cw: homophobia and transphobia, brief mentions of D/s and “Daddy”
The car is full of sunlight and song. We almost always sing on long drives. Hamilton, “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” Imagine Dragons. We have playlists for every mood and mode. I love to sing, though I’m not always great at it. They love to sing, and they are. We remember most of the words, except when we don’t, and then we mess up the same way in the same verse and laugh because of our subconscious agreement on how the song should go.
Outside the car is the countryside, and that’s why we love to drive. The South, for its flaws, is beautiful. Ancient, gnarled oak trees drip with Spanish moss; glossy horses trot past weather-grayed fences. It’s no longer summertime, but the cotton is high. It is summertime, and peaches hang heavy from trees, so close I could reach out the window and take one. The sky is the color of faded denim, or maybe it’s low and steel-gray, or maybe it’s dark and constellations stand overhead, familiar as old friends. The scent of a woodfire slips in through the vents, sometimes magnolia. Sometimes strange, dark shapes slip past us in twilight. Our drives happen so often, in so many directions. But it is always full of song, and we’re together, and that brings its own sunshine regardless of the weather.
I am often afraid here.
Everyone knows that the South does not welcome our togetherness. Plenty of other places don’t, either, but this is where we are. Damien looks like a woman, like me, and it feels like every truck is sold with a MAGA bumper sticker. When I first moved here, we did not hold hands in public. I was scared, and they were protective.
We were together at home, after all. And we still went everywhere together. Did it matter if we held hands or linked arms? Did it matter if I hugged them? Maybe it didn’t.
In the car, we smile at each other, and it’s not just a smile. It’s a smile, the kind that’s too warm for the public we’re afraid of, but we’re in the car. The world can’t see, and if they can, what can they do? I put a hand on their arm as we drive. Damien, ever the dutiful Daddy, reaches out to adjust my shirt where it’s riding up on my round belly, then tickles me a little because they love the squawk I make. We sing the sappiest love songs, and make fun of them, and mean every lyric.
The last few years I’ve gotten braver. Sometimes I grab their hand or arm in public. Sometimes we embrace. I’ve cut my hair in a stereotypical queer style, and Damien’s chemo-pixie looks intentional. We are together, and look like this, and sometimes we touch. We know it’s a statement, and there’s still a moment where we make a decision on whether or not we should hold hands. Sometimes we choose not to, still, but more and more often we do.
Or maybe it’s not bravery at all. Maybe it’s anger. “Oh, you have a problem with this? I dare you to say something. I fucking dare you.”
No one ever has. If anyone has glared, I haven’t noticed. A few people have smiled—a surprised smile, a smile that says, “Oh! I must assure you that I don’t mind your presence!” It is kind, in its way, but it is a statement of its own. Our affection is worth noting, and they have noted it. When Damien holds hands with their other partner, they are invisible, a “straight” couple made up of a bisexual man and his nonbinary wife. And I become some third party—a friend or a relative, perhaps, but nothing closer, nothing consequential.
When we’re in the car, we are two, or we are three, and we are all together and laughing and singing. No one sees us long enough to make assumptions, or to render us invisible, or to recognize the Statement of us being together.
We spend most days at home together, but together in the car is different. We are seeing the world—not much of it, but our corner of it. We pass funny signs, we notice crumbling houses, we change directions because a town has a weird name and we want to find out more. We pass crooked old graveyards during the day, and eerie cornfields at night.
But even as we are here, we’re protected. We can experience without being seen. In church as a child, I always heard that I should be in the world, but not of the world. This is not what they meant, but it’s the only time I’ve fully felt it.
Sometimes the world is quiet and we chatter about what we’d do if we won the lottery, though we never play. Sometimes the air is thick with a peculiar feeling. The South is full of history, brutal and mundane both, millions upon millions of people living and loving like we do, and dying. And the hanging Spanish moss takes on monstrous shapes at night, and the gnarled trees invite imagination. Sometimes when we drive and the moon is high and the sun is gone, something is waiting outside the window—ghosts, maybe, as invisible as we try to be, holding their breaths to see what we will do. We’re afraid, but we drive through, because we know we’re safe together.
Maybe the increase in affection is neither bravery nor anger. We’ve been together for seven years. Damien is my spouse, my best friend, my dominant. I wake up every morning excited because I’m spending the day with them, just like I did the day before, just like I will the day after. They’ll groan at my puns, I’ll tease them, we’ll do nothing and we’ll do everything. Maybe now, after seven years of our relationship growing, I’m too full of love to keep it to myself. I want to touch them, so I do. I want to hug them, and love outweighs the fear.
We are on a dirt road, tinged red with Georgia clay, singing along to Mumford and Sons. We are pulling into our driveway, about to curl up with a movie. We are walking, hand-in-hand, through the grocery store on a Friday night.
We are full of sunlight and song.