Holding hands and stroking, so completely without fear in the neck

Holding hands and stroking, so completely without fear in the neck

2023-05-28 17:35:38

Like many queer people, our author has qualms about showing affection in public. Because cuddling openly is still not safe.

Holding hands and stroking: so completely without fear in the neck?Jay Daniel Wright for Berliner Zeitung at the weekend

Hold hands. Stroke the back. Kiss at a red light. Put your hand on your thigh on the subway. In English there is a term for such acts: “PDA”, public display of affection – in German: public display of affection.

PDA sounds technical, but it’s a helpful concept. Many different actions can be summarized under this. Basically PDA means: We show that we are close to each other. It is about “affection”, i.e. affection. Not necessarily about kissing wildly in public. PDA consists of the small gestures that feel natural. Showing affection in public encompasses the many little touches that people in love indulge in.

This is by no means a matter of course for queer couples or constellations. I’d like to convince myself that I’m relaxed about it. That I’m easygoing when my partner and I hold hands. That I feel 100 percent safe when he gets off the train in front of me and I put my hand on his back. But that’s not true. I notice that especially when I see other couples. Like the two guys who walked in front of me the other night when I was taking the dog for the last lap around the block. Then I secretly look around to see if there is any danger, because I have a dog with me, which would probably be useless in a real danger situation. But I want to protect her. I am in solidarity. I kind of lend them my fear. Because you can never be too careful.

defiance and arrogance

It’s been more than ten years. I was dead drunk on the way home with my then boyfriend. I think we peed next to each other on a fence somewhere in Neukölln. Someone walked past us and looked straight at us. I thought at the time it would be a good idea to yell, “Don’t look like that, we’re gay! Got a problem?” I have no idea what was going on. Drunken high spirits? What surprised me was the reaction. “What is your problem? I’m gay myself!” I didn’t have a clever answer to that, I was flabbergasted. We were basically checked out.

Thinking back on that experience makes me laugh. Did I really have to mark my territory so clearly? What stuck with me even more was that I can’t know why someone is looking at me. I just misinterpreted the situation. My behavior was not without danger. What if the person reacted aggressively? What if the situation had escalated?

I think back then I was a lot more defiant and thought I was invulnerable, that I could always defend myself. I was just growing out of the violent experiences of my teenage years. My defiance was a reaction to the past. If someone wanted something, I could counter, and even if someone didn’t want me, I would counter. Simply because I didn’t want to be afraid anymore. As a teenager, I was insulted, ostracized, and thrown at with snowballs. I already had that defiance in me. I was carrying an Eastpack backpack that had a rainbow flag emblazoned on it with “PROUD TO BE GAY” written underneath it. I was only thirteen then. On the way to school I was the smallest pride march in the world, every day. My English teacher then took me aside and asked if I knew what was written on my backpack. I agree. She nodded appreciatively and that was it with the support.

Always anticipate the violence

More than direct violence, that bothers me Possibility of violence in the back of my mind. That I’m careful about how I express myself, that I always scan, that I classify every look that crosses mine. I adapt my behavior to the environment, and if I don’t know the environment, I’m all the more cautious. Sometimes I forget myself.

In February my partner and I were in Greece for a week, I hardly thought about Athens. We went to the mountains for a couple of nights, stood in front of the train station to get our bearings, I wanted to kiss him on the cheek. A reflex. “I don’t know if this is such a good idea,” he said, looking around. I saw the rocks of Meteora in the background, cell phone in hand, hoping for signal, and rowed back. “You’re right,” I said. We didn’t know how the environment would react to a queer couple. I don’t mean to invoke stereotypes, but to say: we weren’t sure how sure we were. I still had this insecurity after my return, it controlled my movements, made me shy away from my impulses.

Sometimes I imagine what it would be like to just take his hand and not have a fiber in my body afraid of the violence. To feel unobserved. The stress isn’t always on the surface, but it’s never completely gone. I stay vigilant. However, caution with PDA is not the only expression of this vigilance. Even when I’m alone, I’m careful. How many resources my brain expends trying to figure out if my surroundings are safe. This vigilance is a skill I had to develop in order to survive. Sounds dramatic, but it’s true. And I’m not alone in that.

In preparation for this text, I asked in an Instagram story about PDA experiences among queer people. The answers were sobering. Some didn’t want to do that from the start, others said they only dared to do it in certain places. One person asked me in a voice message whether cultural factors play a role. Does being socialized in Germany also mean being more shy about tenderness in public? May be. But the queer vigilance we’ve developed to guard against violence, it always goes along with it. Every day she takes us by the hand, she wants to protect us.

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