(Part 4 of Other Peoples Windows: An attempt to provide a glimpse into someone else’s life)
As Emma walked through the gates at Camden tube, she looked quickly at the instructions Tom had written in the message he’d sent her, take exit to ur right, turn right on st, n head up main street. When u get2lock, cross to other side, ill b on middle of bridge. As Emma exited the station, and headed past the chip shop, tourist shops, and tattoo advertisements her eyes landed on a couple kissing. Not just any couple, a girl and girl couple. As Emma cringed, she knew the cringe was not one of judgement, after all she wasn’t the homophobic type, she had no problems with her ‘gay friend’ George, she just didn’t need to see it in her face. Kissing. No one likes public displays of affection, and just because they were into it, didn’t mean they should assume she was. Emma shook her head as she walked by, it was so frustrating the lack of respect for other people. Seriously, who did they think they were, rubbing everyones face in it?
As I sat at the table, looking at my friends I felt anger. Not that they would know it. Julie had given me that look as I left in the morning, the look of why are you even bothering with these people? I knew why, I knew where she was coming from, but they had been my friends for years. I had grown up with these girls. Kara I had known since reception, and Bec and Lyn since secondary. We had been through a lot together, but since school, things had changed. I had come out not long after we finished, and while the girls were supportive, for the most part I felt very much like their token “gay friend.” In fact, I strongly suspected that in the instances when they did mention me to friends, that was the exact description so, because the second I came out to them, it seemed my life as a person, would from then always be over shadowed by life as a gay. With all respect to my friends, they had always took an interest in my ‘life style’ to a small extent, asking if there was “anyone special” in my life, always using very politically correct, gender neutral references to any potential partners. Up until today, my answer had always been “no, not really.” It had never been a lie, I mean I’d seen a few girls, been on dates, had a few crushes, but nothing had really been special, until now.
Today was different though, I finally had someone special, and today I had decided to tell my friends about Julie.
The conversation had started out well enough, the Bec had started telling us about her life first, filling us in on the latest news, followed by Kara, then Lyn. Eventually my turn had come.
“So, Jayme, how about you, anything exciting going on?” Lyn asked.
“Well, yes, actually, I do have a bit of news.” I replied, smiling proudly.
“Really?” Kara asked as the three of them all leant forward in anticipation. “A promotion?”
I shook my head. “No, better. I’ve started seeing someone, and its getting serious.”
There was a brief moments silence, before Kara finally responded with a smile, clearly forced, stuck to her face as unfitting as a spice girls poster stuck to a museum wall.
“So, uh, Whats, uh, her name?” Kara said, emphasising gently the word “her”
“Her name is Julie.” I replied, sure that my friends would warm up, “She is a teacher, works in Kilburn, and she is a movie buff like you Bec!”
My friends nodded.
“That’s fantastic.” Bec said, “We’d love to meet her sometime. So what else is new? How is work?”
It took a moment for me to catch up to the sudden change in conversation, but I somehow managed, each passing minute infuriating me more and more that I could not talk more about the person I was falling in love with. The first person I had ever fallen in Love with. I had attended so many of these catch ups, and listened to countless hours talking about the others important “firsts” in the romance department. I had listened and contributed to many conversations about how the others met their most recent beau, everything from how he looked, to how he made his first move, to what brand of aftershave he wore! Before I had met any of the girls boyfriends, I had already known everything about them, yet now, as I sat eager to talk more about Julie, her photo in my bag, ready to show off, I realised this time, not half the detail would be discussed.
A month and a half later, I found myself back at a different table, at the same café again with my friends, this time, after much consideration, I had decided to confront my friends. As we sat down, I quickly gained control of the conversation, and explained that I had been hurt last time at how little interest my friends had taken in Julie, and how very much I was invested in my relationship with her. The girls nodded in a way that showed that they accepted what I was saying and slowly started to ask questions about Julie, where did she grow up? How did we meet? What did she look like? Excitably I answered all questions, assisting my friends in getting to know why it was I liked Julie so much. I started to feel more comfortable and answer things more honestly, and the girls, now fuelled by a shared 2 and a half jugs of Mojitos were starting to losen up with their questions.
“So is she a good kisser?” Bec asked, giggling.
