29/11/2016 08:54 GMT | Updated 29/11/2017 05:12 GMT

Gender And Assumptions On London's Public Transport System

Picture the scene. Two young women, one of them disabled, board a crowded train in London, holding hands. Instantly, at least one person gets up. Instantly, the disabled young woman gets a seat. If the two are lucky, as they usually are, two people will get up and her friend will get a seat, too.

Now picture another scene. A disabled young woman boards a crowded train in London, but this time, she's holding hands with a young man. This time, no one gets up to offer her a seat. The young man has to speak to the nearest passenger, asking them to get up and telling them that his friend needs a seat. They do get up, and she does get a seat- that isn't the problem.

The question is, why were the two situations so different? When people see a woman holding hands with a man in public, do they still, even in 2016, assume that the two are in a romantic relationship? Is that assumption so strong that an obvious physical disability becomes invisible, just because the physically disabled woman has a man of a similar age with her?

This is 2016- the 21st century is in its teens now. So there is another question that should be asked, too. That is, if people do automatically assume that a man and a woman are holding hands on a train for romantic reasons, why don't they automatically assume the same when they see two women holding hands on a train? These days, two women holding hands in public are just as likely to be romantically interested in each other as a man and a woman. Why is it that so few people would even consider that possibility?

In fact, neither situation was romantic. Both of the people described above were providing assistance to the disabled young woman.

Maybe the disabled young woman should have been happy, that even if the strangers on a train did notice her physical disability when she was with a young man, they weren't shocked at the idea that the situation could have been romantic. There was a time, and it wasn't very long ago, when too many people would have been shocked at the idea of a disabled person and their non disabled romantic partner going anywhere together In public.

However, in this 21st century, where same sex relationships and even same sex marriages are legal and open in most Western countries, including the UK, her happiness was overtaken by surprise as she considered the questions raised above. Her happiness was overtaken by surprise as she thought of the many disabled women, and disabled men, she knows who are in same sex relationships, and even same sex marriages. Any of them could have been on that same train, holding hands with their same sex partner for romantic reasons.

This is 2016- the 21st century is in its teens now. So there is one final question that should be asked. How long will it be before strangers on trains see two people of the same gender holding hands and don't automatically assume that the situation isn't a romantic one?