Tom, 42 years old, identifies as gay male, in 15 year relationship with gay male.
That’s a field where I go and exercise on sometimes before work. I grew up in the valleys of Wales and in what I would perceive as quite a masculine community. And one characterized by a culture that for the male members of the community which rolls around, the playing of team sports and the consumption of vast amounts of alcohol afterwards and all that kind of stuff. And this particular, day when I was down in that field and kind of just there, that’s when I was kind of really struck by the kind of sports posts in the distance and that feeling of, ‘yeah, this is kind of what it’s always like, so this kind of you know, ‘I’m slightly separate from that at the moment’. But it’s always kind of lurking… So, the symbolism of the posts and the football goals for me achieve a kind of wider representation of what it was like being younger in the community in which I grew up. And how I was kind of making sense of myself then and I think perhaps more importantly than that, how I was making sense of what I’m able to do in the world and what I’m not able to do. So there’s a kind of…the posts and that picture, I suppose, represent a kind of, I want to say surveillance, but it’s not surveillance, but it’s being watched it’s being noticed, it’s being seen. About having to be very careful about what is seen, I suppose, which you know in my adulthood and my rapidly approaching middle age, is still there. It’s not something I’ve been able to shake off. One of the things I joke about as I’ve walked through any park really, is always the fear of any ball kind of rolling towards me and what I would need to do with that ball … and of course that’s a weighing up of how I’m perceived by what I perceive to be a quite heteronormative masculine culture. And in the instance of a ball rolling your way, there’s a moment in time where you’ve got to go, “oh, this is the test here right now…this is the reminder that actually the world you walk through is one that looks at being a man in a different way to the maybe way you do”.
I think there’s always a line. The line that even in the most accepting relationships that you have, there’s always a line that you can’t quite get across. So, you know, whether the line is about the fact that an acceptable relationship is actually a heterosexual family. Or the line is that actually I might play sports with you, but actually, I have a male partner. You know, there’s always a kind of unspoken line that you can’t quite get over to kind of achieve a kind of full sense of equality. So, the line is going into the public space.
This second photo, which is a kind of wooded path… there are times when we can go out what I think of as semi-public space. So places which are maybe quieter, a little bit more remote where you suddenly feel away from the gaze – the G A Z E. So that you can feel a bit more comfortable. But one of the things that I’m always aware of then is always kind of being on alert; hyper vigilant about ‘what if somebody comes around the corner?’ Or ‘what if somebody comes up behind us and I don’t see them’…and we’re holding hands? So that becomes the line, the barrier to being able to enjoy this romantic intimate moment because, actually, when will it be disturbed, and do we need to jump back from that cause you’re worried about what people will think? There have been times when I spotted people and I quickly withdraw. But it’s interesting because I think that’s more my stuff than it is my partner’s stuff.
I do now kind of make more effort to initiate physical contact when we’re out and about. So I’ll do things like maybe put my arm around his shoulder or something like that and that feels safe. It’s interesting that stuff feels safer to me than actually grabbing his hand. I know why that is because potentially, kind of touching in different ways, doesn’t need to be necessarily interpreted as ‘oh here’s two gay men coming’. That whole thing of a hand is an obvious symbol, whereas sometimes I’ll kind of lean on his shoulder, or maybe I put my hand round the small of his back or something. All of those things feel less obvious, in a way, so they feel safer.