EILE’s Andy Cast writes on why a gesture as simple as holding hands can help fight everyday homophobia, and how you can get help
Recent studies have found that heterosexual people are more accepting of homosexual people if they know someone who is gay. Not altogether surprising really is it? The old saying goes ‘familiarity breeds contempt’, when actually it couldn’t be further from the truth. When we get to know something it becomes everyday and commonplace. It ceases to become scary or threatening because we are familiar with it, we know what it will do and understand its implications.
Consider, for example, the first time you meet a strange dog. At first you are probably wary of it because you don’t know if it will bite you or lick you. But the more you see it, the more you begin to understand how it behaves. You see it interacting with others without hurting them, and you feel more comfortable in going up to it to pet it. Now I’m not for one moment suggesting that gay people are like dogs (although there are some very cute puppies out there) but you get my general drift.
The same can be said for other types of experiences, both positive and negative. We tend to become acclimatised the more we are subjected to certain behaviours. This is why there are so many arguments against allowing children to watch violent films, for fear they will begin to see violence as a normal thing. Police can become unsympathetic to victims because they see so much crime it becomes the norm.
As a society, we expect so much more than we ever had before because the bar is raised by awareness of what we could have. I think back to my childhood (which isn’t all that long ago thank you very much) and I remember being pretty satisfied with a camping trip in the UK as my family holiday. These days a lot of children experience and expect a holiday abroad each year, and feel aggrieved if they don’t get one – because it has become a normal occurrence, and what they are used to.
Therefore it makes perfect sense that when straight people see same-sex couples frequently it becomes a normal accepted part of life for them. They see us for what we are – the same as them. We hurt the same, we laugh the same, we die the same and we love the same – with just one small gender oriented difference. That’s what makes the fight for equality so galling for me. It sometimes feels like we are being treated as a different species when we are just the same and deserve the same rights.
One of my friends recently posted on Facebook about seeing a gay couple holding hands in the middle of town –DURING THE DAY (Shock, horror!!) His immediate thought was “Aww how sweet”, and his second thought was to look around to see who was watching and what they might be thinking. How can we live in a society which makes us feel so uncomfortable or fearful for two people expressing their love for one another by holding hands?
The Irish drag artist, Panti Bliss, has become quite famous for her soliloquys about gay rights and equal marriage. In one of her videos, she talks about feeling jealous when she sees a straight couple holding hands, because she doesn’t feel able to do so. I can relate to this. My internalised homophobia, and fear of what might happen if people see me holding hands with another man, is quite crippling. I would give anything to be able to feel comfortable holding hands with my partner in the street. It saddens me to feel that I can’t.
Regular readers will know I didn’t come out until I was 34, and, before I accepted my sexuality, I did what many closeted men do, and got myself into a marriage with a woman in an effort to be “normal”. I used to hold hands with my wife in public, without a second thought. Now please don’t think for one minute that I am a fan of inappropriate public displays of affection. Maybe I’m a prude, but I really don’t need to see anyone with their tongue down someone else’s throat, regardless of their genders. When you’re expressing that much lust you’re probably best to do it in private.
From childhood we are brought up holding hands with our parents – it shows we are cared about and looked after. Holding hands is a loving, caring gesture and a personal symbol of connection. The fact I don’t feel able to hold hands with my male partner is upsetting and, as Panti says, a sign I am being oppressed. I accept it is mostly self-oppression, but it is also oppression inflicted on me by the society I have been raised in. I don’t think I would be subject to a homophobic attack if I did it, but I’m sure I would be stared at. Again, not because people would necessarily have a problem with it. People would stare and look back at us because it is an unusual thing to see. We are naturally curious about things we don’t often see, and we can’t help but take a second look, or stare for just a moment longer, while we process what we are seeing.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful for us to have a society where a man can walk hand in hand with another man, and a woman can walk hand in hand with another woman, without anyone taking a second glance. We need to make everyone feel comfortable about seeing same-sex handholding, and for that to happen, we need to make it a commonplace, everyday occurrence, a familiar sight rather than something that is out of the ordinary.
On May 17th it’s the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia. Wouldn’t it be great to flood Twitter and Facebook, and every social media site, on that day with pictures of couples holding hands – be they straight, gay lesbian, trans, young or old.
So here is my call to action – hold hands in public as much as you can, stand proud and take a selfie – or even better, get a stranger to take a photo for you. Post it on as many social media sites as you can with the hashtag, #holdinghands.
We will only make this world a better place if we make an effort.
[James reminds us that you can find out more details about the campaign at the website (www.holdinghands4equality.org), the twitter account (@hands4equality) and also Facebook page (www.facebook.com/hands4equality). Thanks for that James – M]