I may well have been a clumsy child, and even now I often have clownish catastrophes, but this does not define me. Awkward adolescents needn’t grow into apprehensive adults but many do because they have not questioned the validity of the definition and with each ungraceful act, fresh evidence is collected to verify that the label is correct.
I remember returning, after many years away, to the Scottish city in which I had grown up. It had been almost 15 years and the city had physically changed a great deal but sadly the attitudes of many living there remained unaltered.
I had been living in London, Brighton, briefly in San Francisco and even more briefly in Spain but, through a series of events, unfortunate or otherwise, I had found myself back in Bonnie Scotland, at my parent’s home on the banks of the River Tay.
As you can imagine, I’d been through the usual life-altering experiences (relationships, jobs, travel and at least one immensely overwhelming tragedy) of which you’ll no doubt hear more of later, and for some reason decided to visit a bar, the singular “gay” bar, that I had frequented in my misguided, underage youth.
There I was welcomed by “Fat Boab”, translated as Fat Bob, whose opening line was, “You’ve really put on the beef!” By which “Fat Boab” meant that I was perhaps a little more beefy, blimpy, bovine, bulging, bulky, burly or even chunky, dumpy, elephantine, gargantuan, gross, heavy, hefty, husky, lardy or more meaty than he recalled. I did remind him that the last time we had met was prior to my seventeenth birthday and that cream cakes and cheesy bakes can be cruel; I’d transformed from skinny vegan to slightly less slim line vegetarian.
A few days later, or perhaps that same day, in that same bar, I ran into someone else from my youth. Back then we had mutual friends, one in particular, so I sat with him and his gaggle of giggling girlfriends.
We spoke of our mutual friend and it soon became apparent that we had very different views on a number of issues. The subject changed, however, and, against my better judgment, I accepted a drink.
Trapped, and perhaps he felt the same, we talked about how our lives had been in the years since we had last met. As we chatted I could sense his unease and as I shared stories of the selected highlights from my seemingly strange and disjointed life he reacted with judgment, jealousy and, with a raised eyebrow above a jaundiced eye, he disparagingly declared, “You’ve changed”, to which all I could retort was, “…and you haven’t”.
Please don’t think that I was intentionally cruel but, if I’m being honest, I did feel justified and even empowered by this mild statement of self recognition.
I would go so far as to say that this was a moment of epiphany from which I’ve never looked back. In this brief but meaningful interaction I realized that I HAD changed; I was no longer meek and mild or afraid to express an opinion but more confident, worldly, and yes, opinionated but at the core I was still that same 17 year old who knew right from wrong, who could instinctively detect insincerity and the really remarkable aspect of this revelation was that I actually liked myself!
The point of this story is to illustrate that the opinions of others are just that, opinions, and the labels that were attached to me, as a teenager, may or may not have been correct at the time. In believing these labels to be a true definition of myself, I acted in ways which encouraged others to similarly define me but somehow, with time and experience, I redefined myself.
My reaction to these past acquaintances sent a clear, perhaps blunt, message that I was not who they perceived me to be. I may have changed, whether this meant physically having more flesh than bone or growing a backbone but what would be the point in living if the journey didn’t involve change?