It’s an odd thing holding hands and generally being affectionate in public. For many, it’s a little OTT – something to be avoided by everyone. But when you’re gay, the whole act of a PDA becomes a terrifying act of rebellion.
And a new government UK-wide survey, with more than 108,000 responses, has found that the vast majority of LGBTQ people don’t feel comfortable being affectionate with their partners in public.
Some 68% said they’d avoided holding hands in public with a same-sex partner, while 70% said there had been times when they weren’t open about their sexual orientation.
“I was struck by just how many respondents said they cannot be open about their sexual orientation or avoid holding hands with their partner in public for fear of a negative reaction,” said Theresa May, who last year entered into a deal with the DUP, which opposes equal treatment for LGBTQ people in Northern Ireland.
“No one should ever have to hide who they are or who they love. [The plan will] set out concrete steps to deliver real and lasting change across society,” the PM added.
I remember when I first started going out with my boyfriend about five years ago and I was innocently wide-eyed, holding his hand in public all the time. On our third or fourth date, an excited woman ran up to us to tell us how “brave” we were for doing what we were doing. Bit weird.
Then a few months later, we were on our way to look at a flat in London when a group of kids – all male, maybe 15 or 16 – started laughing and shouting abuse at us. I gripped my boyfriend’s hand tighter as we picked up our pace and walked away. It was humiliating.
The truth is, ever since then, we’re not affectionate with each other in public anymore. You probably wouldn’t even know we were a couple.
But the absolute shittest thing of all is when one of us is going away for work or to visit family and we find ourselves in a perpetually awkward spot: train stations. Because when you’re gay, something as normal as kissing someone goodbye before a trip is a minefield, as we both nervously flick our eyes around to see who’s watching us. We usually end up having a split-second, frosty hug – like you would with your least-favourite aunt at a family get-together.
While this sort of homophobia is nothing compared to more hostile parts of the world, like Chechnya, for example, where men face literal torture and death for their sexuality, it can still be dangerous for LGBT+ people to be publicly out.
Just back in April, four men were arrested for brutally beating up a gay couple holding hands at a pride event in Miami Beach, Florida. This is Miami for Christ’s sake! How much gayer can you get?!
And a stunning short film called ‘Time For Love’ - which went massively viral on Twitter in April - from Scottish poet and filmmaker Sean Lionadh, for BBC Scotland’s The Social, has captured exactly why gay men still don’t feel comfortable holding hands or kissing in public – even in Britain in 2018.
Here it is in all its glory…
We caught up with the man behind the film Sean Lionadh - a 20-year-old from Glasgow.
How much of this film is based on what’s happened in your own life?
“The film is directly rooted in my own experience. ‘I’ve got nothing against gays, but do you have to do it in front of my kids?’ is a direct quote from a woman on Sauchiehall Street in Glasgow who couldn’t get away from me faster once she’d said it. It’s as though she couldn’t face me as an individual, she wanted to keep telling herself we were just a pair of ‘gays’ rather than people with identities and feelings. I remember the rage and the feeling of helplessness because it had all happened so quickly. That left me wondering what I could do to share that feeling with the world.”
What’s the worst homophobia you’ve ever experienced?
“I feel extremely lucky to be living in a country where my life’s not at risk just because I happened to be born gay. But homophobia has a different form here, it’s entrenched in institutions and crawls out through glares or whispers. I remember when I was 14 in Chemistry class, I decided to speak up in defence of gay people against some of my male classmates. ‘What’s wrong with being gay?’ I said.
“Then came the sound of 30 jaws hitting the desks beneath them, followed by a terribly lonely silence. Bigotry and toxic masculinity was so quietly prevalent in my school that it’s strange and alarming to look back.”
What’s life like in Scotland for young LGBT+ people today?
“Scotland is a genuine, kind and beautiful place but there’s also quite a Scottish fear of being vulnerable or affectionate, particularly in public. To me, vulnerability is power, and that’s why I’m so attracted to poetry.”
What’s the one thing you were trying to get across with your film?
“The most important thing to me was that people could view me as an individual, and not as a pair of floating hands or lips. I wanted to make clear that when members of the LGBT+ community hold hands or kiss, it’s not exhibitionism, it’s not an attempt to shove it down your throat, it’s not that we’re going to tie your children to a chair and make them watch Lady Gaga’s Superbowl performance in full. It’s simply one person showing love to another. And that’s always a beautiful thing.
“It would be nice if people could begin to understand the feeling of helplessness and rage that being judged in this way makes you feel. I would say being gay is just a part of who I am, even a small part. But, in certain instances, there seems to be a big issue surrounding that small part of me, and that’s what I was trying to tackle.”
- Sean performs at local poetry nights and is currently developing his first feature film, Nostraphobia, a relationship-horror set entirely in hotel rooms about coming out, and the terror of intimacy.
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(Images: Getty / George Harwood. Short film cinematographer: George Harwood)