Okay, I’m going to talk about something which is going to make many of us uncomfortable: the gay PDA. More specifically, about the reaction to gay PDAs.
Why is this going to make us uncomfortable? Well, for the reason highlighted in that Whisper. Allies might be looking at us in public and staring in a supportive manner (if that is even possible), but how do we — the subjects of the gaze — feel about being the recipient of that attention? If she’s got resting bitchface then should she really be staring at people who are probably feeling hyper-conscious of those around them anyway?
Let me backpedal a little bit.
Being gay makes every PDA a political event. If I want to hold AJ’s hand in the street, or kiss her at the airport, or hell, touch her waist as I squeeze past her at the supermarket checkout, I have to consider where we are, who’s around us, and if such actions are likely to put us in danger.
Now I’m too old and too stubborn to worry overly what people think or say to or about me. If someone wants to stare, let ’em stare. I’m not looking to see who’s looking.
I wasn’t always like that, though. I can remember being a dewy-eyed seventeen year old, indulging in my first ever PDA with my first ever girlfriend. I remember hearing a few weeks later about the skeezy owner of the bar we were in passing the security camera footage of us kissing around to his friends. I can remember moving to Manchester, discovering Canal Street, and reveling in the freedom I and my friends found therein. This is why we have queer spaces: so we can be ourselves without being gawked at like an exhibit in the zoo. It’s nice being in the majority every once in a while.
Since I started moving in m/m circles, the subject of “sightings” of gay couples in everyday life has come up more than once. I usually pass those posts on social media (“There’s a really cute gay couple on the table next to me at this coffee shop right now!!! I’m gonna try and take a pic of them — hang on!!”) biting my lip and all my fingers so I don’t respond. I know that attention comes from a good place, from people who consider themselves allies and are happy to see same-sex couples who feel confident enough to fully express themselves in public. I really, really don’t want to upset anybody, but here’s the thing.
Two men were brutally beaten in Philadelphia this week by a group fifteen-strong, because they were holding hands. Mark Carson, a 32 year old gay man, was shot dead at point-blank range in NYC last year, just one in a long string of hate crime victims in the city at that time. Between those instances are countless others, many of which don’t even make the media. Being seen to be gay in the street can be downright dangerous. I know what it feels like to have your stomach clench as you walk past someone, to keep holding your partner’s hand even though it makes yours sweat, to have the hairs on the back of your neck prickle as your ears strain for the sound of the person you just passed turning around to come back after you. I have never been the victim of a hate crime, but that doesn’t mean I’ve never been scared. None of us want to be come a statistic.
And even if we’re not scared, even if there’s nothing scary about the people looking, we don’t want to be ridiculed, either. We don’t want people to point and laugh, and we don’t want to worry that our pictures are being surreptitiously taken and uploaded to the internet — for what purpose? To make fun of us? To “expose” us? Or to fap to? Whatever the reason, maybe we don’t want those images online. Maybe we’re not out at work or to our families, and those pictures, circulated in the wrong places, could see us jobless or out on the street. Even if the worst never happens, we’re not holding hands for someone’s entertainment. We don’t need approval any more than we need permission, as nice as it might be to get. Ask yourself: how would you feel if that was your kid having their photo taken by strangers whenever they went out in public.
Ultimately, that. Those are some comments from that last Whisper I posted, which has been shared around various social media platforms since it was originally uploaded. Missy thinks she’s entitled to stare all she wants, and when Max points out that such behaviour is rude, she responds by being… rude. There’s zero consideration for Max’s (one assumes, the potential recipient’s) feelings about becoming the subject of somebody else’s idle curiosity. I think the key word is “entitled”.
Looking is a powerful and dangerous thing. We all know the armchair psychology guff about eye contact being used to determine pack supremacy in animals. What most people don’t consider is that eye contact is just as challenging for humans. Looking implies ownership, it implies certain rights to what is being looked upon. It’s why there are a bazillion studies about the male gaze, about why women walk with their heads down, and why men feel the need to cat-call at the girls they pass. Just as the act of walking down the street does not give anybody permission to comment on a woman’s breasts — and most people would scorn anyone who did just that — nor does sharing an affectionate moment with a partner invite others to pass comment or judgement (negative or positive).
I dream of the day when a PDA won’t result in so much as a batted eye from those around me. When I’ll be able to genuinely not worry, rather than make myself not worry. Because I refuse to live in fear, and I refuse to consider myself extraordinary for that refusal. We shouldn’t have to be brave to show that we’re in love, but nor should we be praised as though we invented the entire concept. This is the one area of my life where I’d be perfectly happy being absolutely mundane. Just like everybody else.