Calum McSwiggan

Archive for the ‘Gay’ Category

Finding My Voice

In Eat, Gay on September 10, 2013 at 6:30 pm

YouTube

‘You have always worn your flaws upon your sleeve, and I have always buried them deep beneath the ground.’

– Bastille

When I was a teenager I had a crippling hatred for my own voice, living in a world where I saw people beaten up on the daily for being gay, I was terrified that my camp rasp would give away my biggest secret. A lot of people hate hearing a recording of themselves back on tape, but I despised it so much that it made me want to cry.

It wasn’t until after I found a more accepting world and came out as gay that I began to be able to accept my voice for the high pitched monstrosity it was. With the support of a close group of friends, I built up the courage to join a gospel choir and, hidden beneath a dozen powerful vocalists where nobody could hear me, I quietly began to embrace my inner voice.

There would still come the time where somebody would make a joke about the way I spoke and I would recoil with disgust and embarrassment, but for the most part my voice and I began to get along just fine. That was until I overheard two of my friends mocking me after hearing me practising singing at the piano. Hearing their hurtful words stung so badly that I never sang in front of anyone again, and just the thought of holding a karaoke microphone was enough to make me succumb to an overwhelming panic.

It was something that never really went away, and when I moved  to University it made me want to shy away from all of the arising opportunities to perform and speak publicly. I had this social butterfly inside of me bursting to get out but this on-going inner conflict seemed to keep bringing me to a standstill.

I continued to push down these inhibitions, successfully sweeping the problem well under the rug, until my best friend one day extended the opportunity to join her in starting our own radio show. Not wanting either of us to miss out on the chance, she relentlessly poked me in the ribs until I hit breaking point. Releasing all of my pent up fear and anger in one sharp burst, I snapped at her and we both fell uncomfortably silent.

It was the only time we ever had anything even close to an argument, and it was in that split second that I knew that I had a problem that I had to overcome. With ample encouragement and support, she convinced me to take up her offer and join her in that radio booth where we worked together in creating our own show. It was the confidence this gave me that lead me on to performing regularly and taking up a job in teaching English that saw me commanding the attention of dozens and singing in front of hundreds.

I noticed a performer inside myself that I had never before met, I now had the emotional stability to speak out but as soon as I finished teaching I had no outlet to share it in. I carried on staying quiet, reserving my stories to be written on my blog or to be shared with friends and strangers around the camp fire, until I became intrigued by a friend from the radio station who had started his own vlog.

His first video had gone viral and reached over 100,000 hits in a matter of days, and not only was I impressed by him personally, I was amazed by the untapped power of YouTube. It was this that inspired me to create my own videos, and working underneath the It Gets Better project and Out4Marriage campaign I published my own videos. For the first time I had exposed myself and my voice to the malicious world of the internet where insults and hurtful words are no holds barred, but I was fully prepared to brush off any unwanted and pesky comments about my womanly voice.

Making videos wasn’t something I could do very well, but it was something that I adored, so after moving to London and being again inspired by the YouTube community, I knew that the next step to take would be to learn how to create my own video blogs, fully embrace social media, and pursue creativity in every way possible.

I cleaved my savings in half by buying myself a new computer and a camera, promised myself that I would stay in one place for at least a little while, and began working on my first video. It’s a nerve racking experience to put the entirety of yourself into something and then push it out to be judged by the masses, but it’s also thrilling and rewarding, and after only a few days I’m already beginning to see the results.

The response I got was relatively small, but for an individual with such a tiny following I was amazed at how much a short video can bring to the table. I only received around 700 views, but scores of strangers were not only hitting my subscribe button but also coming through to my blog, reading my stories, and emailing and tweeting me at a rate I couldn’t keep up with. It’s like vlogging has been the missing link and now everything is beginning to come together.

I’ve only created a single video introducing myself, and even though I still haven’t figured out how to use a camera or a piece of editing software, exciting things are starting to happen. Already I’m collaborating with designers and illustrators and so many talented people who have come forward to offer up their talents, and it’s all stemmed from me putting faith in my own voice.

My only regret is that I let my inhibitions control me for so long and didn’t start a hell of a lot sooner. I can only imagine how amazing it would have been to film a vlog from the inside of a tiger cage or from the back of an elephant, but although it’s only a side project, I’m already excited about things I can potentially shoot in the future.

I’ve finally overcome that fear of my own voice, and although I still won’t take up a microphone and join you in singing a karaoke rendition of Beyoncé’s greatest hits, if you’d be so kind to indulge me, I’d happily share with you a bit of nonsense in my first ever video blog.

Summer In The City

In Eat, Gay, Love on August 25, 2013 at 11:31 am

Alexandra Palace

‘So I put my faith in something unknown, I’m living on such sweet nothing.’

– Calvin Harris 

The screams deafened me as I peered through the heaving crowd and up at some of my biggest inspirations, I couldn’t believe that these people who I had watched and read in solitude were now here in front of me being idolised by thousands. I had the same feeling of excitement that other people must feel when they see their favourite musicians perform, watch their favourite actress, or cheer on their favourite sports team.

