You’ve probably seen it: two gay men holding hands at a theme park, walking briskly, with rigid arms and cold expressions. They almost seem like militants, cutting through the crowd, matching stride, never cracking a smile.
“Look at the joyless couple,” a friend and fellow homo said, nodding at one such couple the last time I was at Disney World. Whenever I see one of these “joyless couples,” I feel like crying or cheering or screaming or some variation of the three. They are usually young. This may be the first time they have ever held hands in public, and they are determined to do it, goddamn it — but they’re scared.
Their body language betrays their fear. Other gay men spot it easily because we have all been there. I have been there. My first time holding a man’s hand was at a theme park, and I could hardly breathe. My palms were sweating, and after a few minutes I let go. Almost immediately I felt angry at myself for being unable to last longer. Around me, straight couples were walking by, fingers interlocked. It seemed so effortless for them, so comfortable. Why was I so terrified?
The wrongness and unfairness I felt in that moment was heteronormativity and gay oppression. These words might seem academic and sing of protest, but they describe very real problems. As gay men, we are taught to fear public displays of affection from day one — because the little animated boy dog falls in love with a girl dog; because Spider-Man swoops down to save Mary Jane, not John; and because, in the first story I was ever told, God created Adam and Eve, not … well, you know the rest.
Above: Real-life couple (and friends of the author) Norge (left) and Jeramy (right) consented to taking cute couple pictures at various locations across Atlanta, Ga.