The first time I was kissed by a boy in public was on the busy streets of New York City. We’d kissed before but always in the safety of LGBT spaces or after a date night in the privacy of our homes. This was different. My heart was pounding out of my chest, I lost my breath, and I was immediately taken aback. This wasn’t the butterflies that I felt the first time our lips had met many months before — this was fear.
I’m a man who dates men, but I fear publicly showing any affection toward someone of the same sex. The fear is warranted, as LGBT people know from experience, there is still deep-rooted homophobia in our society. Still today, when marriage equality is sweeping the country, many headlines proclaim hate crimes, acts of violence due to being out as queer.
Let’s not fool ourselves — our legal wins in marriage equality, although incredibly important, don’t make our relationships any more acceptable in the eyes of the common passerby. If anything, our legal wins have only provoked the deeply homophobic to dig their heels in the sand as they’re dragged along toward equality. As we win in the court systems, we are losing in the streets.
I’m not the only one who feels this way. I know plenty of same-sex couples who fear holding the hands for the possible ramifications of that small act of love. It’s not even always the threat of physical violence. Sometimes, just the stares and whispers are enough to re-closet even the most out person. But that’s exactly what it is: re-closeting.
When we don’t feel safe to show love to the person we love, we are being re-closeted. The fear we feel then isn’t coming just from the likelihood of encountering homophobia but from the sensation of hiding, again, as so many of us have done in the past.
Somehow the same act that is seen as affection for heterosexual couples is seen as deviant for same-sex ones. Essentially, the people who argue against same-sex PDA believe our love is different and lesser than theirs. To them, same-sex couples showing public affection is as an act of violence toward a heterosexist society that has brainwashed queer people into hiding ourselves — which is exactly why we need more PDA. Lots more.
I want to see stolen kisses by same-sex couples walking down the street. I want romance. I want hand-holding and caressing of cheeks. I want LGBT people in relationships to express their love, however they feel comfortable, in all spaces. We cannot expect to be accepted until we accept ourselves and our love.
Straight and even some LGBT people use respectability politics, saying that PDA is unacceptable for queer or straight people. That only serves to keep queer people from publicly professing our love. Being able to publicly display your affection is something straight people take for granted. But it’s really not about public displays of affections, as they have even fooled themselves into believing. Their issue is about queer public displays of affection.
Even in media we see a lack of PDA with the lack of same-sex couples on TV and film. The story Hollywood is telling is typically of affluent white gay men, and even they don’t get to have the same love as straight couples. For example, Modern Family’s gay couple shows less of affection than their straight counterparts despite their long-term relationship. While they have addressed this as being due to Mitchell's buttoned-up demeanor, at times the lack of touching, kissing, and caressing make Mitch and Cameron seem more like glorified roommates.
This, again, came front and center when NFL hopeful Michael Sam kissed his boyfriend in a moment of pure happiness. During a pivotal moment in his career, he shared a kiss with the man he loves. From the way it was talked about, you would have thought a seriously vulgar act occurred. It’s his right to share his love however he pleases. It’s our right as queer people to be seen as we are with the people we love.
Our love is different. We’ve had to fight for it, and we’re still fighting for it. Even after the inevitable happens, when were are recognized as equal citizens under the law, we will continue to be fighting for it, because homophobia is a disease rooted in individuals, not the law. But it’s because we’ve had to fight for it that we will appreciate it 10 times more than our straight counterparts.
It’s our right to have a certificate of marriage allowing us the same access to benefits the government provides to straight couples, and it’s our right to walk down the street holding hands. Queer love is a radical notion. So I appeal to you, LGBT brothers and sisters: Let’s be radical, let’s hold hands.
ELIEL CRUZ is a bisexual Christian covering bisexuality for The Advocate. Eliel also frequently writes on the topics of sexuality, religion, pop culture, and media at The Huffington Post, Believe Out Loud, and Mic. You can follow Eliel on Twitter.