Michael, 35 years old, identifies as gay male. In a relationship of 9 years with his partner who identifies as a gay male.
This picture of the bears in the car. This kind of links to how things play out behind closed doors. When it comes to us trying to express what we are outside of our own realm, we often picture ourselves like affectionately through the image of a bear for some reason – not anything to do with ‘bears’ of the gay world – but like through the image of a teddy bear that, for some reason that’s almost like our soft side, I suppose. They’re like affectionate and cuddly. So I think that sometimes when we think of our relationship affectionately, It is not through human representation it’s through this representation of bears. Whereas you go to other people’s houses and you’ll see pictures of them. They might go to a photo studio and they’ll have a photo with like the woman and the man, and they’ll be like holding each other, or they’ll be posed, and it’s like they are in love. Whereas our relationship is completely different. We don’t do that at all. We don’t really have photos together, apart from our wedding photos. You would only often see one person in a portrait photograph. That’s what we’re comfortable with. Not that holding hands is necessarily sexual but it’s not necessarily how we want to be perceived. If you’re going to put photos up around your house that people coming over could see, then, for us, that has a meaning and we know what it means, but for someone else it might be ‘what the hell is that all about; two Teddy bears?’. They wouldn’t know anything behind it; it’s completely non sexual. There’s a definite want to keep it private. We don’t choose stuff that would display what happens in private.
Me and my partner were walking in the woods one day, and we normally don’t hold hands or express ourselves physically normally, anyway. However, in this instance, the woods were particularly empty, and we just thought “okay, you know what, we’ll hold hands. Let’s play like normal people do and let’s hold hands”. And so we were walking along holding hands, and we approached a corner and we couldn’t see beyond it, but there was a family coming around, and so the family turns the corner and they saw us automatically relinquish the grasp so to speak. And when they walked past, when they got close enough to make eye contact. They looked at us, they gave us a specific look by way of saying ‘Oh you didn’t have to do that; we’re cool, we’re tolerant” sort of thing. A facial expression like ‘we saw what you did; you didn’t have to do it, because we’re cool’. And it just shows that, still, your experience is different, because I think if we were like a straight couple and all of a sudden someone turned the corner and we decided to not hold hands anymore, they wouldn’t know why we did it, there wouldn’t be a clear reasons to why we weren’t holding hands, because it’s private, but people just assume that it’s like ‘Oh, we stopped holding hands because we are gay and we feel some sort of shame related to that’. It’s not necessarily the case, but I don’t think that it would have been commented on if we were a straight couple. For us, it was just a private moment where we try something like holding hands with each other that we wouldn’t have done like if the circumstances meant it wasn’t private at that time, and as soon as it wasn’t private anymore, and the situation changed then we weren’t comfortable with it.
But, it is probably rooted in the fact of hiding relationships, I think, and trying to keep things low key. I think that a lot of the behaviour that we have now in public is probably based on and trying not to be identified as a couple, which we’ve had to do in the past. I’m not going to say that that has no effect, it definitely does and so it’s just those behaviours that we have learnt work for us. By not holding hands in public, we don’t feel that that detracts too much from our relationship, but at the same time it’s advantageous in the fact that you’re not going to be identified as a couple. It’s not really ever been part of the foundation of the relationship. It wasn’t ever built on that sort of symbol. And you didn’t even see it very much. It was just never something within your realm, and you understood that. Gay affection was very often portrayed behind closed doors, whether that be within a private residence or a LGBTQ safe space, like a club or a bar. It was behind a door. There was some form of guard, and so to perform that kind of thing in public in the open, was not something you saw growing up, neither on the most liberal TV really. It was never the easy thing, it was always the hard thing. The assumption is that you will get flack for it. Do you need that flack? That you would get from holding hands? Probably not.