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Putting It Out There For All To See


How acceptable are public displays of affection among same-sex partners?

By Christopher DeLorenzo

or many of us, giving and receiving affection is one of the best parts of having an intimate relationship, and this may range anywhere from a hand on your partner’s knee to a big, juicy kiss. Everyone has his or her opinion about public displays of affection (PDA), but most people generally accept hetero hugging and kissing in public.

When I see couples kissing or touching in public, I may stare in fascination or turn away in shyness, but ultimately, I’m happy for them. For instance, just last week I was riding the streetcar and a young hetero couple was standing in the back kissing passionately. The guy next to me muttered, “They obviously like one another,” and
When I see couples kissing or touching in public, I may stare in fascination or turn away in shyness, but ultimately, I’m happy for them.
I thought it was romantic, but I wondered later, would our reactions have been different if it was a same sex couple standing back there?

Then vs. now
When I was younger gay man and struggling with feelings of shame, being in a gay neighborhood and seeing same sex couples walking hand in hand filled me with hope. I knew that I wanted to love that openly and hoped one day I would be able to. Today I no longer feel that shame; I feel pride, and part of that pride is renewed by consistently seeing gay people being openly loving and affectionate. In psychology this is called “positive reinforcement,” and we all need it.

What complicates this healthy desire is the variation on the theme of PDA—and the bigotry that still exists in our society.

Drawing the line
Some people are truly sweet when they kiss and touch in public, whether they are holding hands, hugging or sitting with their arms around one another. But everyone draws the line somewhere.

For me, it’s when people put on a show. If you’re getting hot and heavy on the streetcar, and shirts are getting untucked or opened, you are entering the realm of exhibitionism and looking for voyeurs. At that point, I think it’s more about putting on a show for a mostly unwilling audience, and then, I have to say, you should really be doing that in private. But that doesn’t excuse the hetero expression, “I don’t care what you do in private, I just don’t want to see it in public,” because we all know what a double standard that is.

As gay people we must live our lives openly and combat bigotry by showing the world that being affectionate is a human need, one that can be done with dignity and respect for ourselves and those around us. Although we have to be careful about where we openly display our affection for one another, and we need to do it with good taste, I salute those brothers and sisters who openly walk hand and hand and remind us that there isn’t room for more shame in our lives. Pride is expressed in many different ways.
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