To be an immigrant in Scotland

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(disclaimer: this is my personal experience, and doesn’t reflect the lived reality of every immigrant, especially non-white people. if people disagree with anything here, it doesn’t mean either of us is wrong or right, just that we have different perspectives.)

When I moved to Scotland, back in November 2015, I never expected a great many things to happen. I didn’t come here with the aim of joining the political fight for Scottish independence. I didn’t come here thinking that Brexit would ever come to pass. I didn’t come here expecting this country and its people to grip my heart with such force that I now can’t imagine ever living anywhere else. And yet, all of these things happened, and they all shaped the way in which I look at Scotland.

I suppose one of the greatest advantages of being a newcomer, no matter what country, is that you are able to have a much more impartial look upon a country. An outsider’s gaze, a bit like a scientist on the other side of the glass who is looking at the chimps inside, because you didn’t grow up in the midst of it all. In Portugal I am that chimp, unable to grasp what being Portuguese means to me, and why I’ve always felt so uncomfortable with the idea of being one, even before I moved abroad.

This doesn’t mean that you instantly get a gift for clairvoyance, of course. There’s still a lot of emotion seeping into your thoughts, even when trying to comprehend a country from that outsider’s gaze. I will certainly spend the rest of my days, if I am so lucky as to live them in Scotland, trying to make sense of the many wonderful things about this country, as well as the not-so-wonderful ones too. And that journey is part of the joy.

To be an immigrant amidst the Brexit madness

Despite all its madness, and the incredible anxiety that Brexit has caused my partner and I, the ongoing political stooshie has also allowed me to appreciate Scotland and its people in a whole new way that I perhaps wouldn’t have been able to witness if not for these exceptional circumstances. Yes, Brexit has exposed the worst of the United Kingdom, and yes, far too many Scots have happily joined in that chorus. This is not a country of innocent angels, after all. But Brexit has also shown the moral fibre of swathes of people who have stood their ground against the rampant xenophobia, against the lies and the deceit, against the snake oil salesmen trying to fool us all.

Being an immigrant is difficult – most, if not all, of your family and friends will be left behind, thousands of miles away. At times, it can feel depressingly lonely, or you can feel alienated when you fail to grasp certain specificities of the new country that you now call home. And yet, it is also an incredibly enriching personal experience, not least because of all these challenges, but also because of how it forces you to grow and value things in a different way, like the privilege of having a loving family that cries every time you go back to visit and have to leave. Maybe I would have taken it all for granted before. Not any more. I appreciate and count my blessings, as faithfully and as thankfully as I find atheistically possible.

Would I want to be an immigrant anywhere else other than Scotland, though? Hell no. I couldn’t count on a finer folk to have at my side. Yes, some idiots are just as idiotic as the idiots of any other country – but they are easily counterbalanced by the positivity of the guid folk, and that’s on what I focus. Brexit Britain is a mess. It has made me cry, it has made me scream, and it has made me laugh too, although often in despair. But Brexit Britain has shown that, against this backdrop of loud xenophobia and imperialistically nostalgic anglocentrism, of seeing democracy under siege, Scotland stands taller than any of these things, and the country has extended its hand to me and assured me that it won’t let go.

A few days ago, I learned through social media of yet another Scottish family who felt forced to leave, because they judged it better for the future of their children to take them somewhere where the consequences of No Deal Brexit would be diminished. No one can judge them, for only we know what each of us would do for our own bairns and weans. I am deeply regretful of their departure, of the loss that they are to Scotland, but rather than feeling like giving up, these stories actually strengthen my purpose. There is a fight worth fighting for, and that is to prevent any such stories of multiplying.

I came to Scotland as a young 24-year old guy. I had my dreams, dreams I’ve had since I was young, about becoming a published author and an artist. But by virtue of coming to Scotland, I’ve added to those dreams, and those dreams have actually become more tangible because of it all. I now have other dreams that I never thought I would have; namely, getting to see the day in which Scotland becomes an independent country.

