Sometimes I think I know the spaces of my partner’s body better than I know anything else about him.
I know how to fit myself to his every curve and angle so that every part of me isn’t touching every part of him.
I know where to put my hand so that my little finger aligns with his, close enough that I half-imagine I can feel the heat of his skin mingling with the heat of mine. But not so close it looks gay, you understand.
I know how to make a thousand secret symmetries between us, my shoulder to his shoulder, the angles of our elbows and forearms, the distance between my thigh and his, the turn of a wrist, the brush of a knee.
Sometimes I think this is all gaydar really is: intense awareness of negative space, an ability to read between the lines. If you want to be able to recognise queer couples, all you have to do is watch for the innumerable, significant ways they don’t touch.
Because this is how we live in public. In lacunae. Endlessly calculating these tactile geometries.
And, for the record, I don’t want to dry hump my partner in Trafalgar Square. I, honestly, just want to hold his hand sometimes. Smooth down the collar of his coat in winter. Stand too close when we say goodbye.
I don’t want to live on the brink of some helpless betrayal that transforms these everyday banalities into someone else’s business.
But here’s the thing: I live in a relatively cosmopolitan, relatively liberal town in the industrialised west. I’m not illegal. The likelihood of actual physical violence is incredibly small. The worst I’m probably going to suffer are some jeers and catcalls, a handful of words that have close to lost their edges for me, some tired jokes based on some false assumptions about what it means to be who I am.
So what I am right now—what I have been all my life—is a coward. If I want to hold my partner’s hand, I should damn well hold his hand, and stop whining about it. The way to effect change, after all, is to live it. But, hilarious as it may sound considering I do occasionally—in some very small and unimportant way—make myself a talking point on the internet, I’m private, and taking my partner’s hand is always, inevitably, undeniably, inescapably, a political act. And sometimes I am simply too weary and too small to live my politics.
I just want be quietly, unimportantly, inconspicuously in love.
I don’t want anyone to find it disgusting. I don’t want anyone to find it hot. I don’t want anyone to give a damn, except the broadest, most universal sense that love is a good thing for people to have, and the world is a better place with more love in it.
Back in the early 2000s, I was maybe eighteen or nineteen years old, and I’d fallen in love for the first time in my life. I can’t even remember what this honey-drawling, silk-and-satin, golden lion of an all-American boy was doing in my city. But there he was for the whole summer. Maybe you talk to people differently when you know you might never see them again, trust them more, take more risks, I don’t know. But I remember being caught in a thunderstorm one night and taking shelter in the lea of one of the boathouses as the river rushed by, sitting side-by-side, faces angled close so we could hear each other over the beating of the rain. “If you don’t move, I’m going to kiss you,” I said, and he didn’t move. So we were actively in love for the last two weeks he was in England. Though, of course, we’d been in love all along.
It feels odd, remembering it. I don’t think I’ve ever been so innocent as that summer, which was long after I’d dispensed with such concepts. I’m sure we slept together—I can remember faking being bad at blowjobs so he wouldn’t think I was a slut—but I think maybe only twice. Nowadays I can’t imagine feeling that strongly for someone and not turning it into a bedfest, but for some reason love was in other places then, in the amber haze of an English August, wild flowers and cheap weed, streets of silver and gold, everywhere we shared our secrets and stole our touches.
He left in grey September on a bus that departed at 7am. And I kissed him, because it was the last time, and I couldn’t not.
Nobody called us homophobic names, or threw broken bottles. But there was laughter, and it wasn’t kind. It wasn’t fair.
I didn’t need the romcom ending. I didn’t need the soaring soundtrack and wild applause from a group of strangers. I didn’t even need him to jump back off the National Express and into my arms. I just wanted to say goodbye to my lover the way humans have been saying goodbye to their lovers for as long as there’s been love and humans and goodbyes.
For all the legal and social equalities we have fought for and (occasionally) won, the truth is that same-sex love is still widely perceived as being outside that human context: that when we’re talking about love, we’re basically talking about straight people. And don’t get me wrong, it’s undeniable that same-sex love exists within a different cultural framework to heterosexual love. But when you strip it all back to the simplest truths: the pain of loss, the joy in being together, that red hot filthy need to be unashamed and heart-deep naked with another person, that’s just love.
Part of the way teach ourselves to understand what love means is through the stories we tell each other. Maybe when there are more stories about people like me, my love won’t seem so out-of-context any more. Maybe it won’t be funny or unreal or disgusting or otherwise noteworthy. Maybe it will just be love, the same as any other love. And maybe I’ll be able to hold my partner’s hand in public because people will stop caring who we are, and instead they’ll just be annoyed that we’re one of those limpet-glued couples who should really be out of the honeymoon period by now.
But this is why romance is so important, and why queer romance is necessary, not as tangent or sidebar, but simply as part of the genre. To stand as manifesto and reminder that really the only thing that matters about love is that it’s love.