New York could be considered a city for lovers. It is a place that garners attention from travelers and residents alike as a romanticized locale — at least for straight people. The film, television and music video industries depict and promote heteronormative love in and around the city. Each and every night — especially around tourist spots like the Brooklyn Bridge or the Highline — one will inevitably notice a man and a woman in an intimate moment. And, although New York has a thriving LGBTQ community, it is unfortunately still uncommon to see queer and non-conforming folks displaying their love for one another in public throughout the city.
Public displays of affection are a privilege. Although the mentality and attitudes toward the queer community are rapidly changing in some parts of the world, including the United States, it is still unsafe for gay people to hold hands. Some may believe New York would be an exception to the rule, but I have friends who have been harassed and verbally abused for sitting side by side with their same-sex significant other. This is simply not a concern for straight folks, though many choose not to engage in public displays of affection due to the threat of light shaming. In queer relationships, however, it’s the threat of violence.
Admittedly, it is not exceedingly difficult as a white, gay man to take part in this. However, for a transgender woman of color, for example, the threat is far greater. Of course, this is not meant to downplay the experience of white gay men, but there is a spectrum of danger for folks who identify as LGBTQ. Behind every glance, touch and smile directed at a partner lies a looming fear of public retribution, and this toxic stress from simply loving someone can be overwhelming. This experience is not ubiquitous, nor does it ruin the lives of every same-gender couple. However, we do not have the privilege of worry-free interaction, and it can be taxing. Straight people have every right to play tonsil hockey on the sidewalk, and no one should feel guilty for doing so. The only way to remedy the current situation is by waiting until public same-sex affection is normalized.
I’m not asking that every straight person in New York stop doing their thing. But the straight NYU students who choose to sit on each other’s laps in dining halls and give hickeys to each other in study lounges could consider their impact and recognize their privilege. As a community trying to create a positive and uplifting environment for all students, becoming conscious of the effect of one’s actions is a step in the right direction.
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A version of this article appeared in the Monday, October 3rd print edition. Email Connor Borden at [email protected]