Dilhan Salgado D’Arcy
‘Why are you going there?’ she asked, a look of repressed disgust on her face. It was not the reaction I expected having told one of my closest friends that I was going to one of the best universities in the UK. ‘You know there will be no one like you there, right?’
I felt offended. I don’t know what I was expecting – a simple ‘well done’ would suffice – but then I thought that maybe she had a point.
We both knew who people ‘like me’ were. We were the children of Brighton – Smirnoff in one hand and school books in the other, wearing cheap shades in the library to veil dark circles from the night before. We were the inhabitants of hipster cafés and bars that played music we pretended to like but were not quite cool enough to fully appreciate. We were as brown as the pebbles on the beach we lay on. And, yes, we were gay.
I suppose I hadn’t thought about the people in St Andrews. The outstanding IR course was enough to convince me to go. But then it dawned on me – would I truly be happy in the land of chinos, gowns and ancient traditions? Would there be people who could relate to me or, more importantly, who I could relate to myself?
Studying in Brighton had taught me to be unabashed about my queerness. I almost felt like I wasn’t gay enough, embarrassed at my tediously conventional clothes and basic taste in music. Brighton seemed like a bubble all of its own and the thought of replacing it with a new and unfamiliar one was daunting.
That is not to say that moving to university is not a nerve-racking time for all students on every place of the sexual spectrum, but there is always something different for anyone queer. The unconscious judgements of others, the ‘is-he or isn’t he?’ questions and the perpetual nervousness that follows their answer, no matter how open or friendly the person you confide in appears. The fact that this would be happening in St Andrews – a world away from anything I thought I knew – only served to exacerbate those feelings.
As soon as I arrived in St Andrews, I embraced the societies and traditions with all the enthusiasm of an over-eager and slightly tipsy fresher. Debating was a first – the ceremonial sword and cries of ‘resign!’ at every objectionable comment filled me with an odd excitement, as if I was a part of an improvised theatre workshop. The pier walk was another peculiar experience. Teetering above the North Sea, swathed in scarlet while nursing a hangover was invigorating although an experience I’d rather not repeat. Another highlight was stumbling across the Czech and Slovak bonfire and mumbling to traditional folksong with strangers who made an admirable attempt to tolerate us.
After the first week, I was sure of it – my friend was wrong. There were people ‘like me’ in St Andrews. The town is full of them. This is a place that embraces the odd, that celebrates being different, a place where people refuse to be ashamed by the misconceptions of others. Could there be more queer people? More minorities? Of course! But resigning four years of your life to a small town in Fife is bound to limit the range of people you encounter.
Ultimately, I realised that you didn’t need to embrace the Bubble. The Bubble embraces you. And I, for one, wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
Dilhan Salgado D’Arcy