I listened to their words intently, taking mental notes to drive my own inspirations, hanging on their every word, and then catching the eye of one of them and smiling. Lost in a crowd of hardcore fans you never expect them to acknowledge you, and so when you see them smiling back, you look around frantically, convinced that they’re looking at someone else.

I’d come here to be inspired, I’d only just moved to London when I heard that this global YouTube event was taking place right on my doorstep, and I just had to be a part of it. International writers, film makers, and vloggers were flying in from all over the world to give talks, run seminars, and to meet with their fans. There was absolutely nowhere in the world I would have rather been.

I had been getting despondent with my creativity, with boxing myself into a career path that wasn’t giving me the same enjoyment it once did, battling self enforced deadlines, and ending up necking a bottle of wine instead of getting anything done. This event was the push I needed to branch out and try something new, inject the life back into my work, and finally bring that big project into fruition.

It was incredible to be able to briefly shake the hands of the people that inspire me, to thank them for their work, and get them to sign a good luck card for a like-minded friend about to take on the biggest change in his life. It was thrilling to tick meet one of my idols off my bucket list for 2013, but what was really unbelievable was what was about to happen next.

After meeting so many of my aspirations, there was just one more person I wanted to meet, the person I’d stared up at from the crowd, the person I’d followed religiously for as long as I could remember. I rushed across the room just in time for his meet and greet to find a two-thousand strong queue already snaking across the hall and outside. I very nearly walked away and went to sit another seminar, but just as I caught his eye again for a split moment, I decided to hop on the end of the line and join the monstrous queue.

I waited for so long that when I was finally rushed forward and instructed to snap a photo and move along, I was flustered and couldn’t get my words out. I wanted to talk to him, pick his brain, and ask him a thousand questions, but instead I whispered a quiet compliment, asked him to sign my friend’s card, and was swiftly hurried along. How can I find you? he called after me as the security guard took my arm and hurried through the next person. Tweet me, I said, @CalumMcSwiggan.

I can’t think of a name more difficult to spell or remember, and that was just one of the reasons that I never expected to hear from him again. He took to the stage again later that day and when I heard the screams of thousands echoing his name, I knew that of course he wasn’t going to contact me. I tried to catch his eye again but I was lost in a sea of people, I’d been fortunate enough to meet a handful of my idols, and to expect anything more was delusional.

Just meeting these amazing people and taking part in their workshops filled me with such creative energy and passion that it began to revitalise my dwindling creative spirit. I’ve not been taking my work seriously, and this was exactly the boost I needed to really start working towards everything I want to achieve.

I wanted to try something new, and meeting these people gave me that push. Not only did I want to start vlogging myself, I wanted to try my hand at photography, take up a dance class, complete a marathon, pose for that life drawing class, and track down my saxophone and piano and relearn my love for music. It didn’t matter that I didn’t know how to do all of these things just as long as I took the leap and got started.

It’s been no secret that I’ve been finding it difficult settling into life in a big city, but all of a sudden I felt like I suddenly fit in, like I was part of something. I understand the importance of building a strong network of friends in the real world, and that’s why I’ve finally settled down and chosen a home, but there’s also a real thriving online community that I’ve been teetering on the outskirts of, and now I really want to throw myself into the centre of it.

I let the last few inspirational words wash over me as the last of my idols waved goodbye and disappeared backstage. I slung my backpack over my shoulder and got ready to leave when my phone buzzed in my pocket and there was a message from him. He wanted to see me again, and even though I only got to see him for the briefest of moments, my heart somersaulted in knowing that he’d chosen to contact me out of the thousands of people who’d queued to meet him.

I never expected to hear from him again as I hugged him goodbye and tumbled down the hillside with a handful of new friends. It was a pleasure to have met him, he was no longer a person inside my computer screen, but he was now a real person and that was enough. I never would have thought I’d have been so lucky to stay in touch with him, that he’d go on to read my work, and become somebody that I could call a friend.

I had wondered if I had made the right decision in moving here into the big city, knowing that I could instead be off island hopping and setting off on my next voyage, but meeting so many of my inspirations changed this. This time last year I was alone in Ibiza in the middle of a whirlwind adventure, but I wouldn’t swap any amount of Mediterranean sunsets for what I have now. I’m just beginning to start this new life, and I couldn’t be happier to spend the last of the summer in the city.

Paint Your Life

In Eat, Gay, Love on August 16, 2013 at 2:40 pm

Hyde Park

 ‘I like it in the city where the air is so thick and opaque, I love to see everybody in short skirts, shorts, and shades.’

– Adele

It only took two days to find a place, to move off my best friend’s sofa, and cart my suitcase through the streets of London and into my new home. The wheels buckled as I dragged the weight of my entire life behind me, and as block by block I approached my new front door, my wheels fell off and the seams of my suitcase began to tear as my belongings toppled and fell out into the street.

This suitcase and I had travelled together for a year and a half, we’d visited countless countries and had countless adventures together, and yet somehow, on the day that I’d finally decided to come back to my own country, it’d given up and was falling apart. It was as if it was telling me that it’d had enough and wanted to stay in one place.

