The price of love is a life of constant risk and threat assessment for G.A.Y.* people.
There used to be a saying: “Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway.” It’s my mantra for today. I’m going to the vigil in Federation Square this evening. And then to a multifaith service at Melbourne’s St Paul’s Cathedral.
I’ve decided not to drive: instead, I’ll take the metro. I hope there are no crazy people or drunks in my carriage, especially on the way home later, but I don’t really like driving at night any more. My vision is fine, but my ageing eyes are easily dazzled.
I’m not fond of crowds, and not as steady on my feet as I used to be, so I’ll take my collapsible cane. I probably won’t need it, but I’m a little scared of falling. Better to have a prop!
Why am I worrying? It’ll be fine. I hope. But still, going to a mass public G.A.Y.* event in the wake of the massacre in Orlando… it feels less safe.
Not that I ever feel entirely safe at these things, even though I’ve been marching in demos, attending rallies and vigils, speechifying from the podium, writing, broadcasting, blogging, and generally putting myself out there for more than forty years.
It’s hard to explain to straight friends, but no-one G.A.Y.* ever feels entirely relaxed and safe in public.
I took my husband to the station to catch his train this morning. Should we hug? Is it safe to kiss? Is it OK to say, “See you later, my love” out loud? Husband opts for caution, stepping briskly away before I can say or do anything.
We’re having coffee. What can we safely talk about, and what not? There’s a bunch of guys in hi-vis over there. What will they think if I take his hand, call him darling? What might they do? Probably nothing, but better safe than sorry. We’re not as young and strong as we were.
He has to leave for an important appointment. I want to hug him and wish him well. But we don’t. Just in case.
Sometimes he’s overseas for weeks. Sometimes in not very safe places. In those situations, not saying a proper goodbye can be hard.
I’m at the airport to pick him up. He’s been away a month. There’s a bunch of footy fans hooning about. When he finally gets out of customs, I just want to grab him and hold him and plant a big smackeroo on his lips, so happy to have him back.
Better not. Those guys might turn nasty.
I’m in a noisy food court at the shopping centre. A friend calls, and we get into a conversation about Safe Schools. I say, “Have these people forgotten their own childhoods? Of course kids are sexual. Lord, I knew I was a sexual creature by the time I was eight.” I look up to see a covey of mums and dads with bubs, scowling darkly. Better finish up and leave.
It’s no wonder so many of us made fabulous spies. Cloaked in normality, flying under the radar, from our earliest schooldays: schooling our expressions, suppressing our reactions, controlling our public presentation.
I have never, in all our 23 years together, been able to hold my husband’s hand in public. OK, Mrs Straight, you might not want to. But you could, if you wanted.
We sometimes risk a snatched hello or goodbye hug at the airport. But not if the boss is on the same flight. My husband already lost one career to homophobia.
I have never sat in a café or bar with my arm around him, except a gay one. I have never fallen asleep on a bus or a plane or a train with my head on his shoulder. I’m so well trained, even unconscious, I know not to do that. Just in case.
We could do these things, of course, but there’s always a price. A price gay people constantly have to calculate. It might be a small one, like a patronizing smile, or a disapproving scowl. It might be jeering laughter. It might verbal taunts and pushing and shoving. It might be a bashing.
The price, until this year, had seemed to be getting smaller. In Orlando, for some, it turned out to be the ultimate price. In a place where they thought they were safe.
We’re so habituated to this process of constant risk and threat assessment, we’re barely conscious of doing it. Until something like Orlando happens.
My husband has a saying: “Go along to get along.” You know, why risk the hassle? Just relax. Except, if you’re G.A.Y.*, you can’t. Not ever. Not really.
So I will go to the vigil. I will go to the service – even though I’m an atheist. I will walk the streets. I will ride the Metro. It’s my square, my cathedral, my streets, and my trains, and if I want them, I will damn well have them. Everything will be OK.
The vigil starts in Federation Square at 5pm, followed by the service in St Paul’s, just across the street, at 6pm. If I smile at you, please smile back !
*G.A.Y. = the acronym formerly known as LGBTI2QQA+etc