True Confessions with Dermot Meagher
When scruffy, burly author/artist and retired Boston judge Dermot Meagher talks, the stern resonance of an old school Irish Catholic monsignor who might not have been so kind in the confessional when guilty boys admitted to "impure actions" is intimidating, but Dermot’s voice is misleading. Behind it is a humorous, mischievous, humble, and beguiling gay man who recently published his second book, a mystery, Lyons And Tigers And Bears.
Over lunch in Fort Lauderdale where Dermot and Renato, his partner of eleven years-they met on Valentine’s Day-spend the winter, he discussed his attraction to Italians and his Irish Catholic upbringing, both of which feature prominently in the new book.
Dermot says, "Italians were the ’other’ where I grew up in a middle class neighborhood in Worchester, Massachusetts. I recall the Irish and the Italians as allies, with both composed of traditional Catholic clans who taught their children a lot about sin. When I was twelve, my best friend came back from summer camp and said ’Guess what I learned?’ As soon as he showed me, I headed straight to Confession, even though I figured it wasn’t much of a sin if I just lay there on my bed while he did to me what he had learned.
"I remember in high school developing an attraction to Italians at CYO [Catholic Youth Organization] dances. I thought they were beautiful men. I confessed this to my priest who told me to see a shrink. The shrink asked me if I had ever had sex with a woman. When I said yes, he said, ’There is hope for you.’ I think he wanted to get me into one of those brain-washing reparative pray-away-the-gay therapy programs. I’m glad I was spared that."
Dermot tells the story of his own life as if he were perpetually surprised by what happened to him. As if he were turning the pages of a delicious mystery in which he discovers his sexuality, discovers the man of his dreams, discovers his talent as an artist and writer, and, along the way, discovers the keys to enjoying each new day and all the amusing quirky people that walk through his day. Even though his painter’s eye for color and detail infuse his writing, and zoom the reader into the dusty nooks of old Venetian churches, into hotel rooms containing dismembered teddy bears, and below the belt of a particularly horny redhead in a moonlit Dublin alley, it would be wrong to assume that this is an autobiography. Dermot is a man who guards his privacy, and he is more an observer than a performer.
Retirement has not been a slow time for Dermot. Since SFGN covered an exhibit of his artwork and his successful first book, Judge Sentences, two years ago, he has completed two gay mystery novels about the adventures of a gay Irish-American judge, Joe Lyons, who just happens to share Dermot’s admiration for dark chest hair and Italian men. He explains the impetus for writing these gay mysteries. "I had a doctor’s appointment and while I was in the waiting room I picked up a beautifully laid out detective story with gorgeous images but poor writing. The thought came to mind that I could easily produce something better, so I just went home and started writing. I didn’t have an outline or a plot. All I had was a sense of the characters and the locations. I would get Joe Lyons into some preposterous situations and then I’d have to figure out how to get him out of them. I didn’t know where it would go. It’s a romp, and writing it was a romp."