What’s Wrong with Gay PDA?

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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.

Happy thinking!



Catholicism’s True Stance on Homosexuality Part 1

I’d like to start this post by saying that I’m a straight, cisgender female, so I have not experienced what it’s like to be gay. I’m going with my understanding of homosexuality and the clashes I find between my personal understanding of how sexuality works, and what my former religion says about it. This will be a 3 part blog post because of the amount of content in the video I’m responding to, and the fact that many people, myself included, have short attention spans.

Let’s start with what Catholicism has to say. I’m going to be kind to them and let the actual Catholics make their case. The other day, while perusing Facebook, I came across this video, which a Catholic friend had shared. This film explains it quite well, and if you’re like me, it will infuriate you enough that you won’t need to read further, but I will discuss it at length. Here it is:


In case the link no longer works, the video is called The Third Way and it’s about 35 minutes long. It is titled the way it is because it’s suggesting that Catholicism offers a middle ground between the two extremes of supporting gay marriage, and flat out homophobia. Unfortunately, this “third way” is much closer to homophobia than they’d like to admit, and that has to do with how Catholics treat gay people in practice. How did I sit through this half hour of bullshit, then? With post-it notes and a pen. I literally wrote a note every time someone said something I thought was fundamentally incorrect, a negative portrayal of homosexuality, or not possible in practice. Needless to say, I used up a lot of post-its. In case you really really want to read this post but don’t have time to watch the video, I’ll summarize Catholic teaching on homosexuality in the next paragraph. If you have watched the video, feel free to skip it.

The saying, “love the sinner, hate the sin,” basically sums up Catholic teaching on homosexuality. Essentially, the rules are, it’s not wrong to be a gay person, but acting on one’s homosexual urges is a sin. Straight Catholics are supposed to treat their homosexual brothers and sisters as equal human beings (who are still not allowed to get married, of course). What are the gay people supposed to do?  Individuals who experience homosexual urges are expected to remain celibate. Forever. What Catholics would have you believe is that this means they are completely tolerant of gay people, and that they simply disagree with the “gay lifestyle.” This is a little difficult to grasp, and doesn’t work in practice, for reasons which I’ll explain later. So Catholics believe that homosexual behavior is bad, while homosexual people are just humans in a tough situation. OK. So how do they present homosexuality in the video?

On the bright side, the video does start with the idea that being gay isn’t a choice. A huge misconception that many people have about homosexuality is that it is something you can choose. Instead of arguing that homosexual attraction is a choice, Catholics argue that that the behaviors–gay sex, and gay relationships–are choices. I would have to agree with them on that point as it applies to sexuality in general. I’m straight, but I don’t have to date. The behavior of dating is a choice. I don’t have to have sex either. If I decide to wait till marriage, I can do that. If I decide to have sex, I can do that too, so having sex is a behavior. I can’t, however, just decide that I’m suddenly attracted to women. I simply don’t have that attraction. Just because I agree that dating and sex are behaviors, does not mean that I agree with forcing all gay people into celibacy, though. Personally, I think that’s a completely unfair thing to do to an entire group of people, especially a group of people whom Catholics don’t understand.

Many of the people cast in the video are gay themselves. Now, I’m glad they bothered to find gay Catholics, and have them tell their own stories. Believe it or not, I’ve met some gay Catholics in real life, and they do exist. What’s incredible, and casts doubt on what the video is suggesting, is that some of those people in the video have flawed ideas of how sexuality, especially their own sexuality, works. And these are the people who are supposed to have figured it all out through God and the Catholic Church.

