I started dating my husband when I was a late teenager. I also was incredibly feminine in appearance. This meant, for the world, we were a heterosexual couple. We were read that way by everyone for decades.
Even when I started my transition, when I was 40, I looked like an edgy woman with lot’s of tattoos. I didn’t look remotely masculine until the testosterone starting to take effect. It took extra long for me to be read as male.
During that period I was often assumed to be a masculine presenting lesbian. This assumption was pretty universal. I have never been hit on by so many ladies who love other ladies before that point. Being with my husband confused everyone that saw us.
Then I hit about 10 months on testosterone, and started reliably being seen as male by the public at large. That shift in public perception changed a lot of how my husband and I were perceived. Suddenly we were a gay couple to anyone that looked at us.
That’s when I started being concerned about how my husband and I expressed our affection publicly. We are in an unprecedented time where queer folks are being accepted on an unheard of scale. There is a backlash to that, with bigots lashing out violently, and unpredictably. Not a week goes by where I don’t see a news story about a queer person being viciously attacked.
The difference between my husband and I, is when I was a teenager in the 1980’s, I had girlfriends, and was perceived to be in a same sex pairing. I was a punk rock kid back then, and combining a punk esthetic with a perceived same sex partner was dangerous. I have had people stop their cars to attack me. I have had whole restaurants engage in dangerous anti-gay mob mentality behavior. I have had to leave places for fear of literally being beaten to death.
My husband has never had to deal with any of that. He’s also 6’4” tall, so even when engaging in aggressive encounters, folks tend to give him lots of space. This means he is completely unconcerned about showing public affection. He feels safe anywhere, and is confident he can defend himself if something does come up.
For myself, I am always aware of my surroundings when I’m with my husband, just in case. I am aware if there are large groupings of young straight men. I am aware if we are getting singled out.
At first, this really hurt my husband. I couldn’t explain to him enough, how much danger there is, or could be. He saw my unwillingness to hold his hand as a possible denial of him personally. Especially early in my transition, he felt I might be rejecting him as a partner. No matter the logic of it, for him it was very visceral to have his spouse refuse to hold his hand.
I wasn’t in any way rejecting him, though. I just wanted to make sure he was safe. I never want him to have those terrible experiences. It was my way of protecting him.
At two years on testosterone, I have loosened up a tiny bit. He’s also become more understanding. We are approaching a compromising happy medium. I hold his hand more, or just let him hang on me. I don’t get so worried we are going to be attacked. He is more careful about when he reaches for my hand, and doesn’t do so when we are in a less than gay friendly area.
I think this is something we’ll have to continue to navigate going forward. Like most of what we do, we will revisit this as needed. We discuss our differences on this issue on and off.
I think it’s also a thing most folks in same sex relationships have to consider as part of their daily lives. My husband, as willing as he is to be gay with me, has just never had to really sort that out for himself.
Overall, it’s just a bit sad that we live in a world where the simple act of holding hands with your partner of 20+ years, can cause others to react poorly. However, more and more, there are straight folks that will stand up with people like us, and that is beautiful. I know what the world felt like without that, so it gives me a lot of hope to see so many people champion LGBT+ folks now. Maybe in the future, holding my husbands hand won’t be a big deal.