I have started dating again, which has been quite a fun and novel experience. Novel in part because Tim (the guy I am seeing) is a fair bit taller and bigger than I am.
Because I’m about 6 foot myself, most of the people I have dated in the past have been shorter than me. This relatively minor change has led to some fun differences to explore.
I see masculinity and femininity as socially constructed and things that we take on consciously or unconsciously based on social expectations. A simple example might be leading and following when dancing. A dance is a socially constructed activity. We made the rules up. The idea that it’s masculine to lead and feminine to follow is socially constructed, entirely made up. For gay men, since we don’t neatly fit into boy/girl, we kind of have to consciously decide when dancing: who is going to be the girl? My first time ever at a gay bar (the Round Up in Texas) I had to “follow” for the first time, which was a bewildering and fun experience.
Another such example is linking arms. Who puts their hand into who’s arm? Sounds simple doesn’t it? I know from personal experience, however, that it’s a nice feeling to have someone you care about hanging off your arm. It might be simple, but it’s quite an important social gesture.
So this is how I often find myself making my way around town: hand firmly embedded in Tim’s elbow, definitely the feminine option, definitely something I have never done before, and definitely something that I like.
And so now we get to the subject of this post: Pride. Specifically: Gay Pride.
I know that some people think being “proud” of one’s sexuality is a bit silly. No more meaningful than being proud of, say, being right-handed or having red hair. But this perspective somewhat misses the point. When people talk about “gay pride” they don’t mean pride in the sense of being egotistical, they more accurately mean “not-shame”. It’s so easy to be shamed into silence, to hide who we are. Pride is a reminder to us all to abandon that shame for something else.
You see, linking arms like this is quite a statement, quite an unambiguous statement for two men to make anyway. When you take on this more feminine role and make this social gesture, you’re exposing a truth out to the world which the world may come back and respond to… and respond they do.
We were walking back from dinner in Brunswick, which happens to be a lovely progressive hipster part of Melbourne: one of the most hipster cities in the world. As we were walking, a group of rowdy young men approached. The kind of boisterous hooligans that I might have been scared of when I was back in high school a quarter century ago.
The thought crossed my mind: do I keep my hand where it is or let go? If I expose us as a gay couple I invite any number of responses depending on what’s going on for those boys. It’s unfortunately a calculation we have to make often with every interaction and every chance encounter: who knows what and how might they react? Am I in danger?
For example, Tim is reluctant to travel with me to Fiji or Singapore because he wants to be able to hold hands without the fear of being put in jail, but I am far more optimistic.
For me it in this moment was an easy decision: I’m not going to change how I behave. They could deal with it, and I could deal with them.
Sure enough, as they passed by one of them remarked incredulously “he’s a faggot?”. I squeezed Tim’s arm “don’t mind them” I said quietly.
“Oh, I don’t” he responded breezily. “You’ll notice they waited till they were well past us to say that, and besides, it wasn’t a challenge, more of a question. Anyway, for all we know, one of them is secretly gay himself and it would be good for him to see a positive role model after all.”
And in some ways I hope it does. I hope that maybe seeing two happy confident grown men just being themselves will maybe change some hearts and minds and help others feel more comfortable with themselves. That’s what pride is all about after all.
We still have a long way to go. That’s not the only time I have been called a faggot in Brunswick. The other time a gentleman took the time to lean out of his car window to declare us faggots as he drove by. To which I responded by flipping him the bird as all good Christian boys do.