Tender to the Touch

Tender to the Touch

Subject: Should I compromise?

My cousin has been completely behind me about being gay. I told her about eight years ago and at the time she even bought a book about it for me. I now live a block from her with my boyfriend and she is married with a four-year-old. We spend a lot of time together.

But I was blown away last week when she asked me not to touch my boyfriend in front of her son. I don’t really show a lot of affection with my boyfriend in public. We don’t kiss or snuggle or even hug. Just maybe now and then put hands on the shoulder. Now I feel like I gotta watch my back and think about this all the time. She said she wanted to wait until her son was the right age to let him know these topics.

She is valuable to me and I suppose I am willing to compromise.

What should I do?

Re: Should I compromise?

I’m going to be hard-assed on this one and demand that you not compromise in any way, shape, or form. This is bullshit, to put it simply, and your cousin needs to be confronted with it head on.

Truth is, she was never “completely behind” you about being gay, in the sense that she has never really accepted homosexuality. She loved you and she clearly wanted to be supportive of you, but she still thinks gayness is something that should remain unseen and as a dirty secret. I couldn’t care less if you did kiss your boyfriend in front of the family––like heterosexual couples do when they greet one another or are just snuggling up to a fire. The fact that you’re not even being so affectionate in public and still she doesn’t want you to “touch” is completely outrageous.

Here’s what you need to do: Tell her, politely but confidently, that you are not going to behave any differently than you behave every day of your life as an open gay man who has overcome discrimination and isn’t going to bow to other people’s bigotry. Tell her that her son is living in a world where, finally, a more complicated understanding of sexuality is surfacing, and that in the media and popular culture he will be exposed to gay people all the time. Tell her that she can raise him any way she likes––including keeping him guarded from that popular culture––but that you are not going to be party to it.

Since she has brought this up, it’s not out of line for you to say that a more healthy way to bring up her son would be to just not make a big deal of it, and to answer questions straightforwardly and briefly if he asks, and to always stand up against discrimination. If she can’t do that, then she refuses to grapple with homophobia, and doesn’t value your relationship enough to finally do so––in which case, you shouldn’t have her in your life. I have a feeling that, as long as you’re nice about it and give her room to realize how wrong-headed she’s being, she’ll come to realize that you’re right and won’t want to lose you.

Subject: Touching in public

Fell in love recently, great guy. We’re both in our 30s. I’m not one of these people who like to maul a guy in public. Couples who are practically blowing one another on a street corner piss me off. But I do like holding hands, maybe kissing now and then. My new BF doesn’t like to have any contact at all in public! In the street or in a department store, he moves away if I try to hold his hand and this happens even in a café or somewhere that is mostly gay people. Does he have a lot of repressed homophobia or am I being an exhibitionist type?

Re: Touching in public

No matter how much gay people become accepted, homophobia is so entrenched in society that you can get your head bashed in by holding hands in the wrong neighborhood––or even in the gay ghetto, where we all hear about bashers coming into the neighborhood and going on violent tirades. So, I’m not going to blithely say that everyone who doesn’t want to hold hands in public is caving in to internalized homophobia. I think you have to be strategic, and your safety is first and foremost.

That said, we all take risks in our lives, and that’s certainly true when it comes to love. I see couples holding hands on the streets in neighborhoods that even I would be quite careful about––and I see them being laughed at and jeered at––and still, they walk by, proudly. That’s the only way, in fact, that we’re truly going to sensitize people to homosexuality. When you see people being so bold, you have less sympathy for those who won’t hold hands even in a relatively safe environment.

And come on, how risky is it to hold hands in a gay café? The “safety” argument only goes so far––and I’m not sure if your boyfriend has given you that argument or not––and there is a difference between mauling one another, as you say, and just holding hands or touching now and then. You need to actually talk about this with your new beau––rather than just taking physical cues––and hear out his reasons while you let him know how you feel.

Email Mike Signorile at Mike@Signorile.com.

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