Trevor Brookins

*One of the most popular programs on television, True Blood, had commentators buzzing recently when they aired a male-male kiss.

The ensuing debate raises the question of where is the line of acceptable behavior for homosexual and heterosexual displays of affection in entertainment and in society more generally.

The first aspect of this issue is that public displays of affection (PDAs) amongst heterosexuals are not universally accepted. This is because a PDA gives people outside of a relationship a glimpse into the intimacy shared by two people. Depending on the PDA the glimpse and the intimacy revealed can be not so much (holding hands) or very much (neck kissing).

And whatever display is seen, there is the assumption that it is the tip of the iceberg. That is, if two people are holding hands in public, there is an assumption that they kiss behind closed doors; if two people kiss each other on the neck in public, there is an assumption that they are engaging in more explicitly sexual activities behind closed doors.

When PDAs are depicted in film and on television the situation gets even stickier. In these media the glimpse of the audience into the intimacy of the couple is the point. Letting the audience in to the relationship allows for the fulfillment of the implicit wish of male viewers to be, or at least see themselves, in a romantic or sexual scenario with the attractive actress. The same is true of the female viewers. Previously on True Blood, PDAs allowed for male viewers to envision themselves sleeping with Anna Paquin.

Homosexual relationships complicate both of these aspects of PDAs. Because the majority of people are heterosexual they even less inclined to look favorably on a gay couple hands. The average person may not want to think of a guy and a girl kissing (hence the unease surrounding PDAs in general) but they could at least understand it. The average person is much less understanding regarding sex acts among gay people which makes the gay PDA that much more uncomfortable.

When homosexual PDAs are depicted in visual media, instead of an implicit wish being fulfilled viewers feel as if they are being forced to see the world through the eyes a lens of homosexuality. When a man falls in love with a woman in a movie and kisses her, the audience is supposed to be able to see themselves in the shoes of the characters. When the same thing happens with a homosexual couple, the audience again puts themselves into the shoes of the characters and becomes uneasy because the implicit wish to sleep with one of the characters was never there.

Of course no one contemplates these things as they encounter homosexual PDAs in their daily life or as they watch a movie or television program. Heterosexuals simply become uneasy and wonder “why they are forcing their homosexuality on me?” – automatically alienating the gay couple as something foreign.  Homosexual viewers respond to such queries by wondering “what’s the big deal? I’ve been exposed heterosexuality my whole life.” At the crux of the matter is the fact that because PDAs force the viewer into a place of intimacy, heterosexuals feel as if they are being forced to adopt a homosexual outlook when viewing two men kiss.

Ideally there would be a middle ground that allowed for homosexuals to be free to express their sensuality and caring in public and in media in the same way that heterosexuals do but that would stop short of unwittingly placing heterosexuals in their shoes. Absent of that heterosexuals need to understand that they can appreciate homosexual love, caring, and affection without their empathy meaning they have homosexual thoughts.

Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War.  You can reach him at [email protected].