Monday, January 26, 2015

I am 35 years old.... and I have never once unselfconsciously held hands with a lover in public.

I am 35 years old, and I have never once unselfconsciously held hands with a lover in public.
I am 35 years old, and i have never once casually, comfortably, carelessly held hands with a partner in public.
I don’t know how many of you can even imagine what that might be like because, of course, it’s a small thing, isn’t it? Holding hands with a love in public.
And it’s not that nobody wanted to; it’s just that we didn’t feel comfortable to do that. Now, like many gay people, when I was younger - in my young life - I struggled at one time against being gay.
I didn’t want to be different. I didn’t want to be this thing that I didn’t really understand; this thing that I had learned was shameful or joke worthy. But, when I eventually did sort of understand and come to accept who and what I am, I have never - since that moment - never once have I ever wished that it turned out differently.
I am thoroughly, deeply, delightedly happy to be gay.
It suits me! I am really good at it.
And yet, every day I am jealous of straight people, because that private little, small, intimate gesture of affection has never once been mine.
Every day, I see young straight couples walking through the park, and they are casually holding hands, and I am jealous of them. I see a teenage couple at the bus stop, and she is leaning into him, and her hand is in his, and both of their hands are tucked into his jacket pocket for warmth; and I am jealous of that teenage couple.  
I will sometimes see a man unconsciously put his hand, a protective arm around his girlfriend and she will link her fingers through his; and I am jealous of that.
You know, maybe you’re on Sunset park and you’ll see an older lady and she gestures to draw her husband’s attention to something in the lake and, without even thinking, he just takes her hand and they stand there, peering into the lake discussing whatever it is that drew their attention, and their hands are just carelessly joined together; and I am jealous of that.
Because gay people do not get to hold hands in public without first considering the risk. Gay people do not get to put an arm through another arm, or put a hand on a boyfriend’s waist without first considering what the possible consequences might be. We look around to see where are we? Who’s around? Is it late at night? What kind of area is it? Are there bored teenagers hanging around looking for amusement? Are there bunches of lads standing outside a pub? And if we decided ‘okay, maybe it is okay’, well then we do hold hands, but the thing is that now, those hands are not casual and thoughtless; they are now considered and weighed.
But we stroll on hand-in-hand trying to be just normal and carefree, just like everybody else; but actually we’re not because we are constantly scanning the pavement ahead, you know, just in case. And then even if we do we a group of blokes coming towards us, maybe will decide sort of silently to continue holding hands, defiantly.
But now, our small intimate gesture between two people in love is no longer a small intimate gesture, it is a political act of defiance and it has been ruined. And anyway, then you sort of think ‘well we’ve had such a lovely afternoon poking around in that garden centre looking at things for the garden we don’t actually have’ and then you think ‘all it will take is one spat “faggots” or a split lip’ to turn that really lovely afternoon into a bad afternoon that you will never want to remember.
And even if you are somewhere where you think ‘it’s perfectly fine here, nobody here is going to react badly to our tiny gesture’ - I don’t know, say you’re wantering through a posh department store. Even then, people will notice. Now, they may only notice because they’re thinking ‘oh, isn’t it nice to see two gays holding hands in public?’, but they still notice; and I don’t want them to notice. Because then our small, private, intimate, human gesture has been turned into a statement and I don’t want it to be turned into a statement. Our little private gesture, like Schrodinger's cat, is altered simply by being observed.
We live in this sort of homophobic world and you might think that a small little thing like holding hands in public, well it’s just a small thing; and you’re right - it is indeed just a small thing, but it is one of many small things that make us human. And there are lots of small things every day that LGBT people have to put up with, that other people don’t have to put up with. Lots of small things that we have to put up with in order to be safe, or not to be the object of ridicule or scorn; and we are expected to put up with those things and just thank our blessings that we don’t live in a country where we could be imprisoned or executed for being gay; and we are so used to making those small adjustments every day that, even now, we rarely ourselves even notice that we’re doing it, because it is part of the background of our lives, this constant malign presence that we have assimilated. And if we complain about it, we are told that we have nothing to complain about because ‘aren’t you lucky that you don’t live in Uganda?’. And yes, I am lucky that I don’t live in Uganda, but that’s not good enough. This isn’t some sort of game or competition where the person who has it the worst wins the right to complain and everybody else has to just put up or shut up.
Our society is homophobic. It is infused with homophobia. It is dripping with homophobia; and when you are 35 years old and you have spent 30 years putting up; 30 years absorbing all of those small sleights and intimidations and sneers and, occasionally, much worse, you just get tired of it.
You get fed up putting up.
I am fed up of reading yet another article by yet another straight person explaining why I am less, somehow, than everybody else.
You get fed up listening to people describe you as ‘intrinsically disordered’; people who don’t even know you, from their celibate pulpits.
You get fed up of the scrawled graffiti and you get fed up of people sneeringly describe things as ‘gay’.
You get fed up of stealing yourself to pass by the Saturday night drunks hoping they won’t notice you.
And you get fed up of people using their time and energy and talents to campaign against you being treated just like every other citizen.
I am 35, and I am fed up putting up.
Now, I would of course prefer if nobody harboured any animosity towards gay people or any discomfort with gay relationships, but you know I can live with the kind of small, personal, private homophobia that some people might have. For example, I can live with Mary in Wicklow who sometimes turns on the television and sees Graham Norton and thinks ‘oh he seems nice enough, but does he have to be so gay?’.
I can live with that! I can live with Mary, who doesn’t know any gay people apart from that fella who does her hair once a month in ‘Curl Up and Dye’, Mary whose only knowledge of gay people and our relationships comes from what she has gleaned from school yards and church and Coronation Street. I can live with that. Now I would be happy to sit down on the sofa and watch Coronation Street with Mary. I would be happy to have a cup of tea with her and discuss with her why she feels a little uncomfortable with gay relationships, and I would hope that Mary would change her mind. I would hope that she would meet more gay people and would find out pretty quickly that we are just as ordinary, just as nice, or just as annoying as all of you people are. And I would hope that she would change her mind, for her own sake as much as anybody else’s, because gay people are just as capable of bringing goodness into Mary’s life as anybody else. And, of course, we could help her with the decorating.