At about 4:04, the video takes a turn for the worse and presents a misconception about homosexuality that I grew up hearing:  the idea that it’s caused by abuse. I’ve mentioned this to non Catholics who say they’ve never heard of this misconception, but I distinctly remember family friends and relatives saying, “I knew this gay guy, and he was abused as a kid. I think that’s what did it.” This misconception is often paired with the idea that being gay is caused by having no relationship, or a bad relationship with one’s father or mother, or by having a hard time connecting with people of one’s own gender. In fact, both of those misconceptions are also brought up in this video. I’d like to present the hypothesis that maybe sometimes gay people just end up having different interests than many of the straight people in their lives, and that alone can make it very hard to relate to others. Just ask anybody who’s ever been on a blind date with someone with whom they had nothing in common. What are you supposed to talk about? As far as I can tell from the reading I’ve done on sexuality, none of these ideas are true. Scientists have done many studies trying to find a cause for homosexuality, and as far as I know, there has been no consensus in the scientific community that any of these aforementioned things cause homosexuality.  For further reading about the abuse idea, check out this webpage:  http://www.pandys.org/articles/abuseandhomosexuality.html

The above website mentions that some studies have found a correlation between homosexuality and abuse, while others have not found any. I’d like to point out what any scientist would:  even if it had found a strong one, correlation and causation are not the same thing. As one of my favorite psychology professors once explained, there’s a correlation between people who carry cigarette lighters, and people who develop lung cancer. But is lung cancer caused by carrying cigarette lighters? No. Smoking, however, can lead to lung cancer, and smokers tend to carry lighters so that they can smoke. Hence the correlation. As far as homosexuality and abuse are concerned, I suspect it is possible that when homophobic parents see signs that their child is gay, they may have a tendency to react violently because they don’t know how to deal with it. That may be one cause of this association between being gay and being abused. However, as far as people who have studied this can tell, it is probably not the cause of homosexuality, and it’s sad that the people who made this video chose to include those details so prominently, supporting this incorrect conclusion. What’s even sadder is that they did it through the words of people who should know better, but probably haven’t been encouraged to learn things about their own sexuality because of the religion they follow.

One guy literally says “my homoemotional needs became homosexualized,” referring to a time when he used to masturbate to men’s health magazines because, as he explains, he was looking for a symbol of manhood that he wasn’t getting from his relationships with men in real life, as if to suggest that this masturbation and his lack of a strong sense of manhood caused his homosexuality. The thing is though, he was turned on by those images of men at the time. Otherwise, why would he masturbate to them? In my opinion, this particular interviewee is so embarrassed by his own sexuality that he is having a hard time admitting that he’s gay, even though the reason he even has a role in the video is to admit it. I feel sorry for him.

Then there’s the idea that homosexual sex and sex with contraceptives are both “not what sex is for.” Or as one of the speakers puts it, “The desire can’t be fulfilled according to the design of our bodies.” It’s like he’s never had sex. Going with nonreligious arguments here, the main reason humans feel sexual attraction and enjoy sex is probably so that kids can happen. It’s a fact of life–we wouldn’t put together those yucky body parts we piss from if it didn’t feel good. But orgasms without baby making? They’re not a bad thing. And guess what–they fulfill that “desire” they’re talking about. AND, it’s perfectly natural to want them. An orgasm is an orgasm, whether it happens in a vagina or not.

Unless what they mean by “fulfill” is making babies. That is an argument I’ve heard from Catholics against both gay marriage and contraception, and I think it’s what they’re trying to say without saying it, so I’ll go there. Just because kids can’t come out of sex doesn’t mean that the sex is wrong or bad. In fact, if sex that doesn’t lead to pregnancy is so wrong, why do Catholics teach engaged couples natural family planning, which is as much a way to avoid pregnancy as pulling out is (which they do not condone)! By the reasoning of “sex without babies is bad,” they shouldn’t teach NFP all. I’d like to see this guy tell a married couple in their sixties that they can’t have sex anymore because they can no longer have kids, or tell the same thing to a young newlywed couple that’s infertile. No one would do that, not even a typical genophobic Catholic. Yet they pick on gay people, and claim it’s because they can’t have kids through the usual way. It’s absurd.

The video also suggests that having strong relationships with straight people is really what gay people want and need, and that if they just had strong friendships with straight people, they’d be able to keep themselves celibate and focus on God. I happen to have met some of the straight male friends whom my best friend (who identifies as pansexual) is close friends with. He’s still not straight. Neither are any of the other gay people I’ve met, all of whom seem to get along fine with people who are both the same gender as they are, and straight. Sorry to burst their bubble.

There’s so much more wrong with this video, and with Catholic treatment of gay people though. Keep an eye out for Part 2 of 3, which is coming soon.