My wife and I spent a lifetime hiding. No big deal, really.
For 42 years, she hid that she is a woman.
For 40 years, I hid that I'm a lesbian.
(Like I said, just some small stuff.)
For over 20 of those years, we kept these secrets from each other and the world. She thought she would lose everything if she told me who she really is, so she lived as a man. I thought I was married to a man, so saying "Can you grab some milk while you're out, honey? Oh, and P.S., I'm gay as all get out" might not go over so well.
It's hard to wrap my head around. Over two decades of living together, loving one another, raising a family and building a life, and yet we felt compelled to keep these fundamental truths from one another. A lifetime of living lies.
In many ways, we are a product of what I hope is a dying point of view in our society: This idea that everyone must conform to an expected standard of identity and love. That standard insisted the body my wife was born into dictates her gender, and the one I was born into dictates who I love. We were born before the mighty words of Janet Mock, the bold proclamations of Ellen Degeneres, before the creators of the Matrix Trilogy were known as the "Wachowski Sisters."
It was not safe. Still, some people came out anyway. The trailblazers, the brave ones, the ones who couldn't or wouldn't hide any longer. They paved the way for me and Zoe to outwardly be who we are: both of us women who love women. We owe them a huge debt.
And so, here we are, far too many years later. It's our first Valentine's Day as an out and proud couple. Around this time last year, Zoe was awaiting her ID change with her new name and proper gender marker. With that, she would make the final switch at work, send an email to everyone, take a few days off and then finally be able to live as herself full-time. We were in a stressful holding pattern, and it made for a very unromantic day of love.
I feel like we've wasted a whole lot of time trying to be people we're not. But rather than live in regret, we're simply trying to live. Now. Today.
Because it's the day of love, I made plans for us at a nice restaurant in our Ottawa, Canada suburb. This part of town is historically conservative: middle to upper-middle class, straight as I pretended to be, white as the first Disney princess, with enough privilege to vote on conservative tax policies without giving much thought to the oppressive social policies that often come with that platform.
For nearly an entire year, I have been afraid to hold my wife's hand in public. We used to do it all the time when we were pretending to be normies. Nobody thinks twice when they see a straight couple showing some PDA. But as soon as Zoe started living outwardly as Zoe, I let go of her hand. And with that, I let go of a familiar and special part of our love.
Sadly, my fears surrounding gay PDA are founded: We are much more likely to be victims of harassment and violence. And as a trans woman, Zoe has a much larger target painted on her back than I do. I worry that drawing too much attention could put her at risk. Maybe the rowdy group of guys standing outside the pub will take notice if we don't just look like friends. Maybe the drunk girls at the next table will take a second look if we're too cozy in our booth.
And it's even scarier now. With the rise of Trump and the bigots who support him, hate crime rates have been increasing. Hate is emboldened and bubbling to the surface in terrifying ways. In Canada, we saw our first mass shooting in ages, directed at the Muslim community. How long before we see ones targeting other marginalized communities, too? None of us are safe.
So I haven't been holding Zoe's hand, or kissing her if we're parting ways in public.
I have flinched when she reaches across the restaurant table to touch my arm affectionately. I recoil and my eyes scan the room.
"It's fine," she'll say to me. She wants so desperately to have what we used to have.
"It's not fine," I'll tell her. "I wish it was."
I am afraid.
And I am fucking tired of it.
As it turns out, I don't do well with letting fear dictate my life. I let it do that for far too long. Not only in the past year, but for all of my 40 years. What will people think? What will happen if I let the world know who I am? What will they do?
Well, we're about to find out. Because tonight, at the fancy restaurant full of normies, I will reach across the table and
We are going to behave like every other couple there. Because our love deserves space, too. Our love is just as valid, just as special, and arguably worthy of some serious celebration, given everything we've gone through to get here. We've come a long way, and we're going to honour that.
Visibility is scary, but it's also important. That restaurant - and any other public space we occupy - will be full of people who vote. The next time they go to the polls, I want them to vote with all families in mind, and not just the ones that most resemble them.
Many will likely have kids at home. I want to spark conversations in their living rooms and on the way to hockey practice about how people should be allowed to love who they love and be who they are. Maybe the parents won't be the ones doing the teaching, either. Our kids are living with far fewer hangups than we are; we should start listening to them.
Many of these folks will be going to work tomorrow. I want to normalize what should be entirely normal: two people in love. And that way, when a co-worker transitions or brings his boyfriend to the Christmas party, it'll be no big thang. "There are gay couples everywhere, you know. And trans people, too. Just saw a really sweet couple in the restaurant last night, actually."
But mostly, I just want to hold her hand. Because I love her. And I miss her. And I want that part of our life back.
So tonight, my valentine, I will be the one reaching across the table. The muggles be damned.