Clutching the keys to my new place in hand, I pushed open the front door and pulled the suitcase up each flight of stairs, breathing in the fragrant flowers nestled in the window boxes, and stepping over the threshold of my new room. I dropped my case to the floor and let all of my worldly possessions spill out, opened the window to the fire escape, and let in the song of a pair of singers duetting in the dusk.

I had more space than I could fill with my few dwindling possessions, and even after mounting my Buddhist tapestry, plastering the walls with several dozen photos, and hanging my gay pride flag, it still seemed terribly empty. I was still missing friends.

I’m so fortunate to now have my best friend living around the corner, but we’ve always operated independently. Like a functioning married couple, we live our own lives so we always have something to talk about when we sit down to dinner. I didn’t want to piggy-back upon her friendships, I wanted to build my own, and that’s why I was so overjoyed when the doorbell finally rang.

Leaping down the stairs three at a time, I pulled open the door and dived into the arms of the American standing there. She was from Ohio, we’d worked together in Italy, and now she was here standing outside my London apartment. It was hard to believe it was really her, and with our combined knowledge of the city totalling nothing, we ventured out together to explore.

This was the life I had wanted when I chose to move here, and in those few days that she was with me, I experienced it all in a snapshot. Just as quickly and as rapidly as she’d come, though, it was soon time for her to disappear on a train and leave me wanting more. It was a scene so familiar to me, except this time it wasn’t me going somewhere new and exciting, it was somebody else, and I was the one being left behind. I might have been living in one of the world’s hubs with people endlessly coming and going, but I still felt very much alone.

 It was a letter from a friend that really made me feel solitary. He said that I was an inspiration for uprooting my life and coming here, and he brazenly played with words like brave and courageous. It was the most flattering letter I’d ever received in my life, but every word stung because I felt like my friendless self was a complete and utter fraud.

I knew then that it was time to stop pretending and to actually start building this life for real. It was time to paint a life that suited me, and so I began trying to make friends in whatever way I could. Scrolling through endless Grindr profiles by day, and bar hopping by night, I talked to anyone and everyone in search of someone I might call a friend, but it seemed everyone just wanted benefits. A topless man would ask me for a fuck, my inbox would flood with pictures of penises, and somebody would take me aside and request to pay me generously for my services.

Making friends as an adult is hard, I never seem to have trouble when on the road, but when I finally come back to my home country it seems impossible. Perhaps being the mysterious guy who arrives on a train and then leaves on a plane is easy, but being a new permanent addition to somebody else’s city is hard. I’d make fleeting friendships by chatting to the girls in the ice-cream shop, getting drunk in somebody’s kitchen, falling asleep in a stranger’s bed, but by the time I’d get home, these people couldn’t even remember my name and I’d probably never see them again.

The people I’d pass as I wandered through my local plot of green frustrated me, I was so jealous of them as they laughed with their friends and lapped up the last bit of the summer sunshine. Laid out on their picnic blankets, wrapped up in their happiness, they had everything I craved but were oblivious to me and the rest of the world around them. They’d found their lives, and it was time for me to find mine.

Everything I wanted was here, I just had to be patient enough to let it happen. Trawling bars and casual sex apps was not going to find me the friends that I wanted, and as soon as I started looking, I began to notice the people I’d shut my eyes to before. A girl sat reading a book alone beneath the boughs of a shady tree, a boy sat on the curb with headphones pushed into his ears, and somebody who smiles with such genuine intentions that you know that they’re just as lonely as you.

Like my visiting friend from Ohio, people come and go from this city every single day, but just as people leave, new people arrive, and those people are all looking for the very same thing. They’re looking for a life that isn’t handed to them on a plate, a life they have to work for, a life they can design from scratch. I may not be able to snap my fingers and have everything I want come shooting out from them, but in time it will all come. Yes it’s lonely, yes it’s scary, but more than anything I’m just grateful that I’m able to sit here and paint my life with whichever colours I so choose.

The Year of The Tiger

In Eat, Gay, Love on July 19, 2013 at 12:33 pm

Tiger Temple, Kanchanaburi

‘We ditch the whole scene and end up dreaming instead of sleeping.’

– Taylor Swift

The mosquitoes buzzed noisily in the moonlight as I crept through the forest and began to climb the temple steps. Birthdays have always been like New Year to me, I’ve never wanted to be asleep when the clock strikes midnight, and with everyone else already in bed, I sat myself down in the temple and readied myself to embrace the change of a new year, and the beginning of new beginnings.

A single birthday card sat in my lap as I looked at my watch, breathed in the cool night air, and thought about how quickly the years were starting to pass. I was terrified to age another year, I still felt like a teenager, and yet already my twenties were escaping me.

What seemed like only days ago I’d just turned twenty and was celebrating the last day of my magazine internship; it seemed like only yesterday when my long-term boyfriend had gotten down on one knee and proposed on my twenty-first birthday; and it seemed like only moments ago that I’d quietly escaped my twenty-second birthday by packing my broken heart into a bag and leaving it all behind.

On that birthday I could have never imagined the things that would have happened in the year that followed. How packing those bags would lead me here, atop a Buddhist Temple in Thailand, having done all the things I’d done. It was only when I started adding things up that I truly realised exactly how much had happened.