Scotland is, and will always be, my home

In Scotland, I’ve felt at home since the day I stepped off the plane that brought us from Faro to Edinburgh. In Scotland, I found a country far richer than I ever imagined (and I’m not talking of material goods), a people far warmer than they credit themselves for, a culture far more familiar than that in which I grew up. This may not be the experience of all immigrants, but I’ve been lucky to meet fellow immigrants who speak of the same kind of experiences. That is the phenomenal magic of this country, and it goes beyond the awe-inspiring sights and the rest of it; it comes down to the most basic stuff, and that is our shared humanity. No immigrant would feel so at home in Scotland if they hadn’t been welcomed by the people who were here before, many of whom descended from fellow immigrants and emigrants (which may help explain why xenophobia is less loud here).

I just spent the first week of September back in Portugal, and the more time I’ve spend in Scotland, the more alien I feel each time I go back to where I was born. Because I may have been born there, but that means very little. In Portugal I was only a lethargic caterpillar, crawling, living from day to day with ever diminishing hope – whereas in Scotland I feel like a butterfly, liberated from its cocoon and ready to savour the brief moments that constitute our existence as people.

Does any of this make sense? Maybe not. I’ve found it very hard to come up with rational explanations for this sense of belonging in Scotland, and since I’m not really the kind of guy to fall into irrational explanations, I’ll simply rejoice in the mystery of it all, ever thankful that I found myself towards this wee corner of the world. I hope that, in the years to come, I am able to give back to Scotland some of what it has given me – although I doubt that I will ever fully match that, for Scotland and its people have given me a joy that I would never have had otherwise, and there’s no way to quantify the importance of that.

Thank you, Scotland, for being a beacon of sanity during these Brexit times. From your adoptive son and brother, I will say this: you may not be the most perfect country in the world, but you are the least imperfect, and I love you deeply, warts and all.

How the Scottish Highlands Changed Me

highlands

The first time I visited Glencoe

Throughout the centuries, much has been written about the natural beauty of the Scottish Highlands. Just thinking about them, and what they mean to me, conjures up such overwhelming feelings that I don’t think I could ever properly put it all into coherent words. But July marks three years since I first did a trip around this part of Scotland, and I want to write about how this landscape monumentally impacted upon my own soul.

This is not a travel log, but an attempt at making sense of these complicated feelings I experienced when I first visited the Highlands.

A landscape full of contrasts

I’m an atheist, but I’ve always been a romantic, finding great spiritual fulfillment in the sight of a crescent moon, throwing skipping stones on the calm waters of a loch, or hiking up a hill and basking in the extraordinary landscapes around me. The thing about the Highlands of Scotland is that you end up experiencing all of these awe-inspiring emotions on an perpetual basis, soaking your brain in some special soup of endorphins that are not quite like anything else.

The Highlands are a landscape of vivid contrasts, all packed with a punch. You can lose yourself in the Black Wood of Rannoch, one of the largest areas of the ancient pine forest that covered much of Scotland, but you can also be presented with barren stretches of land that have been spoiled of all trees, and yet they are not dead at all if you look close enough, and have a beauty of their own.

Worst of all is to gaze upon the old remnants of cleared Straths, places where families and whole communities once thrived in their own unique and rich culture, but which now bear only the scars of what was nothing short of ethnic cleansing. These landscapes are haunted by the injustices inflicted on humans by those of their own kind, for the sake of some twisted notion of progress. I have no Scottish family that I know of, and yet my throat clenched at the sight of cleared Straths in Sutherland. My blood boiled when I first set my eyes upon the Mannie on the Hill and picked up my phone to read about what it represented. No adjective other than scunnered can quite describe that feeling.

Where there is dark, there is light

And yet, despite the darkness that makes up an undeniable part of the Highlands’ history, it is also a land that inspires good. Standing in Glencoe and looking upon the Three Sisters, it was a relief to feel so meaningless in this world, for how does our fleeting human life matter when you gaze upon the natural beauty that has stood eternally?

The Highlands humble you. They teach you that where there is beauty, there is hardship. They epitomise the fact that nature can be perfectly balanced in how generous and cruel it is, how it can be bountiful and merciless, how its breathtaking allure can be the end of you.

