3 min

A kiss is just a kiss

The politics of same-sex smooching

Credit: Capital Xtra files

When brand new governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger was sworn in, he celebrated in front of about 650 reporters by kissing his long-suffering wife.

Jean Chretien passed on the reins to Paul Martin at the symbolic cabaret that was the Liberal convention, and his devoted wife Aline was at his side in a lovely little red number.

Sometimes it just hits you. You can go along for a long time, feeling about equal, celebrating advances in equality, then some small thing reminds you of how far away from equal we really are.

In the realm of politics, demonstrative heterosexuality is not optional. The support of a spouse is often a key component of a leader’s appeal – or lack thereof. Unless that leader happens to be a woman, or a non-heterosexual, in which case the protocol is to keep it to yourself.

So it goes in our daily lives. I like kissing and expressing affection with the one I love, as you probably do with your loved ones. It’s a simple, human joy. Yet although I feel comfortable bringing my girlfriend to the office Christmas party, we won’t be doing any kissing. Not even a wee peck on the cheek. It would make some people uncomfortable.

Same-sex smooching is so radical, in fact, that public displays of gay affection are considered newsworthy. Just look back over the headline stories about gay marriage that were on every front page a few months back. Read the outraged letters from readers who thought that such imagery was inappropriate for so-called “family” newspapers.

This kind of rhetoric is often attributed to an intolerant minority, but sometimes I wonder. More often than not, my partner’s supportive gestures and affection are a source of titillation and giddy prurience on the part of random passers-by. Maybe you too have discovered how often an innocent kiss renders you and your sweetie a spectacle.

It seems surreal to me that our culture is so overwhelmingly heterosexualised, explicitly so, and yet a kiss can arouse so much ire and approbation. We need some sensitivity training on a large scale. This is becoming even more obvious now that the push for equal marriage is making some progress south of the border. Judging from the response to the Massachusetts decision, public displays of homophobia will become more frequent, and probably a lot nastier, even in queer-friendly Canada.

Those opposing equal marriage routinely say that they are not homophobic. By far the most common argument is that marriage is a heterosexual institution, and gay people should develop their own traditions. In the words of Elsie Wayne, “When it comes to people who wish to live together, whether they are women or men, why do they have to be out here in the public always debating that they want to call it marriage? If they are going to live together, they can go live together and shut up about it.”

Maybe we should call their bluff. Say “Fine. Keep marriage to yourself. We’re going to have our own party.” We could call this new flavour of marriage the Constant Companion Contract… or something. It would still be sealed with a kiss, but it would also be a democratic institution open to all: men, women and everyone in between. We would even let heterosexual folk join in the fun. Why the hell not? It does not detract from our relationships, and maybe it would even make people less afraid of our differences.

There is only one other option aside from becoming your own oppressor – revolt. The gay liberation movement, although it is a far cry from an organized conspiracy, is very good at revolution. A small group of dedicated activists working tirelessly, often thanklessly, on our behalf has brought us to this historic point where our fear is mitigated by our outrage.

Now it is time to bring politics down to the personal level. It would be revolutionary if public displays of gay affection became commonplace and expected. If we stopped censoring ourselves or deriding affectionate couples and suggesting they “get a room.” Imagine if no-one felt obliged to gawk at a man kissing another man in greeting. If two women kissing goodbye was not perceived as a sexual act, but as a common gesture of affection. Who really wants to remove the stigmata of love from the public eye? Because in doing so, we find ourselves in a place that could be a closet or a prison cell, depending on your perspective.

So I’m going to kiss my girl at the office Christmas party if we feel like it. It won’t hurt anyone. Maybe it will even liven things up a little.