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Traveller Pride in Scotland! or "Oh, I thought that anxiety was dealt with..."

On Tuesday (12th April) we were at the dizzying height of Kirkcaldy to participate in an event joint organised by the Showmen’s Mental Health Awareness Charity and Epic Assist Scotland which was about bringing ideas around Showman mental health and celebrating the community in general. We were there to give a presentation and also had a couple of posters and stickers to give out. Unfortunately we were put to great shame by the effort everyone else had gone to in terms of their stalls and giveaways, although in my defence I did come the furthest!

The reason for Kirkcaldy as the venue is that this week is the annual Kirkcaldy Links funfair, one of the best in the nation. My family don’t do as many larger fairs, instead doing more towns and villages, so I often miss out on this kind of atmosphere but there was something great about everyone having been in their yards all winter now turning out for the year to begin with everything up full flash. It’s a fair so enormous that it has 4 Waltzers and that doesn’t seem anything like too much. I had a great time wandering around admiring the artwork, the lighting and the craft that has gone into maintaining such top drawer machines and stalls. Easter was always my favourite time of year as a kid as it was the start of the season and some of the childish giddiness was definitely with me trolling up the historic links fair.

Back at the conference, we had a wide range of events there including workshops on art and self-representation by Mitch Miller, on the importance of registering as Showman on the Scottish Census, some yoga/mindfulness techniques, on Scotland’s rich fairground history (including some fab elephant stories) and,last as well as least, me talking about identity and mental health as well as giving an overview of Traveller Pride in general.

On a personal note, I was increasingly anxious about this event as it came closer. I signed up a while back in a “Sure, Why not?” manner, but as it approached there was this big cold stone in my stomach that only got bigger and colder. The night before I slept awfully.

I’m by no means afraid of public speaking, if anything you could probably accuse me of being a bit of a tart with the media given all of the podcasts, radio interviews, press articles we’ve done; not to mention my recent stint as the face of BBC3 in the Cherry Valentine documentary. But this was different.

I’ve spoken about Traveller Pride but often to either outsiders (charities we give training to, conferences of mostly non-travellers etc) or to other Travellers but who weren’t Showmen (so in spaces where I was the only Showman, a very common thing at “GRT” events which are still coming to terms with the idea that Traveller is a label that means something to lots of different groups) but this was the first time it was with “my lot” and it turns out I’m not as chill as I had thought. I felt, bubbling below the service, the same anxieties as I had a full 15 years ago. I had chosen not to do a presentation on “Traveller Pride” but on “Identity” with TP things as a part of that partly because I was too anxious to be up there only talking about sexuality.

It may seem bizarre to you that someone who founded and now runs Traveller Pride still feels this way, but I guess that illustrates that we’ve still a long way to go and helps to illuminate the point I was making in my talk. In a nutshell, the idea was that we learn who we are by observing others and you learn what is possible by seeing others do things, it is far easier to go about your way if you have a model for how it can be done; but what happens if you’ve never seen someone from your community also be LGBT+? It can send the message that it’s not a Showman thing to do. Therefore you can be LGBT+, but it makes you less than. And because I’d never seen those models, it was clear I was still worried that was how it was going to be.

As it happens, predictably, my anxieties were just being awkward and everything was fine. The whole day was a success, people were curious without judgement and Traveller Pride got a good bit of promotion in.

We’re proud to be part of a new dawn of community-level Showman advocacy & activism, and it certainly did me some good too. Next time I might even sleep the night before!

As a postscript, I just wanted to highlight now nice it was to see Kirkcaldy actively celebrating its fairground history and acknowledging the impact it has on it as a town. Likewise hearing the work Fair Scotland do to highlight this and celebrate the history. They also gave us some great ideas for GRTHM, so watch this space

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