Comment: Why can’t gay couples feel safe enough to hold hands everywhere in the UK?

Ethan Bourne April 1, 2012
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To me, this is one of the most interesting things about being gay, the fact that being ‘gay’ seems only to be acceptable in certain areas. The juxtaposition between living in a theoretically liberal and accepting society yet, from a personal viewpoint, only being allowed to be gay in certain places seems to me bizarre. You might be thinking I’m exaggerating but you wouldn’t walk through Brixton in London holding your boyfriend’s hand would you? If you were a drag queen, you wouldn’t go to Cheetham Hill in Manchester for a night out. This article stems from a debate I had surrounding this subject with a straight friend who made a pretty bigoted statement, which was, “Well you’re only asking for trouble if you were to be gay in certain places.”

I had an ex who would only hold my hand down Old Compton Street itself (for those not in the capital, it’s London’s ‘gay street’) and it’s not that he or I were insecure in our sexuality, I’m openly proud of my sexuality, but it’s that feeling of whether ‘it’s ok to be gay here’. I go on straight nights out all the time with uni friends and I do find myself acting differently in different areas. Whereas I’d be the first to order a Pornstar Martini in Soho, you’re much more likely to catch me drinking a Bud with the rugby lads from uni. It really intrigues me that many people I have spoken to, including myself agree with this sentiment. It’s almost as though we have an inner compass of where we’re allowed to feel comfortable, Zone 1 of London for me, but this begs the question ‘why?’.

Why do we not feel comfortable in less metropolitan areas, and why should we? Why do we theoretically live in a tolerant society but in practice have to go to certain places not to feel intimidated? And perhaps why should we even worry about ‘attracting the wrong kind of attention’ for being who we are?

In all honesty, I can understand this idea of ‘geographical gayness’ (this is a term I’m coining) but that’s not to say I condone it. I think it’s wrong for people to have to be in a certain place to feel comfortable but at the same time, one could argue that this is self imposed. I think we all know that if we hold our partner’s hand, there’ll be someone who looks, some small child who looks slightly confused, but I don’t think that’s something that’s going to change. I do think, however, that in all honesty, that its understandable. I can understand the idea of not feeling comfortable in areas that are perhaps less liberal and I’d like to say that it’s a question of time, that it won’t always be like this, but I don’t think that’s true. I think there are always going to be places in which people are less accepting, but I’m actually ok with that. I don’t think it’s right, but I can cope with it. I understand some people are less tolerant than others and to be honest, I quite like having the ‘gay’ areas. Soho wouldn’t really be Soho if it weren’t something of a refuge for LGBT individuals, it would just be a cakey, gelato haven with a few brothels for good measure.

Being younger, I can see a time where these ‘accepted’ areas expand and soon you wouldn’t feel so intimidated walking through the Printworks in Manchester with your boyfriend but for now, it bemuses me that there are allocated areas where LGBT individuals seem to call home. I agree that people should be able to be themselves anywhere but to go back to the initial statement, unfortunately I believe we will only be ‘attracting the wrong kind of attention’, however unjust that is.

So for now, I think we’ll have to make do with Soho Square when the sun is out, make do with the ‘gay’ side of Brighton and make do with ‘that side of Piccadilly Gardens’ in Manchester. Although unfair and I don’t believe to be self imposed, this isolation clearly affects our social activities and our behavior but can I see a day when this doesn’t exist? Unfortunately, no.

Ethan Tweets @ethanbourneuk and is on Facebook at EthanBourneUK

More: England, Ethan Bourne, hand holding, Homophobia, London

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