Monday, February 13, 2017

Hold Tight

The video above is an ad, and well worth watching because it’s so well done and because its message is so important. The bank that made it said in their Facebook post: “Holding hands. It’s one of the most basic gestures of love there is. Yet in 2017 it remains difficult for some people.” They’re right.

When I shared the Facebook version on the AmeriNZ Page, I said:
This is an ad. From a bank. None of that matters, though, because this beautiful and powerful message is far too important. "When you feel like letting go… Hold Tight". That's the only way we can defeat the forces of darkness, because the fear they cause is their most powerful weapon against us.

Heterosexuals have a role to play here, too: If you see a same-gender couple holding hands, SMILE! And mean it. The truth is, though, that you'll probably rarely see it—I almost never do. And that's the problem.
This is not a new subject for me, and the idea of not holding hands in public, or stopping suddenly, is common for me, too. And I absolutely hate that.

Back in 2010, I wrote about living in a small town in provincial New Zealand and said:
But there was one more thing: Anonymity, or rather, the lack of it. One can be invisible in a city, but in a small town everyone knows your business. In Auckland, we felt we could just get on with life, but in Paeroa it was a bit like being “the only gays in the village”, though that was absolutely not literally true. No one ever made us feel uncomfortable (the opposite, in fact), but we were aware that small town gossip can do a lot of harm, and so we probably overcompensated in our efforts to remain private.
The reality, however, is that even the anonymity in cities doesn’t totally fix this. I’m just used to avoiding any public display of affection because I don’t feel safe doing so most of the time. Even in a city.

It annoys me to no end that even heterosexuals who consider themselves allies of LGBT people will express hostility to LGBT people expressing affection publicly. As I said in a post two years ago:
I’ve had people—sympathetic people, mind you—tell me without any intentional irony that they “don’t like public displays of affection of any kind, gay or straight.” I’m sure those people really believe that they feel that way, but they’re deluding or lying to themselves. I say that because all straight people notice gay people who are affectionate in public, and nearly all of them—religious or not, and from all over the political spectrum—don’t like it, even when it’s merely a chaste kiss on the cheek or simply holding hands.

Sure, most heterosexuals don’t say or do anything to express their disapproval, but we LGBT people are quite adept at reading mood—we have to be in order to avoid danger. We can always—always—tell when people disapprove, even when they don’t say a word.

That’s our reality: Always being aware of our surroundings, always being on the lookout for danger, always on guard. There’s nothing straight people can do to fix this, apart from stopping being so uptight.
When I was in university, I took a class on human sexuality (to meet a requirement, oddly enough—and this was 1977 or 78!). The instructor said something I’ve never forgotten. We were talking about homosexuality, and what life was like for us in those days (this was educational for me, since I wasn’t even almost out yet). He talked about going to the movies with his woman, and as they stood in line they were holding hands. “And I realised,” he told us, “that what we were doing was impossible for homosexual couples, and that made me really sad that they couldn’t experience what we could.”

For the late 1970s, that was a surprisingly strong awareness of reality, and the first-ever acknowledgement of heterosexual privilege I’d ever heard—though, of course, it wouldn’t be called that until decades later. But I also found it really depressing—as so many depictions of LGBT people were in those days—because the assumption and expectation were that we had to hide who we were from view, that we couldn’t be ourselves in public, that we couldn’t even hold hands in line at the goddam movies!

Things are so much better now in so many ways—we can marry now and have our human rights protected in many places, including New Zealand and my native Illinois. And yet, I don’t feel safe holding my husband’s hand in public, and I have good reason to feel unsafe. This is a feeling shared by people all over the various social spectra—age, race, economic class, religion, education level, you name it, it’s that common. Until this simple thing changes, the advances we’ve made will remain tenuous.

And that’s why in my Facebook post I talked about the importance of heterosexuals being welcoming and supportive: “SMILE! And mean it,” I said. In 2015, I said: “A smile makes up for a lot of frowns and disapproving glowers.” Like I said, this is not a new subject for me, and neither is my advice to heterosexuals.

But until things change, don’t expect to see me holding hands in public, just as I don’t expect to see other same-gender couples holding hands. I absolutely agree that, in a perfect world, we should “Hold Tight”, but we’re just not anywhere near that perfect world yet. But messages like this video's, and those smiles from supportive heterosexuals, just might make that better world arrive a little faster.

Related: A brilliant Irish anti-bullying campaign used hand-holding to drive home a message about tolerance and combatting anti-LGBT bigotry: Irish anti-bullying campaign (2011)

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