The word ‘foreign’ has always interested me; strange and unfamiliar is just one definition and it can refer to people, places, things, feelings and so much more.
Growing up, I always felt like a bit of a foreigner in my hometown. This wasn’t because my family moved there from somewhere else – my Mum grew up there too and still lives in the same house that she bought with my Dad a few years before I was born. It had more to do with the fact that in a small, relatively conservative, leafy suburb where the local community revolves around the church, anyone who happened to be at all different was generally regarded as, well, foreign.
It’s one of those places where everyone knows everyone and makes it their mission to know everybody’s business. It was an uncomfortable fit for my cosmopolitan, left-wing father who grew up on the south side of the city and had previously lived in Newcastle and London. I could tell that he was unhappy there and these ‘foreign’ surroundings played no small part in the escalation of his relationship with alcohol.
As for me, I wasn’t exactly in a rush to let everyone know that I was gay. This was the early 2000s and even though that wasn’t very long ago, homosexuality still seemed like a bit of a dirty word in small-town Scotland at the time.
I’m back living in my hometown at the moment but it is most definitely a stopgap; I really can’t see myself spending the rest of my life there. Although a couple of years living in London has taught me that it is also not going to be the place where I’ll grow old, it’s diversity ensured that nobody felt like an outsider.
Nothing has really changed in my hometown. I recently took a walk along some streets that I hadn’t set foot on in over a decade, through the local park and past my high school. With the exception of a block of luxury homes that have replaced a farm where a cache of assault rifles was once discovered, absolutely nothing had changed. Things perhaps looked a little rustier, but that was it.
I guess I have yet to find a sense of place but there’s one thought that keeps me optimistic and that’s that when you’ve never really felt like a part of the community in which you grew up, then the place where you feel most at home is still yours to discover.