“Gorgeous,” I breathed as he stepped out of the single fitting room at the back of the shop. After two years in this relationship, Ben’s beauty never failed to astound me. He did a little spin, showing off the suit and braces I’d picked out for him. He gave the braces a twang.
“Bit feminine for me, don’t you think?” He frowned at the bow tie, I knew he’d be like this. I had my methods of persuasion though. I grinned.
“I like feminine.” Heaving myself from the armchair, I put my arms around him and kissed him lightly.
“I don’t know, you and your clothes” he sighed when his lips were free. He sounded exasperated, but he flashed me a grin as he said it.
“Trust me on this” I muttered in to his neck. “You’ll look amazing tonight.”
We pulled apart quickly as the shop assistant shot us a reproachful look. By the time Ben had changed back to his normal clothes, it had become a glare. My plans to stick around and lament my inability to fit in to the stunning pair of jeans in the corner were interrupted when she approached us, looking disgruntled.
“I’m very sorry” She told us, not sounding sorry at all, “but we’ve received a complaint from a customer, I’m going to have to ask you to leave.” Ben took my hand, glaring back at the woman. He was going to ask her why, to challenge her, to force her to say it, but we both knew. It was always this way.
“Ben,” I muttered, shrinking slightly in to his arm. He was so brave when things like this happened, but I didn’t cope quite so well with the stares. “It’s okay, let’s just go.”
The woman seemed satisfied, but Ben did not.
“Please,” I begged, pulling at his arm.
“I don’t know why you don’t stand up for yourself more.” He said to me as we sat down later for our lunch in a cafe, attracting a few more unkind stares. I set down my abundance of shopping bags, sighing.
“I just… I couldn’t handle an argument. Not today.”
Ben took my hand, squeezing it.”You’re stressed about tonight, aren’t you?” Of course I was. My parents hated him. They weren’t exactly my biggest fans either, as a matter of fact. Tonight’s expensive meal had been an olive branch on their part, but one that could be just as easily retracted. He looked concerned, his huge hand enveloping my little one, and I had to smile back.
“No,” I told him, “it’s okay” I squeezed his hand back. “Everything is okay when you’re around.” He beamed back at me, and we ate our lunch in peace, finishing our day happy as any other couple, wholly in love. We kept our smiles plastered to our faces, pretending like we didn’t hear the comment from the elderly woman sat on the table behind us.
“Their kind should be shot.”
* * *
I needed a few hours to do my hair, and Ben lounged around waiting for me, clearly no less nervous than I was. Fiddling with his collar and jacket, biting his nails. When our taxi arrived, we both looked just about ready to run for it.
“Confidence” he said to me, taking my hand again before we left. I was definitely going to need it.
* * *
“So, sweetie, how’s that job of yours going?” My mother’s attempts at polite conversation had begun to run dry by the main course, and she all-too-soon approached the topic that I had been dreading.
“Bad news, actually,” I began, hoping for the ceiling to fall in, or a car to drive through the window, or the kitchen to spontaneously combust. I’d settle for my own spontaneous combustion if it meant that I didn’t have to finish that sentence. “I was fired.”
I heard my father mutter something that sounded like “typical” but my mother, at least, feigned sympathy.
“oh, honey, that’s terrible! How come?”
“Well, they say that I was nicking money from the till…”
My mum looked appalled, but Ben cut in.
“Wrongly accused.” He said simply. “There’s no way, Mrs. Miller, I assure you – ”
I put my hand on his shoulder to signify that his defence was appreciated, but not necessary.
“Oh, they know I didn’t do it” I said bitterly. My parents stared quizzically, obviously requiring further explanation.
“Well, they needed something legitimate to put on the paperwork, but don’t think it escaped my notice that it all kicked off as soon as my boss found out about Ben.”
The silence thickened.
“He, uh, doesn’t like… Well, he doesn’t agree with my relationship”
My relationship, I thought. Exactly. Mine. Nobody else’s business. But society never seems to work in a way that makes sense, does it?
“well,” my father said gruffly. It was the first time he’d spoken. “I don’t blame him.”
That was about the time that Ben started shouting.
So that’s it. That’s how I ended up at the church that night after storming out, which is stupid really, it’s the church’s fault that I’m here in the first place.
I went to confession – it had been a while – and I told the priest everything I have told you. He couldn’t see my face, but then, neither can you.
“I don’t understand” He said quietly, after a moment. “Why is your relationship such a problem?”
I gave a short, mirthless laugh. Exactly, I thought.
“Father,” I said to him. “I may have a very feminine voice, but even you can’t be so oblivious as to convince yourself that I’m female.”
There was a stunned silence at the other side of the booth.
See, reader, how willing the priest was to blind himself to the obvious, so long as the alternative was accepting that I was a gay man?
He gave me the usual well-intentioned spiel about how there is still hope, how I can be cured, God will forgive me, if only I repent.
I left soon afterwards.
I learned the term ‘heteronormative’ in sociology in high school. The teacher defined it as “a society in which anything other than heterosexuality is a minority.” Another boy in the class raised his hand.
“Actually, sir” he said, his voice confident and polite. “What heteronormativity actually means is a society that treats the LGBTQ community as though it’s a minority.”
Most of the class didn’t know the difference, many were too busy trying to figure out what an “LGBTQ” was.
But I had understood.
That boy had worn a badge that read ‘don’t assume I’m heterosexual’ and his name was Ben.
He was right. Perhaps you, reader, like the priest, assumed at first that I was a woman. Maybe you’re not homophobic, maybe you’re the polar opposite, but you still assumed, right? Don’t worry, it’s not your fault. Blame your culture, the society that brainwashed you, that taught you to treat gays like a minority. The society that treats us like we’re not normal.
None of us are normal.