This past weekend I visited the small university town of Tübingen, Germany to reconnect with old friends, Antje and Tanja, whom I had met while studying in the Faroe Islands. I had an amazing weekend learning the history of this town from the local perspective. More importantly, I had some amazing revelations about myself and my life this weekend.
The Faroe Islands had been a turning point in my life. This was my first time traveling by myself. I was going to this mystical land that even the post office and bank could not believe was a real place. My parents feared for my safety. No one had ever heard of the Faroe Islands. The directions given to me by the school were to take the bus from the airport to the harbor and someone will meet me there. This would be a true adventure-a true test of myself. Everything seemed so much like a fairy tale. When I arrived there, everything fell into place and I was warmly accepted into the land of sheep and elves.
I spent that month in the Faroes in an endless dream. My adulthood was starting. I was free from years of torment in high school. I was liberated from the small town stuffiness. I was finally separated by time and space from my family problems, though there was still considerable anxiety in the back of my mind. I could think and feel for myself. Somewhere between greeting sheep while climbing pasture gates and hiding in sea caves to watch the puffins swooping into the storming sea, I decided to live for myself.
The friends I made in the Faroes were instrumental in that change. At that time, I could count the people I was “out” to on one hand. My small town and my own self-applied prejudices had kept me sheltered from the larger LGBT community and resources. I still had considerable shame and self-doubt towards my sexuality and gender identity. Being queer was my biggest secret. In the Faroes, I met students from all over the world. They had different backgrounds and cultures. They did not carry the weight of stigmas and hate that I did. They taught me to explore the infinite dimensions of my new found freedom.
Antje was the first openly queer person my age I had ever met. I was fascinated and terrified by the power her self-acceptance gave her. I looked up to her. I wanted the freedom and happiness she expressed. I needed to love myself as much as she loved herself. I knew that was the life I wanted, but at the time, it seemed too scary.
I cut my hair as soon as I got home from the Faroes. So my process of self-discovery began. Step by step, I became the person I am today. Initial support and encouragement from the queer people in my life made this possible.
Now as I visited Antje in Germany, I couldn’t help but think about how my life has changed. We spent the weekend discussing my journey of self-discovery and her final years in school and first adult job. I became so proud of everything I have accomplished in my life. I have seen and experienced so many wonderful things in the past few years. I have gone from being closeted to an active member in the LGBT community and creator of my school’s first transgender group. I have become proud of my identity and comfortable with both my gender identity and sexuality. I made all this possible through my own determination and self discovery. My journey is now culminating in this study abroad experience in Sweden. I believe my Sweden experience is another turning point in my life, but I don’t know where I am turning because I have yet to live it.
It felt amazing to reconnect with my LGBT roots and my German cultural heritage. The first thing I saw in the airport in Frankfurt was the Meyer Cafe. That was the first time I had ever seen my name spelled correctly and in neon lights. Throughout Germany, I saw the squarish font my grandmother used to write on all her cards. As I ate potato noodles with sauerkraut and bacon in the middle of the Tübingen Christmas Market, I thought of how proud my grandmother would be. She would have been so happy knowing I visited her home country. I think my gay uncle would have been equally impressed as I watched the movie, Pride with Antje.
For elementary school, I had to make a dish from my ancestral country. My mom and I made milk noodles, a recipe my grandmother used to make for my mom when she was a child. It was really good, but then we lost the recipe. I always assumed that was a family name for the recipe not a known title for the meal. It turns out, milk noodles are sold in ready-to-eat packages in Germany. Just add milk! Antje had never tried them before, so we made some. I got an extra packet to send to my mom. It filled me with so much joy to taste those milk noodles. For the first time in my life, I felt like I connected with my cultural heritage and with my grandma.
My life came full circle this weekend. I came to appreciate my LGBT and my German cultural heritage and all the accomplishments I have made these past few years. I also came to value my experiences so far in Sweden. I am looking forward to my next adventures.