I AM honoured to tell the story of Sofia Rea.
Sofia uses she/her pronouns, lives in Bishopstown, and finished 6th year, along with her Leaving Cert, this June. She is from Ireland, the UK and Spain.
Sofia is a young, self-defined gay woman whose interests range from dance and music to baking, period dramas, sweaters, fluffy socks and travelling.
She is hoping to study Political Science in UCC, but also plans to open a cafe, run inclusive sex education programmes in schools, and, in short, she has “so many dreams so little time, honestly!”
Sofia’s dad is Irish and her mom is Spanish but she was born in the UK.
“I moved to Ireland back in March, 2014, when I was 10.”
She recalled her feelings at the time. “Honestly, it was a tough experience because once you hit that age, you sort of have your life grounded. You’ve had most of your childhood, you have strong memories and connections to your home.
“When we moved, it was extremely tough to accept that I wouldn’t have the life I had already envisioned for myself. I had to leave my best friend who, to this day, I consider one of my closest confidantes.”
Sofia elaborated, saying that she’s glad her family moved because she’s gotten to experience two very different lifestyles, city versus countryside. As she’s grown a bit older, she can appreciate and at least accept the pros and cons of each.
“It’s also really helped me decide what I need in life, and how I want to live,” adds Sofia.
I am from solely one country, Ireland, so while chatting to Sofia, I was interested in hearing about all three of the cultures she is a part of. I asked her what is one thing she loves about each country.
“With Spanish culture, everything is slow. There’s no rush like there is in Ireland and the UK. People sit down and enjoy meals, they take their time. Cafes stay open until late in the evenings [8/9pm] and there’s such a vibrant atmosphere anywhere you go to eat.
“Some of my best memories from Spain are just meals and eating out because we could easily spend three or four hours at a table having lunch or dinner. You eat your main meal, have your fruit and dessert, coffees and cognac and then everyone chills and plays games or chats. It’s just such a lovely and relaxing time of the day,” she said.
Meanwhile, Sofia said her favourite part of the UK is the city life.
“London especially, there’s always something to do. You can never be bored in London. It’s always changing, new people coming in and out, new exhibitions and activities to see and do. When you compare London to other places [Ireland or Spain] there really is nothing like it, it’s so unique and exciting.”
And what about Ireland?
“Irish culture, I’ll admit, I’m not as enthusiastic about. I’m not sure if it’s because I was so bitter when we moved that I never took the time to appreciate it, but now I’ve experienced a few holidays and getaways, I think the real beauty of Ireland is its ability to provide an escape.
"A staycation in the countryside, or the back end of Kerry or Wexford, is honestly the most welcome break.
“While I’m a city girl at heart, escaping to the Irish countryside has always relaxed me and given me a chance to catch my breath.”
Along with providing an insight into three countries’ cultures, Sofia also reflects on the insights she’s gained from discovering she is gay.
Sofia explores figuring out her sexuality with so much honesty, I hope her reflections will speak to other members of the LGBTQIA+ community reading this and, additionally, give allies an insight into her experience.
“The few years in between figuring out my sexuality and now have been such a whirlwind,” she says.
“I was extremely fortunate that I had a very accepting friend group, most of whom are LGBTQIA+ themselves, so it never felt like an awkward thing. Actually, they all knew I was gay before I did!”
Despite the support surrounding her, it wasn’t all so easy.
“I’ve had a bit of an up and down journey with my sexuality. I did the typical bisexual to lesbian transition and I’ve always felt extremely comfortable labelling myself as a lesbian, but recently I’ve had doubts and thoughts that perhaps I was too quick to jump from one end of the Kinsey scale to the other.”
Sofia shares where she is at with understanding her sexuality now.
“I’m still figuring it out and that’s OK. Some people are lucky enough to know, some of us have to go through a few loops and bends before finding the right place.”
I was relieved to hear she hasn’t overly experienced homophobia.
“I haven’t witnessed anything outwardly awful or unsafe, but when I’m out in public I’m still scared to hold my partner’s hand. I’m over-cautious and get anxious over the smallest looks or frowns in our direction.”
RELATIONSHIP AND SEXUAL EDUCATION (RSE) CHANGES
I want to know the problems with Relationships and Sexual Education (RSE) and any solutions that Sofia has in mind.
I am fortunate to be the National Executive for Cork County Comhairle na nOg, working on Inclusive Relationships and Sexual Education with one representative from each Comhairle, nationally.
If Sofia could teach the RSE classes in school, this is what it would look like?
“First of all, it will be done in all second level schools in Ireland. A massive problem we have at the moment is that so many students across Ireland don’t receive any kind of RSE.
“If I did teach RSE, it would be completely separated from religion. Yet another problem with the current RSE is that so much of it is entwined with religion. It would be inclusive of all genders and sexualities, whether you’re straight, gay, even asexual.
“I would also ensure it’s not just a biology class. Most RSE teaches the basics of anatomy and the actions. People need to understand the emotional and physical sides of RSE. The how and why of it all.”
I also discovered that there was even more to learn about Sofia, including her hobbies and professional aspirations.
“Dance has always been a part of me. I love to move. I think music and dance have always been part of me. If I hear music I’ll instinctively tap my foot to the beat or start swaying.
“I’ve been doing ballet since I started walking, and it’s become such a fundamental part of my everyday life,” Sofia said.
“When I’m dancing, I’m completely content. When I’m not dancing I miss it. It’s so freeing and wonderful to just let go and focus on the way your body moves.”
I asked her why she chose to pursue Political Science in UCC.
She is working on Senior Cycle reform, as part of a working group examining education in Ireland. It involved a nationwide survey and compiling a report on the findings.
“I found myself swept up in it and really enjoying the process,” she says.
The ISSU is the Irish Second Level Students Union, a structure set up to represent students in Ireland.
“That type of work was so fascinating, meeting new people, talking to so many professionals and students alike. It really opened up my eyes to so many new ideas and opinions. It’s definitely the place for me.
“I love to learn, as cringey as it sounds. I want to learn more about the world we live in and I don’t think there’s a better way to do it than in a career like political science. Being constantly exposed to new perspectives and people and cultures. It’s so exciting and I honestly can’t wait to get started.”
Next week: Eve Lonergan