A kiss is just a kiss

(About men kissing and how people interpret such acts. There will be references to man-on-man sexual acts, so you should be prepared to exercise some judgment.)

A kiss is not just a kiss; it’s almost always something else as well. Sticking to the topic of men kissing men, we’ve got MSMs (“men who have sex with men” — but identify as straight) who sometimes won’t kiss men; and then we’ve got people who are offended and disgusted just at the sight of same-sex kisses, especially between men, and lash out in various ways, from having them banned from public view to verbally abusing the kissers to physically attacking them. These two reactions spring from two different views of same-sex kissing: for MSMs, who want “just sex”, kissing can be problematic because it isn’t sex, it’s affection and love, and emotional intimacy is not what they’re in the market for; while for enraged objectors, same-sex kissing is a sex act, and doing it in public is having sex in public, which is offensive, simply unacceptable.

Then there are people like me, for whom images like this —


— are deeply satisfying, because we see the kiss as embodying both loving affection and sexual connection, while not being in itself a sex act. Two responses, together: “Awww, so sweet!” and “Wow, that’s hot!”

Three more kisses. The kiss in #1 (a David Vance shot of models Paul Francis and Levi Pouter) and the many other man-man kisses I’ve posted about over the years (there is now a”Men kissing” Page on this blog) are displays of affection and sexual connection, not social kisses, not merely conventional actions. Here are three more images: one more with “like attracts like” as in #1, where two similar men kiss; and then two with “opposites attract” (black man and white man kissing, older man and younger man kissing):




I don’t know the sources of #2 and #3, but #4 is a photo by Spanish artist Juan Hidalgo that was used by the Madrid-based Visible Culture LGBT group for its ‘Gay Arts Looks For A Home’ initiative in 2012. It was one of a number of images of same-sex kisses removed by Facebook in (roughly) 2010-12 on the grounds that the images portrayed sex acts (while similar kisses involving a man and a woman were not treated this way).

The song. The title of this posting quotes one line from the song “As Time Goes By”, treated in a 10/12/15 posting “You must remember this”:

You must remember this
A kiss is just a kiss, a sigh is just a sigh
The fundamental things apply
As time goes by
And when two lovers woo
They still say, “I love you”
On that you can rely
No matter what the future brings
As time goes by

The song was made famous by the movie Casablanca and has since become the representative song of Warner Bros. and was also the title and theme song of the 1990s British romantic comedy series As Time Goes By.

The line “A kiss is just a kiss” was also used as the title of a 1971 British tv play, which might have had a gay theme, though that’s hard to judge from the cryptically minimal Wikipedia entry. In its entirety:

A Kiss is Just a Kiss is a 1971 British TV play written by Alec Coppel for ITV Playhouse.

Wealthy young lawyer Kit Shaeffer [David Hedison] visits his doctor [Dr. Alex Noon (Keir Dullea)] for a check up.

In the land of MSMs. From yesterday’s report on Danny Vox in the ultimate fantasy t-room (Mens Room Bakersfield Station), where he has enthusiastic receptive sex with a number of men:

[Danny Vox’s character] doesn’t get kissed — in fact, turns away from attempts to kiss him — until his very last moments in the t-room

… At the end of the Bakersfield flick, a man appears, takes DV’s arm and says, encouragingly, “Don’t panic”, bends forward, and kisses DV passionately; DV melts into him, while the music swells.

DV’s character is presented as a young man who is intrigued by mansex and only somewhat reluctantly (at the beginning) enters into sexual acts with other men, but he quickly warms to his role as a total dickslut, though he doesn’t identify as gay. Director Joe Gage frames DV’s character, like most of the other 12 men in the fantasy t-room, as an MSM, in this place just for sex (some of them wear wedding bands), As in real life, where many MSMs are entirely comfortable with kissing (in fact, enthusiastic about it as foreplay to “real sex” or as a sign of satisfaction after a sexual encounter — “thanks, buddy, that was fantastic!”) while others reject it as coming too close to emotional intimacy, so in the fantasy Bakersfield t-room: some of the t-room men kiss with abandon, especially at the beginning or end of sexual connections, while others avoid kissing. DV’s character is on a voyage on sexual self-discovery, moving from curiosity to identification as a t-room sex man (in fact, a sexually submissive one) and eventually to acceptance of himself as a gay man, seeking not only sexual but also emotional union with other men.

Insofar as I understand these things, in the real world, MSMs do gain emotional satisfactions from the mansex they engage in, but they’re not the satisfactions of loving intimacy. Instead, MSMs see themselves as celebrating their masculinity, boosting it even, by bonding sexually with other strongly masculine men. Discussing their sexual activities, they sometimes compare them to playing sports with a buddy: possibly on a team together, but also making each other better men by competing with each other. These attitudes make it entirely possibly for an MSM to be enthusiastic about getting fucked but repelled by the idea of getting kissed by another man.

