I’ve always been other. When I was a kid I was pretty much the only Asian kid in my class (I can’t find a school photo to check, but I’m pretty sure). And at any rate, I was much in the minority. Being in the minority pretty much always means being othered in some way, whether or not it’s intentional. I didn’t really understand at the time. I always thought of myself (as a small kid) as English. Then as I grew up I claimed other things.
My Welsh and Sri-Lankan heritage. My European upbringing. My queer identity.
All of it makes you part of a group (although the Sri-Lankan/Welsh combo is definitely not a huge group, at least, as far as I know). Finding our place in those groups is amazing. Having been other for so long, when I first started meeting LGBTQIA+ people, it was breathtaking.
Here were my people.
Well, some of them. But I do – and have always remained apart. There’s always an other. I don’t know that it bothers me as such – but as I’ve grown older and more aware, I’ve become more aware of it. It is something that at some points makes me proud and vocal, and at some points is frustrating and isolating.
Anyhow, when I first considered living abroad, emmigrating to another place, I took myself away from friends and family. Possibly the best decision I’ve ever made in my life – I most likely met Kathryn because of that decision.
But it wasn’t until Kathryn and I started to really talk about moving to the US that she raised the spectre of not being of a place. Although I’d lived all over the UK (well, all over the South and the Midlands) I’d always been from the UK. When people asked that ever irritating question “Where are you really from”? By which I don’t mean the honest, genuine, where are you from. I mean the racist undertones, you’re brown and clearly not from here, and you can’t possibly be from the West, foreigner version; the one that follows the first “Where are you from?”…
It was always (and irritatingly, I’m sure) answered with Watford, then Wales.
And it was a definitive – I’m from this place. I’m from this land. And I feel at home here. Why don’t you fuck-right-off.
But now, now I don’t know where I’m from.
I mean, I know. I know logically and technically.
I know what the facts of that are.
I was born in a Britain that, for me, always felt part of Europe.
I listen to music sung in French, or German, or Welsh (or in Cornish) or Scottish, (or even in English ;) ) and I feel at home. I even listen to music in Norwegian and it reminds me of home.
I listen to Sri Lankan music my mum played as a kid, and I have a deep connection there, and so Indian Classical and Bollywood music, while it’s not quite ‘mine’ it’s close. It is a kindred spirit.
I know that when I’m in Europe I feel something – some connection to place. But I’m also not of that place anymore.
And I’m not of this place either.
I made that decision to cut my roots. To sever them. To rip my feet out from the soil in which I’d grown, and transplant myself thousands of miles.
When we plant a pot-bound plant, my mum taught me to gently release some of the roots so that the plants send the new little root tendrils out into the surrounding soil. Without it, the roots will continue to grow inside that root ball, they’ll eventually push out all the soil from that space, and it’ll become one lump of root that can’t get nutrients from anywhere.
Do too much, though, and you’ll damage the roots and maybe make the plant unhappy. Maybe even kill the poor thing. There’s a sweet spot. A point where the roots can make their way into new soil, but the soil that came in the pot will hold it over until then.
I’m not sure if I hit that sweet spot with me. And I’m not sure I’m compatible with the soil here. But I’m fairly convinced whatever happens I’m not really compatible with the soil back ‘home’. I’ve changed – and been changed – by my time here. And while I find the debate here about guns, the environment, race, social support incredibly toxic. I find much of the same at ‘home’. Which means…
… well, I’m not sure what it means.
It means when we were in Paris, and for a fleeting few days it felt like somewhere I could grow, it made me want to be there. And while I adore(d) the Lake District, it only feels like somewhere I could hide. And while I’m pretty crap and doing stuff about the state of the world, I find myself inexorably drawn to follow it.
And realistically, France has a strong nationalist bent. I know that the right wing parties are rising in prominence and power throughout Europe just like the right wing are here. So perhaps it would prove as toxic as it is everywhere in the West at the present. And it doesn’t really matter, it’s not like we’re in any position to emigrate anywhere else at this point, or in the near future.
But it leaves me in a constant state of considering places we could be, to see if that would be a place that I might call home.