I’d minced my way through Morocco, had a Vietnamese child find my dildo, fell for a stranger in Ibiza, and was bitten by a tiger in Thailand. I’d crushed on a Spanish student, was stood up on a date in Rome, had a sensational night in Frankfurt, and chased a boy to Berlin. I’d been left for dead on the Indian motorway, seen bandits tear apart cars, I’d written love letters to Juliet, and drank in Swiss and Austrian bars. I’d gotten into a fight in Budapest, watched a hurricane tear through New York, accidentally took a train to Russia, and had a boy stop my heart.

It had undoubtedly been the most incredible year of my life, and I was terrified that everything would be downhill now that it was all behind me. I sighed as the clock struck midnight and I opened my lonesome birthday card. A little disheartened, and totally unconvinced that this next year could live up to such high expectations, I pushed it back into its envelope and sat in silence. Totally unaware of the life-changing greeting that would await me the following morning, I climbed back down the steps and went to sleep.

The goat awoke me by kicking open the door with her hoof and bleating noisily. It was the most bizarre Happy Birthday I’d ever gotten, but as I threw on my clothes and followed her out of the room, I remembered that I’d been given the morning off work to spend time with the monks.

Birthdays are seen as a time for renewal and cleansing, and as the goat lead me down the path and towards the temple gates, I prepared myself to give my offering of pizza and menthol cigarettes. I figured that they were probably sick of rice and flowers, and my estimate paid off. My gesture was well received, and in exchange I was blessed with a year’s good luck and had the tattoo above my heart imbued with eternal protection. It was a welcomed birthday gift, but nothing compared to what was still to come.

I left the monks as the tourists began pouring in the gates, and went and found Universe in his usual resting spot above the temple. It was as I was bottle feeding him and gently stroking his fur that my favourite monk approached me and took me aside. He reached out and clutched the turtle pendant that hung around my neck, holding it close to his eyes, and asking what it was. I explained that it was a good luck charm that had been given to me by my students on the very first leg of my adventure, and had seen me through right until this very moment. He smiled and disappeared for a moment before returning with a small folded square of fabric.

This will bring new luck, he said, pushing it into my hands and watching intently as I unfolded it and revealed the Buddhist symbols and the tiger mirage inked into its surface. I admired the patterns, and just as I went to thank him, a small white object dropped out onto the floor. I bent down to pick it up, and as I held it up to the light, I realised it was the baby tooth of one of the tigers.

He tapped my turtle pendant again and told me that the year of the turtle had passed, and now it was time for the year of the tiger. I thought about what he said for a moment, and instantly knew that he was right. Like that turtle, for a year, I had kept myself protected in a shell, nursing my failures and my heartbreak, and searching for a new life, but now was the time to finally let my guard down and strike.

Wearing my new-found treasure proudly around my neck, I returned from the temple just in time for lunch. I pushed open the door to the common room and was met with smiling faces and a cake lit with twenty three candles. It was something I never expected to see in the heart of a Buddhist temple tucked away in the forest, and as my friends expressed their jealousy over my tooth, I blew out the candles and made a wish. I didn’t know it then, but that wish was about to kick start the most exciting change in my life. The Year of The Tiger had begun.

Viva Forever

In Eat, Gay, Love on April 25, 2013 at 8:38 pm

Gay Barcelona

‘Viva Forever, I’ll be waiting, everlasting, like the sun.’

– Spice Girls

A booming voice sounded over the loudspeaker as I began stripping out of my work clothes and scrubbing the oil and dirt off my body in the airport bathroom. I had left work early to make sure I arrived on time, but after breaking down in the mud, I had done everything but.

The last call for Barcelona sounded again as I threw on freshly creased clothes and tried to fix my dishevelled hair. It was only as I ran for the departure gate with an overnight bag slung over one shoulder that it dawned on me- this is now how I get ready for a night out.

Long gone are the student days where my friends would come around to pre-drink as we complimented each other’s outfits and fixed each other’s hair before lazily sauntering out of the front door and into the nightclub across the street. To see my friends now, I have to get on a plane.

The sun had long since set when the plane touched down at midnight and I greeted one of my oldest friends. We’d agreed to meet in Barcelona and hadn’t worried about making plans in advance, forgetting to book a hotel, and not bothering to figure out in which direction we were going. It didn’t feel like we were meeting up in one of the clubbing capitals of the world, it was all so familiar, as if we’d jumped into a taxi for a night out in our home town.

It wasn’t until he pointed it out that it struck me that we hadn’t seen one another for almost two years. The last time we got drunk together very well may have been when we were eighteen years old and stumbling down some private golf course, howling The Spice Girls’ greatest hits after escaping our senior prom.

Life has started to move ridiculously fast, so fast that six months seems to disappear between sips of coffee, and the dream of the future begins to fade into the memory of the past. I saw my sixteen year old friend turn into a confident young twenty-something as he confronted a pick pocketer who tried to swipe his phone; we relived old house parties as we unashamedly taught the locals to slut drop in some underground basement club; and then as we counted back the years of what seemed like a new friendship we both said at once, Fuck, that was seven years ago.

