Saying No: The Winter of My Non-Consent

As parents with young children will attest, the most frequently uttered word your toddler will use is not ‘mama’ or ‘dada’, or any word you desperately want them to say, but the word ‘no’.

At around 2 years, this word will issue from your child’s mouth at an astonishing and infuriating rate. ‘Yes’ isn’t any real competition in the pantheon of formative words for a two-year-old.

It would seem that this right to refuse is hard-wired into us, long before we develop a sense of self or begin to retreat into that private, internal landscape that becomes so important as we move away from childhood and into our teenage years.

So important is this formative word, that it has become enshrined in our laws and our culture. The right to refuse, to say ‘no,’ is the mark of a civilised, democratic society.

We had the Nuremberg trials and the civil rights movement. We said ‘no more’ and ‘never again’ to segregation, apartheid, eugenics and forced medical experimentation.

Any society that historically abused these most fundamental of human rights has been paraded in front of us (and rightly so) as a cautionary tale of what ‘not’ to do and what should ‘never’ be repeated.

In more recent history, the citizens of Northern Ireland said ‘no’ to sectarian violence and voted for the Good Friday Agreement; we said ‘no’ to homophobia and the awful violence that was perpetrated against our gay citizens.

We said ‘no’ to misogyny, sexism, ageism. We said ‘no’ and ‘never again’ to the horrific crimes perpetrated against children by those who chose to abuse their power and authority within the Catholic Church.

In fact, we said ‘no more’ to the historical interference of church within the State. We legalised contraception and divorce. Let us not forget that divorce only became legal here in 1995, a fact that often shocks those international students I teach Irish history to. And even in 1995, the ‘yes’ vote in the divorce referendum was only narrowly won with 50.3% voting in favour and 49.7% against.

This separation of church and state in an Irish context is perhaps best exemplified by the 2018 abortion referendum. Whatever your opinions may be on this subject, Irish people voted ‘yes’ for a woman’s right to say ‘no’ to a pregnancy. “My body, my choice” became the mantra of the pro-choice movement.

This referendum was won by a much larger majority than the divorce referendum of 1995, with 66.4% voting ‘yes’ to the legalisation of abortion, dealing perhaps the final blow to any significant influence the Catholic Church might have had in matters of state.

In the ever-changing world of today’s identity politics and its fluid nomenclature, it’s now ok to say ‘no’ to the gender you were born with and ‘no’ to the gender specific pronouns others label you with. I have learnt that words like ‘sex change’ or even ‘gender realignment’ are considered offensive to many trans citizens and that ‘gender confirmation’ is the appropriate description to use.

My point is that the right to say ‘no’ to something you fundamentally disagree with or which you feel is threatening to your person or liberty or identity is absolutely sacrosanct.

Or at least I thought it was, until now.

I have chosen not to participate in the Irish state’s Covid 19 injection programme.  I am not going to try and convince anybody of the merit of my reasons. I know they are sound reasons, and my decision not to participate is not based on right wing, crazy conspiracy theories as the mainstream media repeatedly and disimulatively asserts, but on many months of research: reading and listening to epidemiologists, virologists and medical doctors with different specialities (from both sides of the argument).

It is not a decision I have taken lightly, and that decision to say ‘no’ has changed my life and affected my relationships with those around me so dramatically I barely recognise it anymore.

Since July 2021 I have become persona non grata. I got my first taste of what this feels like while on holiday in Wexford at the end of last summer. Myself and my brother were refused entry into a rural pub after a long walk during which we’d worked up quite an appetite. It was both embarrassing and humiliating.

Now I can’t go into bars, restaurants, cafes, nightclubs, cinemas, theatres or even a gym to get a bit of exercise. Arranging to meet a friend in winter in Ireland is challenging to say the least.

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