Last night Michael and I along with Andrew, a friend, went out for dinner to a lovely Vietnamese restaurant in Fitzroy.
Michael dropped me off and drove off to find a car park. Andrew was waiting on the street for me. We greeted each other with a smile and a hello. I would have like to have kissed him on the cheek. A small gesture of friendship. The right way for me to greet him. But I didn’t. Nor did I shake his hand, because that just felt too formal and business like.
We three sat at a table and after a time the table next to us was taken by 4 men, clearly a couple of couples out for a similar night of good food and company.
Here we are, a group of homosexual men surrounded by straight people. All enjoying the company of our friends, eating, drinking, talking, laughing, looking.
I sit next to Michael because I like to be near to him. I rarely touch him in public. When I do there’s a risk analysis that my mind runs through before I reach out and place my hand on his knee or around his shoulder. I’m looking around me to see potential threats. Is that bearded bloke behind me with the tattoos of a skull on his elbow ok? Will that mother over there try to shield her daughter from me? Will the staff treat me differently?
Then I have to remind myself where I am. I’m in funky Brunswick Street, Fitzroy. It’s a pretty happening crowd with all sorts of people from all walks of life. Surely they’re all gay friendly? This won’t be an issue for anyone.
Only after that do I reach my arm out and place it around Michael’s shoulder. Michael responds to my touch by either touching my hand or relaxing into my arm and moving closer to me. It’s a natural, normal response. A shared intimacy that I love. Mind you, it only last a minute when I realise that he’s sitting to my right and my right shoulder aches too much for me to sustain it. I wonder if I always sit with him to my right as an unthinking way of protecting my perceptions of threats.
Nothing happens, of course, apart from my shoulder aching.
When I walk down the street, I never simply slip my hand into to his. Holding hands requires me to do another assessment of my surrounds. I’ve had the looks of both support and scorn from others. I’ve heard the phrase ‘faggot’ muttered when people pass me by. That, quite frankly, scares the fuck out of me.
When Michael visits me at work we always kiss each other on the cheek. What I really want is to be able to do that without thinking about it. The same way I don’t give a second thought to that goodbye kiss in the morning, or the hello kiss at the end of the day in the safety of our own home. I work in a wonderful diverse environment, and nobody raises an eyebrow about my sexuality. Yet, I still do a scan of where we are before and after a kiss.
Why don’t I feel safe in my own country?
The ongoing threat to safety is there for me. Real or perceived it doesn’t matter. Years of growing up in a world where gay people have been derided and despised takes it toll. Reports of gay bashing, discrimination and verbal abuse are presented to me on a daily basis.
I want to walk down the street and hold his hand.
I want to put my arm around him.
More than anything, I want him to sit to my left.
Take 20 minutes now and watch Panti speak at TED in Dublin.