met me.
And I do believe that a lot of Irish people, I think there’s a lot of suspicion about migrants coming in. They’re like: “Well, why do you want to come here? Because this place is not that great.” [Laughter] But it’s the migrants who have to tell Irish people: “This place is actually…it rocks! You just need to open your eyes and take your blinkers of negativity away, and see that it actually is a beautiful place to live.”
[00:57:53] RM: Yes, I agree. I agree – sometimes we need reminding. Dil, what age is Phoenix now?
[00:57:59] DW: He’s eighteen months.
[00:58:00] RM: Eighteen months, OK. We’re going to finish up, now, and I just want to ask you one question: so, he’s eighteen months. So when Dil is… You’re Dil, of course! When Phoenix is your age…
[00:58:14] DW: 43.
[00:58:15] RM: What kind of world would you like him to live in?
[00:58:18] DW: Oh, gosh! I think about that every day, I tell you.
[00:58:22] RM: I’m giving you carte blanche, here. I’m giving you: here’s the magic wand.
[00:58:26] DW: [Laughter]. I would love Phoenix to live in a world that is just inclusive, and enables everyone to live an authentic life. And if someone wants to move – so, say, if you’re a Syrian refugee, and you want to come to Ireland: it should be not just allowed; it should be welcomed and celebrated. Here’s someone from the other side of the world, wanting to come and live here. A world with no borders. A world with no fear, no prejudice, no discrimination. A world which is compassionate. These are all qualities that our world has, but unfortunately, because of greed, a lot of it is being overwritten. So, I would love the world to be just a more compassionate, kinder world.
[00:59:17] RM: I’m hearing John Lennon’s music here.
[00:59:20] DW: Yes! And look: Phoenix, come on. His name is Phoenix, rising from the ashes. For me, everything I’ve been through: the layers of trauma, the years of campaigning, and battling against – whether it’s discrimination, whether it’s prejudice – I do believe that his generation have a real opportunity to make… I suppose, finish the work that our generation started. Because Ireland, I think, is on its way to be a better country. But we can’t be complacent – we need to keep pushing [laughter].
[00:59:57] RM: Thanks, Dil. It’s been an absolute pleasure, thanks very much.
[00:01:01] DW: Thanks, Ruairi.
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The Love and Courage podcast features interviews with inspirational people who are making a real difference in the world today. Guests are typically people passionate about social justice, and who have demonstrated courage and conviction in their lives.