(Diriye Osman is photographed by Tom Hensher)
I sometimes imagine that dislocation is a tatty dress that one picks up from the thrift store. It has the cheap thrill of a bargain tinged with the scent of someone else's history. I imagine I can discard this dislocation, toss it aside like that tatty dress, launder it and replace that trace of old scent with bold new memories. That's when the realization sucker-punches me. What if this is it? What if dislocation is a lifelong state? What then?
I have spent my entire adult life in London and there are many pleasures that this city affords me. There is no law here that says that I can't be a gay man in this country. There is no law that tells me I can't marry my same-sex partner and raise our children here. There is no law curtailing my identity, and I acknowledge that this is a privilege that would not have been accorded me in my country of birth, Somalia. I acknowledge my good fortune, but I'm also cognizant of the fact that there is a deep-seated sense of discombobulation, an ants-in-the-pants restlessness.
This feeling rendered me concussed recently whilst I was having drinks in Soho, London's predominantly gay district. I looked around at all the punters in the venue, an upscale cocktail bar playing acid-jazz laced with techno-lite, and realized that I was the only black man in this space. I paid discreet attention to the camaraderie and kinship that these men shared with one another; their dating horror stories that were now being given a communal postmortem dissection. I realized that thousands of conversations like these were happening at that precise moment between gay men of every race, cultural background and sexual proclivity. I paid my bill and rushed through the winter rain to catch my bus.
On the way home, the truth of the matter calcified in my mind. I did not belong to this culture. I did not belong to the wider British culture or the wider gay culture and, having transgressed so far as to pulverize the connection between the country of my birth and the country I had inherited, I was progressing further and further into nebulous territory. The only country I felt comfortable in, the only country I could truly claim as my own was my body and its contents. There is no sentimentality here. If dislocation is a permanent state, I want to try and explore the possibility of temporary impermanence. If dislocation is a tatty dress from the thrift store, perhaps the solution is not to cast it aside. If dislocation is a tatty dress, perhaps the only solution is to mend it, scent it and wear it until everything about it signifies newness, something close to the perpetual promise of a fresh start.
Diriye Osman is the Polari Prize-winning author of "Fairytales For Lost Children" (Team Angelica Press), a collection of critically-acclaimed short stories about queer Somali youth living in London, Nairobi and Somalia. You can purchase the book via Amazon and you can connect with Diriye via his website.
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