On Monday I walked down the street holding my wife’s hand. We were on our way out to lunch. I held her hand and it felt like a radical act of defiance. Like I was making a statement or a declaration or some grand political gesture. Like I was making of us a target. Really, all I wanted to do was hold my wife’s hand.
Earlier that morning I made the conscious decision not to turn the television off right away when my children caught a bit of the morning news from Orlando.
“What happened, Mama?” asked my 7-year-old.
I took a deep breath. “A man took a gun into a nightclub – that’s a place where grown-ups go to dance and have fun – and killed a lot of people.”
Because he could. Because he wanted to. I did not know how to explain homophobia to my children. Racism. The FBI watch list and inadequate gun control laws. Toxic masculinity. My children still believe that people are good, and I don’t want that to change.
“I don’t know,” I had said instead. A cop-out. I had to define “nightclub” for them, but not “gun” or “killed.”
So we were walking to lunch, my wife and I, hand in hand. A few houses away we saw the young man who, moments earlier, had knocked on our door. He was handing out some sort of religious pamphlets. He seemed very nervous; his accent was very thick. My wife had thanked him politely as she turned him away. Now as we approached, our fingers entwined, I wondered: is he staring? Is he judging? To be honest, I’m not certain he even looked at us, but that isn’t the point.
We live in a liberal neighborhood in a liberal town. We are legally married in all fifty states. Both our names are on our children’s birth certificates. We file taxes jointly, both state and federal. I have grown comfortable. I forget, after all these milestones, that I am still other, until I am reminded.
For the first time in years, I was made conscious of being other.
The young man and a female companion – sister, maybe? – continued to go from house to house. We started to catch up to them. Casually, I tugged my wife across the street so we wouldn’t have to squeeze by the pair on the sidewalk, and as we rounded the corner, I dropped her hand. The sidewalk is too narrow, I told myself. (It wasn’t.) We are in people’s way. (We weren’t.)
We went on to lunch, and the server didn’t ask if we wanted to split the bill. I noticed that, made note of it. We stopped in a shop and I bought rainbow-striped socks because they brought me joy and yes, because it is pride month and it suddenly felt important to acknowledge that. We split up: I went on to get a massage and my wife went back to the house to finish up some homework. What a radical afternoon. The massage therapist asked if I wanted to book another appointment, perhaps “for you and your hubby together.” She must have seen my wedding ring. Other.
I wish I had not crossed the street. I wish I had not let go. I do not want my children to learn that the answer to otherness is fear and the answer to fear is violence, but that is what we are teaching them, we Americans, and I am complicit. I crossed the street. I dropped my wife’s hand because I was afraid. I have been made conscious of the fact that there is still reason to fear.
Next time, I keep thinking, next time I won’t let go.