Preparing to Leave Scotland
I am in the process of cramming as much clothing into my suitcases as is physically possible, the last step in a long process of packing that has involved numerous coffee breaks and a full day of hiking. As a final farewell to Edinburgh, I have gone to some of my favorite spots one last time. I went to the National Museum of Scotland on Monday. Unfortunately, Monday was a school holiday and thus the museum was very crowded with children. But I still managed to navigate it without too much difficulty and even discovered new areas of the museum that I hadn’t seen the first time. I spent all day Wednesday hiking at Pentland Hills, which has featured prominently in a few previous blog posts. I journeyed about twice as far into the hills as I had gone previously and was exhausted, hungry, sun-burnt, and very pleased with myself. I found a small bait shop near a lake there and bought a cup of soup from them. I then came across a historical, iron age bunker that I had not come across on previous hikes. Thursday, I spent several hours at my favorite bookshop, Blackwell’s. I have gone there at least once a week throughout the semester and have purchased a total of eleven coffees from their café. I have also purchased a total of 15 books from them, 13 of which I have read so far. It was rather emotional for me to part ways with this amazing shop. It’s by far the most “intelligent” book store I have ever encountered. They have all kinds of books on philosophy and science, and they have collections of ancient Greek and Roman works in the original Greek and Latin. I need to find a bookstore like that in Tennessee, if such a store exists. But finally, I am spending the last day, Friday, packing.
What have I learned from this semester in Edinburgh? One of the things that I hoped to learn about was specifically the queer life here. But I’ve come to the realization that I don’t actually know anything about queer life in the United States. I only came out of the closet a couple of months before leaving for Scotland, and so I never had the chance to get too involved in the LGBT+ community. I attended meetings of the gender-sexuality alliance back at Vanderbilt, but it isn’t a perfect representation of LGBT+ life. So my impressions of the queer community in Scotland are really my first impressions of the queer community in general. What I’ve found has been less than satisfying in some ways. I’ve heard complaints in the gender-sexuality alliance at Vanderbilt about how the queer community can often be just as un-accepting as the general population. For instance, there is still prejudice in the queer community against people who are bisexual. That was discussed at the LGBT+ society here in Edinburgh, where many complained that they are treated as if they do not exist. I’ve noticed this in media coverage of the gay rights debate. In fact, the term “gay” rights is further evidence of this erasure of bisexuals, and this is one way in which the UK doesn’t differ too much from the US. Another thing I have found is that there are still gender stereotypes within the queer community. Men who are more “masculine” are often considered more desirable than men who are more “feminine”. Like in the rest of society, there is still an emphasis on physical attraction over personality. I tried dating for the first time, and I finally understood why so many people are obsessed with their looks. It makes a difference in whether or not people are interested in you. I never had any concern for my looks before, but it suddenly (and unfortunately) became important. I don’t think it should be that important, and I don’t think it should be important to be “masculine” or “straight-acting”. These are all new things that I have discovered in Scotland, and I can’t imagine that they’d be better in the US.
That being said, I do feel that the LGBT+ group on campus back at Vanderbilt differs significantly from the LGBT+ society here at Edinburgh. Both are full of great and fun people, but the group at Vanderbilt is a product of a general culture that is less tolerant than the culture in Scotland. Many meetings at Vanderbilt are filled with stories of the hatred that group members have faced, and it takes on the form of a support group. The Edinburgh LGBT+ society, from my brief experience of it, has less of a focus on the difficulties facing its members, and I would like to think that that is due to a lack of difficulties. I was told recently, however, that a certain church here in Edinburgh broke away from the Church of Scotland over its acceptance of gay pastors. I heard this from someone who was gay himself and was invited to listen to this church give an anti-gay rant in support of its decision to separate. Needless to say, he did not enjoy the experience. That someone would think it was a good idea to invite a gay friend to listen to an anti-gay rant is beyond my understanding. But it happened here in Edinburgh, showing that things might not be so much better here after all.
As I finished up my packing and gathered the last of my clothes from the drying room here, I ran into the custodians of my dorm. I’ve heard them talking outside my door on a number of occasions, and I’ve always had difficulty understanding their Scottish accents. But this time I stopped and had a conversation with them. They wanted to know when I was returning home and what my flight looked like. They weren’t familiar with Tennessee but got excited when I mentioned Nashville. It turns out that I should have been telling people all along that I’m from Nashville, as it is apparently known globally for its country music, cowboy outfits, and guns. They asked about the Grand Ole Opry, which I have actually never been to. They also asked if it were true that people walked around with guns. They said they are always amazed that Americans can just walk into any store and buy a gun. I can’t say that’s something I miss about the US. It’s been nice not having murders or armed robberies. However, the familiarity of the cowboy hats and country music will be nice. I will certainly miss Edinburgh, though, and I hope to return some day to revisit all of my favorite places.