"Just keep walking," we mumble in unison and I feel her fingers drop from mine.
It's a practice well-learned, the art of coming together and slipping apart -- every corner starts not with a footstep but with a glance forward, every kiss begins and ends with darting eyes above a smile. Sometimes people smile -- women with strollers whose babies reach out and gurgle, old couples who nod slowly in silent recognition and acceptance.
Sometimes it's the long, long stare that goes right through my body. It starts at my neck as my skin turns red and my face folds into a scowl. It pushes through my clothes layer by layer, until it's sinking in me and it's the nausea in my stomach and it's the sweat behind my knees. The people look different -- some are young, some are old, some are white, some are brown, some are black, some are men, some are women, some are in groups in business suits and some are alone in running gear but the stare is the same -- hate, wonderment, and fear with the same morbid fascination of a child at the freak show. It's there as we approach whether we're laughing or talking or kissing or arguing, and it's there as we pass, and as we keep going a little faster than before and as we take the long way home or to our restaurant of choice because it's scarier being followed inside -- at least outside people might protect you.
We're lucky to live in New York City. Our marriage is legal here. There is an active GLBTQ presence in the city, from the gay bars, to the book clubs, to the parades and it is inspiring and welcoming and real. We live in a one-bedroom apartment in a safe area. Only one of us has faced discrimination in the work place.
We are lucky, but we are also afraid.
Several weeks ago my wife and I wanted a burger. We went into a chain restaurant in Chelsea, ordered, and got a booth. My wife helped a woman with the soda machine -- one of those big light up ones with all of the options. The woman smiled and thanked her. She and her daughter ended up at the booth next to ours -- at least until she saw us kiss on the lips.
It was a small peck, the well-learned art of coming together and slipping apart, but it was all it took. She said nothing, but moved herself and her daughter across the dining area. Her daughter stared at us from across the restaurant until they left soon after. When I walked by to get more ketchup her eyes followed me. I felt nervous and sad and quickened my step. When I turned she smiled a little and I smiled back. Her eyes were big and brown and sad. I'm not a monster, I wanted to say.
She was about 5-years-old.
The recent anti-gay hate crimes are terrifying and sad. The pain and violence should be experienced by no one and the victims have my deepest support. Many GLBTQ groups and communities are speculating on what we can do to make our city safer, to make it okay to hold hands outside again.
I don't have an answer for those questions, but I wish I did.
Over her french fries and diet Coke a 5-year-old girl saw me become a monster and learned what hate was. When my wife kisses me goodbye in front of my office in midtown, I feel that little girl's stare over and over, but aged 30 years. It's hateful, but it's also scared, and if I look hard enough I even see that little bit of awe.
When I hold my wife's hand I only want to feel her skin in my palm and our rings clink together. I only want to feel safe. We want to inspire but we hope that in time we'll be inspiring a lot more love and a lot less hate.