The first big overseas trip that my late husband Richard and I took together began in Amsterdam. It’s a city that’s just as fun as you’ve heard–and that’s all I will say about THAT in this forum. The second afternoon we were there, we were meandering around in the Red Light District. Richard stepped into an exchange bureau to exchange some American money so we could buy more…souvenirs. I waited for him outside on the narrow sidewalk by the canal.
When he stepped out of the tiny storefront, Richard took my hand and we continued on our walk. Before we had gone 20 feet, a very stoned and twitchy man who looked alarmingly like Osama bin Laden approached Richard. He stuck his hand out and muttered something about money. Richard waved him off and said, “I don’t have any change.” We kept walking with purpose, eyes forward.
Well. That dude thought he had found an easy mark. A short, slight American who had just stepped out of a currency exchange office and now had a lump in the pocket of his jacket? The guy snarled, “I’m not interested in CHANGE!” and snatched as hard as he could at Richard’s pocket. He was disappointed when only a pack of cigarettes fell to the cobblestones. And when Richard gave him a sharp side elbow to the face.
It was on. I expected the man to run away, but he was ready to fight. The two of them circled each other. The pickpocket kept waggling his hands at Richard in a “come at me bro” way and saying “Fucker mother! Fucker mother!” Richard kept his hands up and all his weight on the balls of his feet. The thief took another dive at his pocket. Richard feinted to the right and popped the guy in the head.
Dude KEPT ON yelling “Fucker mother! Fucker mother!” and swatting at Richard. By that time, even in the sparse afternoon crowds, a few people had come over to see what was going on. The pickpocket decided it was time to move on.
I ran to Richard. He was breathing heavy and shivered from adrenaline. He knelt down and retrieved his Marlboros. “Don’t mess with my cigarettes, right?” We laughed in relief. I turned and shouted at the pickpocket’s retreating back: “It’s ‘MOTHER FUCKER!'”
Richard took my hand and we ducked into the nearest bar. I always felt safe after that when I was holding his hand, because he may have been small but I had proof he was fierce and wily. Richard was 5’4″ of badassery if ever the need arose.
This story came back to me last night when Facebook displayed an ad in the sidebar for a trip to Amsterdam. The trip is offered by Olivia Travel–the premiere lesbian travel company. Sorry, Facebook ad algorithm. You misinterpreted all those Wesleyan posts where I talked about how much I love my sisters. Still, I was intrigued by the concept of a lesbian travel company, so I clicked the ad to see what makes it different. This line jumped out at me in the description of Amsterdam as a host city: “You can feel very secure holding hands and being yourself while walking the streets of Amsterdam.”
Dang. Going on vacation to a place where you can feel secure holding hands and being yourself. That wasn’t in my Top 50 reasons to visit Amsterdam. True, The Netherlands was the first country to legalize gay marriage. It’s also the site of the Homomonument in Amsterdam–a series of pink granite triangles built in memory of those killed by the Nazis for being homosexual. Jews wore the yellow star; homosexuals wore the pink triangle. We went there on our way to the Anne Frank House. But it never even crossed my mind.
The tagline on the Olivia ad was “feel free.” They charter the entire ship, or rent out an entire resort, so that their clients can relax and be themselves.
My eyes were opened a little wider because of that ad and I’m glad for it. I’ve never had to go somewhere other than my home just so I could be myself. To do something as simple as holding hands as I walk down the street beside the person I love. My experience of feeling safe holding hands in Amsterdam is very different from some of my sisters’. I only had to worry about being robbed–not being judged and robbed.
I feel free to squeeze my partner’s hand, or give him a peck on the lips, or say goodbye with a hug wherever we are–PTO meeting, Kroger parking lot, cafeteria at work, airport curb. Hell, I feel free to have a snarling fight with him in those places, too, because we’re just free.
Holding hands for a stroll down the beach, or for comfort after a robbery attempt, or during the prayer at church–that’s a simple thing so many of us take for granted. And so many of us can’t.