The power and peril of holding hands

Irish gay rights advocate and drag queen Rory O’Neill, aka Panti Bliss, is an amazing speaker. We’d posted an earlier speech by Panti about homophobia that went super-viral a while back.

This time, Panti is speaking at a TED conference about a fear gay people have that straight people never experience: getting gay-bashed for holding hands in public.

It’s an amazing, and spot-on, observation. Gay people, in most cities, have to think twice, and then look around, before holding hands or showing any other form of affection in public. Why? Because we might be assaulted verbally or physically.

Panti Bliss

Panti Bliss

I’ve only held hands with a guy in public once. It with an Italian guy I was seeing, we were in NYC, and it was around midnight. He was more afraid than I, but we both looked around before daring to hold hands.

I’ve also danced in public with a guy — in a heterosexual context, as it were — once. And I mean really danced, formal dancing, as in the Waltz. We were at the Kennedy Center He was more out than me at the time, but I’d always wanted to dance at the annual Mostly Mozart festival, and was seeing someone at the time, so we did.

Almost immediately he got too scared, and we were forced to stop.

And that is pretty much it for my public experiences displaying affection with another guy. So I get where Panti Bliss is coming from.

I’ve written a lot about how we gays have “won.” (And we have.) Some of my activist friends get their panties in a bunch (pun intended) whenever I write this. They say we have much to accomplish before victory is at hand, that young gays are still at risk, that the gays on the international front still face life and death discrimination in Africa and Russia and beyond. And they’re right.

But the fact remains that we’ve accomplished nearly every big-ticket item on our agenda — from marriage to lifting Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell — and they were items that most of us never expected to accomplish in our lifetimes. And while that hardly means that our agenda is now complete, it does mean that we’ve passed a tipping point where American society and politics have no choice but to eventually accept us, and our demands for full equality. To me, that’s victory — even if it’s not yet time to fold up the tents.

But I still worry about holding hands in public in any city. And while I believe the fear is warranted, I suspect it’s something so ingrained in me that likely won’t go away with ease.

Here’s a snippet of Panti Bliss’ speech, transcribed by Towleroad.

“Everyday I am jealous of straight people because that tiny intimate expression of affection has never once been mine…I am jealous of that because gay people do not get to hold hands in public without first considering the risk…We look around to see where are we, who’s around, what kind of place is it…are there bunches of lads outside a pub? … I’m 45 years old and I have never once casually, comfortably, carelessly held hands with a partner in public… I’m 45 and I’m fed up of putting up so I’m not anymore. I’m 45 years old and I’m not putting up anymore because I don’t have the energy anymore. Putting up is exhausting. I’m 45 years old and I’m not putting up anymore because I don’t have the patience anymore. I was born 6 months before the Stonewall riots and you have had 45 years to work out that despite appearances, I am just as ordinary, just as unremarkable, and just as human as you are. I’m 45 years old and I’m not asking anymore. I am just being…human being.”

CyberDisobedience on Substack | @aravosis | Facebook | Instagram | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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