The Highlands allow you to revel in the enjoyment of seeing wild deer, but also contemplate the fact that these majestic animals must be culled, for all their natural predators have long been driven extinct. They let you marvel in the sight of beautifully fat salmons making their way up the rivers, whilst appreciating that these fishes have brought incredible sustenance to many communities. They show you your place in the world, as but a link in a great chain, and remind you of the threats that we face if we don’t fight back against the impending ecological catastrophe.

Finding our place in the world

As individuals, we’re all living a life where we try to figure our place in the world. Some of us like to inflate that place and imagine it to be much bigger than it is. Others don’t value themselves highly enough, living a life under the shadow of the Cù Sìth, the Black Dog.

In the Highlands, I’m reminded of the things that matter in life. We can let ourselves get lost in so many things that, once we’re gone, won’t matter in the slightest. I’m not immune to that, particularly with my issues around anxiety. But I look upon the white sands and crystalline blue waters of Achmelvich beach, the streams of water running down from the hills of Bealach na Bà, the ruins of once-mighty castles littered across the landscape, and I feel nothing but a tidal wave of serenity.

I don’t know exactly what magical means, but would I use it to describe the Scottish Highlands? Probably. When I’m there, I feel something reaching deeper into my soul, something I’ve never felt anywhere else, and it feels like I am finally in tune with the rhythm of life. More importantly, I feel like I’m exactly where I belong. It feels like home, feels like love. It feels all of this and so much more, and I know that many of the people reading this will know exactly what I mean.

I will never know why a Portuguese-born lad feels so incredibly comforted in a place as remote to him as the Highlands of Scotland. Some people have told me that I may simply have a Scottish soul, although I don’t know what that means. What I know is that Scotland is a country with incredible landscapes, and that these landscapes have shaped her people for centuries.

glencoe

Glencoe

Scotland is every wean born in the most deprived parts of Glasgow, Scotland is every song and poem written here, Scotland is the water of every stream and every stream is Scotland. Scotland is the blood-soaked memory of those cleared Straths and Glens, and Scotland is the promise of what we can do with our future in our hands. No matter where life ends up taking me, no matter what is to come, I may not have been born in Scotland, but that doesn’t mean Scotland hasn’t taken root in me. I feel just as connected to this country and its people as those born here, and I will always consider myself the luckiest man in the world to have found this fulfillment, which many spend a lifetime searching for without success.

Thank you, Scotland, for being so uniquely, profoundly, and beautifully Scottish. Thank you for the lessons you’ve taught me, and for those yet to come. Thank you allowing me to be myself, for the first time in my life, and to know what contentment means. I will never wish to be anywhere else, with no other people, other than in Scotland with my fellow Scots, auld and new.

My Coming Out Story

gay pride

June is Pride month, and to break from the usual political shenanigans, I thought I’d share the story of when I first came out as a gay man.

The first thing you should realise is that there isn’t a single coming out for queer people. It usually involves first doing so to a sibling or best friend, before expanding that circle: coming out to your family, work colleagues, and every new acquaintance you make throughout your life. Whenever small talk gets rolling, and one is asked about wives/husbands/partners/etc, we usually have to offer a quick clarification. The most seminal moment for most people, however, remains the moment we tell our parents who we really are.

My parents are extremely liberal. We’re an atheistic household, my Mum was born in Angola, my Dad’s father was a political prisoner during the Fascist dictatorship of Salazar in Portugal. I grew up seeing loads of different people as their friends, including gay men (which I had no idea about, by the way). This might make you think that I had the easiest coming out in the world, no?

Well, not entirely. I was very gender-conforming growing up, and whilst I always knew that I liked other boys, I made an effort not to fall into any stereotypes that could give me away. Girl colleagues of mine would hang out during breaks, rehearsing some Britney Spears’s choreography, and although I’d want to be with them, I just went away to do something else with the boys. Not sports, though, I never went that far – I was always severely overweight and vastly uninterested in anything physically demanding.

