This is a topic I’ve always wanted to write about, being gay and the stresses around public displays of affection. PDA has different levels of tolerance depending on the public area you’re in no matter your sexuality. For the sake of this discussion “public” will be defined as sidewalks, parks, and shopping centers (grocery stores, malls, etc.). These are areas that heterosexual couples are frequently seen holding hands, kissing, and sitting in an embrace without even a nun caring. When I was fresh out of the closet I was a junior in high school and I had no problem with PDA. I had been in relationships with woman prior to coming out so I was no stranger to holding hands and cuddling up on benches. So when I started dating my first boyfriend I just kept on doing what I had been doing. It wasn’t until the fight for marriage equality in my home sate of Maine that I started to feel the piercing eyes on me.
PDA started to feel like a silent protest, which sometimes it was. My boyfriend and I would often go out of our way to walk, hand-in-hand, in front of a crowd of anti-marriage equality protesters. But when something like who you are is converted into a challenge to society, it becomes exhausting. You can’t turn it off, or put it away. Imagine your hair color is seen as immoral. You would first wear it out with pride. You would walk in front of screaming crowds, shoulders high, hair flowing in the wind. But imagine you just wanted to go out to grab some take-out Chinese after you had a long day. Along the way you see businesses with signs in their window protesting blonde hair. Then, as you walk down the sidewalk people stare in disgust, some even “brave” enough to say slurs under their breath. You’d start to think about what you might look like bald. PDA declared to the world that, “Yes, I am gay”! Which was an open invitation for some to declare their opposition (or applaud our “bravery”).
At this point I’m sure you’ve figured out what this has to do with traveling. Back home I knew which areas were safer to hold hands, or cuddle up in the cold. But as we travel we’re more cautious about when we show our love for each other. This isn’t always conscious, which makes it worse. As we walk down a sidewalk and approach a group of men I can feel David pull his hand away, not on purpose, but we’ve been conditioned to be cautious around certain groups of people. I do it too, and it’s not until I see a happy heterosexual couple with interlocked hands that I’m made aware of the distance between David and I. We’ve been conditioned that displaying our love is bad, and we will be punished. And it’s not just the slurs and threats it’s any attention at all. So many times I’ve been approached by strangers thanking me or praising me for my courage. As true as their intentions are, they too are bringing to my attention that I’m different. I’m the first to stand up in protest for anyone’s equality, if you know me you know that much for sure. But what I would give to just wrap my hand around my boyfriends waist and walk down the street without wondering who approves and who disagrees.
I will say this, NZ has given me no reason yet to feel different. Have I seen any other gay couples? Not yet. But when David and I have shown our love for each other in public I’ve never seen anyone even bat an eye.