A Kiss Is Still A Kiss

Posted: January 5, 2011 in Uncategorized

The world has changed since I went to university, and sipped warm pints in darkened rooms, listening to Pulp and avoiding most physical contact with members of the opposite sex in public, only getting into intimate clinches behind closed bedist doors. If I was lucky. These days, as some recent research has announced, young men in this case are happy to be seen kissing and showing affection to their straight male friends.


This story, picked up this week by The Guardian was  reported on enthusiastically last year by Mark Simpson, a long-time champion of changing behaviours and attitudes of young men:

‘Researchers at the University of Bath found that 89 per cent of white undergraduate men at two UK universities and one sixth form college said they were happy to kiss another man on the lips through friendship.

It sounds though as if they may have been talking to members of the university rugby team:

They found that 36 per cent of respondents had also engaged in sustained kissing, initially for shock value, but now they occurred just for ‘a laugh’.

Dr Eric Anderson, the academic behind the survey claimed, plausibly enough, that heterosexual men kissing one another is a result of the decline of homophobia:

‘At these universities, overt homophobia has reduced to near extinction, permitting those men to engage in behaviour that was once taboo.

University in the UK is now probably one of the most gay tolerant environments imaginable.  Which of course would impact on how non-gay men behave towards one another too, since homophobia is one of the key ways in which male-male relations in general are made to conform to traditional ideas about what is ‘normal’ and ‘masculine’.

However news of this new embracing of continental habits of affection by young men has not been so warmly received by readers of the gay press. When the research was reported in Pink News, for example, some rather negative, sceptical comments were made:


‘I think what this research probably points to is the selective homophobia of heterosexuals, i. e how in one context they can be gay affirmative; and then in another context show gross insensitivity and intolerance to LGBT people.’

‘I think the recent BBC Elton-Baby report is a good example of “Institutional Selective Homophobia”, in light of other reports on LGBT issues which have appeared progay.’

‘More research I think is needed into why some heterosexuals can behaviour in a “Schzoid” manner in relation to homosexuality and LGBT issues.’

‘The majority of abuse I and my girlfriend have got has been from young people – ie those from 13 to 25 or so. I actually think it’s INCREASING not decreasing. The attitude of some (note – SOME) young people seems quite ‘backward’ compared to a decade or so ago. I think for some of them it’s a mixture of ignorance and trying to be ‘cool’. Look at all the homophobic comments on sites like Youtube to see where they get their ideas from.’

‘I also think that for some straight people saying you don’t mind kissing someone of the same sex is a sign that you’re not gay and another way to emphasise just how straight you are’.

‘not convinced at all….this was ‘straight’ kissing…..did he ask if they would kiss a gay man?’

It seems as if, ironically, it is gay people who are having problems getting to grips with the newfound willingness of straight lads to lock lips!

I wonder why this is?

It could be because it doesn’t fit in with current narratives by gay rights groups of homophobic bullying, especially in schools and colleges, gay teen suicides and the ‘victim status’ of gay people. These narratives have been expressed by the recent and continuing It Get’s Better Project,http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7IcVyvg2Qlo and by organisations such as Stonewall who have emphasised the ‘alarming’ level of homophobia in Britain’s Schools:  http://www.stonewall.org.uk/at_school/education_for_all/quick_links/education_resources/4004.asp

Or it could be that gay people just want to keep manlove special.

I wholly welcome the findings of this research. I wish I was a student again so I could witness some of this boy-on-boy action for myself.

I do have one niggling doubt, about how far young men, however much they don’t mind being mistaken for ‘gays’ if they are caught kissing their mates, feel totally comfortable about gay sexual practices such as anal sex and sucking cock. I’m not saying they harbour secret desires to do those things, though I don’t see why they shouldn’t. I just wonder if one reason they don’t mind being associated with ‘gays’ is that being gay these days is seen more as a lifestyle and less of an actual form of sexuality and collection of specific, ‘deviant’ sexual behaviours between men.