“A 10 out of 10!” I laughed
“And in bed?” Lyn added, grinning cheekily
“Lets just say” I started, “That when she….”
“Stop!” Bec interrupted suddenly. “Im sorry, I can’t hear that much detail! Im such a prude, I know, but Im straight, its weird to talk like this.”
“Oh thank god!” Lyn chimed in. “I was just thinking the same thing, and didn’t know how to say it!”
“Me too!” Kara added, laughing.
The girls giggled playfully.
“Sorry, its not that we aren’t happy for you, or that we don’t accept you for who you are” Lyn explained, “Its just that it’s a foreign concept for us to talk like this, I don’t know, perhaps it’s a little prudish, but “girl on girl action” is just a little bit ‘risqué’ for me!”
Lyn pouted her lips, and rose her eyebrows to give a sad puppy dog look.
“You understand, don’t you?”
I didn’t know how to respond, I had barely said anything, and certainly had not even danced on the lines that the others had crossed in previous conversations, yet here they were implying that I was the dirty one? That making love to the woman I cared about and briefly hinting that she could more than satisfy me was dirty? I could not believe it, and I was beginning to see, clearer than ever before that these girls had never actually accepted me, they were tolerating me, and worse still, I was allowing them to think that I was someone who needed to be tolerated.
“No, to be honest, I don’t understand.” I said finally, reaching into my bag to get my wallet to pay for my lunch, signalling that I was finished. “It has never even occurred to me that I would need to ‘accept’ any one of you for your life style choices, you are who you are, and that is it. I don’t expect you to sit there and listen to me give explicit details about my sex life with Julie, not because what we do is dirty, but because I am not like that, I was merely going to mention that she satisfies me. Personally, I don’t feel the need to go into detail, because I respect Julie, and prefer that our private life is kept just that, private. My orientation has nothing to do with that particular standard. In the past I have listened to each of you give many more details about your own sex lifes, than I even attempted to give today, and I have never heard any of us refer to those conversations as “dirty”. You may say you accept who I am, but today has proved otherwise, and I refuse to be subjected to this judgement anymore.”
Without waiting for, or even allowing a reply, I marched out of the restaurant and headed home towards Chalk Farm. As I neared Mornington Cresent, I called Julie, and asked her to meet me at our spot in Camden in 10 minutes. When I got into Camden, I walked slowly up to the bridge that overlooked the canal that runs beside the main markets, and looked out at the boat slowly rising in the lock.
“Hey lovely, what happened?” Julie asked.
“I confronted them.” I said, not giving detail, knowing that Julie would know who I meant.
“Aw, are you ok?” Julie sympathised.
“Can I ask what set it off?”
“The same thing as every other time” I replied, not wanting to replay the events.
Julie leant in towards me, pulling me into a hug, before aligning her face with mine, ready to kiss me.
“Stop. Please.” I said, pulling myself out of the embrace, and turning to lean against the bridge railing.
“What is it?” Julie said anger starting to creep into her face as she gently turned me to face her. “Why can I not kiss my girlfriend when she is upset? Why are there always so many limits on where and when we can do something as simple as kissing?”
“You can. Just not here, it isn’t right.”
“You know” Julie started, her voice losing a little anger “before you can expect anyone else to believe that this is normal, and ok, you too have to fully believe it. Sometimes I wonder if you truly do.”
A tear rolled down my cheek, flicker of truth behind Julies words stinging. As much as I loved Julie, loved what we had together, and knew that it was the most natural thing in the world for us to be together, there was the seed of doubt planted by so many other people in my life. Friends like Lyn, Bec and Kara had continued to chip away at my strong sense of confidence over the years, and slowly started to convince me that there was something different or odd about me, simply because, like everyone else, I pursued a relationship with the gender that I was naturally attracted to. I was convinced that I should hide. As I looked at the “straight” couple kissing nearby, I realised that I had not judged their choice to kiss in public, and actually found it romantic, kissing in such a beautiful place, I knew that needed to be me, celebrating my love and seeking comfort from my partner with a small kiss, just like so many couples before us.
I grabbed Julie and held her tight, aligning her face with mine.
“I love you” I said, as I leant in and kissed her softly on the mouth.