Bucharest, Romania. An organization called “The Coalition for Family” wants to redefine marriage in Romania’s constitution as the “union between a man and a woman.” Right now, gay marriage is prohibited by law in Romania, but excluding it from the constitutional definition would make this much more permanent and harder to change. In this context, we decided we have to add queerness to the city of Bucharest, Romania’s capital. A public kiss between two boys becomes as powerful as a march of protest.
One Friday, I was going out of town and Călin, my boyfriend, took me to the train station. Before the train left, we kissed goodbye on the platform and then got on the train along with an older lady whom we had just heard speaking Romanian to her friends in the station. Because she wanted to pass me with her luggage, she quickly said goodbye to her friends in Romanian and then she said “sorry, excuse me!” towards me, in English. I answered her with “sure, go ahead,” in Romanian, but she continued addressing me in English: “thank you!” I then couldn’t find my seat, so I asked her to help me. She first answered me in Romanian: “I don’t know, I just sat wherever,” but then she quickly translated this to me in English. I quickly evaluated my Romanian language skills and realized that nothing in my accent made me seem foreign. Although I had spent a year away from home, I was born and spent 19 years in Bucharest- you don’t forget a language that easily. A bit later, as the train was leaving, I realized what the problem was: I was a boy who had kissed another boy in public, in a crowded train station. In her eyes, that could never be a Romanian. In her eyes, I was just a foreigner who didn’t abide by Romanian “norms.” After all, what sane Romanian would have performed such a daring act?
The whole incident vaguely amused me, yet made me realize, once more, that a public kiss between two men means much more than a simple display of affection. In the last year, I had kissed different people on Harvard’s (at least seemingly) ultra-safe campus, where no one ever objected. I had encountered a few negative reactions in Boston, but nothing too serious. I had forgotten about the fear that makes Romanian queer couples only kiss on dark alleyways. Only after kissing Călin for the first time in public, in Bucharest, did I realize that this was truly a political statement. And, don’t get me wrong, as an LGBT activist, I love statements.
The problem is that, sometimes, I feel the need to kiss the person I love as a person, not as a queer activist. It’s exhausting that, whether I want it or not, my existence is radical in itself. Through a public display of affection I become much more than a Romanian walking down the streets of Bucharest. I become a controversial subject, up for debate, the focus of everyone’s look, conversations and reactions. I feel surrounded. People think their “normality” gives them power over me. I feel as if I didn’t belong to myself, as if I belonged to their reactions. As if I depended on them. My safety depends on them. Two common people with their bodies immediately become a manifest. Banners and marches aren’t even necessary anymore: a kiss seems to be enough. A kiss which brings about so much responsibility, a kiss which may be the first gay kiss people passing us by on the street have ever seen. It’s almost frightening how powerful our kiss can be.
Every public kiss makes you feel vulnerable. You are “that guy” people can point at. People stare because they think maybe they didn’t see it right. A kiss can start a chain of negative reactions. Romania is still a place where it is unsafe to be queer, but we refuse to let it stay that way for long.
We picked symbolical places to kiss in Bucharest, many of which represent authority. The queer community is under a constant attack: from abuses or carelessness of the authorities, which become oppressors through institutionalized homophobia, to proposals like the one made by “The Coalition for Family.” I still hope some of these things happen because people just don’t know better. Maybe that’s why one night this May, a policeman in a park showed us that our presence in “his” park was not desirable. That scandalous things ― such as our kiss ― are not welcome in the park he was supposed to guard. He asked us to show him our IDs without having broken any law ― and then he suggested we “get a room.” I’m not a queer activist and I have never tried to make such a statement before ― but it was then that I realized that our kisses were, even though we never intended it, political statements. So why not make it intentional and kiss in front of some of Bucharest’s truly significant spots for the queer community?
But the reactions we got to our public displays of affection were not always disappointing. On our way home one night, we encountered an elderly homeless man, who asked me to light his cigarette, and, noticing we were holding hands, he wished us to “live happily ever after.” His tone didn’t seem ironic at all ― and his remark made me smile the whole night, especially since, as mentalities change in Romania, it’s usually the older generation who opposes gay marriage. But this man we randomly encountered on the street made me feel human, present, notable, in existence, and Romanian. And I want to feel that way every time I go out and kiss in public ― not only for one single night. In our case, to “live happily ever after” doesn’t only mean we have to live with one another. It means we also have to live with exterior pressure and dangers.
In 2016, some Romanians still speak on “tolerance.” Some Romanian authorities only vaguely mention “human rights,” yet, for fear of public reluctance, they fail to acknowledge the needs of the LGBT community. The Romanian queer community needs acceptance, not tolerance. We are past the phase where we want people to “tolerate us.” Acceptance means communion, coexistence, belonging. Our kisses, whether people want them or not, along with the other hundreds of either visible or invisible queer kisses in the capital, belong to the city of Bucharest. They coexist with its citizens, its streets, its institutions and they should no longer accept to stay invisible.
The article was originally published in Romanian on SUB25, an urban culture and youth media platform. You can view the original version here.