‘Hand on Your Heart’

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Photo credit: Billy Simon via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

When I was fourteen I promised my mum and dad I would stay safe and be careful. In return they promised to buy me Kylie Minogue’s latest album from the big Tesco. It was 1997. Kylie was going through her indie stage. She was an Impossible Princess and so was I. Around this time I was drawn to the sights and sounds of Soho and singing Some Kind of Bliss. Every Saturday night me and my best mate would go and flirt with all the boys in all the bars. It was fun. Soho felt safe. Safe to hug your boyfriend at the time. Snogs in Soho Square. Hand in hand from Soho to Trafalgar Square to get the N36 home. Once we were on that bus. Stop. Breathe. It was time to go undercover. Under the radar. No cuddles. No kisses. No hand holding. Suburbs here we come. Home time.

Kylie released more albums. Light Years flew by. I grew up. I met other boys. I’d do my best to stay safe and read others’ body language. I met someone who I fell in love with and spent nearly all my twenties with. I took it Slow. On our first date in Surrey after a delicious Italian meal we went for a walk and he took my hand and kissed me for the very first time. Out of no where we heard some boy shout ‘Oi you gays!’ Ah… romance. I’m sure if I was a Red Blooded Women I wouldn’t have had to hear that comment. But it didn’t put us off a second date. We carried on for nearly six years. Wow. I taught him everything there was to know about Kylie, he taught me everything there was to know about The West Wing. Time passed. Kylie came and went. She reinvented herself. So did I. She had other boyfriends. So did I. All the lovers. Then me and Kylie had little break.

This year at the age of thirty four I was on a lovely third date with a really hot Scottish guy called Jim. It was Sunday and we we sitting hand in hand outside the TATE Modern. I reached over and held Jim’s hand watching the sun go down.  It was very Dawson’s Creek. For one small moment I thought I could hear Sixpence None The Richer playing Kiss Me in the background. Very 1996. He gave my hand a little squeeze. Suddenly without warning around fifteen teenagers on bikes came whizzing by on their bike. The first teenager spotted the hand holding instantly. “You queer!” The next teenager “Aww you a batty man.” And so on. A Woolworths pick and mix of insults. I wasn’t thrilled. Jim wasn’t thrilled either. It suddenly felt less Dawson’s Creek and more up shit creek. This is the Southbank for Pete Waterman’s sake. Sad times for Scottish Jim. But remember, Kylie has taught me well, I’ve got a first class honours degree in Spinning Around.

As a gay man in London I’ve often had to stop and think is this the safest option to hold your hand in this area of town, at this time of day.

In all seriousness, homophobic abuse on the Southbank wasn’t fun. It’s wrong. I felt really pissed off. It actually shook me up a bit. I’ve always been a fan of public displays of affection. I think it’s really cute seeing two people holding hands as they walk down the street. In the big wide world of dating PDAs are vital to survival in the early stages of getting to know someone. I think it’s really important to hold that hand. Kiss them goodbye. Stop for a hug. In the past I’ve usually let the other person take the lead. I know we all have different preferences and tastes, I get that. But as a gay man in London I’ve often had to stop and think is this the safest option to hold your hand in this area of town, at this time of day.

However, this Summer I met a man who couldn’t give a flying fuck what someone else thought about us holding hands. Well, the problem was, I suddenly did. There I was giving it the big one: I’m so out! I’m so proud! I’m so… oh, I’m just going to break my hand free while that gang on the corner on their bikes walk by. But why? Well, there was that one incident. But should I naively assume that these young people aren’t open to seeing two people expressing their love for one another. Self censoring. New lovely man couldn’t care less.

To add to the matter at hand, he is the biggest hand holder I’ve ever met. And now…well, I’m a little bit addicted to it. He’s putting his hand where his heart is and that to be right next to me. I’ve heard this expression ‘be the change’ which is lovely. Yeah good luck with that babes. That’s all well and good ‘be the change’ and try not to feel distressed if someone calls you “a fucking queer”. But, there is a small part of my brain that wants to play by the old rules of 1997. I promised to stay out of trouble. I said I would keep myself safe. But lets now remember that was twenty year ago, that’s eight Kylie albums later.

So I’m  going to leave you with this: I went home the other weekend to introduce an new incredible man to the parents and show him the embarrassing photos of when I was young ballroom dancing champion. During the evening I went upstairs to get something from the loft. Well a sign it literally fell at my feet, it was Kylie. It was my favourite tape ever. Yes… a tape, do we remember them? Enjoy Yourself, her second album.. For me, her truest and purest album. I suddenly felt like a kid again, I turned over the tape. The first track Hand On Your Heart. It’s a sign from Kylie.

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Originally from South London, Chris is an actor, writer, teacher, and co-founder of Hyphen Theatre Company. As an actor he has worked in Iceland and the UK, performing at London venues including The Criterion, The Lyric, The Yard and Greenwich Theatre. Connect with Chris on Twitter via @ImChrisWoodley and @HyphenTC