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How a lack of public displays of affection can ruin intimacy

Gina Battye, a renowned LGBT+ self coach, discusses how many LGBT+ people often feel uncomfortable with public displays of affection but how that can come at an emotional cost.

I remember walking down the street as a heterosexual couple; it was easy. Without a care in the world, young and in love, we were able to express our love and affection for each other.

We live in a world where being cisgendered and heterosexual is the norm. Where it is socially acceptable for a heterosexual couple to express their love for each other in public; kissing, holding hands and hugging.

From a young age, that is what we are conditioned to think and believe is normal. 

Trouble is, I didn’t find it normal. I remember growing up and watching TV with my mum and brothers. Heterosexual intimacy of any kind made me feel uncomfortable, to the point where I would turn away or leave the room.

(Photo credit: Zackary Drucker/The Gender Spectrum Collection)
(Photo credit: Zackary Drucker/The Gender Spectrum Collection)

In July 2017 the UK Government asked LGBT+ people to complete a survey about different parts of their lives. More than 108,000 people completed the survey.

68% of respondents said they avoided holding hands in public with their same-sex partner for fear of a negative reaction from others. And the most common places where cisgender respondents had avoided being open about their sexual orientation were on public transport (65%) and in the workplace (56%).

I hear from my clients all the time things like “I still won’t walk down the street holding hands with my partner or kiss on public transport, for fear of being attacked. Simple things that heterosexual people take for granted.”

In public, as a same-sex couple, you are constantly on high alert. You are never fully in the moment and able to appreciate the love and affection between you. Subconscious thoughts of ‘don’t let your guard down’ and ‘don’t assume everything will be ok’ are always with you. Even in gay-friendly bars.

What Is Going On Under The Surface?

By the age of around 6-7 years old, your belief system has been formed from what you heard and experienced around you.

Imagine.

You have been hearing messages from a young age. Relationships, money, career, gender, success. You get the idea.

Those messages are going to seep into your subconscious mind. They are going to sit there and form what you believe to be true. As a child, and later as an adult, unless you challenge them.

This conditioning comes from a variety of different sources. Close to home the messages come from your parents, family, school, friends, peers, people in your community and religious institutions. External influences are the political system, the government, mass media (TV, magazines, newspapers, radio stations), the books you read, the websites you browse, music and marketing advertisements.

What you believe to be true today as an adult is a result of the social conditioning and messages you heard as a young child.

Your life right now (unless you have worked on your beliefs and you have done some inner work) is being lived and experienced based on your 6 year old beliefs.

The Impact On Your Adult Life

So, you have this internalised social conditioning. We all have it.

What that means in reality is that you are constantly censoring yourself and adapting your behaviour to ensure you fit in and are accepted in your communities.

You wear a mask to hide who you really are. Different masks for different people and situations.

Now, if you step outside of the social norms, that is where issues arise.

The mass media portrays heterosexual relationships as the norm, with scenes of homosexuality or transgender characters hitting the headlines amongst controversy.

We are led to believe that a successful love life looks like a monogamous, heterosexual relationship – married with 2.4 kids.

We are not conditioned to think homosexual relationships are ‘normal’. I can’t recall ever seeing a debate show on mainstream TV that discussed ‘does God see heterosexuality as a sin?’ Can you?

When you share your true sexuality or gender with people, you are judged. There is no question about it. You are opening yourself up to being judged by your family, friends, colleagues, acquaintances, people in the street and those that observe you from afar.

Same-Sex Public Displays of Affection

When you go out with your partner, do you exchange those glances that speak a thousand words? Do you gently brush up against each other? Do you hold hands, touch their face and show your love towards each other openly? Do you act on a kiss in the heat of the moment? Do you dance together at family weddings?

Or do you ‘save all that up’ for the safety of your own home?

Holding hands, a touch to the leg or the arm, a stroke of the face, a glance that says you care – these are always considered. Always assessing and on guard.

Assessing every single thought of intimacy or affection for potential risks is commonplace for the LGBT+ community.

Before you lean in for a kiss, you check all around you to see if there is anyone there. Always on the look-out asking ‘who can see us? How much time do we have before someone walks in and sees us?’

Constantly on guard looking around to see who is watching, judging and criticising.

Many same-sex couples don’t feel comfortable or safe to express affection openly with their partner in public; holding back a part of who they really are for fear of being attacked in some way.

Anxious about their safety. Worried about what other people will think and how they will react, because of their unchallenged conditioning from childhood. So many unknowns and unpredictable things to consider when outside of the home.

