Land of the Free, Part 4: Public Affection

Over the past few years there has been an ongoing debate about the rights of homosexual couples to various property rights and various social standings: Marriage and all that jazz.

The “issue” of homosexuality is something I’ve always struggled with, because it doesn’t really seem that relevant to me. I suppose I only know a handful of homosexuals, but I find it difficult to differentiate them from the mass of people I know on the basis of their sexual orientation. I guess they’re just people to me, which is possibly helpful for some, but unhelpful for those who define themselves through their sexuality. I was reassured by Lynne’s comment on her queer writing identity. I suspect that in New Zealand, if my position is not the majority, it is at least a sizeable minority.

Well, it’s the height of summer at the moment, and so I have had some casual strolling about Wellington’s sunny spots, and I have seen many couples clinched in tight embrace, with various levels of mutual exploration. Not a single couple I saw was homogenous with regard to sex. And actually, I didn’t even see any men holding hands with men or women with women; and I have actually been looking specifically for this phenomena, because of my experiences in San Francisco.

In San Francisco, I saw more than a handful of men holding hands, women holding hands, and caught glimpses of even more embarrassing displays of affection. There didn’t seem to be any shame on display, any more than I felt or showed when holding Clare’s hand, or stealing a kiss in transition. And why should there be?

However, once I noticed it there, it seemed quite common. I realise that scale plays a significant part – there are more people, so for any given behaviour, you’ll see more examples. I wondered though, whether there wasn’t something deeper at work in this difference. The USA as a whole is far far less tolerant of same-sex relationships than we are here in New Zealand, and I didn’t see any same-sex hand-holding in Nevada or Arizona. San Francisco then, seems to be an aberration, and that thought started to make me a little uncomfortable, because it implies that holding hands in a casual way with the person you love is not strictly an expression of affection, but a visible political statement about their equality. I’m not at all sure how I feel about it when regarded in that light.

However, as I say, this is and generally has been a non-issue in my mind, so I’m not really that familiar with all the ins and outs of it. In terms of potential modes of protest, this seemed deeply innocuous. Except that I don’t think I’d like to have a component of protest embedded in my relationship in that way. I don’t suppose anyone would. And of course, I was not quite bold enough to ask any of the couples I saw about it.

Today when I was walking home from the supermarket I finally saw two women holding hands while they walked in the opposite direction from me. And without much basis in sociological or psychological research, I thought they looked happy and I hoped that nobody else thought it interesting in the slightest.

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