top of page

My journey to becoming OBAN LESBIAN WEEKEND's Crew Photographer;

Updated: Nov 26, 2023

How I went from being in a mental health crisis, one of the lowest it had dipped to, to being in one of the most stable places my mental health has ever been.

For those following my blog, you will know that at the end of 2022 and the beginning of 2023, an accumulation of three deaths on top of an entire lifetime of slaying through one life-altering crisis after another, I had hit rock bottom and was not sure I'd get through it this time.

This was the place I was at when I had seen the advertising for a photographer for OLW, after watching social media postings of its debut event in 2022, too petrified to buy myself tickets and go.

I had missed out.

I spent a week chatting to my family about wanting to get myself back out there and do more photography, and this opportunity which was calling me, a chance to further explore the LGBTQ+ community after newly coming out as Polyamorous and Lesbian in 2022 whilst also doing the thing I love doing! But I was terrified of how far this would be outside my comfort zone, and I had not done anything like this.

Eventually, I composed an email to the organizer Maz. I got the email checked over too many times, reread it too many times, and left it sitting in my draft box for a full 24 hours until I showed my daughter it (31st January 2023) and she said words to the effect of 'ffs mum its fine just send it already'.

I didn't need to wait long for a reply, I sent some of my work as requested, then in the phone call, I found myself confidently saying, 'Yes I can do that', to the list of questions, explaining how versatile a photographer I am, that I may not be the best at everything but I can do it all. I remember a tutor saying, it doesn't matter if you haven't done it before, say yes, then figure out how you are going to do it.

In that moment I was completely in pain physically and emotionally, only a couple weeks after my too-close-to-call emergency ectopic pregnancy surgery, just a month after my Nana's funeral, I really couldn't imagine myself tackling my social anxiety, this gripping drowning pain and putting myself out there and being a photographer again despite photography always calling to me. The self-expression of therapeutic photography was one of the very few things tethering me and stopping me from just allowing that darkness I felt creep in on me.

I got off the phone, utterly and completely shocked with how confidently I had spoken of my photography skills, and thinking 'shit, shit, shit, what the hell have I just go myself into!'

I lost count of the million times the thought crossed my mind to back out of the commitment. But just like the moment I was ready to quit my university degree in those weeks, I talked myself down, nope I've committed, I'm too stubborn to quit (quietly whispering to the heavens, thank you, Nana, for this inherited stubbornness).

So just like with the university degree, I asked myself, how can I make this work, how can I help myself get to the end goal? For the university degree, I asked for help from my tutor, and asked for a couple of extensions, the first time in my 7 years of studying.

However, getting myself to six months on and being the photographer at OLW took a different kind of pushing myself right out of my comfort zone and throwing myself back out into the world.

Which started with going to the Queer book club meeting I was trying to talk myself out of missing for the second time, which I completely loved going to under usual circumstances. I then decided to push myself to go to Katie's Bar (one of Glasgow's amazing gay bars) to meet up with the Bi/Lesbian group, I had missed out on going to last year due to my anxiety, just as I missed out on buying tickets to OWL last year. On the 18th of February, I went on a night out alone to meet a group of people I had never met, a huge fete for me especially at that moment in my life when I was the closest I had ever been to just letting the pain and darkness engulf me. I met some lovely people including a friend that would play a significant part in the path my life started to take. When I wasn't chatting I just let the music move me, dancing every damn anxiety and pain away just for a little while.

The darkness started to be less engulfing.

The next month flew in with a visit from my incredible cousin and her beautiful little girl, lots of intense studying, and chats with Maz including a lot of strong encouragement with a couple of kind but fierce verbal pushes, to go along to the group Glasgow Lesbian Scene who met up in Katies bar every Friday night (now every fortnight). Her reasons were to help me with some of the social anxiety and nervousness we had been chatting about by getting to know some of the attendees coming along to OLW. Introduce yourself as Crew Photographer she insisted.

I was all set with a date in my calendar for the 24th of March to go along to play pool with GLS at Katie's. However, the universe had other ideas that week, and it got rescheduled to the 31st of March after a quick message explaining that my close friend of 18 years had arrived on my doorstep in a crisis needing a safe space to work on her mental health. I didn't need to think twice. My home became her home.

