I like to think I’m not homophobic at all. I consider myself an ally. I support gay marriage and dislike discrimination. I don’t just think these things, I vote that way. I argue that way, and I have friends as well as professors who are LGBT who really are just ordinary people to me. Something happened a couple of months ago, though, and it made me question whether or not I’ve completely eliminated my old homophobia.
I was walking on campus with my boyfriend when I noticed another couple sitting on a step, kissing. One had long, flowing hair, the other a more short, cropped cut. I found myself staring longer than I normally would at a kissing couple, because I quickly realized that despite the fact that one had a more “feminine” and the other a more “masculine” appearance, they were both women. I had to actively remind myself that, just like with any straight couple, I should give them some privacy by not staring them down, and keep going about my business. While I didn’t feel my old knee-jerk reaction of disgust from my homophobic upbringing, nor did I think that that couple should be expected to only share kisses in private, I was a little surprised to see a public display of affection between an LGBT couple. I was so surprised, in fact, that I stared a little. Why is that?
Granted, different people have different feelings about public displays of affection (PDA). I’ve always found it to be fine, so long as kissing is as far as it goes. I’d be very uncomfortable if I saw anything beyond that, but a hug, a kiss, or hand holding are all completely acceptable ways to be affectionate in public in my opinion. I just typically picture a heterosexual couple when I think about PDA. That doesn’t make sense, though.
To be fair to everyone, my opinion about PDA should extend to all couples, and even poly groups. If kissing is an acceptable behavior in public, then it shouldn’t matter who’s doing it, as long as it’s consensual. Why did I stare then? Why does it still matter who kisses who in public?
In the process of writing this post, it took me a long time to find a photo of a gay couple on the photo site I usually use. The photo I decided to use for this post was actually titled “Female Kissing Her Friend,” so it really might not be a gay couple at all. Or it might be, but isn’t being presented that way. Frankly, the only stock photos I could find of two women or two men standing next to each other, either clearly weren’t pictures of a couple, or they looked almost pornographic, and there weren’t many of them. Everything else was just one straight couple after another.
We truly do live in a heteronormative society. Despite the many efforts to raise awareness of LGBT people and the challenges they face, we (at least in the US) still haven’t succeeded in making being LGBT normal by society’s standards, especially when it comes to PDA. While gay people are free to talk about their sexuality, and express it through their clothing or hair, they aren’t allowed to share affection publicly. That doesn’t make any sense.
Part of the problem is that, especially in some parts of this country, it’s considered OK to be homophobic–it’s even encouraged. In places like that, and even in more liberal places, gay people might not feel that PDA are safe for fear of discrimination, and even violence. There are still too many people out there who would willingly beat up two men for holding hands. This makes it a rare thing to see, creating situations like my aforementioned experience. If we don’t see gay PDA, it remains unusual. It remains surprising. It remains abnormal. We need to make this country safer for LGBT people. They shouldn’t have to fear violence or discrimination as a result of PDA, and the rest of us shouldn’t be surprised to see two women or two men kissing any more than we’d be surprised to see a heterosexual couple doing the same thing.