It wasn’t memories of my last trip to Barcelona that danced through my mind as we wound through the once vibrant streets and the now deserted markets, it was memories of the last seven years. It takes seeing an old friend to truly realise how much has changed- the friend who was late for music class everyday because he was making another tea; the friend who brought a house warming gift when I moved in with my ex; the friend who told me he wasn’t worth it anyway when it all fell apart; the friend who text me from Scotland to tell me that he was going to live in China; the friend who was now lay out in the sun beside as me as we nursed our hangovers and rubber necked at all the gorgeous topless men.

The streets were alive with fire eating and sword fighting but I was almost far too busy laughing to even notice. We shared stories of our shared and separate pasts, making fun of our old teachers as we gorged ourselves on food and wine, and sharing stories of recent romances as we watched gay couples holding hands against the backdrop of roaring waves and sun-kissed sands.

He gasped as I told him about the student I had a crush on in Germany, about the Vietnamese child who found my dildo, and about the boy who gave me the lovebite that still lingered on my neck, and then I howled with laughter, throwing my head back to the blazing sun, as he told me stories that were equally as scandalous.

I do miss my old lifestyle, I do miss partying every single night, and I do miss having all of my friends at my fingertips, but still I wouldn’t change it for what I have now. Sustaining and pursuing friendships and romance is so much harder but in exchange I know that every day brings new adventure.

It’s never hard to say goodbye to any of my friends scattered around the globe because I always know that it isn’t the last time we’ll meet. I don’t know where either of us will be when we see each other again, but I do know that there will be wine. Hasta manana my friend, I’ll see you again soon.

The Lovebite

In Eat, Gay, Love on April 2, 2013 at 9:27 pm

Boys kissing

‘Keep your head up, keep your heart strong. Keep your mind set, keep your hair long.’

– Ben Howard

I pushed through the crowded Brick Lane curry house and sat down with the entirety of my best friend’s immediate family. I was desperate to disguise the enormous lovebite protruding from the neckline of my low cut shirt, and so when they asked me where I was last night, I clapped one hand over my neck and fumbled my words as I tried to change the subject.

Nobody had taken any notice, and yet still it burned with the same intense heat of the Indian spices, as if everyone were staring at it. My cheeks flushed and I nervously shuffled back and fourth in my seat, only relaxing when I caught my best friend’s eye across the table. She knew exactly where I was last night, and probably knew that the carousel in the back of my mind was skimming over and over the events of that morning.

The tube bustled noisily in the underground, and was so overcrowded that my body was pressed up firmly against my date’s. I grazed his fingertips out of sight of the commuters and looked longingly into his syrupy brown eyes. He was trying to tell me something in his ever so slightly Essex accent, but I wasn’t really listening. I was too busy counting down the stops until we’d have to part ways.

I’d been in this situation so many times before, and knew I was about to make the same mistake I’d made time and time again. The train’s doors would open and I would leave without a proper goodbye and then probably never see him again.

More and more people left the train, and our bodies were no longer forced together as the carriage began to empty. We gradually grew further and further apart and all I could think about was how I’d let my last date slip away without a goodnight kiss; how I let fear get in the way of me kissing that boy in Berlin; and how badly I wanted to kiss this boy right here and now.

A voice inside my head was screaming itself blue, commanding me to not let another boy disappear on a train, imploring me over and over to just kiss him, but for whatever reason, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.

See ya then, I spluttered to my date. I knew I’d let myself down, but as I turned to hop off the train, I felt his lips catch mine, and if only for a second, my soul caught light and I was lifted off my feet. Nobody had ever kissed me in public before, and it gave me the kind of rush I’d wanted from the boy who stood me up in Rome, the kind of rush the boy in Frankfurt failed to give me, the kind of rush that I was searching for when I penned find a boy who gives me butterflies on my list of goals for 2013.

I was so dizzied that I could barely make out his silhouette as I stepped off the train, re-gathered my senses, and watched him disappear into the blackness of the tunnel. I had to stop for a moment to catch my breath, and as if his lips had been sweet amphetamines, my heart rate began to steady and the butterflies in my stomach soared into my chest and propelled me and my feet off of the ground.

I had all but lost sight of finding a boy who gives me butterflies until that unexpected kiss. The passion that lead to the lovebite on my neck meant nothing in comparison to the intensity of that moment, and it was that memory that left me wordless as I scanned the table of friendly faces in the curry house. I knew that I would soon be departing back to a life of work and stress, a life of responsibility and pressure, a life away from the warmth of familiar company and the pleasure of sweet lips, but now things suddenly didn’t seem so bad.

In the company of good food and good friends, everything seemed perfect. A little kick of warmth and acceptance rose from the pit of my stomach and I relaxed and dropped my hand from my neck. I was secretly quite proud as I raised my head up and caught sight of the lovebite in my reflection across the room, because for now, if only for a moment, it was a reminder of both the adventures in my past, and the adventures yet to come.

The Dating Game

In Eat, Gay, Love on February 17, 2013 at 5:54 pm

Gay Piggy Back

‘I hear the birds on the summer breeze, I drive fast, I am alone in the night. Been trying hard not to get into trouble but I’ve got a war in my mind.’

