On March 1, I took Chris to the airport. He was flying out to Toronto for a big international conference and wasn't scheduled to return until Thursday, when I'd drive back to the airport to pick him up.
There were we, early on a Saturday morning, on the domestic departures floor, hundreds of people all around, at various stages of getting ready for their flights.
After Chris got his boarding pass and baggage tags from the kiosk, he proceeded to the queue to drop off his checked-in luggage. Already, there were dozens of people in the line. It was time to say good-bye.
Over the past two-decades-plus, Chris and I have hugged literally thousands of times, as any couple, gay or straight, does. It's very natural. It feels good. You want to keep doing it. Usually, my arms go around his upper body (yes, like the female would do), and his arms go around my lower body (like the male would do). They just go there, like second nature, from lots and lots of practice.
Do you think they went there when we said good-bye with all those people around? I still can't remember what we did. It was a combination of one arm this way, the other that way, for both of us–in other words, one of the most unsatisfying hugs I've had in a very long time. Awkward.
And you can bet there was no kiss. Never mind that this is my life partner. Never mind that I don't consider my life partner any different from the life partner of anyone at the airport that morning. Never mind that, if the fates intervened, I could never see Chris again. You have to think about these things–or, at least, I have to think about these things. That's the way my brain works.
On the drive back home, I thought, what was that about? What was that weird hug back at the airport? What was that look in Chris's eyes when I pulled away from him? How had we come up with such an uncomfortable way to say good-bye? And all I could think was, unconsciously, both of us had been too aware of where we were, all the people around us, and had fallen into a habit we'd had back in the early '90s, when we said good-bye to each other then, and felt there was no way we could let on to anyone around us that we were a couple. It was just easier for us that way, and, God knows, it was easier for everyone else.
And then this question popped into my head: Subconsciously, why is it more important to protect the sensibilities of other people than our own? Why are we so aware of the possibility of offending other people, by doing nothing more than showing ourselves as the loving gay couple we are, saying good-bye to each other at the airport? Or, simply put, why are someone else's feelings always more important than our own?
I think one of the answers is, it's just easier that way. It's easier to let people think we're brothers, or friends, or colleagues, or whatever (but certainly not a gay couple–oh, no, not that). It's easier not to cross the line, not to let on we're anything more. Never mind that we dishonor our relationship, and the many years we've been together, and our love for each other, by not saying good-bye in the same way straight people do, a way that no one would pay any attention to, if straight people were doing it.
How is it easier? Because, then, if Chris ends up sitting beside someone on his flight, who saw us embrace like the life partners we are, he wouldn't have to put up with some attitude or uncomfortable questions or even contempt. It's just easier to keep everything nice and even and normal. Not upset the apple cart, so to speak. Easier for us, maybe, than for everyone else. And perhaps that's reason enough.
On Thursday, I drove back to the airport to get Chris. What a relief–his flight arrived safely. Life can get back to normal.
As Chris approached me, we hugged, and, this time, we got it right. The arms went to the usual places, we showed everyone there we're more than brothers or good friends, and it felt oh-so-good. (Still no kiss, though, which I almost risked doing. Almost.)
Mid-embrace, I looked up and saw a young fellow with messy, long blond hair, who'd been milling about the arrivals floor, waiting for someone. I saw him look at us. I saw that flash of acknowledgement cross his face. And I saw that contemptuous smirk. It was scarcely there, but it was. Unmistakably.
There's a good chance that dude, who, in a nano-second, passed judgment on us, wasn't even born when Chris and I met. That our relationship is older than he is. And I'll be damned if I'm going to let the expression of a punk marginalize what Chris and I have, take anything away from our commitment toward, and love for, each other. He doesn't have the right to do that. Nobody does. I don't care what his religious affiliations are, or what he was raised to believe is right and wrong, or whatever.
It all happened so fast, but I hope I had a fuck-you look on my face. Because he deserved it. His attitude deserved it. His narrow-mindedness deserved it. His readiness to judge something he knows nothing about deserved it.
I will not allow someone's negative feelings about me change how I feel about myself. And I will put my own feelings before anyone else's, when it comes to being the gay man I am, who couldn't be more proud of his partner and his relationship. I've earned the right.
I've earned the right.