Mum and Dad had no suspicions (my Mum likes to say that she always knew, but I’m not too sure; she only started saying it after I came out, so we’ll never know). Forward to a few years later, when I finally go to university, and move from the small fishing village of Santa Luzia in the South of Portugal, to Lisbon.  As I became increasingly comfortable with the idea of who I was, during my first year of uni (having loads of gay people as friends helped immensely), not even my friends suspected a thing. I genuinely believe that this was to do with me being so overweight and apparently thoughtless when it came to my image, not conforming to anyone’s prejudices of what a gay guy was. Zero interest in fashion, zero interest in talking about pop music (I listened to it secretly), zero mannerisms that could be perceived as effeminate. I went under everyone’s radar, including my gay friends.

I should also point out that I was living in a fraternity, with about a dozen other guys, and homophobia and misogyny were rampant. Their conversations were disgusting. And I knew that I couldn’t dare to come out there, because I’d face a lot of crap.

I first ended up coming out to one of my gay friends. I’d arranged coffee with him, saying that I needed to tell him something, and only then did it first click in his head. He was brilliant about it, and incredibly excited for me to tell everyone else. I’d also painted my hair blonde, by the way, and I think he was more excited about them seeing it than the fact that I was coming out. Anyway, I did, the following morning, before a uni lecture. Most of them thought it was a prank, and some didn’t believe me until months later, that was how entrenched their prejudices were (none of them were ill-meaning, by the way). Yet, as the months went by, I grew in confidence, even if I never came out in my fraternity.

Before we start the following year of uni, something finally clicked in me and I started addressing my obesity. I lost weight at an incredible rate, as I was inhumanely determined to fix myself, after I’d reached a point of loneliness and unhappiness I couldn’t bear any longer. I was an out gay man, and I wanted to have my first boyfriend, I wanted to dress in the clothes that I liked and not those that fitted me. I wanted to feel attractive.

As my weight almost evaporated, through a discipline and strength of purpose that I haven’t been able to recapture since, I started becoming a little vain for the first time in my life. I stopped hating the person I saw in the mirror, and started seeing the potential of who I could become if I kept at it. And so I did, and I started changing my style, and then I got my ear pierced. And then I got my second one, and this is when my Dad had a strange reaction that forced me to come out.

You see, as liberal as my parents were (and are), my Dad has some weird fixations about the body. He hates any adornments, because he thinks a healthy body doesn’t need anything; tattoos, piercings, even necklaces and bracelets. They’re unnecessary. So when I pierced my left ear, it was kind of alright, but when he saw the first picture of both my ears pierced, as he was having dinner with my Mum and brother, he called me. He wanted to know what the hell I was thinking, and if I was unaware that having both ears pierced could leave people thinking “that I belonged to certain groups”. This was a weirdly judgemental sentence for my Dad, I never heard him saying anything remotely close to that before or since. But that was the prompt I needed.

“Maybe I do belong to certain groups,” I replied. “In fact, I’m gay.” Slight pause. “You’re what?” he asks. “I’m a homosexual. Now pass the phone to Mum.” He hesitated slightly, and then I heard him tell her “Zézinha, it’s better that you’re sitting down for this.” My Mum picked up the phone, slightly anxious by the introduction that my Dad gave her, and I told her: “I’m gay.” She paused for a bit. “You’re what? What does that mean?” This was so weird, because of course my Mum knew what gay meant, but I guess it was her brain telling her that maybe she misheard something. “I’m a homosexual,” clarified, knowing how unambiguous that word was.

To be honest, I don’t remember exactly how that phone call ended. I had left the fraternity by that time, and was renting an apartment with three other friends, and they were all next to me then. I knew I was shaking, I could feel my face burning, and then we just celebrated as I felt a huge wave of relief.

My Dad called me the next day, and we didn’t talk about what had happened last night at all. It was all normal. It took me a couple of weeks to visit them, as I went back to the Algarve one weekend every two months or so. I went to have dinner with my Mum on the night I arrived, at the shopping centre of the nearby town, and she talked to me about HIV, how I should just make sure that I was safe, and then we weirdly talked about how she had cried so much when Freddie Mercury died. She also told me that she’d always known, but had waited for me to tell her. I’m sure that’s partly true.

Everything was normal. My Mum told my Granny and the rest of the family (it’s a small family), no one made a fuss whatsoever. Nothing changed between me and my parents, at least not negatively – if anything it just allowed me own my breath with confidence, when I was next to them. I was no longer playing any character.