– Lana Del Rey

I stepped out of the blood clinic and made my way across London to meet one of my closest friends. By legally donating blood after a year without sex, I had ticked one item off my list of goals for 2013. The truth, though, was that I had a secondary motive for my short time in England. There was another goal I wanted to accomplish.

Everything was beginning to shape up exactly how I’d planned it would. I’d had to dodge a few curve-balls and make a few last minute decisions but it seemed like I was on the right track to ticking off every item on my list. Lessons were being learned, travel arrangements had been made, and I was making bold steps in terms of my writing and my career.

There was only one goal that was being left in the dust. The pursuit of romance was being forgotten about amidst the other exciting steps I was taking, and it was seeming less and less likely that I would find that man who’d give me butterflies.

Living in Spain, an hour’s drive from the nearest gay bar, makes dating seem almost unfathomable. In England I could open Grindr to find that the nearest suitor was a few metres away, but here it’s a couple of miles. I’d like to be able to go down to one of the local bars and flirt precariously with a hot stranger but my fear holds me back.

The language barrier doesn’t worry me, that never stopped me before, but it’s terrifying to hit on a man knowing that they’re most likely straight and you don’t know how they’ll react. Some gay men have the confidence to do it without first loading up on liquor, but memories of past homophobia prevent me. Even when I catch the eye of a stranger and offer them a friendly smile, I’ve a constant fear that they might react violently to even my most subtle advances. I rarely make a move on anyone outside the safety of gay friendly establishments.

The internet is one way I can pursue boys that I like. There’s hundreds of good looking boys I could taken on a date if only they were on my doorstep. I regularly flirt with gorgeous Italians, cute Scotts, and stunning Americans, but without taking time off work and splashing out on an expensive flight, they’re way out of my reach.

So, knowing that I was flying back to England just before Valentine’s Day, I knew that it would be the best shot I’d have at romance until I finally moved to New York. I decided that I’d donate my pint of blood and then spend an evening wining and dining somebody special to celebrate, and all I had to do was find them.

With time ticking away, I had to act quickly. My fingers tapped on every gay dating app available, scrolling through thousands of gay men’s profiles, trying to find the small handful of people that jumped out at me. Plucking a few London based suitors from the masses, I set about laying the usual groundwork. Finding out about their interests, showering them with compliments, and building myself up to the big question of asking them on a date.

It really highlighted how bizarre the concept of dating really is. If we like somebody, instead of showing them how incredible we are, we bombard them with praise and tell them how incredible they are. It’s so far removed from every other aspect of our lives. Dating should be more like a job interview, that’s something I understand. We should be able to unashamedly boast about our personality and our best traits, exaggerate about what a compassionate partner we would be and how good we are in bed, and then give them a list of references from our ex-partners.

Instead, we do the equivalent of walking into a job interview and showering the interviewer with praise. We tell our potential employer that we think they’re amazing, tell them how gorgeous they are, and then without sharing with them any of our best qualities, we awkwardly ask them for a job.

It’s all backwards. It’s a game where the majority of us end up making complete fools of ourselves and yet we continue to play because we want the end prize so badly. I always make the mistake of coming on too strong, finding a gay man I’m attracted to comes so rarely that I get way ahead of myself and start planning our third date before we’ve had the first.

I played the dating game to the very best of my ability, but when the moment came to strike with my offer of dinner and a show, I was met with tumble-weed on each and every occasion. So I resigned myself to the fact that romance just wasn’t something I could force. I can plan and make arrangements for everything I want to achieve this year, but when it comes to romance, I’m well and truly blind.

I did what I should have done in the first place and offered to take one of my closest friends out instead. I had such a good time that I almost forgot about my search for romance, and when a cute Londoner invited me to come for a drink, I passed up his offer and stuck with my friend. As much as I loathe to admit it, it really is true what they say. You can’t go looking for love, you have to wait for it to find you.

There’s an on going war in my mind between me and my inner control freak, it’s hard to sit by and just let fate guide me towards romance, but I know kicking and screaming won’t help. Sometimes you’ve just got to sit back and enjoy the ride.

Boys Will Be Boys

In Eat, Gay, Love on January 25, 2013 at 12:48 pm

Hot Gay Guys

‘Boys will be boys, and even that wouldn’t matter if we could prevent girls from being girls.’

– Anne Frank

It’s that time of year when the excitement of a fresh start begins to wane and the big love day is almost on top of us, and for the majority of the single population, we start to panic about the fact that we don’t have a partner. I’m no exception, and over the past few days I’ve noticed an emptiness that just can’t seem to be filled, and while searching for something to fill that void, I stumbled upon some tweets from last summer that pinpoint exactly what it is I’m looking for.

Calum McSwiggan Twitter

The family I was staying with had gone to the beach and neglected to leave me a key, and after thoroughly searching for an open window or an unlocked door, my attention was caught by a faint roar catching on the wind. My ears pricked up, and as I wound through the olive gardens, following the sound across the Italian countryside, I found myself standing before the local football stadium.

