John M. Becker

Bruni: Sometimes I'm Afraid to Hold My Partner's Hand

Filed By John M. Becker | August 15, 2013 4:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: affection, displaying affection, Frank Bruni, hate crimes, hate speech, hate violence, holding hands, internalized homophobia, living in fear, PDA, public displays of affection

frank_bruni.jpgNew York Times op-ed columnist Frank Bruni has penned a heart-wrenchingly honest piece about the calculations LGBT people have to make -- and the risks we take -- each time we decide whether or not to do something that should come totally naturally: holding our significant other's hand.

He writes:

[After] all the education that we Americans have had and all the relished progress we've made, being gay does mean feeling constrained in situations where most people aren't, scared in circumstances that wouldn't frighten others in the least, self-conscious when you shouldn't have to be.

Like when you're holding someone's hand. It's the sweetest, most innocent and most natural of gestures: to interlock your fingers with those of a person for whom you're feeling a sudden rush of affection. A person you maybe love.

And yet when my partner takes my hand in public in New York City, I look at the sidewalk ahead. I note how many pedestrians are coming our way, and how quickly, and whether they're male or female, young or old, observant or distracted.

As regular Bilerico Project readers may remember, my husband Michael and I recently had our own brush with bigotry when we were verbally assaulted on a public bus because Michael had his arm around my shoulder.

It just goes to show that even in supposedly enlightened urban areas like NYC and DC, a toxic strain of homophobia still simmers below the surface, just waiting for an excuse to rear its ugly head.

To be honest, it took me a long time to get to the point where I was comfortable enough with myself that I could hold Michael's hand, put my arm around him, or give him a casual peck on the cheek in public without thinking twice about it -- displays that opposite-sex couples take for granted. And yes, part of that process involved me making peace with the fact that I would almost certainly face occasional stares, glares, harassment, slurs, hate speech, and possibly even threats or violence as a result. (And we have.)

So maybe that's why Bruni's candid column resonated with me -- because I, too, have made those very same calculations. I, too, can relate to the very same fear he describes.

What about you? How do you and your spouse/partner/significant other handle public displays of affection like hand-holding and casual pecks on the cheek? Do you engage in them at all? Do you look around first? Are you afraid? Does it depend on who's around? Do you start to do it, but then pull back out of concern for your safety?

Let us know in the comments.

Photo: Soo-Jeong Kang

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