Yesterday when my girlfriend and I were walking to a flat viewing we were called ‘disgusting’ by a man, sitting with a girl. He waited until after we’d gone far enough away so he didn’t have to say it to our faces. We both went a bit silent. I made a joke about Pride month being over so men had a lot of pent up hate to get out. A few minutes later she made the same joke – either she hadn’t heard me or she forgot. When we went around the corner we’d stopped holding hands. She said it was because I was too tall but I’d hardly grown five centimetres on that five minute walk.
We got on with our day, saw the flat (it wasn’t quite right) and went home. I made dinner, we watched Love Island and I shouted a lot at the TV (Georgia, my brave little queen!). We’d forgotten about it, moved on. But today, when I read the headline: Two-thirds of LGBT people fear holding hands in public I started crying.
We swallow so much for fear of making a scene
We swallow so much for fear of making a scene. I squash it down into my gut and let my mind drift until I forget, because everything’s fine now for women like me! I live in London, I’m femme, I’m accepted and loved by my family and friends. When I’m on my own most people don’t clock me as a lesbian – I find that frustrating when it comes to visibility but it’s also a safety net that protects me. So I think everything is fine. But when it’s not, and you remember, it all spills out in embarrassing wet hot tears. Or anger. Impotent rage.
This Pride month there has been a lot of talk about visibility and what it means now. That it’s less of an urgency and more of an essential – we shouldn’t have to demand to be a part of your landscape as we are already woven in. That what is actually needed is concrete support for the most marginalised in the LGBTQ+ community: trans and NB people who face violence for needing to pee; those fighting a wealth of mental health problems against the backdrop of a disintegrating NHS; the LGBTQ+ people of colour who face racism from within their community. These are concrete, urgent problems that need to be addressed and talk of visibility can feel… superficial almost. Superfluous.
Being a visible part of the LGBTQ+ community still carries danger. There is a marked difference between a clothing brand changing their logo to include a rainbow, or changing their name in some puny way (hi DeLOVEroo) and walking home next to your partner of five years, scared to hold hands lest you are spotted by someone who thinks its still socially acceptable to hate you. Someone who uses your difference from them as a fuel for hatred, and violence – and holds their position of power over you in a deliberate threat. Knowing that acts of intimacy that straight people can indulge in without a care in the world are something we have to keep secret.
The statistic announced today doesn’t shock me. I don’t think it shocks a single LGBTQ+ person I know. There is no universal LGBTQ+ experience except that when we go out, visibly queer, into the world, we will encounter people who hate us, and will happily tell us or show us through violence, and never think about it again.
It shouldn’t be up to the two thirds of us to shield ourselves from the world just in case – it should be up to that woman, sitting next to that man yesterday, to call him out. I want straight people who call themselves allies online to try and pre-empt this, as well as supporting us afterwards. Straight people may be surprised by this. Even if they aren’t, it shouldn’t take stories of harassment for them to believe this still happens. I shouldn’t have to digest this fear and upset and a teensy bit of self-loathing to get through the day.
We still have a long way to go until being out in the world feels truly safe. I just wanna hold my girlfriend’s hand in public like everyone else.