As a same-sex couple, to express affection towards your partner could result in negative comments, physical abuse, hatred and intense judgement. 

I know. I have experienced it.

Over the years I have personally experienced words that are unpleasant from friends, colleagues and managers and been physically assaulted simply for being with my partner. We have even experienced direct and indirect homophobic behaviour when stood next to each other in a queue.

The Homophobic Hate Crime study by Stonewall in 2013 stated that 26% of lesbian, gay and bi-sexual people alter their behaviour to hide their sexual orientation to avoid being the victim of a hate crime.  

I am one of those statistics.

Since a homophobic experience my partner and I experienced at Wimbledon Tennis Championships in the 2000’s, I act very differently when I am outside our home.

I no longer express any public affection and am sure to tame down my mannerisms and gestures.

Even in an environment where I am surrounded by gay people or only my friends, I alter my behaviour.

As a tactile person this is challenging to uphold throughout the day. I put the mask on in the morning and keep it firmly in place until I am alone again in the safety of my own home.

The truth is we’re not affectionate with each other in public anymore. You probably wouldn’t even know we were a couple.

I know we are not alone. Same-sex couples all around the world note this change in behaviour too.

(Photo credit: Zackary Drucker / The Gender Spectrum Collection)
(Photo credit: Zackary Drucker / The Gender Spectrum Collection)

Experiencing the subtle homophobia that is underlying our society, you learn to hide certain elements of yourself away (such as those quirky gay hand gestures you have) and begin to wear masks, for different people and situations.

So often we put on a façade, or a mask. This can be a mask we wear all through our life or only in certain areas – such as at work.

According to the Gay In Britain Report by Stonewall in 2013, 26% of LGB workers are not at all open to colleagues about their sexual orientation.

Based on your experiences, you quickly learn to censor, adapt and hide the real you.

Closing off your emotions and only showing what you want others to see, you hide an element of yourself away. You don’t show your real and true self. A preservation strategy to make sure you stay safe.

Can Lack of PDA Ruin Intimacy?

Is it possible to escape from all that ‘hiding behind masks’ back in the home? Is it possible to turn the switch so easily from ‘closed’ to ‘intimate’ with your partner? Is it easy to take off the masks you wear so quickly and effortlessly?

No.

Is it possible to be unscathed by all of that stuff going on outside the home? The abuse, the judgements, the disconnection and constantly looking over your shoulder.

No.

Is it possible to identify as an LGBT+ adult and be happy and at peace with who you are? Where you can openly express yourself in public, even when you are with your partner?

Suppressing your natural urges to be affectionate and intimate in public over the years can impact on intimacy back in the home. It isn’t like all of a sudden you stop being affectionate or intimate together. It is more subtle than that.

Because you are closing off a part of yourself when you are outside of the home, naturally that begins to seep into your relationship back in the home too.

I know over the years I haven’t given myself fully in life or love as a result of this. Always holding back. Pulling back and withdrawing some of myself to make sure I stay safe and protected. Both outside the home and when alone with my partner.

Do you do the same?

I hear time and time again my clients say things like:

‘I have noticed I am not tactile with my partner in front of my family or friends anymore. We used to be.’

‘I noticed the other day that we were sat at opposite ends of the living room. This is our ‘new normal’. In the past we would be sat up close, snuggling and sharing a bar of chocolate.’

Subconsciously, back in the home you continue to wear that mask and to hold those barriers up.

What Can I Do About It?

When you are with your partner at home, notice the level of connection, affection and intimacy you feel.

Become more aware of how you are showing up when you are alone with your partner versus outside the home.

What do you notice?

Have a conversation about it. Allow yourself to express your vulnerabilities. Create the space so your partner can do the same.

Remember, you don’t need to shut down that part of you when you are at home. It is a safe space where you can express yourself fully with your partner.

Bring ALL of who you are to your relationship.

And if you notice you are not right now, don’t worry. You can change that in a heartbeat.

Gina Battye is a renowned LGBT+ Coach and Authentic Self specialist.

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Written by Gina Battye

Gina Battye is a world-renowned Authentic Self Coach, Trainer and Consultant.

Described as "The Best of Louise Hay and Ellen DeGeneres" Gina is a passionate, knowledgeable and renowned LGBT+ Coach and Authentic Self specialist who delivers unique, powerful, heartfelt 121 coaching and corporate training worldwide. Gina creates breakthroughs every day for the LGBT+ community, on a global scale.

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