Guyside: what the Michael Sam backlash teaches us about us

Posted by on May 14, 2014 in Guyside, men, relationships, sexual desire, Uncategorized | 0 comments

If it hadn’t been for two men kissing, I doubt I would have taken any notice at all of the NFL draft last week. While there are lots of people in Canada who are big NFL fans, I’m not; frankly, if I’m watching football, I’m watching the Canadian game, with its bigger field, fewer downs, and more freewheeling style. But I’m not here to talk about our superior game.

The big story out of this year’s NFL draft was the selection of Texan Michael Sam by the St. Louis Rams. Or, more precisely, the big story was the video of Sam sharing a celebratory kiss and hug with his boyfriend Vito Cammisano (who, Wikipedia tells me, is also an accomplished athlete.)

Miami Dolphins safety Don Jones tweeted the word “horrible.” Others criticized ESPN for broadcasting the display of affection, saying “kids are watching.” A former Ole Miss basketball player tweeted that he was boycotting ESPN because his 7 and 11-year-old brothers were exposed to the video clip, then after being subject to a large backlash, said that his tweets had been part of a friend’s psychology project.

Suffice it to say that there was a lot of shock and horror that this athlete would engage in a display of same-sex affection on camera, and that it would be broadcast.

My friend Joe wrote about how he talked with his daughter about this, and it got me thinking about us heterosexual guys and our complicated relationship with gayness. When I was a kid, the worst thing that you could call another guy was one of the pejorative terms for “gay:” fruit, faggot, fairy. And certainly in my world of popular culture in the 1970s and 1980s, there were very few examples of gay men. It was known that Elton John was gay. There were rumours about David Bowie. But certainly there were no out gay men in my world, and I never met someone who was out until I went to university in 1983.

Things have changed since then. I now count many GLBT people as both casual and deep friends, and I’m part of one of ¬†city’s major events for the GLBTQ community. So what have I learned? First off, none of that has led me towards changing my sexual orientation. I’m as straight as I was in my teens, or even back further than that (if you can have a sexual orientation at that age.)

Second, I can’t imagine a set of circumstances that would turn me from a guy who likes women to a guy who likes other guys. And that lack of imagination has led me to believe that it’s unlikely circumstances exist that would change a woman who loves other women to a woman who loves men, etc. So I can’t get behind the idea that someone (child or adult) seeing two men kiss on television is going to be “twisted,” “scarred,” etc. I also don’t see how it’s difficult to explain that behaviour to a kid — “Those guys? They love each other, so they’re kissing. Some guys love other guys.” Apparently, I’m not the only one.

Third, objecting to something does not mean you get to be insulated from that’s thing’s existence. Nobody has the right to tell you that your opinion on gay men is wrong. But you don’t have a right to never see or be exposed to gay men in your life, and it would be a lot easier for everyone if you can say to yourself and others “The Bible tells me that homosexuality is wrong.”

Finally, we straight guys have to get past the double standard that seems to exist around gay men. I don’t think I need to tell you that there’s a lot of attention paid to women kissing women — and men watching them. But when it comes to men kissing men, there’s what many would say is a visceral reaction of revulsion. I believe that reaction is learned and reinforced by society. ¬†(And to be clear, I have no evidence to support that beyond that of my own life.) We are taught to be revolted by it. We then write scripts to justify it, that often involve either direct damage (based on the broadly-debunked belief that homosexuality and pedophilia are related) or psychological damage or scarring (based on the broadly-debunked belief that gayness can be “taught.”)

We need to accept people and things and behaviour at face value. Two guys kiss? Yup, they kissed. No more than that. A guy likes guys? Yup. As men, let’s get past the taunts and the immaturity that we grew up with around this stuff.

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