But that kind of personal discomfort with gay people and their relationships is entirely different from the kind of homophobia that manifests itself in public, the kind that manifests itself as an attempt to have LGBT people treated differently or less than everybody else; the kind of homophobia that seeks to characterise gay people and their relationships as less worthy of respect.
That kind of homophobia, I do have a problem with, and I think gay people should be able to call it when they see it, because it is our right to do so.
Of course, many people object to the word ‘homophobia’ itself. They object to the “phobia” part. ‘I’m not afraid of you’, they say. But I’m not saying homophobes cower in fear every time they pass a Cher album…
… but they are afraid. They are afraid of what the world will look like when it treats gay and lesbian and bisexual people with the same respect as everybody else. They are afraid that they won’t fit in this brave new world of equality. But, of course, their fear is irrational. Because, of course, the world will not look any different. You know, kids will still want to eat ice cream, dogs will still want to play fetch, the tide will still come in, and parallel parking will still be difficult.
You know, the most vocal homophobes, who know that they long ago lost the arguments around the decriminalisation of homosexual sex or every other advance for gay people since; these days you’ll find those very vocal homophobes clustered around the same sex marriage debate, and it is quite the spectacle. Because they know they can’t just right-out and bluntly say what drives them, which is an animus towards gay people and a disgust at what they imagine we do in bed, because they know that that won’t wash with the general public any more. So they are forced to sort of scramble for any other reason that they can think of to argue their case; so ‘gay people are going to destroy the institution of marriage’, ‘gay couples will be wandering through orphanages picking babies off shelves trying to find one that matches their new Ikea sofa’, or that ‘allowing gay people to get married will destroy society itself’, and many many more. Including my own personal favourite which is the old argument that ‘the word “marriage” is defined in some dictionary or other as “the union between a man and a woman” and that therefore same sex marriage can’t possibly be a marriage’, which is a piffling argument against words and dictionaries and not an argument against same sex marriage.

Now, of course, the other real driver of homophobia - and you can all clutch your pearls here, because I’m going to go here - is a disgust with gay sex, in particular with gay male sex. The poor old lesbians just get caught in the homophobic crossfire, guilty by association. Because what they really don’t like is anal sex; sodomy; buggery. And they assume that that is all we do. They feverishly imagine that we spend all day jumping around buggering each other. I mean they obsess on it and, in fact, what they actually do is reduce us down to this one sex act, whether or not we do it at all. Because we are not regular people with the same hopes and aspirations and ambitions and feelings as everyone else, we are simply walking sex acts.
Now earlier this year, I was invited to take part in the Saint Pats For All Parade in Queens in New York. It is a really lovely, charming, grass roots event in Queens which was set up in response to the ban on gay groups marching in the famous Manhattan Saint Patrick’s Day Parade. In that Manhattan Saint Patrick’s Day Parade, any Irish group who wants can march. Irish policemen can march, Irish firemen, Irish footballers, Irish community groups, Irish volleyball teams, Irish book clubs - any Irish people who want have a good shot of being allowed to march in that parade, except for Irish gays. Because as far as the organisers of that parade are concerned, gays are nothing more than walking sex acts and there is no place for buggery in their parade.
Now I actually saw a small documentary once about one of the leaders of the organisers of that parade. They are the Ancient Order of Hibernians and they’re like a Catholic Orange Order.
They dress the same and everything!
And in the documentary, you know, he was a nice oul’ fella, and he had this lovely wife, and they seemed very happy together. And when I looked at them, I saw this life lived together and I imagined that if I asked him about their life together, that he would remember the first time they met, he would remember how nervous he was on their first date together, and how proud he was when he turned and saw her coming up the aisle in that dress that she had fretted over for so long. And I imagined that, if I asked him, he would remember that phone call to say that she had gone into labour, and the dash across town, and the other time that she went so far past her due date that she promised she would bounce up and down on a trampoline until the baby bounced out of her, and how they laughed so hard about that; and I imagined he would remember other occasions, like when their youngest broke his arm and cried all the way to the hospital, and that other time when she was sick and he could not sleep alone in the empty bed, so in the middle of the night he got up and went back to the hospital even though he knew they wouldn’t let him in to see her at that hour. I imagined that he would remember all of those things and many more; all of the small things that go up to making a relationship and making a person a person.
And when I looked at him, I imagined all of those things too.
But when he looks at me, he doesn’t see me that way.
He doesn’t see gay people that way. To him, we are just sex acts, and there’s no place for sex acts in his parade.
I am 35 years old and I am fed up putting up, so I am not anymore.
I am 35 years old and I not putting up anymore because I don’t have the energy anymore. Putting up is exhausting.
I am 35 years old and I not putting up anymore because I don’t have the patience anymore.
35 years old - I was born six months before the Stonewall riots and you have had 45 years to work out that, despite appearances, I am just as ordinary, just as unremarkable, and just as human as you are.
I am 35 years old and I am not asking anymore, I am just being. Human being.
Thank you for your time.           
Panti's Ted.ex Dublin 

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