I was grocery shopping with my fiancée on a busy Sunday afternoon when I realized we hadn’t kissed at all that day. I leaned in for something quick and gentle; she reciprocated with a longer kiss filled with emotion and intention. She’s braver than I am. Parts of me are trying to shake off the idea that tells me a kiss in public is something shameful.
After my fiancée and I exchanged affection, I locked eyes just for a moment with a young shopper nearby, maybe in their late teens or early twenties. We both quickly adjusted our gaze. But I recognized myself in this stranger. They suddenly seemed less alone standing there in the aisle of the grocery store. Their body language looked familiar. It reminded me of myself as a closeted teenager who had seen two women kiss in public.
When I was a kid, there was an episode of the sitcom Roseanne in which the title character goes to a gay bar called Lips, and of course, she's kissed by a woman. That episode aired with a parental advisory warning. And I can't forget the "coming out" episode of Ellen in which she confesses her love for another woman. Both episodes offered comedic relief, but the character also expressed panic that there would be consequences. The message seems to be: We tolerate your existence, we'll even put you in our scripts, but any display of your love is followed by repercussions and controversy.
I was 13 years old when I saw a ridiculously attractive couple—one with long shiny box braids and the other with a low fade—waiting at a bus stop in the Bronx. As a I descended the stairs from the D train platform, I kept my eyes on them. They kissed, and I might’ve even tripped. The moment quite possibly affirmed deeply buried feelings about my own identity. I looked around waiting to see what the consequences would be for expressing their love out loud. I remember the feeling of dread (or was it butterflies?) in the pit of my stomach. And I imagined that I might one day be the person who would share a kiss in public.
I wish I had walked up to them and said, "Please don’t ever stop kissing in public." Instead I waited for laughs or gasps from a live studio audience that, of course, wasn't there. Their kiss gave me a future to look into, one that was promising of a love that didn’t center fear, doubt, or gay panic like in my favorite sitcoms. I wanted their love, where finally the butterflies never rest.
I kiss my future wife to keep the butterflies afloat. I want you to see the love I receive with a kiss, the safety I feel, the warmth of stillness.
Your reminder: Kiss in public, hold hands in the frozen foods section of your local grocery store. Too much history of queer love has been spent in the shadows. Every kiss in public makes up for lost time, time when loving while being a lesbian meant closed curtains or introducing your girlfriend as your roommate at family gatherings. Your kiss could be the crystal ball into another's future. A public display of gay affection proves existence.
When I kiss my fiancée in public, time stops. The embrace brings relief. Our kisses are for all the queers before us whose kisses never made it outside.
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