the Hand-holding Experiment

hands

Having a boyfriend is a new thing for me. After years of exhausting first and second dates, I’ve had someone showing up consistently for a while now, and it’s been going really well. We’ve been doing things as a couple recently, going to parties or events, having friends over, making dinner and watching a film in the evenings, and it’s been kind of nice.

Recently, a few of the big moments have been navigated: I met his family (and his 91 year old grandmother asked me how long I’ve been gay), he made dinner for me and my children (and my 8 year old made himself throw up rather than having to eat the dreaded homemade pizza), I played the boyfriend at his birthday party, and he played the boyfriend at my public reading event. It’s been a positive and consistent change, nice to have someone around, someone that is handsome and amazing and who thinks I’m handsome and amazing, too.

On Sunday afternoon, the boyfriend and I went for a walk in my new neighborhood. The last few years, I’ve been living in the more urban areas of Salt Lake City, in decent apartments with ample space but in somewhat unsafe areas. My last apartment, the one I just moved out of, had had several problems over the last several months, including (but not limited to): a homeless couple dry-humping on my front porch, neighbors who had their dogs use my short patch of green lawn as their personal toilet, 4 am truck noisy deliveries at the nearby grocery store, a drunk man two doors down who liked yelling at the sky at night, an overflowing dumpster next to my car that was a constant attractant for dumpster divers, and very thin walls shared with very loud neighbors.

Now I find myself in the more rural rich part of Salt Lake City, up in the hills where the homes are several thousand square feet, the yards are large, and the fences are high. I’m renting the big beautiful basement of a big beautiful house and its well-lit and quiet and spacious and perfect, complete with a fenced yard and a hot tub. I’m still adapting to the new space, still unpacking boxes, but it has been a wonderful adaptation.

As the boyfriend and I walked, we passed beautiful homes. The house across the street from me is some sort of polygamist home (no, really), where there are several women with several children living with one man; the children are home-schooled but they play in the yard in their Amish-looking clothing, the girls growing their hair long. As we walked, I wondered how many other homes like this housed polygamists. We walked higher into the hills, where the streets bore the names of Greek gods, and saw the homes get nicer and more opulent, and we talked about those who lived within, older couples who had been there for decades and wealthy people who wanted privacy. Some of the homes had unused tennis courts, some had lush green lawns, some had ornate fences eight feet high, some stood as beacons higher in the mountains with long nearly inaccessible driveways leading up to them.

The boyfriend and I usually hold hands while we walk, but I found myself nervous in a neighborhood like this. We were never shy about it in public spaces or in urban areas, but something about this very Caucasian, very dare-I-say wholesome neighborhood found me unwilling to offend their sensibilities. I hadn’t felt nervous like this in some time.

We’ve only been dating a few months, and we have already had a few jarring experiences holding hands. A few weeks ago, while walking to a play (where dozens of other gay people attended), we held hands and a truck drove by loudly blaring its horn in an angry demonstration against us. More recently, while headed to a friend’s house for dinner, we held hands and a man angrily shouted out the window of his car ‘get a room!’, as if we had been grossly publicly displaying our affections.

Other times, others will go out of their way to reach out in kindness, waving enthusiastically at the gay couple or rushing over to talk to us and make us feel welcome. I appreciate the smiles and love of those who want to make us feel welcome, but more than anything I like those who see us and don’t react, just seeing the two of us as regular people who fit in just like they do.

We talked it over as we walked, and I refused to feel like I was hiding any longer, something I did far too long in my early life. I reached out and grabbed his hand. And over the next few minutes, cars drove by and nothing happened, so I relaxed.

We crested the hill and saw the street names turn extra Mormon. The roads bore names like Cumorah (the hill where Joseph Smith claimed to discover the golden plates later turned into the Book of Mormon) and Zarahemla (the capital city of the ancient civilization of the Nephites, the righteous heroes of the Book of Mormon who allegedly lived in ancient America). The homes got bigger, and the traffic got a bit busier. Still we held hands, and still I felt nervous. I had to remind myself that there were gay people living among these homes (just like they do everywhere) and that the people here had gay friends and family members. I grew frustrated with my own nervousness, but still I clutched his hand.

Several people took notice of us with no reaction. A few saw us, looked briefly surprised, and then quickly looked away, pretending they hadn’t noticed in the first place. One group of girls in a car at a stop sign near us began openly giggling when they saw us.

We walked back down the long hill home and returned to my new beautiful apartment and I somehow felt triumphant, like I had crossed a barrier within myself that I hadn’t realized was there.

Then the boyfriend and I went inside and continued pursuing our ‘gay lifestyle’: eating leftover pizza, folding laundry, and scanning Netflix selections undecidedly before going to bed at 10 pm.

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