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Not everyone wants to be gay in public

March 1, 2009

To cap off a lazy weekend, I present two recent media entries, one from radio and the other from the internet.

On Friday, I heard some fascinating thoughts on public displays of male affection (or “PDMA”) on Radio Times, my favorite show on local public radio station WHYY. Here’s the station’s description of the hour:

We’ve noticed more and more American men hugging each other. And research has shown affection actually alleviates stress. What’s happening in our culture that is changing the way we physically express ourselves to each other? We speak to KORY FLOYD, Director of the graduate MA program in human communication at Arizona State University and MARK MORMAN, Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies at Baylor University.

List to the whole episode here: “PDMA” on Radio Times with Marty Moss-Coane

The two professors (both male) had a number of interesting points on how men in the U.S. are expected to express affection to one another. I have to admit that I’ve never been very good at “manly” moves like complicated handshakes and awkward hugs. In fact when I was young my older brother actually taught me those kinds of things in an effort to ensure I grew up to be socially competent. Thank god he did, since those lessons have saved my (social) skin on a number of occasions!

My natural instinct is to greet friends with a hug, not a complicated handshake/high-five combo. But I have to admit that when I’m with a group of straight men, I automatically find myself acting and speaking a little differently, like some kind of homo-chameleon. As I long figured, I’m not the only one:

Kory Floyd : Even gay men that interact in a more public setting feel that their behavior is under greater scrutiny or that there are particular expectations being based upon them. They will tend to adapt in that way. It’s sort of a defensive mechanism, but it’s a way to insure that you can interact in that social setting without violating the norms for that situation, at least intentionally.

When we started dating, my boyfriend and I made a conscious agreement that we weren’t going to do that and let others’ expectations stop us from acting affectionately, which is very probably the reason people tend to look at us like bug-eyed space aliens. I just don’t think these kind of “rules” are a valid reason to keep us apart, and I much prefer to try and help establish new social norms.

That’s especially appropriate since a main point of these complicated rituals is to ensure everyone knows the men involved are 100% straight. This can be done by keeping as far apart as possible, acting aggressively, or simply saying, like one caller did, that you’re not gay. (Example: “Dude, I love you… but not in a gay way.”) You can bet that makes guys like me feel extra-special.

Slate.com also had a gay-themed story Friday, this time about defamation suits. The gist story is that suing for libel when someone claims you’re gay is inherently homophobic. Thankfully, reporter Gabriel Arana isn’t acting like that’s a big revelation (it’s not) so much as he’s saying gay rights groups ought to act on it (and they should). Being gay is relatively accepted nowadays, he argues, and it becomes more and more mainstream every day.

And yet these suits continue, in part because gay rights groups have ignored them. Lambda Legal, one of the largest gay legal rights groups, has taken no position in any of the cases across the country involving defamation and accusations of homosexuality. That’s partly because the group is busy with broader issues, like marriage rights. But Lambda should take the time to enter gay libel cases on the side of the defendants. These suits are a powerful chance for gay rights organizations to argue that there is nothing wrong with being gay. Also, they tend to be filed by wealthy public figures or celebrities who could be susceptible to pressure to drop the cases, especially if they’re part of gay-friendly Hollywood. Gay rights groups should let the stars know that the real stain isn’t being labeled gay. It’s being called homophobic.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 17, 2013 8:06 pm

    I work with stuff such as this out here in Villars-Sur-Marly, Switzerland.
    Genuinely doing what you love and writing about it in such
    a remarkable way is a great gift. Your informative post contains the ideal mixture of passion and well-written,
    interesting content that I’ve grown to appreciate and respect.

    • May 17, 2013 11:36 pm

      Thank you so much for the kind words, Amritsar! I’m glad you’re enjoying my blog. I don’t update it these days (I’m currently in law school, which is intense enough by itself), but I do keep an eye on things and maintain a twitter account (@gayinpublic).

      If there’s anything I never got to writing about that has you curious, please feel free to ask in the comments and I’ll do my best to respond.

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