September 22, 2010
A kerfuffle broke out this week in St. Louis over whether gay couples deserved to be seen kissing in public at sports events the same as straight couples. The controversy had its genesis in the recent NFL game between the local Rams and the visiting Ariziona Cardinals. During a break in the action, the stadium management will occasionally run a "Kiss Cam" feature, where TV cameras spot couples in the crowd and feature them on the stadium video screens, at which point the crowd cheers to encourage the couple to kiss. Generally, this results in an "aww shucks, how cute" vibe. During the Rams-Cardinals game, however, two male fans in Cardinals jerseys were featured (hey, they're rooting for the other team, they must be, ya know, gay, hehe, hehe), much to their discomfort (like dude, we're so totally not gay! Wanna fight?). This little stunt was unquestionably tasteless and sophomoric, but in the grand scheme of sports locker room type humor, it was rather harmless and even a little funny.
What wasn't funny was the commentary posted by David Whitley, national columnist for the sports website FanHouse.com (hat tip to Tommy Craggs at the infinitely funnier sports site Deadspin.com). Whitley proclaimed his support of gay folks, but suggested that gay couples should not be shown on the Kiss Cam because, well, he wasn't comfortable with kids seeing gay couples smooching. Whitley's comments reminded me of a crAAKKer reader who recently posted a comment responding to my criticism of Republican gay weasel Ken Mehlman by referencing a blog post of his own. Although his post rambles a bit (and makes a few different points that I would take issue with), one of his points was that he is personally uncomfortable with, and maybe even offended by, gay couples who show affection in public.
Digging into Whitley's complaints about the Kiss Cam controversy, let's first note what he is not advocating—Whitley's complaints are not that gays are crossing the line into publicly inappropriate behavior like the pawing, grinding, or otherwise sexually suggestive type of conduct most of us would find improper in any couple, gay or straight, at a family-friendly public event. No, this controversy is about the "Kiss Cam", which is focused on the lighter side of romance. So, Whitley obviously has no problem with couples kissing, hugging, or holding hands in public, but he definitely has a problem with gay couples doing so.
Now, while Whitley is getting all worked up over being subjected to the sight of a couple of guys kissing in public, maybe he should consider what those of us who are gay are confronted with on an everyday basis. Look at ads, whether billboards, online, on TV, or in newspapers and magazines—plenty of straight couples being romantic. Think of those "fluff" news stories at every level of the media about couples doing fun, quirky couples type stuff—all straight couples. Go to a restaurant, the mall, the movies, the beach, a fundraiser, a party—lots of straight couples holding hands, hugging, or giving affectionate kisses. On mainstream TV and in popular movies, with rare exception, the romantic storyline involves a straight couple being affectionate (and often more than just affectionate).
Of course, popular culture is the way it is because most people are straight; hence, "straight" is "popular", "mainstream", or "normal". And I'm fine with that, as I'm sure most gay folks are fine with it. I also realize there is a certain "icky" factor for most straight guys when they see anything remotely gay (though remarkably, they often seem to find lesbians rather alluring). But, most of us who are gay already go to great lengths to minimize the amount of "gayness" you straight folks are exposed to, partly to avoid awkward social moments, and partly out of self-preservation. Straight folks put up pictures of loved ones at the office, bring a mate or date to office parties and outings, and discuss dates, trips, and weekend plans involving their spouse or boyfriend/girlfriend. For many gays, being open about relationships at work can lead to negative consequences, such as lost promotions, negative reviews, or even termination. Straight couples can kiss each other hello or goodbye, share a romantic meal, or hold hands in public, while gay couples who do so often risk enduring taunting or the possibility of physical violence. A straight single person can "check out" and flirt with attractive single people of the opposite sex, risking, at most, having their advances turned down; if a gay guy gives even the suggestion of flirting with a straight guy, there's always a risk of physical violence.
But let's get back to poor Mr. Whitley. He assures us he has gay friends and relatives, so his heart is pure. Whitley personally doesn't have a problem with gays, he's just worried about the kids:
The sooner my kids see examples of racial harmony, the better. But this issue has torn up entire religions. Call me homophobic, but I just don't think a 5- or 10-year-old brain is ready to tackle those complexities.
Besides, can't we just enjoy our peanuts and Cracker Jacks?
Ahh, yes, the kids. What parent wouldn't want to protect his or her kids from the awful, terrible, bad, evil things in life? Like those gays and their darn kissing. What an absolutely horrific, traumatic experience that would be, for kids to see two men or two women share an affectionate peck. Yes, yes, by all means, let's save the kids from that peril!
Now, I understand how Whitley might be a little squeamish about discussing gays with his kids. If only there were someone who could help him with that task. Maybe some adult authority figure his kids already know and respect. Someone who could give his kids an age-appropriate explanation that sometimes, guys love guys and gals love gals, and sometimes they kiss like Mommy and Daddy do, and it's A-OK if they do, because they love each other. Someone to set a good moral example of love and tolerance to those who are different than the majority.
Someone like ... a parent?
You know, now that I think about it, I seem to recall that parenting involves more than just being good buddies with your kids, enjoying life, and avoiding anything that might interfere with the fun times. When you sign up to be a parent, you get some responsibilities too, responsibilities that are often tough, unpleasant, and awkward for the parent, the child, or both. Explaining death, or serious illnesses. Discussing how to respect kids with disabilities, of other races, or from different socio-economic backgrounds. Explaining divorce, whether your own or their friends' parents. Tackling the awkward "where do babies come from?" and other sex education questions. Warning kids about the dangers of gambling, drugs, tobacco, and alcohol.
Now, it's nice to know Whitley is not entirely a jerk. He wants to make sure we know he's actually fine with gays, he just doesn't want, you know, to see any gays:
If my daughter grows up and falls happily in love with another woman, I'll proudly walk her down the aisle. But parents should be able to discuss such issues when they choose, not when the local sports team flashes them on a scoreboard.
So, what Whitley really wants is for all of us nice gay folks, the ones he completely supports, mind you, to kindly just act straight in public, so that his kids won't see anything gay, and won't ask him any gay questions, and he won't have to give any gay answers. In other words, the millions of gays in America should make sure they don't act gay or express any sign of gay affection in public, just so Whitley can comfortably take his kids out of the house without fearing exposure to the gay menace. Yes, that seems reasonable enough.
I'm going to let Whitley in on a little secret. This isn't the 1970s any longer. Gays are more visible than ever. Kids are going to see gay couples, on TV, in movies, on the internet, and yes, even in public. Some of their schoolmates may have gay parents. At some point, kids are going to be naturally curious and ask about gays and gay couples. This doesn't mean parents need to give some long, detailed, and uncomfortable explanation of what it means to be gay. But a parent better anticipate the question, and have an age-appropriate response ready.
I do find it refeshing that Whitley expresses his open-mindedness toward his children being gay. Odds are high his kids will be straight and this issue will never come up in his house. But, odds are also high that one or more of his kids' friends will be gay. Even in today's more tolerant society, teens viewed as gay suffer more bullying and attempt suicide more often than other teens. What lesson will Whitley's kids have learned if Whitley's reaction to something as innoccuous as a gay kiss is essentially, "Ewww, icky! I don't want to talk about it!"? Does Whitley really think that squeamish avoidance is the best example to set for his kids in dealing with gay folks?
Whitley wants to think that "sometimes a kiss is not just a kiss." I beg to differ. A kiss, gay or straight, is an expression of love and affection. If Whitley truly feels he needs to shield his kids and himself from such universal human emotions, then I can only hope he looks a little deeper into his own heart.