“The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are.”C.G.Jung
Three years ago, my home town of Portage la Prairie began having its own Pride March to celebrate LGBTQ citizens and to foster a sense of inclusion in the city. The first one was 2016 and when I saw it I was for some reason instantly drawn to attend. It wasn’t until this past July though that I was ago to get out there for this parade. Going back would be the first time I’ve returned to Portage as an out gay man. This should be interesting!
It’s hard to describe how it feels to go home. To be honest if feels weird to describe Portage as “home.” I haven’t been back since my mother passed away in 2009. I have been feeling energy to go back ever since the pride marches started three years ago. I can’t say exactly why but it created a longing in me to return. Maybe it’s to bring some closure, maybe a declaration, maybe on a round about way to be able to leave my abusive past in the past. Interestingly someone one recently talked about how Ontario was “home” for them for the longest time but the last time they went they realized that BC was now gone for them and that the felt like a visitor in Ontario. I was curious if I would feel the same.
Most of my experiences of my hometown are of pain, loss, hurt and fear. Sure, there were positive moments but that’s what stands out. I argue with myself that “I create my own narrative and so I can decide to focus on different things of my past.” I appreciate with trauma it will not necessarily just “go away.” But I feel it impacts my ability to move forward. I feel wounded and damaged and incapable of sustaining any type of intimate relationship. So many memories. I feel disconnected from myself and my past. Like it was someone else’s life.
I anticipated going back to be emotional. I was surprised at how many memories and reminders I saw on every corner driving through Winnipeg and Portage. My childhood is everywhere I look. Playing football at the school district offices, walking to school in winter, swimming and biking everyday, golfing everyday, skipping school. Even seeing the religious people on the pride route with signs saying we’re going to hell. (I’m sure they were full gospel folks…but that’s just my guess).
Houses people lived in, parties I went too, the smoke pit at school, hunting Sasquatch at a local field, making a fort in those same bushes where I smoked cigarettes for the first time. My children’s first home, seeing the front steps where I sat with my friend and wanted to kiss him so badly but couldn’t find the courage. The streets I walked down, petrified to be beaten up by random strangers. I didn’t feel safe here. I’ve never felt safe here. It feels bitter sweet being here again. Pain mixed with laughter. Pain and anguish mixed with joy.
While I was there I was able to connect with a long-time high school friend. Stacy and I spent lots of time together in high school. She reminded me of how “pretentious” I was as a youth because of the way I dressed and how her father totally knew I was gay. Apparently whenever I would come over to her house, he would announce “your gay non-boyfriend is here!” to be honest, I’m pretty sure others saw it too. She talked about how she wished I would have come out in high school. Believe me, I’ve wished I did too…but I don’t think I had the confidence or safety to do it.
Going back to Portage for Pride was a bitter sweet experience. It was an opportunity to see that world from different eyes and revisiting of old wounds that empowered healing. Going back to this place was a reminder to me that, while it may have been where I started, it does not define who I am, just like trauma doesn’t have to define who I am. Just because it started there doesn’t mean it has to hold me down. I can grow and heal and let go. As a city, Portage feels lonely. The power of this trip was the ability to embrace who I am now and integratr my past with my present. It was an acknowledgement and a celebration of who I’ve become. An embracing of my authentic self. I’ve stopped trying to fit in.