Sunday, February 18, 2007

Public Displays of Affection.

I was just reading an article in the Times about same-sex public affection, about how it's still kind of a big deal. I guess the discussion was spurred by that Snickers commercial. I don't have a TV, but I saw the commercial later on YouTube. What is the deal with American heterosexual men being so grossed out by two guys kissing each other? It's so childish. It's like the whole cooties thing in 2nd grade.

When I was maybe 21, living in the East Village, I said good night to a guy I'd spent the evening with -- I don't remember who it was, I think maybe we only had the one date -- on the corner of Broadway and 10th St. We talked for a few minutes, and then we kissed before he went west and I went east. I lived on 10th between First and Avenue A at the time. I had walked about a block east when a car drove by, windows open, full of young men who shouted "faggot!" and threw bottles at me. None of the bottles hit me, but they shattered on the sidewalk at my feet and scared the hell out of me. The car kept moving, and I kept walking. I'd lived in New York long enough to know that it's usually not a good idea to let your attacker know you're afraid. But they went around the block and came at me again, throwing more bottles. This time I ran like hell, turning right on 3rd Avenue (it's one way the other way, so the car wouldn't be able to follow me). I ducked into a store for a few minutes and then ran all the way home. I was terrified. Much more terrified than I was either time I was mugged in New York, because this attack was personal.

Many years later, J. and I often held hands when we walked down the street in the East Village, where I still lived. This was in that period of infatuation in a relationship when it's just really hard not to. I don't remember any negative reaction, but, more than once, people we passed smiled and gave us a thumbs up or some other sign of approval. It was nice, I guess, but it made us self-conscious. Maybe nobody was throwing bottles at us, but we didn't blend in. It takes a real toll on same-sex couples to know that every time they express affection toward each other they are committing an act of civil disobedience.

And now, Z. I don't think I mentioned before that he is younger than me. By about 15 years, which is a whole generation, at least down here. He is completely unself-conscious about expressing affection in public. Last week, on Valentine's Day, he took my hand and held it across the table in a restaurant without the least bit of shame. I almost cried when he sat next to me on a couch in a crowded coffeeshop, put his hand on my knee, asked me for a kiss. And I didn't see anybody around us react. They didn't roll their eyes, or look away. Nothing. And we're in Texas. I almost cried because I realized that I didn't feel afraid, or ashamed. I didn't feel like a freak. Okay, I was still self-conscious enough to be looking at the moment and taking note of my feelings. But I do that anyway.

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