Apologising was a constant plague for me as a teenager. ‘I’m sorry I’m late, I’m sorry I forgot to do my homework; sorry I dress like the child of Dracula. I’m sorry I’m gay.’ I am willing to bet that I muttered ‘I’m sorry’ more on any given day than ‘thank you’ or ‘you’re welcome’ combined. It took me years to fit comfortably in my skin, and to stop saying sorry for being me. But after a recent spell back ‘home’ that feeling evaporated and once again that sickly outcast feeling crept back in.
It’s the strangest sensation going ‘home’ – and by home I mean the small, quaint, fishing town I grew up in. It’s a strange sensation because the feeling no longer fits in with the one I associate with being ‘home.’ Little winding streets decorated with nautical themed bungalows and cottages; stretched-out sea views, marinas filled with boats, trawlers and yachts. A town paved with Scottish history; a text-book ‘must’ for all tourists. Home for some, but not for me – not anymore, not again.
I step into the bar dawning ripped black skinny jeans, a white, tight t-shirt that clung to my (lack of) muscles and wrapped my patchwork checked shirt around my waste. I am greeted by a sea of straight fitting jeans, polo tops & ill-fitting t-shirts. All worn in a way that isn’t a subtle to nod to 90s fashion but rather a lack of understanding, or care for, modern trends. My clothes make me stand out, and the locals look at me like I’m a leper. It’s been a while since I walked into a bar and every single head twisted around to look at me. Lock up your sons etc the bitch is back; and for a moment, I’m fearful an angry mob will appear with pitchforks and firewood, screaming ‘burn the witch!’ as they draw closer.
The bar is brimming with local-life. Tiny children zig-zag around tables whilst their increasingly tipsy parents try, feebly, to reign them in. I use to frequent this bar regularly; it was my watering-hole of choice for years. Now it feels as though I’ve stepped out of an Alien spaceship and tumbled onto a foreign land. I pull myself closer to the bar messily like a just-born foal, cautious of every step. As I walk I receive a cluster of glances so dirty you’d think I’d just admitted to kicking a new-born baby to death. I order my drink and curl up against the bar waiting for the awkwardness to stop clinging to me. Eventually I get a table and try to submerge myself in conversation with the handful of friends I still have back there. The whole time I’m trying to decipher which ‘it’s so good to see you’ that I’m offered by passers-by are genuine and which are fake. Every time someone I went to school with sees me they look at me for a long moment, like they are preparing to eat something they weren’t sure they’d like. I wasn’t offended. I wasn’t even sure I was real.
After what felt like months, and with the aid of tequila shots, I begin to relax. One foot on the floor and the other crossed around my thigh, I listened to all the local drama and had a catch up two girls that had at one point kept me sane. One of them keeps me grounded, a trait she’s graciously bestowed upon me for years. We laugh with nostalgia, exhuming memories and mournful moments delicately as if they were a frayed and worn piece of tapestry. The night ends and I feel okay, and with the exception of a few questionable glares from former school-peers and older people that knew me as a child, I make it out the pub with my anxiety remarkably unscathed.
The next day I awaken with less money and giant worry. Last night my anxiety was a peach, today it’s a giant, sumo-wrestler baby screaming for attention. I try get out of this twisted labyrinth of guilt, regret and rising and falling emotions, whilst a lingering tequila taste remains ever present. I don’t know what it is about this town that causes me to make piss-poor decisions and act in a way that’s borderline macabre, but whatever the reason, the night before was no exception. So, today sees me lugging around paranoia like a bowling ball in my stomach. This is only my second day here and already it feels like a week in prison and even though Glasgow isn’t a great distance, my life there felt oddly far away.
Later that day I’m back in that bar – cause that’s all there is to do in that town; excessive drinking or lobotomising yourself, take your pick – having lunch with my dad and his partner, listening to live music whilst my sanity hangs on by a thread. To say I’m a mess mentally is an understatement and the lack of reception, which makes communication with the modern world near-impossible, ushers in a potent sense of isolation I haven’t felt since I left this town. I begin to say to myself that perhaps I’m judging everyone here too harshly; perhaps they’ve evolved since my extended stint in this town. Here I am in what used to be my favourite place wishing to be anywhere else. I see my memories plainly, but all they do is cause discomfort. I walk up to the bathroom and head in. Standing at the cubicle, still in my tight jeans which show off my Amazonian-female-rugby-player thighs, I hear someone coming in behind me. I don’t even have to turn around to know he’s likely been put on edge by my glittering gay-presence. I bet that he feels like a Persian’s cat’s toy mouse right now. He moves to part of the urinal that’s the furthest away – and I bet he considered just peeing himself, rather than whip it out in front of me. ‘Alright, Chick’s son!’ (Chick is the nickname of my father, FYI.) Shock and adrenaline slide down my whole body and I can feel sweat roll down my neck in wet clumps. Why the hell is he talking to me? I’m wishing he’d pee and leave; don’t make this weird, don’t make this weird – he makes it weird.
‘So you’re in Edinburgh now, eh?’ His East-Fife accent is like a choir of cats in a tumble dryer trying to impersonate nails on a chalk board.
‘Glasgow, actually.’ I say more factually as I’m not overly offended.
‘Aye aye, yer Da was sayin’ eh. Like it’s different than here a bet.’
I look at him blankly, the mood shifts; he’s feeling more awkward that me right now. I nod and smile, and go to wash my hands, hopeful that’s the conversation done. Nope. He makes it weirder.
‘So aye, I was talking to Claire and her daughter is in Manchester. She likes that ‘gay scene too.’
(That ‘gay scene’ lol.)
‘Aye there’s no much for the gays here like it’s good you don’t stay here.’
The conversation concludes and I’m fucking bamboozled. Am I meant to be flattered or offended or what? Here I am, tipsy on a Sunday afternoon, yanking at conversation, with someone I haven’t seen in at least ten years, trying not to roll my eyes into the next century. He probably didn’t mean any offence, but that’s exactly why I was offended. It’s just a town full of ignorance. Sure, it’s evolving and apparently nobody cares about gays anymore – probably they aren’t stupid enough to showcase their sexuality like I did. But really why is anyone there making me feel like my sexuality is still an issue? Jesus, talk to me like I’m a fucking person, not a feral animal that might bounce on your questionable heterosexuality at any given point.
The only silver lining from that weekend, asides seeing my friends, my dad, his partner and my dogs, was that it made me realise that I am not at home there. I don’t feel safe or known, or welcome. The city is my home now; it raised me into a happier, stronger and more confident person – one who doesn’t need to use his sexuality as an identifier. Where as when I stayed there I wore it like a scarlet A embroidered on my chest.
I’ve had enough of Kansas, Toto. Get me back to Oz.