Probably every gay/bi/queer person who grew up in a small, conservative town knows the feeling of being the odd one out, not being able to trust people and talk about what you really think, feel and what matters to you. You don't have to be sexually different to feel like this, different in any way will do, and it doesn't have to come with the cliché tags of geek, nerd or whatever. Just slightly different is enough, even if it's just in your mind.
When I was 16, a friend of my mother's told me; “Don't worry. The older you get, the more freedom you will have in your life. You decide what you do, where you go, how long you stay and who you let into your life. It gets better.”
That was my personal It gets Better Project in 2003 – back then, I didn't believe her, but of course, she was right. Yet, sometimes the journey of your life brings you back to places like that, although you think you have moved away and beyond that icky feeling that you just don't fit it.
I chose to come to Belfast, knowing it would be the smallest city I've lived in since I left my home town. That people here can be a bit cold and don't open up to outsiders, quite understandably so if you look at the city's history. Little did I know that this is also true for people in my age group, and even less did I know about how narrow-minded the whole place feels. Don't get me wrong, it's a beautiful city, and I know exactly why I'm here, and why I'll be here for a bit longer. And I don't want to say that 'people' here are doing things wrong – but it's a way of doing things that suffocates everything that I am. And that feeling is more than nasty.
These are my strategies for making things suck a little less when you are somewhere where you just don't belong:
Do what makes your heart sing.
Even if you are going to suck it up, become very quiet and pretend to fit in or not, you still won't fit in, and chances are you will make yourself feel even more miserable. So, whatever it is, embrace your uniqueness and fly your freak flag high. Freak flag has a bit of negative connotation, so maybe this is better: do what you love and be who you are, regardless of what's around you. Be bold. Be ambitious, and be different.
There are situations where this might not seem possible – but really, 'possible' is anything that you dare. Either try to avoid them or hang your head up high and show them made you're made of (I was once invited to a conservative, catholic youth party in a barn… while my obviously not white girlfriend who lived 500 miles away was visiting. Joy). To be honest, doing this is the hardest thing for me right now, because it makes me seem like a hyper-arrogant bitch who has done everything and been everywhere although in 90% of all places, it means I will meet like-minded people and have amazing conversations. Not here... but if I shut up, who's going to benefit from that?
Even the worst situation in life still is an opportunity to learn something new.
If you're stuck somewhere with nothing worthwhile to do, read lots of books, learn a new language, learn to cook awesome Indian food or play an instrument. Teach yourself some programming or other useful skills, or just write, paint and create your heart out. This way, time will go by faste, you won't feel like you've wasted any time and you can grow as a person.
Make great plans.
Bad situations are better if you know they will eventually end. Remember yourself why you are where you are – maybe because there's something to learn or achieve there? If you can't think of a reason why you are there, the answer is simple: make an escape plan. Apply for new jobs, work towards self-employment, plan a trip or just figure out what you're going to do once you have graduaded/learnt to x or saved y amount of money.
This has two interpretations: first of all, if your immediate environment is less than thrilling, try to meet new people in the area – you can always find someone who you share some kind of interest with. Or just explore the places around you – countryside, neighbourhoods, towns and villages alike and treat the whole thing as a challenging but exciting experience that you can grow from.
Secondly and again, if you still can't fit in: Get out!
Sometimes, if you try hard enough, you might be able to create a little bubble for yourself, even in a place that doesn't do anything for you.
But if you try hard and you still feel like you don't fit in and never will: Get out, but don't panic. Find some kind of plan first. Don't worry too much about the details; they will fill themselves in once you've decided that you want to go to South Africa or work as a burlesque dancer or be a dentist, or whatever it is that you want to do. Just take that first step that will get you out eventually.