After a three-week whirlwind road trip along the Mississippi with Alberto, who came all the way from France to visit real America (he'd previously only been to fake parts of the country, like California and NYC), I'm back on the site.
Our magical musical tour took us as far west as Branson, MO, as far south as New Orleans, as far east as Nashville, and as far north as Chicago. It was great to be with Alberto again after being apart for 6 weeks (he's French, I'm American), but in three short weeks (two days ago) he was back on a plane to Paris.
It was also interesting seeing America both through the eyes of a foreigner and as a visibly gay man.
I've been all over America, and I've traveled a bit in Europe. But there's a way that I travel there (like a poor tourist) and a way I travel here (like someone who has something to do in each new city) that made America, previously, seem completely incongruous to the European subcontinent.
I'd gotten used to riding the train to a city and then finding out what there is to do, there, and showing up in a specific location, usually outside of a city, on a plane, in a car, or on a bus, going directly to what I needed, and then leaving, here. But while structural differences between the two countries forced us to travel somewhat like Americans do here, treating this country as a tourist destination helped to challenge the way I see this country. Maybe when I go back to France I'll stop being so shocked when people tell me about their vacations to America.
The other perspective change was that I approached this country as a more visibly gay man than I usually do. Bil, Jerame, and Serena already know, and some of you will find out at the get-together in DC this weekend, my style is not something that gets read as gay in most contexts. I'm most comfortable in jeans and a T-shirt, and usually a solid-color, long-sleeve T-shirt at that. I'm not even butch enough to pull off the "straight-actin' dude" look, which would be substantially gayer than my "Does your grandma pick out your clothes?" look. (And, no, she doesn't. She just has a grandson with traditional and inexpensive tastes.)
Also, my mannerisms are far too awkward to be recognizably queer. I wish I could have a swish in my step, but I'm mostly just lumbering along the sidewalk, sometimes with a plodding, purposeful gait, at other times lazily strolling and stumbling. It's all very Midwestern.
But, you know, when you hold hands with another man in public, all that goes out the window.
I'm already used to being part of the gay couple that displays an inappropriate level of affection in all situations. In Paris, where Alberto and I were living for a good part of this year, you don't see many same-sex couples holding hands outside of that city's gayborhood, le Marais. That didn't stop us, though, from fully taking part in Paris PDA-accepting culture. Straight people are often less in-your-face homophobic than we give them credit for, and homophobic taunts hurt much less when you don't understand them.
Here in America, though, I was back to being uncomfortable. I couldn't shake the idea that someone would come up from behind me with a lead pipe and put an end to us holding hands. It's irrational, on some level, considering that I saw about as much same-sex PDA here as I did in Paris (none). And we didn't get kicked out of any restaurants, so America's winning at this point. A few sneers, one teenager who couldn't stop laughing (Alberto assured me that he was just so turned on it made him uncomfortable, and the best thing we could do, for his sake, was to have a make-out session in front of him), but, really, not all that much trouble.
The point I'm getting at is that as someone who's been trained not to show any same-sex affection in public in the US except in the most exceptional of circumstances (like gay spaces), maybe I've misjudged, like almost everyone around me (I didn't see any same-sex affection in public here, so I'm not alone in my preconceptions). And maybe that's what we need: a massive, nationwide kiss-in, but not in front of a government building or a country club, but on the Greyhound bus or in McDonald's or Walmart (OK, scratch the last one. They're where love goes to die). I fully appreciate why we're so closeted as a people, still, in 2008, but maybe it's time to push the envelope again. For our own sake, at this point. We're the minds that need some changing.
Moral of the story is that the way we see things depends on our perspective. As someone who was never really a tourist in the US but always a tourist in Europe, I thought that the two landmasses were far more different than they actually were. And as someone who was never that visibly gay in the US, I found out that I had imagined Americans to be more homophobic than they actually are.
So who's up for a cross-country Greyhound bus kiss-in? I'll see if I can get Alberto to come over for that one.