Standing on the hot, crowded New York City subway platform in the dead heat of summer on a Saturday afternoon with "routine service changes" is enough to make a normal person go crazy.
I was on my way back from a doctor’s appointment with my wife. We tried to find the least packed part of the train platform to stand on, as the only thing worse than the sweat dripping off of us in the un-air-conditioned station is getting someone else’s sweat dripped on you. It’s gross and it’s happened more times than I care to admit that I’ve unsuspectingly been the victim of a stranger’s bodily fluids.
There were tourist families, arms filled with shopping bags; immigrant families, kids running amok; Upper Eastside ladies, their plastic surgery faces threatening to melt in the heat. The only relief was the hot wind of the downtown train across the platform pulling to the station. Our train was nowhere in sight, there was no faint light at the end of tunnel.
As my wife and I stood there impatiently like any good New Yorkers, we watched as a young straight couple surreptitiously poured cans of PBR into coffee to-go cups and giggled as they took swigs of the cheap, likely tepid beer. They were probably in college or in their early 20s. They were likely from somewhere with more barley per capita than people. Blond hair, blue eyes. She had cheerleader or sorority girl curls in her hair and pep in her step. He was a boy from the cornfields, lean and all smiles. They shuffled towards the train tracks right in front of us and quietly talked to one another, giggling from time to time. They clapped their beer-filled coffee cups stared into each other’s eyes, oblivious of the bustling, stressed our New Yorkers around them.
Their lips met and they kissed, first just a peck that was sweeter than it was anything else. But then they started to make out. It was enough to make a grandmother blush and frankly, it grossed me out. Public affection is fine, maybe even cute if I’m in a good mood. But full out tonsil hockey is pretty damn rude to pull, especially when you’re packed into a window-less underground cauldron like sardines in a can.
I thought about all the times I had endured straight people practically having sex in front of me on the subway, on a park bench, in a club, at school, in waiting rooms and on city streets, and it made me mad. I thought about how I was afraid to even hold my wife’s hand in many places, including in New York City, for fear of harassment or worse. I thought about how many times I’ve had to swallow stupid questions from relatives and strangers over the years about when I was going to settle down with a nice guy, or downplaying or ignoring my love while focusing the conversation on others who were in hetero dynamics, even if they had been together far less time than my relationship.
It was like years of repression and suppression and oppression raged out of me in that moment, perhaps a spontaneous combustion caused by the inhumane temperature on the subway platform.
Before I knew what I was doing, I walked right up to the couple, tapped the guy on the shoulder and said perfectly calmly, "Excuse me, there’s no heterosexual affection allowed here."
They looked at me like deer in highlights, understandably, a shared look of half-shock and half-humor. They thought I was joking, perhaps, though I was not. Perhaps it was best they took that position. Most importantly, they backed away from each other and kept their hands and lips apart until the train arrived some eternity later and we all filed in and went on with our disparate lives.
My wife’s jaw dropped in horror and she met with me, "I can’t believe you just did that."
I didn’t know what to say. I couldn’t believe I had done that either. All my years of freedom fighting and inclusivity and understanding I need to be the change I want to see. I wasn’t one to ever advocate anything other than the "do unto others" mantra and understood how important the support of allies was to the overall fight for equality. Certainly, if it had been the other way around and a gay couple had been told to stop kissing, as happens in far less polite ways all the time, I’d be ranting about discrimination and wrongdoing.
I’m a bit ashamed of my spastic heterophobic moment, but a weird part of me feels like something was released that day. All the pain and anger I’ve held onto for so long, all the double standards and the ignorance and the moments we’ve had to swallow the stupidity to keep the peace and rise above the haters, floated out of me that day and dissipated in the hot, stinky air between me and those poor, unsuspecting straight tourists.
If you’re out there, blond heteros who were stunned by the lesbian request on the N train platform, please accept my apology.
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