InDepthNH.org welcomes Tori Tucker, our new intern. Tori will be writing a regular column called “The Gay Agenda” and helping raise funds through our underwriting and major donor campaign.
When people come out as LGBTQ, often times they are met with well-meaning warnings of ridicule. For me, when I came out to my parents I was almost immediately told that I would be loved no matter what by my family, but not to expect the same from strangers.
Fast forward some time later and here I am, out with my girlfriend. We don’t hide our relationship. In fact, we go most places together, hand in hand. When we first began dating I worried that we would receive unkind comments or stares from people on the street, but instead what I found was quite the opposite. No one seemed to bat an eye. Not in Portsmouth where I’d lived for so many years, nor in Keene where I went to school, did a single person look at us for a moment longer than necessary, and those who did would smile as if they were in on some kind of big gay secret.
For so long I just assumed that this was normal. And in truth it should be normal. People should not be judged for their relationships or identity, and I thought that it was possible that the majority of the populace were simply more progressive and open-minded than I’d given them credit for. Then the 2016 election happened and I realized that there were many more people than I’d realized that just didn’t seem to care. The fact that people, namely people of color and LGBTQ people, would suffer wasn’t a deal-breaker for the white majority. I found myself being more wary of people in public places when out with my girlfriend, but things were always as they had been at home and at school so I thought that maybe once again I had misjudged and I didn’t have to worry about people so much. That is until my girlfriend and I decided to take a trip.
For the first two weeks of January we vacationed in Florida together. It was on that trip that I realized that it wasn’t about misjudging people, it was misjudging the people who lived in New Hampshire. The first evening we spent in Florida we decided that it would be nice to go watch the sunset down on the beach, so we packed our towels and took the short walk to the shore, where we planted ourselves in the sand. That was the first time I noticed it.
As we sat there side by side, watching the sun sink below the ocean, our fingers intertwined, I felt as though we were being watched. As I turned my head to say something to her, out of the corner of my eye I noticed two boys, probably high school age, both sporting “Trump 2016” t-shirts, staring at us, as if they were waiting for something to happen. Deciding I wouldn’t let them bother us, and convincing myself that this wouldn’t be much of a recurrence I ignored them and we later returned to the place we were staying.
However, the very next day when my girlfriend and I returned to the beach it happened again. As we shared a kiss my girlfriend noticed two boys, different boys, closer to our own age openly pointing at us as if we were a spectacle in a freak show. I saw them too, and while I knew my girlfriend wouldn’t bring them up for fear of making me uncomfortable, I knew she was annoyed too. I could have made a scene, made them feel ridiculous, but there was no point.
As the next two weeks passed this sense of being watched seemed to follow us, every time we held hands, or shared a kiss, any time we joked about being gay, which we do a lot, eyes seemed to follow us, but nothing came of it, at least not until we were at the airport waiting to board our return flight to Boston.
While we sat at our gate, waiting for our airline to announce boarding, my girlfriend and I began joking with each other, affectionately “accusing” each other of gay behavior. (“What?! I’ve never been gay in my life!”) That was when the woman sitting across from us all but gave herself whiplash in order to throw us a hard stare before gathering her bags and promptly moving to another seat.
Never have I seen such public outrage, with my own eyes at the mention of the word “gay” in my life. We weren’t even sharing physical affection, barely holding hands. (Granted I was sporting a pink baseball cap that had a rainbow on it, but that’s beside the point.) That was the moment I was truly thankful for living in New Hampshire, and the moment I thought about how vastly different Florida actually is from New Hampshire, and the rest of New England for that matter.
I’ve always known that, in general, the north is much more progressive than the south, but I’ve always thought of Florida as an exception to this generalization until I experienced the stigmatization myself. After this experience traveling to Florida with my girlfriend, I found myself feeling incredibly grateful that I live in New Hampshire where people don’t make a spectacle of my relationship, and treat us equally (at least so far). And while I am fearful of what will become of our country in the next four years, I take comfort in the fact that I live in a state that doesn’t bat an eye at two women loving one another openly and un-apologetically.
Tori Tucker was born and raised in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. She is a student, author, and activist, and is currently in her senior year at Keene State College where she is finishing her English-Writing BA. In addition to being a writing student Tori also is pursuing minors in music and German.