On the 31st of March, completely petrified, I walked into a bar on my own and went looking for people I had never met and didn't even know online, except the week of chatting briefly on their group chat to introduce myself. This was another fundamental moment of this year, Listing the variants of my name that I answer to, I was asked what name I preferred and replied 'El' so the group organizer said, 'From that moment that's what you shall be known as'. I smiled! No, I cheshire-cat-grinned! It's my chosen name, and it was the first time I had the courage to say as much. Walking petrified into Katie's that first evening was the first time I went out into the world and introduced myself as El!

The pool area was empty, I was early as always, but when the organizer arrived she welcomed me with empathy and compassion that I just do not have the words to explain. As other members arrived they welcomed me with the same warmth that every feeling of anxiety and fear crumbled away, I felt that I really was starting to find my people. I felt like I belonged, and for people with my type of trauma history finding a place and people you feel you can be your true self and belong, is both rare and the most precious thing in the world. I felt safe and accepted.

April flew by with the hectic life of studying, reading, family, and home life that my friend fitted into like she had always been there. Whilst keeping in touch with these new connections through messages. I met Maz in person, we started chatting about my blog writing and sharing my 'Queer Journey' blog on her media website. I was asked to help with organizing OLW's second speed-dating event in Glasgow, yet another thing I had never done that was worlds out of my comfort zone I said yes to. By the end of April, things were feeling more positive and stable.

At the beginning of May, I took my friend along to pool night at Katie's, with the confidence to say she would be fine despite her social anxiety and having only met the GLS group once. This was the lasting impression they left. Another great night. My friend sang karaoke for the first time in two decades and the whole room of GLS came up to support her, it was a beautiful thing.

Helping to organize speed dating went really well, despite feeling overwhelmingly out of my depth, everyone had a great time and the event ran smoothly. Slowly but surely my mood and mentality were changing. Meanwhile, these new friends and contacts I had met over the months and kept in contact with, were supporting, helping out, and keenly observant of the vibes in my friendship with my friend, sparking conversations.

An evening planned on the summer solstice at Cairnpapple to reconnect with the energies of this sacred place and all things witchy that my friend had lost her connections to.

It was these conversations with those connections and within our friendship that led to our relationship evolving incredibly naturally beyond friendship in June, Summer Solstice. A moment that occurred amongst and connected to the new friendships I found in the LGBTQ+ community. You know who you are, thank you for your incredible validating support, listening ear, and keen observations that helped me brave the conversations that led us to here.

Getting comfortable with the incredible fact that I have a girlfriend, and still smiling at how our story began, taking any opportunity to delightedly share our story when we got to a place where we were ready to tell trusted friends and family.

A balance between studying, social events, family, and relationships, began to form, even managed to keep up with some reading. Life was busy but good.

However, the nerves of university exams coming up and the anxiety over the OLW event fast approaching had my mind working in overdrive. Could I do this, could I pass the exam in the time slot? would my photography be ok at the event? It had been a while. Could I navigate the emotional intensity and emotional overload of being around that many people while my own emotions were still feeling so fragile? While I found myself bursting into tears out of the blue, still slowly working through my grief. Would the intensity of others' emotions completely burn me out? Was this even a good idea? Would I be brave enough to host the Polyamory workshop I volunteered for during the event? Would I be able to manage my self-care during such a busy weekend? And what the hell was I getting myself into? Should I back out? Nope, I'm committed, I wanted this, I said I could do it, and I'll bloody well have to just get through it!

In July I got to relax a little, read some more, and panic quietly about how well I did on my exam while looking forward to my first Pride March with my youngest. Thanks to OLW coming second in Proud Scotland Awards, those with OLW and GLS got a privileged place at the front of the march. Another record-breaking march that resulted in us catching glimpses of ourselves in the evening news. It felt important to be part of that march. Although it definitely did not help my worries about handling large volumes of people for long periods of time. Push through. I kept pushing through.

I passed my exam with a distinction. Okay El, one worry resolved, one to go.

