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The Politics of a Same-Sex Kiss: Be Gay, Just Don’t Show It?

The Politics of a Same-Sex Kiss: Be Gay, Just Don’t Show It?

My partner and I are coming up on year four of our relationship, and I am closer to him than I ever thought I could be to another person. Yet, I can probably count on my fingers how many times we’ve kissed in public. I’d need to involve my toes to guess the number of times we’ve held hands on the street, but if we were scraping the twenty mark I’d be surprised.

To be fair, neither of us is overly fond of public displays of affection and regardless of mood, we’d never be caught vacuuming each other’s faces in public. Yet sometimes, when we’re out with friends and enjoying a wonderful night, I look at him and I, well, I start doing math. The calculations are exacting. What location are we in? Is this a gay-friendly area? What is the crowd like? How brightly is the room/street lit? The sums are different depending on the setting and, sometimes, just how confident we are feeling. There are bold nights when love makes you invincible, and there are cold nights when fear makes you small.

These are calculations our straight friends never have to make. If they want to kiss, they kiss. If they want to touch, they touch.

Speaking of math: a new poll by YouGov together with the Huffington Post shows that a plurality of Americans support there being openly gay athletes in their favorite major league sports teams (60% approve or strongly approve). All good so far. Then the questions turn to the recent signing of Michael Sam by the St Louis Rams and that now iconic kiss. Did America approve of seeing it? I’m afraid not:

Michael Sam and his boyfriend kissed after finding out he was drafted. Do you think it was appropriate or inappropriate for networks broadcasting the draft to show this kiss?
Appropriate . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .36%
Inappropriate . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 47%
Not sure . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17%

The breakdown is interesting. A majority of self-identifying Democrats approved (53% to 32%), but independents (45%-36%) and Republicans (69%-16%) said showing the kiss was inappropriate. If America is really becoming more gay friendly, and most polls would suggest there’s a sharp upward trend even among Republicans, what is going on here?

First, a note about the question because I think the terminology is important. The question actually puts the emphasis on whether the networks should have broadcast the kiss, not whether the kiss itself was appropriate or inappropriate. We could be charitable and say that some people felt this should have been a private moment, and that is why they answered in the negative or weren’t sure.

That said, we can’t deny that the question does give ample cover so respondents can say whether they’re comfortable with a same-sex kiss or not. Many of the comments from more moderate voices opposed to the kiss have been uniformly, in fact infuriatingly, passive aggressive. “It’s just not appropriate for any sports star to do that,” or “No matter their sexual preference, a kiss like that shouldn’t be on TV,”  and my personal favorite “Sports teams should be sexual orientation neutral.” Best have a word with the heterosexual sports stars too, then.

When in the past sports stars have kissed their girlfriends or wives on television and the networks have let that filter into American homes, the reaction has been, well, no reaction at all. In fact, hugging cheerleaders and kissing reporters who happen to be wives or girlfriends appears to provoke celebration and, curiously, even praise.

Again, there was no calculation made about those kisses. No forethought on whether a kiss might earn condemnation or even threaten their physical safety. That’s the heterosexual privilege. So, what those voices are really saying when they condemn the Michael Sam kiss, is that Michael Sam should have done the math. He should have known better. An unadulterated moment of pure joy, and sharing that joy with someone he presumably loves: all fine, but do it behind closed doors because we don’t want to see it.

When we test it like this, that weight, that terrible under the thumb pressure, the anti-gay feeling begins to make itself visible. This is the difference between tolerance and acceptance. In fact, this is the difference between being tolerated and being free.

Sharing a kiss in public without feeling forced to first add up the risk is something that we’ve sadly still not wholly achieved, and the hand-wringing over Michael Sam’s kiss (which by most standards was fairly chaste) is a sad reminder of that fact.

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Photo credit: Image used under Fair Use with all credit to ESPN.

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160 comments

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9:10AM PDT on Sep 12, 2014

Janice T., who made you the arbitrator of what constitutes acceptable PDAs?

"Hugs are fine, kissing is out"?

If I want to kiss my wife goodbye at the airport, knowing I won't see her again for several months, why the heck shouldn't I? In fact, if I want to give her a brief kiss as I'm getting out of the car for work, or after she says something sweet to me as we're walking along the boardwalk, or when we meet up for lunch in a cafe, I really don't see how that is inconveniencing anyone else.

I will agree that no one needs to see a couple of any orientation sucking face like a couple of hungry dogs in front of everyone. You are quite right that restraint is the polite thing to have. But I don't see that you, or anyone else, has the right to tell any couple that they can't exchange a brief moment of affection via a kiss in public, as long as they're not crude about it or putting on a show.

Besides, as far as your 'hugs are fine' creed goes... I've seen kisses as chaste as morning's first light, and so-called hugs that are little more than a drawn-out grope-fest. So, you would be okay with a virtual standing lap-dance, but a quick little peck on the lips is out?

I think you should mind your own business as long as the couple in question who are kissing are not making a scene or shoving their affections in your face.

8:18AM PDT on Sep 12, 2014

Hugs are fine, kissing is out. Public displays of affection shows lack of restraint for all: same or opposite genders.

8:52AM PDT on May 26, 2014

I am not fond of public displays of affection when it is just out in public and acting out for others to see. In this case I don't think there was anything wrong done. It was a very quick and chaste kiss. It was a boyfriend supporting and congratulating his partner. They didn't draw it out and it wasn't exaggerated. I think he is very lucky to have such a supportive Boyfriend.

