Ruth, 39 years old, identifies as lesbian female, in a 4½ year relationship with lesbian woman. 

We got engaged a year and a half ago, and we were supposed to get married in the summer, obviously with the Covid pandemic that didn’t happen. And we went to a place that we went to quite early on in our relationship. So, it means quite a lot for us and we took lots of pictures of different things and this one was one that we took on the beach. Before Carol and I got together, in previous relationships I never held hands with anybody. I never really felt that comfortable with public displays of affection of any kind. It’s only really that we’ve been together that Carol is a lot more confident about it than I am, and has had very different experiences. She’s a quite tactile person and I struggle sometimes with that. And because she’s the only person I want to have, I want to be able to hold her hand and not feel uncomfortable. I want to be able to be affectionate, and sometimes it just really feels that I can’t. But this felt like quite an intimate moment for us.

When I grew up, I kind of was bullied at school. So, I was quite confident internally in who I was, but when I was about 15, I got bullied at school and it forced me to come out to my family and I remember my mom saying that it was fine, but not to tell people. And that always kind of stuck with me a bit. It was almost a bit like an internalized shame of like “well I’m happy with this, but I can see that it might be dangerous”. So, it’s always stuck with me. And I’ve always been quite a lot bigger as well. I was always really conscious of people staring at me anyway. And so the whole holding hands thing was almost like bringing even more attention to myself … For me, it felt really about not feeling safe, but also just giving people another reason to possibly look at me, which I didn’t want. I have had comments, or like people either moving away, or you can tell from people’s body language, or a few times a had people just shouting out ‘lesbians’, which is like stating the obvious. You know, that kind of like sneering thing.

Carol would like to hand hold hands all the time, but I really struggle. So that day on the beach, was meant to be our wedding day. There were people on the beach. We weren’t there on our own, but I think there was just so much love between us that day. She is absolutely the love of my life and I’ve never felt the same way about anybody else. And you know, I know it upsets her when we don’t hold hands. And I need to get past some of that, and maybe be able to push myself just to ignore other people because it does matter to me that it upsets her when I drop her hand.

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