I continued on my journey to lose weight, and it would actually take me a few more months before I even started looking for someone to date. It was okay, I took as long as I needed to feel comfortable enough so that I was ready to share it with someone else. I was 21 years old when this finally happened. My first sexual encounter turned out, unfortunately, to be one where I participated without consent, although that didn’t scar me at all, I was simply freaked out and ran out of his flat as quickly as I could. Took me a couple more months to find another man that I felt like I could date, and it turned out to be the love of my life, the man I’m still with, since the 20th of May, 2012.

As I said in the beginning, you spend your life coming out, if you’re part of the LGBTQ+ community. It’s okay, we get used and better at it. And each coming out is very different. Overall, my experience was nothing but an immensely positive one. My partner, on the other hand, is still almost entirely estranged from his family since coming out. But that’s his story to tell.

Love your kids for who they are. Sometimes, they don’t grow up according to your expectations. It’s not their fault, they never asked for those expectations. The only thing you should expect is that they live a long, healthy and happy life, and that you do everything in your capacity to guarantee that you’re a positive part of it all.

And if you’re reading this because you don’t know how to come out, because you’re afraid of being thrown out of your house or being beaten: I will not lie, and tell you that everything will be alright. Maybe it won’t. Maybe your parents have been drinking from a poisoned cup for years and years, and they will react badly. But they can also surprise you. Never be too certain. The most important thing is that you are honest with yourself, and that you have someone who you can count on, come what may. If the storm gets rough, you’ll need help navigating it. But you’ll survive, and as you lighten your burden, you’ll become stronger than you’ve ever known. And you’ll never be alone – the LGBTQ+ community is a family, and we’ve all been there. We will always understand you.

The world can be a very dark place. I still experience homophobia on a more regular basis than it should be accepted. But how we react to that darkness is by making sure that we shine brightly. There’s no power like owning your body and who you are.

Love is love. Happy Pride month.

My Journey To Yes

The title of the video above is quite self-explanatory. My “Journey To Yes” is part of a series of videos by the brilliantly talented Phantom Power, detailing the various paths taken by different people to support Scottish independence. I was honoured to be invited to collaborate on one of these videos, and share with you a bit more of how I ended up as a passionate believer in Scotland.

This is part of a personally gratifying week, as I also had the pleasure of being invited to attend an SNP event in Leith, focusing on EU Scots living in Scotland in the context of tomorrow’s European Parliamentary elections. It was an opportunity to meet a few others EU Scots, get to know our MEP hopeful (and super charming and warm) Christian Allard a wee bit more, and also meet Alyn Smith. There was also a certain someone there.

Nicola and I

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon next to a wee silly bampot with too many opinions

Not going to lie, meeting Nicola Sturgeon was quite a moment. The complete madness of it all was compounded by the fact that, when I introduced myself to her, she immediately reciprocated with a “Oh, hi – it’s always a bit strange to meet someone you only follow on Twitter.” Yes, I obviously screamed inside – a silly Portuguese-born guy on Twitter, pretty much spouting nonsense on a regular basis, made enough of a blip for the First Minister to notice, so I’ll dine on that one for a bit. She’s followed me for a while, but I didn’t know *she followed me* like she meant to, I always thought it had been a misclick or something. Apparently not.

Had a chance to exchange a few words with Nicola, including about Portugal, and take that endearing photo which left my parents in happy tears, as they saw how happy I was.

I also changed my SNP branch this week and hope to attend my new branch’s meeting next month, in order to get more involved at local level. It’s been a challenge tackling my anxiety, but the rewards have meant that I have accrued some incredible experiences under my belt. May many more be forthcoming.

So, I’m happy. Life is good, my partner and I are healthy and as in love as ever, and things are going well at a manageable rhythm. I’m also grateful – don’t know exactly to whom, as an atheist – and appreciate these things with measured optimism.

By the way, don’t forget to vote tomorrow. Don’t ever take your right to vote for granted. Your vote *always* matters.