6:14AM PDT on May 26, 2014

I don't like public displays of affection no matter who is involved. To me it is sending one of several messages: he/she belongs to me so don't get any ideas, look at us we love each other so much, or see what you're missing? Drawing attention to oneself is not where I am at. Also, while ones live life may be all consuming to the parties involved, I am not interested.

5:16PM PDT on May 25, 2014

(The clue for me is that the phrase "my children" appears in the sentence.)
I'm afraid that after this, your amazing command of the English language leaves mere mortals like me fading away in the dust in your rear view mirror. I honestly can't figure out what you're saying. I am, for example, baffled by context of some phrases - "metal caged mind trap"? I also can't figure out whether 'they "clearly" stated' is supposed to be a nod to irony and we're supposed to think that "clearly" has been put there in inverted commas precisely because your statements were anything but what you're now claiming, and you're just having a bit of fun with us.
Lastly, dear, sweet Elaine. If you feel that I was throwing a pity party, please do not feel bad for me. That was not my intention. Please be assured that if I was feeling any pity, it wasn't for me.

5:15PM PDT on May 25, 2014

I must say that I found "ranting" an interesting choice of word. The Oxford English dictionary defines "ranting" as "a long, angry, and impassioned speech". Not that I need to tell you, of course, since you've already informed us all of your superior language skills.
Whilst my overall posting may have been long, I'm not convinced it was impassioned, and certainly not angry. I'd say more amused, bemused and more than a little bit disgusted.
Moving on to your next point, much as I hate to be one of the nit pickers who condemn your otherwise perfect language skills when highlighting your inability to distinguish "to" from "too", I feel that in the interests of accuracy I am compelled to bring your attention to a slight factual deviation in your post. That inaccuracy being, "never once did I mention my children". I hope you don't mind my translating this to lower case - my preference is to avoid posting entirely in capitals lest someone should interpret that as my being "angry" or "ranting". Anyway - back to the point in hand - your claim that you didn't mention your children is somewhat belied by a post in this very thread in which you respond to "Valerie" with: "AH VALERIE, I DO LOVE...I LOVE MY CHILDREN! BUT WHEN THEY DID WRONG GROWING UP, THEY NEEDED TO KNOW THAT WHAT THEY HAD DONE WAS WRONG." Of course, since my skills in English may not be as good as yours, I could be misinterpreting this completely, but it looks to me like you actually are mentioning your children. (Th

5:15PM PDT on May 25, 2014

Elaine - thank you for your feedback. I'm sorry that you feel that what I wrote was a massive broken diatribe and I do hope that providing a negative spin on other people's opinion provides you with a satisfactory coping mechanism for the fact that anyone would have the temerity to disagree with you. Much better to handle it that way than actually confronting the possible merit of any criticism.

11:45AM PDT on May 25, 2014

Elaine A.
Actually Elaine I imagine he had plenty of people reading his posts. I know I did, gave him a star and everything. I just hadn't commented on it because I figured he said it all pretty well himself.

I am still waiting for an answer as to why you felt I needed to qualify my statement regarding homosexuality being genetic or not. You claim that it is caused by abuse when young. When numerous people point out that they are gay and weren't abused you become silent on the issue. If sexual abuse were a factor in being gay, there would be an unusually high right of homosexuality in the religious community considering the number of young boys and girls that are abuse by their Pastors Priests and Elders. The Boy Scouts would be overrun by gay people and would have no choice but allow gays with out question or not have enough members to continue. Interestingly there are quite a few studies that show people who have such bitter hatred in their souls as you appear to, have often been abused.

Did your Daddy fiddle with you, or was it an uncle?

Before you get defensive about my last statement, don't forget that you did outright say I must have been abused myself because I am gay.

10:44AM PDT on May 25, 2014

WELL DAVID AFTER ALL THAT RANTING, I CERTAINLY HOPE YOU FEEL BETTER BECAUSE I FEEL GREAT AND THAT BEING BECAUSE YOU EXHAUSTED YOURSELF IN TO A MASSIVE BROKEN DIATRIBE OF WHAT OTHERS SUPPOSEDLY FEEL AND OF COURSE LET'S NOT LEAVE ANYTHING OUT AS NEVER ONCE DID I MENTION MY CHILDREN...I THINK YOU CONFUSED YOURSELF IN TRYING TO CAPTURE EVERY IMAGINED SLIGHT AND MISTOOK "GOD'S" CHILDREN AND HAD YOU TRULY THOUGHT OUTSIDE THAT CONFINED METAL CAGED MIND TRAP AND READ MY POSTS WITH REAL THOUGHT AND CONTEMPLATION, YOU WOULD HAVE SIMPLY UNDERSTOOD THEM FOR WHAT THEY "CLEARLY" STATED. PERHAPS YOU CAN REREAD AT YOUR CONVENIENCE WHAT IS REALLY WRITTEN, YOU MIGHT HAVE EYES TO SEE AND EARS TO HEAR...THAT IS MY HOPE FOR YOU, RATHER THAN THE PITY PARTY THAT YOU THREW FOR YOURSELF, THAT APPEARS THAT NO ONE SHOWED UP FOR!

1:56AM PDT on May 25, 2014

True love :)

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