Horror at PDAs. Public displays of same-sex affection — kissing, embacing, or just holding hands — can set off firestorms of negative reaction. Especially if they’re between men, especially if the observer is male.

At the low end of the scale, we get reactions like Facebook’s banning images of same-sex kisses on the grounds that they are depictions of sex. The background attitude here is that affection between women and men is simply normal, not rooted in sex in any way, and that affection between two men or two women is an abnormality, a deviation, a sickness, a sin, whatever, which manifests itself in the performance of certain sex acts. In this way of looking at the world, same-sex affection is all about sex, and consequently homosexuality is a private matter, which should never be brought into the public sphere.

For a long time now, queers have worked to re-shape these attitudes, to establish a parity and symmetry between gay and straight. For many younger, white, educated Americans, this program has largely succeeded, and you’ll find dialogues like this one between a young gay man and his straight buddy (dimly recalled from some tv program):

YGM: You get hard for pussy, I get hard for dick; we’re just wired different, that’s all.

SB: Yeah, no biggie. [They go on to talk about video games, or sports, or movies and tv, or music, or current events, or their problems getting dates, the way guys do.]

The point is that SB doesn’t think that hanging out with a gay guy will make people think that he’s gay (not that there would be anything wrong with that): gayness isn’t bad, it’s not, like, a communicable disease, it’s just a state of being, and, by the way, gay guys aren’t predatory, they’re not after your precious heterosexual dick (no matter how wonderful you think it is), and they’re not interested in fucking your precious heterosexual ass (no matter how handsome you think it is), so they’re not threatening.

But Oldthink persists in many corners, maintained in considerable part by the teachings of the homo-hostile churches (notably, the Roman Catholic Church, evangelical churches, and the Mormon Church), which tell their flocks that homosex is a sin, in a special sense of sin, which can be forgiven only through an act of renunciation and contrition on the part of the sinner. The churchly notion of sin, from NOAD2:

an immoral act considered to be a transgression against divine law

It’s the ‘transgression against divine law’ part that brings the homo-hostile churches into the matter, because they claim to know that homosex is an offense against God’s Law. But enlightened queers cut things off before they get to the divine law shit: we straightforwardly deny that homosex should be considered immoral, so we refuse to renounce our desires and practices, we are uncontrite, and we don’t accept the short-circuit in reasoning and imagination that gets so many people from a mere indexing of homosexuality immediately to raw homosex, especially to guys fucking guys. Of course, homosex in public is no more acceptable than heterosex in public (except in special spaces, like sex clubs and gay baths, carved out as, in effect, private for sexual purposes, even though the acts are visible to those in them), but none of the following is, we maintain, homosex in public:

announcing or presupposing that you’re queer

referring to a same-sex relationship of yours

displaying same-sex affection in public

displaying a symbol of queerness, a queer slogan, or a queer image (like the male kisses above)

or, even, publicly discussing homosex (as I do here on a regular basis, though with warnings to my readers)

(This list is not exhaustive.)

But there are plenty of people — some men are especially vocal on the subject — who see all of these things as homosex in public and have violent visceral reactions to them, ranging from assertions that these things make them want to puke, all the way up to murderous attacks on the sources. (The ghost of Dan White will, apparently, always be with us, as will the Levitical “abomination” text that calls for all of us fags to be stoned to death; I mean, it’s God’s Law, right?)

Changes in public attitudes have now evolved to the point where a lot of people seem to believe that unrepentant queers have a right to their lives and their same-sex relationships (up to and including marriage), but only if they keep everything in the closet, keep everything private, out of the sight and hearing of decent people, who would, only naturally, be offended and disgusted. I, of course, flagrantly and fiercely refuse.

Public displays of affection are a tricky business. Jacques and I behaved affectionately among friends and our families (including our parents), and in a few places we gauged to be both tolerant and safe. I’m pleased to hear (from staff) that the restaurant Reposado finds nothing noteworthy about same-sex couples holding hands or kissing, and the same was true of the restaurant Gordon Biersch (its successor, Dan Gordon’s, is a sports bar, so not a safe bet). But elsewhere and on the street, even in supposedly liberal and tolerant Palo Alto, Jacques and I were circumspect. Back in the bad old days, we were verbally harassed on the street for having a rainbow sticker on our car (and the car was defaced), I got death threats on the phone for being a fag, and acquaintainces were thrown out of places and beaten up on the street because of public displays of affection.

Hearteningly, all of that moderated. But now the winds of intolerance blow fresh and strong (for Blacks, Latinos, Muslims, Jews, women, and queers too). So I live in fear (and wonder whether I should be fleeing to Canada, but I’m an old man and tightly woven into my life in Palo Alto). Nevertheless, I’m doubling down on flagrant displays of queerness, everything from images of men kissing (which I totally adore — the images and the kissing both) up to images of cock-sucking and butt-fucking (which I also totally adore — again, the images and the acts both — and am happy to subject to extended analysis).

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