With a week to go, I focused on being in the moment. Until I decided I had to do something about a Ceilidh outfit. I wanted to wear a kilt. Needed one that matched the crew t-shirt colours. So I went with a men's black utility kilt, in principle it looked fabulous, and a black ghillie shirt for when I wasn't wearing the t-shirt. It arrived and I tried it on! Another fundamental moment. For the first time ever I felt completely comfortable with how I looked and felt in the outfit!

Finally, the day arrived to travel to Oban.

The nerves were mounting, the anxiety needed to be kept at bay. I did so by getting a start on reading the book Witches & Whiskey by Wendy Hewlett who had a scheduled book talk during the weekend. In between jumping up at the windows to snap photos on my iPhone of the breathtaking views on the way to Oban. I had a train buddy I chatted with a little mostly when they were being kind about me jumping up and down from my seat to take photos. I remember thinking that I should ask if they were heading to the Oban lesbian weekend, but I convinced myself or the anxiety did, that I wasn't crew yet and just kept shyly reading the book.

When I arrived in Oban, I had a small wander about to get a little familiar with the area and where the main events would be in Argyllshire Gatherings and the Oban Backpackers I was staying in conveniently across the road. Met a handful of the crew including those sharing the room with me at Backpackers. For dinner, we joined another crew member at thier rented holiday accommodation for dinner, which was a very friendly welcoming way to get to know the other crew.

We spent the evening at the Claredon Hotels Thursday night karaoke. With the encouragement of these lovely crew friends I found the courage to go up and sing two P!nk songs, it had been 20 years since I had braved the terrified shaking nerves of doing karaoke badly I might add in public. I love singing but I'm aware I'm utterly terrible at it and usually only sing along to songs in the security of my own home or lately in my girlfriend's car. The support of these lovely people was huge. I have never been in a crowd of practical strangers and felt so safe until I spent time with the lovely people of Glasgow Lesbian Scene and Oban lesbian weekend.

Not only were they incredibly welcoming in general, but very accepting and open-minded about my lifestyle as a polyamorous lesbian with a husband and girlfriend, which helped break down my own apprehension about society's stigma and judgment. There are accepting, open-minded people in the world willing to respectfully ask questions to understand without judgment! The importance of honesty always meant I would be open about my lifestyle but these connections helped me feel less apprehensive about my openness.

In fact, a few people over the course of the following days complimented my honesty and sharing as a valuable aspect of who I am. A hell of a way to be validated when you've had a lot of negative responses to the experiences I actively share with the world.

It was an incredibly good start to the weekend that officially had yet to begin. I felt more empowered in my role as crew photographer, I guess it started to show.

Friday morning began with the crew of backpackers who were heading to the morning yoga session, which was a lovely walk along to the Oban Sailing Club. After a little rain, the sun broke through and we had a well-presented yoga stretching session to get us ready for the weekend. It was my first introduction to yoga, one of the many things on a long list of things to try and do. I grabbed a quiet lunch with one of the crew before the evening welcoming reception, buffet and party began.

This reclusive introvert, settled behind the camera, finding that photography confidence that I belong there as a photographer which I had slowly developed thanks to photographing events for the singer-client who hired me.

Event photographer was a 'hat' I had started to wear well, and I found my confidence in that. Though in between photographing, I found pushing myself to socialize a little more difficult. I pushed through, introducing myself, with every introduction as El, it validated my chosen name! I scanned the crowd regularly for those who were alone, engaging in conversation, remembering names as best I could, and introducing people to each other. Almost becoming an extrovert in the process.

I photographed the reception and the beginnings of the buffet, joining at the end to eat. I was joined by one of the OLW attendees who traveled all the way from Brighton and was introduced to us during karaoke the night before. It was a lovely buffet, great company, and a lovely chat, with one of the many new friends made that weekend.

The evening festivities closed with DJ Trendy Wendy getting everyone on the dance floor with a range of tunes to entice everyone to move. Some great conversations during breaks of photographing and dancing.

Saturday began with Joining a couple of crew from backpackers for breakfast at Wetherspoons before co-running a Polyamory workshop, where we shared experiences, passed on knowledge learned, and in a very laid back unpressured way encouraged conversations and questions about an alternative to monogamy, addressing misconceptions, stereotyping, and judgments.

The group consisted of those who had decades of experience in various relationship styles of polyamory, those newly exploring, those curious to find out more, and those who had simply learned to be open-minded about all things breaking the social norms.