We can’t let division win

Al-Hubb, 23x31cm

Painting with the Arabic word for love, “Al-Hubb”, written in calligraphy. 23x31cm, oil on canvas. ©Saraband

Twitter can be mental. I love it. I guess most of you who use it also share this love/hate relationship with it, because we all know we’ve made some wonderful connections, but also seen a lot of crap. I guess that social media has all the problems of our modern society but they become amplified with the added layer of echo chambers, and the inability to provide some much needed nuance around complicated issues, a difficult thing to do with a 280-character limit (can’t believe we survived the 140-character era).

Today, in one of Twitter’s typical abilities to catch us unaware, a bitter little straight man popped up on my timeline, taking issue with the fact that I describe myself as a feminist on my Twitter bio (and, indeed, in life), and also support the Trans community as part of the LGBTQ+ family. The man assumed I was some radical activist wanting to erode women’s rights, which I’m not, and I absolutely don’t want to. So a discussion ensued, he ended up admitting that he had jumped in too quickly (although offering a backhanded apology, so fuck him), but I was left shaking because the whole thing caught me by surprise. Admittedly, I deal very badly with people making false assumptions about me, I have to work on that.

Whilst still reeling from that exchange (I took screenshots of it all before blocking him, by the way), I decided to do a wee spontaneous vlog on Twitter about my views on the subjects of male feminism, self-id laws, and the need for compassion in a debate that is becoming a mud-flinging mess on all sides. You can watch it here:

Keep in mind that it is a two-minutes long, unscripted video, so of course there’s a lot more to be said. It does not offer solutions to the questions around self-ID and women’s rights: to be frank, as a gay man perfectly at home in the body I was born with, it’s not my place to offer those solutions. I should listen to what women have to say, and how we can protect the Trans community without infringing on anyone else’s rights.

I will always stand by my sisters fighting for the right to be protected from male violence, and I will always fight for the right of my Trans friends to live dignified lives. These two things shouldn’t be mutually exclusive. Don’t let the patriarchy divide & conquer us, when we should be fighting it together.

Diversity is not about saying that we’re all the same. We aren’t. Trans people are unique, as are women, gay men, straight men, etc., and there’s uniqueness within every single one of those groups as well. Diversity is about acknowledging that those differences exist, but respect them, and ensure that we are all able to live dignified lives. I know I owe the rights I enjoy today, as a gay man, to both the Trans community that has always fought for me, but also to my Lesbian and Straight sisters, who fought for the LGBTQ+ community at large. Let’s bring that compassion back, and keep the slurs and the dogmas out of the debate, for everyone’s sake.

Oh, and cheerio to anyone saying I’m not, or can’t be a feminist. I can feel the heel of the patriarchy on my neck, every day of my life as a gay man. I know the challenges I face are different from those of my sisters, and I know I still benefit from white male privilege every day of my life. But we are in this together, in a movement with women at the front.

I’ll not let any straight man dictate if I’m a feminist or not. The approval I need has been given to me in the knowing look of my female friends, and they will let me know when I step on the wrong foot, as we all occasionally do, because we’re all human – that’s the point.

Twitter can bring out the worst in people

This is not one of the posts I usually write for this blog. But something so remarkably fun (and sad) happened on Twitter, tonight, that I couldn’t but feel the need of putting it up here, not least for my future reference.

You see, I’m an optimist, and so I look very positively at Twitter. Yeah, sure, it’s full of disgustingly vile people who will fight over anything. But I’ve also met many a fine people in whose lives I’ve grown genuinely interested, and who I care about to various extents. And, crucially, most people tend to be polite, funny and warm – like in the real world.

However, had a particular interaction tonight that encapsulates the pettiness of this social media bubble. I’ll let the below image speak for itself, but let me just end by saying this: if your immediate response, when confronted with your own smugness, is not to laugh at yourself and recognise your error, but instead to double down and lash out in a horribly xenophobic manner, you’re just a vile, nasty, ignorant little shit, and it will always be a pleasure to put in your place.

Especially when English is not even my native language.

 

Screenshot 2019-03-06 at 21.06.10

A lesson in smugness

If anyone is wondering, deprecating and denigrating are synonyms when used in this context:

Screenshot 2019-03-06 at 21.02.18

Dictionary reference