Public or Private?

Last week we had our annual conference at work and this year the theme was Diversity. As part of that event we launched our own Human Library and I was privileged to be one of the books in it. This means that “readers” select you by way of a title and are then allowed a time to “read” you. This usually takes the form of a very interesting conversation as the reader has been introduced to their book by way of a particular attribute that perhaps would not normally crop up in conversation. Somehow this enable a quality of conversation that I have seldom seen elsewhere.

tumblr_inline_mn8xcw8a9i1qz4rgpMy title was “The man who cannot hold his husband’s hand.” obviously referring to my sexuality but also highlight my fear of the reaction that public displays of affection towards my partner might attract. This fear is something I have shared with a few colleagues and has been a complete shock to them. Whilst I don’t think I am alone in this concern I do usually point out that as we avoid such displays it is not something I have tested recently except at the annual local Pride events.

I hope that my readers gained some insight into what being gay means as part of that event. I certainly gained further confirmation on an issue that has become increasingly clear to me. This being that our sexuality is about so much more than just sexual activity. I think it also covers who and what we are attracted to; who we love; how relate to people; what we like; and also how we express our gender identity. It is certainly not just “something you do in the privacy of your own home”, as one of my readers commented. Perhaps the word sexuality itself isn’t very helpful in this respect.

This has led me to wonder where that is why some people view sexuality as a choice. I know from my own experience that it was most definitely not a choice in exactly the same way that gender, race, and age are not choices.  And could this lack of understanding be part of why we often see such hatred and anger towards gay people.

I’d welcome others thoughts and reflections on these musings.



About Sean Kent

Accountant and non-executive director based in Norfolk. Interests include coaching, food, wine and technology.
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9 Responses to Public or Private?

  1. I have done the same thing for the last 2 years and spoke to people who have had very little contact with anyone LGBT that they were aware of. I did not expect to change minds or opinions but I did make some people think about their positions as they did not look at me and think “gay” or act how they thought I would act. It was an amazing thing to do and would do again in a heartbeat.

  2. Sarah King says:

    I never realised you felt that way about PDA’s, it makes me a little sad that the fear of peoples reactions would stop you!

  3. Shaun Reid says:

    I totally understand what you are saying. It seems that I have spent my entire adult life feeling self conscious about showing public displays of affection toward a male partner. It would never occur to me to automatically display affection to my husband, without first, intuitively gauging the people and the circumstances around us. Even now, I am always slightly taken aback when I see young gay couples holding hands in very public places, and I wonder if it is a generational thing on my part. Did my childhood, in the homophobic 70’s, set the tone for how I would live the rest of my life? This was never more apparent than a few years ago when Nick and I had a Civil Partnership ceremony and the officiant, who may have sensed our hesitation, said, “It’s ok, you can kiss each other, if you like.” We did, but I still felt uneasy about doing so in front of a stranger.

    • Sean Kent says:

      Thanks For your comments, Shaun. I know exactly what you mean and felt very similar at our Civil Partnership ceremony myself. I often wonder if the issue is more my fear than the reality but I seldom have the courage to test that unless I feel really safe.

  4. This weekend my brothers husband and I took my parents (his inlaws) out for lunch for Mother’s Day. Before lunch we took a stroll along the Southbank, it was a beautiful day and lots if people were out and about.

    My brother and J have been together for about 16 years and married for 6 next month. It was J who remarked on Sunday how lovely it was to see so many same sex couples holding hands – and there were I hadn’t really noticed but when he mentioned it there were three couples (not together) all holding hands.

    My parents (70 year olds) hadn’t noticed, and no one around seemed to be reacting.

    It was just people in love being together.

    I know that it’s a small thing but I honestly believe times and attitudes are changing and I hope that in my lifetime a couple who card about each other won’t warrant a comment or second glance.

    (On another note love the Human Library idea)

    • Sean Kent says:

      Thanks for your comment. I hope for that too. Even now I think there are more places where I would feel safe to express affection for my husband by holding his hand. I think large cities often feel more accepting of diversity and Pride type events are helping to spread this further afield. The Human Library is not only great fun but also a brilliant way to help people to understand and lose some of their prejudices.

  5. Thank you for your openness Sean. Your post reminded me how lucky the majority of us are to be able to bring our whole selves to work – and the difficulties of disclosure if you are not working in an environment – and with people – which respects you for what you are. I thought the Human Library idea was fantastic – and I hope that this – and your bravery – will encourage others to create more open and inclusive workplaces.

    • Sean Kent says:

      Paul, Thanks for your comments. The impact of people of bringing their whole selves to work is indeed great and is another subject that I often reflect on. I know from personal experience that being “out” in the work place whilst generally providing a great sense of relief and ease, does still present challenges; and this even though I work in an incredibly supportive environment.

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