Concepts such as the diversity of polyamory types, relationship styles, and ways of relationshiping, debunking the 'everyone is in a throuple myth', and complementary concepts such as Relationship Anarchy.

As a result of this workshop, we spent a few hours subtly unpicking the socialization of the patriarchy, something in itself a worthwhile topic of conversation and re-education, for all including those of us delivering the workshop.

This was another area of nervousness that I managed to overcome and in fact, thrive achieving. We received a lot of positive feedback, considering we went in with no written criteria of how we would present the workshop other than a discussion list and talking about personal experiences, with emphasis on the diversity of ways to relationship.

After a quiet lunch outside on a bench with the view of Obans harbor and the beautiful backdrop of islands in the background, I headed over to catch the wildlife boat tour around those islands.

Being on the water in any way shape or form, is a peaceful and mesmerizing experience, regardless of the Scottish weather fleeting between intermittent downpours and blazing sunshine.

Regardless of how much wildlife you manage to see on this trip, it is worth it, for the beautiful views and the tour guiding chats of historical and crucial areas around the Oban and island coastline, including the small island seals rest on regularly, to the close by salmon farming that sparked interesting conservation conversations from both sides of the perspective.

How do you address the demand for livestock without destroying and depleting mother nature's natural resources whilst considering the minefield of moral dilemmas?

As a student sociologist & social scientist, I've encountered these questions, but the general public is often too consumed by surviving one capitalist life crisis to another, to have time to stop and ponder important conservation topics.

These wildlife trips and other animal and wildlife industries for tourism may be doused in controversy, but they spark important conversations.

Due to weather conditions, the water sports were canceled so I found myself with a couple of hours of downtime not being crew and photographer.

Which I spent with a small group from GLS playing pool, chatting, and grabbing a bite to eat. Getting to know the newest adopted family member GLS acquired at the weekend, whilst having more opportunity to get to know some of those I had already met, but in a quieter setting and able to properly focus on the conversation.

Saturday evening ended with a blast.

The Ceilidh was definitely a highlight of the weekend.

I've always had a particular fondness for the Celtic roots, history, myths, and culture of Scotland and Ireland.

One of my bucket lists was to dance spun around linked arms and hands to Scottish or Irish music similar to the scene from Titanic with Jack and Rose dancing on the lower decks.

However, I was too busy utterly terrified of what seemed like complicated dance step routines that my coordination was always guaranteed to mess up epically even with the simpler moves, to dream of achieving that bucket list.

I hid behind the camera most of the night quietly jealous of the utter buzz of the room as these lesbians danced about the floor all with varying skills and abilities and none really caring whether mistakes were made, the only requirement was to have fun.

After I spent most of the evening capturing the atmosphere of the ceilidh from every perspective imaginable, the evening drew to a close with only three dances to spare, I braved it.

The first two were solely coupled dances and much to the dismay of my dance partner a friend from GLS, I learned what it truly means to have two left feet, laughing and apologizing at my epic fumblings.

At the end of the two dances, I stood at the side, allowing the music to move me yet staying out of the dance.

Until a lovely Irish farmer Lady observantly said that I looked like I wanted to dance, my wild panicked answer proclaimed both yes and horrifyingly no. She smiled, as the next dance, the last dance, was starting to be talked through. what the hell, I thought as I followed her offered gesture onto the dance floor, taking our place in the two rows facing each other.

I exclaimed I have absolutely no idea what I'm doing and appear to have two left feet. She replied that we are at least then both approaching this as equals.

We got walked through this dance that started with the first couple spinning for 16 turns linked in crossed hands to then launch into spinning with the adjacent person in the coupled line alternating between twirling linked arm with your own partner and those in the line til you found yourself at the end, then watching for your turn as each couple took their turn.

After two trial runs and a little assistance from those more experienced, we had mastered this crazy spinning fast-paced dance called 'Strip the Willow' whilst unknowingly ticking off one from my bucket list!

Around Our 4th or 5th turn as the first couple spinning down the line, I was quietly wondering if my lungs would hold out for the rest of the dance without my inhaler whilst extremely reluctant to walk away from this dance I was utterly thrilled to be involved in and surprisingly acing with the encouragement of the lovely Irish farmer lady I was partnered with.

