Holding Hands: Taking Space in Public Places...
When we were little, most of us were told to hold hands before we crossed the street. It was safer to make that journey intertwined with one another. As we grew older holding hands took on a new meaning. There are hundreds of movie scenes where the girl is sitting palm up at the movies, waiting for the boy to hold her hand or that camera zoom in where it happens as they're walking! I was a teen movie and Rom-com fanatic so I've seen them all! And I always swooned. So why does holding hands with my fiance STILL GIVE ME ANXIETY?
I used to live in a gay space, a safe space, a city named Ferndale, Michigan. It's an extremely inclusive city where rainbow flags adorn every other porch and business. In that 3.88 square miles same sex PDA were commonplace and accepted. The city has multiple rainbow crosswalks, gay bars, an LGBTQ+ resource community center (called Affirmations) and had an openly gay mayor for 3 years!
I walked around loud and proud defiantly thinking, "This is city is OUR safe space and if you don't like what you see here you can move!" But then the person who ended up moving was me. I got a job opportunity in another city and moved to Cleveland to chase my occupational goals.
When I got to Cleveland I found community, made new friends and met my current fiance. But I've also taken a step or two "back into the closet". Holding hands in public is something that most heterosexual couples will never think twice about. They don't have to think about where it's appropriate or worry they'll be harassed for it. People in the LGBTQ+ community unfortunately have a very different experience. It can legitimately become a survival consideration for us.
Kim (my fiance) is one of the most affectionate people I have ever met. The woman lives to snuggle into me on the couch. She likes to walk everywhere arm in arm or holding hands. And EVERY TIME she goes to link her tiny hands to mine, my anxiety goes through the roof! I become hyper aware of how many people are noticing, what their facial reaction is, if they shield their kids' eyes, and if there is any likelihood of a confrontation. I'm ashamed to say it but over the last year, I would devise little ways to occupy my hands. I would text while walking, or make sure that the hand closest to her was the one holding the shopping bags.
We were out shopping yesterday for wedding shoes and as we walked through the mall, Kim did the familiar hand reach. As usual I felt that heat flush up my neck and my pulse quicken. I noticed the kid play area up ahead and the crowd (six feet apart) at Auntie Anne's pretzels and I HELD HER HAND! I held it for all the times I didn't before. I held it for all the times I linked fingers momentarily only to drop them at the first disapproving look. It's Pride Month! We're getting married!! How can I celebrate Pride yet only allow myself to have pride in certain spaces?!?
About an hour later as we were standing in Macy's another (presumably) lesbian couple walked by holding hands. My little heart did leaps as my mind realized that when we take that step and bravely carve out space for ourselves, we encourage others to do the same. To that couple, whoever you are, thank you!
I'm writing this because I needed to share this story. I'm writing this because I know I'm not alone in this fear or this struggle. We need to make space for ourselves in a world where we are the minority. Our former President Barack Obama said it best, "No one in America should ever be afraid to walk down the street holding hands with the person they love." This June, I'm celebrating Pride month by taking space in public places. 💕