Every so often when I’m walking from the LBC studios to Charing Cross Station to get my train home I spy a couple of guys walking down the street hand in hand. And every time I see it, I get a spring in my step. If I saw a man and a woman holding hands I’d think nothing of it, but for two people of the same sex to do it, even in a metropolis like London, sends out a signal that they’re out and proud. And no one bats an eyelid, or at least if they do, they don’t show it. Of course, this is all very well in central London, but imagine it happening in Chipping Sodbury or The Gorbals. Maybe we still have some way to go.
I read recently about a young lesbian couple who had been upbraided by a security guard at a Cardiff Food Festival for kissing in public. Apparently people had complained and he had asked them to stop because it was “offensive” and “disgusting”. Would people have complained, and would he have acted in the same way if the couple had been straight? Well, quite possibly, yes. By all accounts this wasn’t exactly a smack on the lips of a peck on the cheek, the two young ladies were going for it and ticking tonsils in quite an aggressive way. In an official statement Cardiff City Council said that it was tantamount to sexual behaviour and inappropriate at a food festival. I hate myself for it, but I can see their point, not because they were two people of the same sex, but because quite frankly I don’t think anyone wants to see foreplay at a food festival, or indeed any other public arena for that matter, whether it’s two people of the same sex or two people of the opposite sex.
I don’t think this has anything to do with the traditional sense of British puritanism, it’s more to do with what kind of public displays of affection society deems acceptable. People will have very different views about this, but surely it depends on circumstance. What is regarded as de rigeur and wouldn’t make anyone bat an eyelid in a nightclub on a Friday night is surely different to thinking you can do the same thing at a food festival. It doesn’t matter if you’re gay or straight, surely there is still such a thing as public decency, even in 2015. I know I sound like an old git, but much as I have no objection to general public displays of affection, everything has its place. Giving your partner a full on snog when you say goodbye to them at a railway station is one thing, but would you really do it at the checkout at Boots? What’s the difference, you may say? I suspect everyone knows the difference, it’s just instinct and knowing the difference between right and wrong.
I tend to be a much more touchy feely person than my partner (I still can’t bring myself to use the word husband – does that make me a bad person?). I’d happily wander around hand in hand depending on the surroundings, but he’d instantly recoil. That’s just the way he is.
When I came out to my family I well remember one of my sisters being worried that my partner and I would be all over each other on the couch watching TV in front of my parents. I suppose I could have felt quite insulted by it but I found it quite funny. I would no more do that than seek to inseminate Kim Kardashian. Now there’s a thought.
In the end we’re all different. We all have different needs and different boundaries. But we also know what boundaries society imposes on us and how far we can push those boundaries without provoking others and upsetting people. Sure, over time those boundaries can be redrawn, but that can done by gentle cajoling and persuasion rather than causing outright shock. Perhaps one day it will be quite acceptable to do a whole range of things which would currently come under the banner of ‘lewd and obscene behaviour’, but until then, behave!