Guest writer Otis Robinson takes us on a personal journey on what it is like to be out in queer Britain, and the difficulties we still face.
It is recited in our community en masse. The same answer that is endlessly repeated in response to the question, “would you change if you could?” Yes. Why would I choose to live through the difficulties our people face if I could avoid it? This question is a stone’s throw from victim blaming. The confident, stern reply of “yes, I’d change me” has been instilled in the community by those who fear us and it frames the lives of the LGBTQ+ community as “lifestyle choices”. They will say you are making the decision to live a difficult life, to face danger and rejection, emotionally and physically.
This behaviour is discussed by feminist movements like #metoo. Instead of blaming the abusive male, society blames the woman who sports the short skirt proudly. ‘You’re choosing to put yourself in danger’. Similarly so, the LGBTQ+ community is blamed for the homophobia, biphobia and transphobia they experience on the street, punished for daring to live calmly, truthfully and openly as they deserve.
This punishment affects every aspect of finding love. It limits the romantic displays of affection members of the community can display towards one another. No, this doesn’t mean swallowing tongues on the number 12 bus, but something as simple as holding hands. Earlier this year, the BBC’s YouTube page ruminated on the issue in a video titled “Homophobia in 2018”. The video consists of the poem “Time For Love” and asks the question “why is a goodbye kiss no walk in the park?” While emotively portraying Glaswegian gay life, the narrative is no new story to the queer community. The content of the video is applicable to all of us. It’s not easy to wear love proudly.
Holding hands in public is a second coming out, though it is not only a personal one. It exists as a collective experience shared by those in love within the community. To hold hands in public is to make a statement, incongruous to the cisgender straight couples around. Passers-by will wonder why you would do this to them, and how you could ‘shove this into their children’s faces’. In some northern areas, to hold hands is often like donning a shroud of shame for having the audacity to publicly acknowledge the physical presence of your partner, of someone you want to scream about and show proudly on your arm. The clasping of terrified, sweating palms becomes political. But today, stranger, I have no interest in politics, and my wish to stay close to my partner is not rooted in any desire to change your world. Simply, I want my boyfriend and I to feel the sun on our skin and a breeze between our fingers. Because we are in love.
Alternatively, this means much of the community is forced away from the freedom of love. Instead of kissing my long-distance boyfriend goodbye in the train station, instead of holding him tight until the next month I see him, and instead of hearing the dreaded f-word aggressively and repeatedly churned at us, I remain detached. I give in to the fear and let my pride slip away. No pursed lips or even a warm grasp of the shoulder. Back into the closet.
Sometimes, the benefit of romantic affection is not enough to outweigh the physical danger we might put ourselves in. You hear the stories of walking while gay, walking while trans, walking while a woman. It’s real, life-threatening danger. My boyfriend and I share a silenced glare between one another – it is understood. We acknowledge that we must remain two feet apart, restrain our hands in trouser pockets and hold out on affection until the next time. After years of confidence-building and coming to terms with our sexualities, the possibility of ending the evening in a bleach-white hospital bed, bloodied and swollen with teeth missing, smothers our courage. And it can make you feel dirty. Not for being gay of course – but for being a coward. For giving into fear, relinquishing the ability to simply exist that generations before fought for.
The LGBTQ+ community is robbed of the ability to feel pride. Slipping away from under our feet is the ability to answer to “would you change if you could?” with a resounding no. Every time my boyfriend and I let go of one another to quell the fear within the homophobic glares of passers-by, it is justified as a way of shielding us from countless, and doubtless, risks of attack, but it doesn’t feel that way. It’s putting love second to hate. It’s no different to a decade ago, when my step-brothers and I had to hold our heads low, facing our feet in a panic, to avoid the racist slurs of the white boys stalking us like prey.
But sometimes, the strength kicks in like a jet engine. I grab his hand harder as if I’m making a physical promise to show resilience in the face of oppression. Eyes glare, overzealous in their frustrated plea to attack what brings them fear, but nevertheless our identities persist, not just until we are out of reach, but until the end. To simply exist while different is a grave risk to safety, but do not doubt that love will win, and we will not change who we are.
Follow Otis on Twitter: (@otisarobinson)