I pushed my way through the crowd and leaned up against the railings with a group of twenty-something Italian men. What’s the score? I asked in the most dishevelled Italian anyone has ever spoken, and they interrupted their flurry of cheers and profanity to tell me. I spent the rest of the afternoon attempting to join in with their foreign football chants, and when the match was over and the stands began to empty, I realised that despite years of fulfilling the gay stereotype and openly proclaiming my hatred for soccer, this was actually quite enjoyable. It was just the beginning of a new-found obsession.

Calum McSwiggan TwitterI found myself suddenly spending my evenings watching the football at home with my host family or out at a bar with the local teenagers, and this surprising new love of football even started bleeding into my work. Twice a week I told my students to put away their books and brought them outside for a ninety minute match under the warmth of the Tuscan sun. I just couldn’t get enough. And yet despite all this, alongside my daily intake of pasta, when I finally left Italy behind for the summer, I left my passion for soccer behind too, and it’s only now whilst reading back through my own words that I realise how much I miss it.

Calum McSwiggan Twitter

 But it’s not the football I miss, not really. It’s the feeling of being part of something masculine, and being accepted as one of the lads. Since the end of my last relationship, male companionship is something I’ve been lacking, and that’s what I really miss. It isn’t that I’m lonely, I have plenty of friends to keep me company, nor is it a craving for sex, I could quite easily toss aside my celibacy vow and pick up a guy if that’s really what I wanted- the thing that I’m really missing is somebody I can be a boy with.

I think somewhere in the process of coming out and redefining my new identity, I embraced all of those repressed feminine parts of my personality, but in doing so I lost sight of the masculine. Suddenly it was okay to dance to Britney and admit I liked One Direction but I forgot that once upon a time I liked football, skateboards and video games.

With very few straight friends I have nobody to embrace these parts of my personality with. I love going out to gossip at fancy French restaurants but sometimes it’d be nice to have a boy over to eat greasy take-out with while nuking the shit out of zombies in our underwear. Instead of being the gay best friend and asserting my much needed opinion over dresses in boutiques on the high street, it’d be nice to dip into Foot Locker and have somebody help me choose a new pair of high tops. Instead of going ice skating and holding hands while we skate in slow romantic circles, it’d be nice to drop the pretence and race them across the rink.

I’m looking for somebody who would wrestle me to the floor when I try to change the channel, somebody who thinks yes, it would be a good idea to roll down that sand dune, somebody who can educate me about the offside rule, teach me to burp the alphabet, and call me a girl when I cry at the Titanic. Maybe that’s why I’m so often attracted to the straight acting guy, I’m more interested in bromance than romance, and that’s why in the lead up to Valentine’s this year, I’m not looking for a boyfriend, I’m just looking for a boy to be my friend.

Drawing Blood

In Gay, Love on December 9, 2012 at 10:11 am

Blood Donation

‘Of all that is written, I love only what a person has written with his own blood.’

 – Friedrich Nietzsche

We’re not having sex for a year, I said to my boyfriend as I read about the changes to the law preventing gay men from donating blood. It now allowed gay men to donate providing they hadn’t had penetrative sex with another man for a full 365 days. I was clearly joking, there was no way I was going to sacrifice a full year of intimacy with my partner in exchange for the right to donate blood, no matter how passionately I felt about it.

It was the principle of it all, I’d adamantly fought against this law in my own small way since I first discovered the ban. I’d always been told that gay men weren’t allowed to donate blood but always shrugged it off as a rumour that couldn’t possibly be true. So when I was rejected as a donor in my first year of University, my blood began to boil at the mere fact that it wasn’t wanted. My best friend kindly offered to donate on my behalf but it wasn’t enough to satiate this growing desire. I wasn’t prepared to let this quietly slip by, I had to speak out.

I got into heated debates with the National Blood Service; I publicly spat angry spoken word about the injustice; and was nominated an award for an article that challenged the controversial law. And because of all of this, this victory seems somewhat bitter-sweet. It’s a step in the right direction but this new law is just as discriminatory as the last. Sex is one of the most basic vices of human nature and giving somebody the right to donate in exchange for the right to have sex is a bit like giving somebody the right to wear jeans providing they don’t eat. The outcome is simple: nobody’s going to be wearing jeans.

When the law was originally put in place, I agree that it was the right thing to do, the AIDS virus broke out into the gay community and until we learned more about it putting precautions in place was the responsible thing to do. However, a few years down the line when we began to learn more about it, the law should have been repealed and not stayed stagnant for all this time. This new law has been designed to satiate both the homosexuals and the homophobes, but that isn’t what a law should be about. A law should never be about trying to please two opposing parties, it should be about affording everybody equal rights regardless of whether that upsets closed-minded-Bob who just can’t stand it when people wear jeans.

However, it just so happens that as of December 1st, for the first time in my life, I am legally allowed to donate blood. I didn’t realise at the time but when I told my partner that we wouldn’t be having sex for a year, I was speaking fortuitously. We broke up a few weeks later leaving me involuntarily celibate for the months that followed, but amongst all of the emotional baggage that comes along with the end of a relationship, it never really occurred to me that this might be my opportunity to abstain for a year, it just sort of happened.

