I wouldn’t venture to call myself a late bloomer in terms of connecting with the queer community since there are plenty of folks in the world who came out after age 18, or who have no queer people around them at all. I’m very fortunate to have ended up with any queer community at all in my life. The only gay bar for about 50 miles in any direction in my home county closed last summer, and I was raised in a sheltered, Catholic community in rural America. I still had queer friends, though, who are all amazing and came out before I had even figured out that being gay couldn’t be changed.
Yet, the queer community in St Andrews seemed to me like the first real community I could call home. I was shy and bottled up as a fresher who had just come off of a rough gap year, but the queer community and Saints LGBT+ welcomed me with open arms. Messages and ideals and the mission that the community I met held close to their hearts helped a great deal with settling, not only into St Andrews but into myself as well. Messages of body positivity in the gay world helped me realise I was worth more than my media-fed eating disorder. A deep appreciation for queer history both aligned completely with, and provided new perspective on, the “respect your elders” mentality present throughout my life. Seeing projects come together by and for queer people such as publications, arts exhibitions and festivals showed me how to wear a label proudly and use it well – and that our community is capable, intelligent and empathetic. Being introduced to a celebrated drag culture helped me embrace my feminine side and be more expressive with my gender. This was one part of St Andrews culture that had a particularly pro-found impact on me: that such a small town could have such a vibrant and expressive “scene” (some readers may roll their eyes and be keen to point out that it isn’t a “scene” as such, not near-ly as much as in Dundee or Glasgow, for example, but compared to my upbringing it was simply revelatory) and an appreciation for it.
In some ways, even a nonchalant attitude from non-queer folks (not outwardly queer, anyway) towards drag, gender bending and the like, has been just as much a gift for me. I went out one night in drag, ended up in Courtyard Cafe, and two folks with thick beards, big muscles and deep voices stood in front of me in line. They noticed me and asked if I was at a fancy dress party. I told them sheepishly that “I do drag.” A moment passed where I went into defence mode; in my mind I imagined the situation panning out in the bar of the American Legion in my hometown. Abuse would have en-sued, and it would have been, in my own more casual words, a hot mess. The folks at Courtyard looked at me for a second and simply said “oh right, cool bruv.” I ate my whole pizza thereafter quite happily, not caring about what happened to my makeup.
Replaying that thought process has spoken to my realisation that I can be two different people depending on where I am. The beauty of being in a place like St Andrews, an academically – and sometimes politically-challenging environment, is that I could challenge myself to celebrate all of me. I can be a proud half-naked gender-bender who loves God, country music and fixing trucks. I have the queer community here to thank for that. The queer community and its his-tory in St Andrews excites me. I think about what will be accomplished and celebrated in the future, celebrating queer women, queer people of faith, queer people of colour, bi, pan and trans folks. The sky is truly the limit. I’m privileged to have come from the place I did and to be a white cis man in the queer community. I have been helped a lot by the community here and I firmly believe every queer per-son of every corner and intersection of the spectrum deserves the warmth and affirmation I received.