“...than not holding your hand at all.”
My wife said these words to me on the day of the Orlando shooting. We were standing in front of a restaurant in West Texas and I, for once, hadn't taken her hand as we walked in. I was too shocked, too confused, too scared. But she of course knew what to do. And so she took my hand, squeezed it gently and said those words. I wonder if she knows how deeply she touched me with her defiance… and how deeply she wounded me.
A life of struggles
My wife is 50+ years old. She was born and grew up here in West Texas in a Church of Christ family. Growing up wasn't easy. Seeing her LGBT family being beaten up and sometimes killed wasn't easy. Going through the AIDS crisis and losing friends daily wasn't easy. But she and so many from that and earlier generations pushed back. They pushed forwards, fighting for our rights, for our freedoms, for the simple ideal to be treated like any other human being.
They kept winning and winning and winning until last year we were finally granted the right to marry. The euphoria was so great that Allyson Robinson, a transgender Baptist preacher announced the “end of the culture war” during her keynote speech at the Gay Christian Network conference last January in Houston. But war doesn't end until the last fighter has put down his gun.
Days after that conference my wife and I sat in the park of a small town. It was a beautiful day and I was happy, really happy. I kissed her. It was then that she gently pushed me away and said:
“Be aware of who is around us.”
I laughed and looked around.
“Why?” I asked, completely oblivious.
“I don’t want you to be scared but you have to always know who is around you.”
I frowned. “But why? It’s not like someone is going to kill us for kissing.”
My wife lowered her head. I saw a family with their two cute little kids. I saw a young couple feeding each other ice cream. I saw an older gentleman walking by and a group of kids sitting in the grass listening to music. A scene as harmless and non-threatening as it can possibly be.
Back then I thought my wife was paranoid, stuck in a world of the past, haunted by fears that did no longer matter. I grew up in Germany. Until June 12th 2016 I had never been afraid of another human being before. I had never been afraid for my life and the lives of those I love. Never had I imagined that someone would kill us for who we love. Before coming to the United States, I had never experienced homophobia. I had barely heard of it. I lived the life of a naive child, secure and pampered in a bubble of happiness. Yes, I had known that the LGBT community in Germany was not always perfectly safe. But never in all my 32 years had I experienced this kind of shock and hurt. This kind of hatred.
And we push back
That evening when I tried so hard not to cry and comforted my wife instead, I began to understand her tears. For decades they had fought, pushed back again and again only to be confronted with another 49 innocent people killed for who they were. How hopeless that fight must seem sometimes.
Then she took my hand again and the tears in her eyes just wouldn't stop falling:
“I'm sorry you have to go through this. I'm so sorry. We tried so hard so that your generation would be safe. We never wanted this for you. I'm so, so sorry.”
And I remember what I read in the news. The father of the Orlando shooter said that his son was enraged and possibly driven to his crime because he saw two men kissing. I remember when my wife pushed me away and said: “Always be aware of who is around us.”
Fear almost stopped me from breathing. Yet it hasn't stopped me from holding her hand again and kissing her in public.
In this country holding hands is activism.
We do it because we have to.
For the next generation.
Even if we get shot for it.