A strong believer of the three date rule, I fooled around with Americans, Germans and Irishmen, but never staying in one place long enough to go on three dates, I didn’t do anything that would result in resetting my one year ban. And so I’ve wound up here, one year down the line, legally allowed to donate blood. It’s like I’ve suddenly been released from prison on probation, one slip up and it’s right back to square one. Suddenly temptation is overwhelming, I always want what I can’t have, and it would be so easy to pick up the proverbial baseball bat and steal the proverbial Mercedes.

If this law doesn’t take another step forward this could be the only opportunity I ever have to legally donate blood and that isn’t something I should discard just because Claus invites me for a game of swing ball. It would be a waste to throw away this opportunity and so I’m actively abstaining from sex until I have donated that pint of blood I’ve so badly wanted to give.

Donating could be tricky, though, although my sexuality won’t affect my chances to donate blood, my nationality will. Due to the risk of mad cow disease, UK nationals aren’t allowed to donate here in Spain, and so it will be a costly flight back to England to afford myself this luxury.

So why go to all this effort? Why abstain from sex, why spend money, why kick up all this fuss? The answer is simple. I know that when that blood finally leaves my veins that it’s going to be the most incredible high of my life, and knowing that I’ve finally been afforded the right to give life will be better than any sexual encounter could ever be.

These Scars of Mine

In Gay, Love on November 14, 2012 at 12:10 pm

Gay Teenage Love

‘Scars have the strange power to remind us that our past is real.’

– Cormac McCarthy

Beneath the darkness of some slasher flick I found his hand in the darkness, and as the blood of some helpless teen spattered against the cinema screen, I entwined it with mine. I’d pursued him for almost a year, sending him valentines, sketches, and piano recordings of his favourite songs, and finally, when we both found ourselves on British soil, we endeavoured to go on our first date.

The moon hung gingerly in the sky as I stood on the open platform waiting to catch the last train home; we were both out of breath from running through the underground, and as the train noisily pulled up behind me, I stared at his perfect lips, and dreamed about kissing them. I didn’t want to get on the train without first sharing a goodnight kiss, I’d made that mistake before, but as I stood there staring into his innocent brown eyes, I let my scars remind me that I couldn’t.

I wear every one of my scars with pride, each one tells its own story, each teaches its own lesson. The cigarette burns on my arm remind me not to trust Italian teenagers, the scar on my eyelid reminds me not to stand behind golfers before they take a swing, and the scar on my forearm reminds me that my best friend’s mother was probably right- he really shouldn’t play with knives. All of these scars remind me of the mistakes I’ve made and the pain I’ve witnessed, but it is the scar on my bottom lip that truly reminds me of the frightening reality of the world we live in.

I was sixteen and hadn’t long come out of the closet when it happened. My friend and I were laughing so hard that we hadn’t realised we were being followed as we walked home, and it wasn’t until after I hugged him goodbye that I found the three boys stood in my path. I recognised them, they were the boys who malevolently assaulted my friends in school, the ones who had always backed down when someone stood up to them, the ones who I thought were in my past.

My body recoiled as they spouted off a colourful array of insults about my newly realised sexuality; I tried to ignore them and push past, but when I heard the word faggot caught on a whisper of the wind, I couldn’t help myself. The word grabbed me, asked me if I was going to take that, spun me around, and marched me back towards them.

I don’t know where such stupidity came from but before I knew it I was standing inches away from the ringleader’s face, grinding my teeth and attempting to stare him down- it’d always made him stand down in the past but this time there was no fear in his eyes, only hatred. Somehow the realisation that I was gay had diminished any ideas of my being a threat. He wasn’t scared of me anymore.

The other boys seized an arm each and held them behind my back, and as he raised his fist, the black stud in his ring glistened in the sunlight, temporarily blinding me, before it lodged itself beneath my eye, in the side of my head, in the crook of my nose, and finally in my bottom lip. It buried itself in the flesh, shattering three of my teeth, and when he yanked it free, he took a small chunk of my face, my heart, and my strength, with it.

Managing to wrestle my arms free and seize both of his fists, I spat blood and shards of broken tooth into his face before turning on my heel and making a swift get away. Blood poured freely from my face, and when I tried to stop the flow with my hands, the blood only seeped through my fingers and dripped down onto my clothes. The look on my mother’s face when she answered the front door is lodged within my memory, it truly resonates, and I can only imagine the pain in the eyes of the families who answer the door to find that their children aren’t coming home at all.

For we all bear these scars of mine, they don’t just tell my story, they tell the story of every gay and lesbian individual out there- just a few weeks ago a friend of mine returned from a nightclub bruised and bloodied from a routine gay-bashing, but both he and I were lucky, some don’t return with just scars, some don’t return at all.

It’s for this reason that I’m proud of every gay couple I see sharing their affection out in the open, because that takes real courage. I’d love to one day be like the beautiful boys I saw kissing in Budapest, but until we live in a more tolerant world, with every public kiss we’re risking abuse, and where I’m willing to accept that risk unto myself, I’m not willing to subject any one of my partners to that torment.

I can only remain hopeful that one day we can openly share a kiss on that platform without harbouring even a spark of fear of persecution- but until then, I’ll continue to let those beautiful brown eyes slip away from me, and will never feel those soft delicate lips pressed tenderly against mine.