Twice I’ve tried to move back to the United Kingdom, which is where I was born. But no matter how hard I tried to fit in and re-assimilate, it didn’t feel like “home” anymore.
The UK I left behind in early 2004 seemed long gone. While I recognized many places, so many things had changed. People seemed angrier and less polite. The NHS (National Health Service) seemed to be a shadow of its former self. So many pubs had closed down or turned into chain pub restaurants. Town and city centers seemed to have more outdoor cafes, but many of the shops I remember had closed down, including Woolworths. British television seemed almost completely Americanized. British humor seemed to have lost its charm and eccentricity, but it was far more vulgar than I remember. There were yuppie apartments being built everywhere. When I visited the East End of London and Docklands, I didn’t even recognize it, as there were so many skyscrapers; commercial and residential condos for the uber rich, while the remaining run down areas looked poorer than ever. London seemed as fast paced as NYC.
But what killed it for me was the outcome of the European Union referendum – the vote to leave (Brexit). The UK has been a member of the EU since long before I was even born. My passport that allowed me to live and work freely elsewhere in the EU will eventually be just a British passport. It’s like Texas seceding from the Union and your former US passport being converted into just a Texan passport. You’d go ape-shit, especially if you were against secession.
I also felt like the UK was becoming an increasingly intolerant and hateful place, given the rise in nationalism and racist attacks against Eastern European and Muslim migrants. I always put the UK up on a pedestal when it came to being a tolerant and open minded society, so it broke my heart to see it taking so many backward steps.
While it didn’t feel like home, the bad memories I have there did begin to haunt me. When I left the UK in 2004, I left many of my problems behind, but whenever I go back for a prolonged period, they start to affect me again. One example is how I feel inferior compared to my 2 younger brothers. When I’m far away, this does not affect me at all, but when I’m back around my family, I feel like the loser down the street again, just like I did 13 years ago.
I am disappointed that I failed to adapt and that I failed to make it work. The UK is a beautiful country and I miss many aspects of it, but I would’ve faced more of an uphill battle to get better, as I’d have to deal with adapting to culture shock and overcoming my UK-based issues, on top of all else. Mental health services there are not good and i wasn’t ready to live alone. I didn’t want to go on depending on my family. I felt like a foreigner in the country I was born in and was treated as such because of my accent sounding more American than English. I felt like I was on a totally different wavelength to everyone and it felt like I was just on holiday there.
I don’t see myself ever returning to the UK to live. It just doesn’t feel like my home; perhaps it never was. Both the UK has changed and I’ve changed. I’d never lived there as Rebecca before, plus I’ve lost most of the friends I once had after I transitioned. Perhaps this is a common theme among expats – that the country you emigrate to eventually becomes “home” and your country of origin becomes the foreign country. But in my case, I still haven’t found home here either. Perhaps I never will.