By; Dani Langevin – Lesbian Columnist – November, 2010
Public Displays of Affection (PDA), I see them all the time. Students hugging in the halls, people old and young holding hands, giving each other a quick kiss goodbye or the worst is those teens with little to no respect for themselves or anyone else around them who deem it necessary to shove their tongues so far down each other’s throats that they’re probably ticking the other’s colon.
I personally do not have a problem with the handholding, arms around waists or even a quick peck on the cheek or lips. However, you will never see me engaging in any of those activities in public except for Provincetown, Massachusetts gay Mecca.
Even though I live in a state that legalized gay marriage four years ago and I am legally married to my wife and partner of almost thirteen years, I am not comfortable with exercising my right to tasteful and subtle PDA. It comes down to a very simple reason. I am concerned about people’s reaction and do not want to be subject to any kind of uncomfortable snickering or gay bashing as a result of me openly displaying my affection for my wife.
Quite frankly, I hate myself in this respect and I hate society for making me feel this way.
My wife is quite the opposite. She doesn’t think twice about reaching over the table in a restaurant and grabbing hold of my hand, which I quickly pull away. She often times rubs the small of my back as we walk or tries to hold my hand. Every time she does, I feel my chest tighten, my skin crawl and my eyes immediately start darting about hoping no one caught sight of her boldness or, worse yet, will react to it. I love my wife.
She is my most favorite person to spend time with. I am innately proud and honored to have her as my significant other and I am embarrassed by my adverse physical reaction each time she shows me affection in public. Is this my fault or society’s? Who is in the majority when it comes to PDA- my wife or me?
I decided to poll friends both in and outside of the gay community to see what their thoughts were. Resoundingly, most of them didn’t have any problem with PDA. It was pretty much unanimous that subtlety was the key. Everyone had no problems with hand holding, leaning against a loved one or a quick peck of the lips, but nobody wanted to see the swapping of saliva or pawing at unnamed body parts. The sexuality of the couple was not an issue either. What did stand out is that gay/lesbian couples were less comfortable with engaging in PDA than straight couples. In fact, my wife is the only member of the gay community I spoke with that is comfortable with it at all. Not one of my gay/lesbian friends was willing to engage in any type of PDA at all.
One friend, a gay man, said, “PDAs between same-sex couples, especially between two men, are not “the norm.” I don’t like that I feel this way, but I don’t want to call this type of attention to myself in public.” Another friend, a lesbian said, “I have concerns of the negative reactions that can happen and my wife is very concerned and does not like any kind of PDA!!”
So, it appears that my wife is the big exception. She has no problem holding hands, leaning against me, or sharing a gentle caress. She does draw the line at kissing. She didn’t realize how uncomfortable I was with PDA (although I thought I had made it clear) and says she will be mindful and respectful of my feelings when out in public, and she has. I can see her checking herself occasionally when we are out and she starts to reach for me. I feel bad. But I just can’t help my fear of public reaction.
So, why is it that the majority of gay people I spoke with are so apprehensive at letting the world see their love for their partner? Does it come from within or without? Is this society’s poison or our own inner discomfort? I can’t answer any of these questions. I do know, however, that seeing a rash of teenagers feel that the only way to deal with gay bashing is to kill their selves does not help. Neither does the overall acceptance of using ‘gay’ as a negative term, i.e., “That’s so gay,”
We all have come a long way, but the high road is hard to climb and we’ve got a rough row ahead of us. I’m going to try to reach out and hold my wife’s hand in a public arena while squelching my instinct to run and hide from whatever reactions it may instill. I’d like to be proven wrong. I’d like to know that our society is tolerant, and loving and free.