James, 24 years old, identifies as non-binary trans masculine and gay. Currently in a 6-month relationship with an individual who identifies as a bisexual cis male.
For me there are so many different experiences that happen on trains. Normally the homophobic abuse that I encounter is on trains and travel, which is frustrating because I’m someone who likes to travel quite a lot. I think there’s an added danger there because normally where you’re going, you might not know on the other side what the homophobic abuse may be, what’s acceptable and what isn’t. And so, you know, you have to put an extra barrier up.
So, the first example would be when I was with my female partner, and I hadn’t physically transitioned at the time so people were reading me as female, and the abuse that we received then around intimacy and holding hands was more sexualized than it was anger. Like, I found that being a gay man now, it’s a lot around ‘don’t do that’. It’s like an anger response, whereas being read as two women it’s a sexualized response and it’s like a knowing look. And it’s people say something like “alright darlin?” or, you know, “can I join in”. Off the cuff comments. You wouldn’t get that I feel with two men.
The second one was when I was also with my female partner but, you know, maybe two or three years into my transition. And going you know on that line quite a lot, and didn’t experience anything. It was absolutely fine to hold hands. And look over at other people and they will be doing the same thing and that’s absolutely fine; it’s not controversial at all. So, to go from that and feeling quite safe on that line again, to now being in a gay relationship and suddenly that abuse has started up again. It was quite a shock. And something to readjust to, especially as I say, because it was quite a different and more aggressive response. It was almost like encountering it for the first time, even though it was something that was quite frequent.
I think my response in terms of how I felt was the same. I felt a light sense of anger. I don’t get angry very often, but I felt anger and frustration at the situation; I felt it was very unjust and unfair. I felt scared for my wellbeing and the protection of my partner as well. And so I think, yeah, the responses are very similar in terms of what happened. It’s just that the situation’s slightly different. I think it’s a quite natural adrenaline rush, fight or flight response. And the more that these happen, you know, I don’t really think you get used to it either necessarily. Like each time comes with its own risks. Most people in the train have their heads in their phones or they are faced away or they’ve got their face in their book or something. So normally, people don’t really care about other people’s business, apart from when you’re doing something that upsets their sense of normality. And that’s when two queer people can come into the space and apparently their love causes a threat, so much so that they will stop what they’re doing to tell you that. Or to give you a look of disgust. And I think nowadays it takes quite a lot for someone to take a look up from the phone and look up from what they’re doing, and so to go to that effort I find quite astonishing.
Intimacy comes quite naturally to me. I’m a very intimate person. I like to feel close to my partner. Because I was in a so-called straight relationship for nearly four years. Yeah, it didn’t come with any risks that, and so it comes very naturally to me. Then only when I put my arm around him or held his hand or touched his leg, maybe that’s when I police myself and then go, “Is this a risky situation or should I not be doing this? Or has he moved away and does he feel uncomfortable?” So, you really have to tap into those types of sort of micro elements or responses to figure out whether this is safe or not and almost look over your shoulder. You have to do a very quick risk assessment about what’s around you and what potentially could happen. I mean, we’ve been in that space and held hands and then someone else is coming or we’ve heard something, and we’ve broken apart; you can’t take risks on these things. So, the intimacy comes naturally. But in the same way, so does the risk assessment.