Paul, 59 years old, identifies as gay male. In a 13 year relationship (of which 5 years married) with his partner who identifies as gay male.
in terms of public display of affection, holding hands isn’t necessarily the one that we would most easily fall into. For us, it would be more putting your arm around each other, greeting each other with a kiss. And we do that with all our friends as well anyway. But the thing for us, my husband and I, as gay men, I don’t think we ever engage in an entirely spontaneous act of that sort, in public. We have always scanned around to see what our situation is. We always will scan around because we want to make sure we’re safe. So, I guess it’s a risk assessment, is what we engage in. And the escalator; because it’s empty, and there’s just one person and they’re facing away that going up the escalator, that’s a safe situation. There’s no immediate threat to us. We would recognize all the situations of which may be potentially threatening, for example, a group, simply a group of men coming towards us. Men and women as well. And we’d always be a bit wary. That’s based on both our shared and individual experiences of abuse from others.
There are many bad experiences really. We were coming back from Brighton, coming back on the train, and we were holding hands and we’re sitting in a four seat with a two table and seats either side. And a young lad walks past, looks to us, went back then arrived with four of his friends and the five of them came and sat opposite us in the seats. And they weren’t being aggressive, but they were being very intrusive and asking really intrusive questions about us and our relationship and felt quite comfortable doing this, as if, you know, this was something to be kind of observed, kind of situation. They weren’t very old, they were teenagers. We didn’t feel particularly intimidated in any sense at that time. But it was very intrusive, and it was uncomfortable. I didn’t feel threatened particularly by them. In fact, when they got up to leave another passenger in the carriage spoke to them and said, “that’s really rude. You shouldn’t speak to people like that it’s not appropriate”, and then they just insulted her and then walked off. So that was an incident. Numerous times people will say things as they walk past, and we know that if they say something when they’re walking towards you, they’re probably more likely to act out on something. I’ve been assaulted before, hit in the face by someone walking past and then carried on walking. Sometimes it will be they’ll pass you and then they’ll shout something from behind, which means they don’t really intend to act it out and they just want to say something. I have had a bottle thrown at me from a car going past, you know, young men in a car throwing a bottle out of the window and shouting, “faggot” or “queer” or something like that.
I was married before to a woman. Never was I aware when I was married to her that I would, if I put my arm around her, that I would have to think about where I was, who was there, or how would it be seen by someone else. It was a spontaneous act. It was just something that happened. It’s a kind of personal communication between the two of you, affection or love. But us as two men, that personal act always has to be balanced by a public awareness. My view is that I think we will have got some equality when I and my husband can, in any situation, hold hands or kiss without any sorts of comment or staring or abuse. But, we don’t have that.