My lungs held out, just, after diving to get my bag with my inhaler and pack away my camera, I spent the last of the evening chatting with my dance partner, making another new friend full of interesting diverse experiences and advice.

Sunday morning began with our hosted walk to get the ferry across to Kerrera Island, followed by our walk to Castle. We met at the green seafood shack and walked the coastal route past the Oban sailing club.

Joined by another crew photographer, a couple of crew, and a half dozen attendees including the Irish farmer who was my Ceilidh partner. We chatted some more on the walk to the ferry where we parted ways. I made it over to the Island on the second boat, and we followed the well-sign-posted country paths along a peaceful route with views of the sea and mainland.

We stopped at the most beautiful and unusual cottage tea room before heading to the Gylen Castle with its steep climb and its breathtaking views of the rocky atmospheric coastline.

Taken photos specifically requested by our other photographer of the rainbow umbrella peaking out the castle window, then she joined me down at the rocky cove where I posed for a few photos with the rainbow umbrella and spent a good fifteen minutes swimming in the oversized waves which looked worst than the felt to swim in. In fact, it was a lot of fun despite the rocks. Whilst the other photographer accompanied me as my watcher, safety first when swimming in the sea, especially rocky choppy waters like that!

On the walk back to the ferry, we walked with a different crowd of attendees as my adventures in the waves lasted longer than the intended first walk schedule. Where I met another couple of new friends who are Glasgow-based, and lots of lovely chats were had whilst enjoying the peaceful scenic walk.

Once across the ferry, I joined one of these new friends for a lovely dinner and chat on the balcony of The View overlooking the bay. We learned that we had been in Katies at the same time when playing pool on one of the busier evenings with the alternative group.

I found myself with a couple of hours of downtime, which once again seemed to naturally navigate towards playing pool with those that remained of the GLS friends.

The official weekend ended with a goodbye party with a DJ and some live music, the final time as crew photographer.

By the end of the pool and chatting yesterday, I had been offered a car share lift home, the group of us from GLS went for breakfast, then a quick stop at the top of Oban for one more photographic opportunity before the drive home. The journey home was full of amazing conversations, the driver, proclaiming it was her quickest journey from Oban due to such good company. Some of those deep conversations and connections made that impacted thoughts and things in my life outside OLW felt somewhat destined, this sentiment was shared by the GLS friend who was driving us.

The friends made over the weekend, are people I've kept in touch with since.

It is fascinating how a series of events that seem so minuscule at the time can change the trajectory of your life.

As I expressed in my thank you post to everybody at OLW...

I wrote a review of Oban Lesbian Weekend for Out World Global, link below in image

There are moments in your life that start a series of events, you never know in the moment which ones will start a cascade of growth and change, but being open to the possibility of change and hope, even in your lowest scariest moments can make all the difference.

I have always used photographic expression to explain the things I didn't feel words are adequate enough for, and once again, a comparison of two photographic expressions will emphasize the undeniable incredible difference in those seven months...

one posted on instagram on the 14th of January, the other on the 9th of August.

I am more positive about my future than I have ever been,

Less concerned with how old I am

More hopeful that I will get to where I want to be.

I'm more confident in my journey leading me to my goals and dreams, and that the journey is important too!

An important conversation I just recently had which ended with saying you never ever know what is just around the corner and you never stop learning, seem a fitting final thought!

November 2023;

The impact of these events continue to grow.

The confidence at events, the confidence in studying, the confidence in my new found way of living as polyamorous and a Lesbian with a nesting husband and four kids, three of which are adults and all the changes of becoming mum to adults, as well as two wonderful girlfriends and let's never forget the amazing new friendships and connections.

Learning to accept that I don't need to explain myself.

Improving on my communication and time keeping as I make life work.

I said to one of those lovely connections recently;

"If you told me ten years ago I'd be where I am now I'd look at you like you were crazy 🙈😂

It is nice though to be unrestrained by socially constructed ideals of relationships to freely explore connections with those I'm close to and care allot for 🥰"

Her reply was simple and beautiful;

This is something to be proud of!

47 views0 comments

Bình luận

bottom of page