Dr Eric Anderson, who led the research, is planning his next project on men ‘hugging’ and cuddling each other. Maybe he will ask some of those slightly more awkward questions this time, about what it might mean if their hugs were to develop into something more (homo)sexual, or how they might feel if one of their ‘straight’ mates wasn’t actually straight at all and kissed with a real sense of desire.

A kiss is just a kiss, in my experience you see, except when it isn’t.

  1. Valerie in San Diego says:

    In my (multinational, but somehow distinctly Californian) crowd, everyone hugs. The straight males happily hug the gay males, as do straight females and gay females and everyone in between. They are real hugs, not “shoulders only”. Age range of said crowd is mid-20s to early 60s.

    Admittedly, we’re just a data point.

  2. a very nice affectionate data point though.

    Thanks for the Christmas card by the way!

  3. Jim Jepps says:

    I remember, at university, snogging a friend of mine in public and afterwards being rebuked by a gay friend. I asked what the problem was and he didn’t really say which left me worried that I’d done something ‘wrong’ although on a later occasion he made some sort of passing comment and I told him in a firm, friendly way that I “wasn’t impressed” by his attempt to “police my sexuality”.

    It was also quite common for gay guys (at Essex) to get annoyed by straight people attending LGB events/nights/etc.

    While quite a few self defined straight guys have engaged in some of the stronger sexual activities you mention I’d be careful about categorising snogging as sexual n the same way.

    If I’d had a snog with a woman it would be a step along a particular path ending with that sort of sexual activity (with the concomitant, cough, effects) snogging a male friend would feel transgressive, but not arousing or the first step to something stronger.

  4. Hi Jim
    Yes I think some gay people do feel threatened by non-gay people being more ‘fluid’ with their affections/sexualised behaviours.

    That’s what I mean I’d like the researcher to ask young men how they’d feel if something more sexual was on the agenda from one of their friends or with other men, potentially. I think the research stands up very well on its own as evidence of changing attitudes but I’m interested in how far it represents a change in attitudes towards gay sex, not just gay ‘identity’.

  5. Mark says:

    Once again QRG goes where others fear to tread. When it comes down to it, and even allowing for regional/ethnic/class differences in attitudes, some gays just really, really love their oppression and will never let it go — they keep hugging it close like a security blanket. After all, it’s made them who they are. This kind of research is doubly unwelcome for them because:

    a) It doesn’t fit with the ‘hets all hate us and are queerbashing us to death nightly’ vibe


    b) Like bisexuality, which they also resent terribly, it shows that same-sex intimacy and sensuality isn’t something that gayers have a copyright on. If people who aren’t gay and who perhaps aren’t even particularly PC can enjoy this kind of same-sexing, why on earth did I have to take out a life-long subscription to Gay Times?

  6. Mark says:

    Oh, I forgot to add: NICE PIC.

  7. Needless to say I didn’t find that photo on the Gay Times website…

  8. ..’not particularly PC’ is a good allusion to my last point. I think these straight kissing lads probably genuinely are not homophobic in the way the gays would like to think they are. But they may still have some ‘not particularly PC’ reservations about and attitudes to homosexuality. But then so do many gay people when it comes down to actual sex!

  9. Alex says:

    I think the key factor is “shock-value, and then for a laugh”. In the same way it’s silly to assume people make rape jokes because they like rape, I think it’s a bit naive to say people are more accepting of homosexuality because they think it can be shocking and laughable.

    Having said that, I think a lot of us heterosexuals are just as threatened as gays by their losing their monopoly on gayerism. It’s quite possible to be shocked or made to laugh by two straight men locking lips without being at all offended by proper queers doing it. We’ve not found the plain existence of gays risqué since ‘Are You Being Served’, but look at any OMG-IT’S-SO-SHOCKING-LOLOL cartoon like Drawn Together or American Dad, and whenever homoeroticism is a punchline, which is every five fucking seconds on Drawn Together, one or both of the gayers is straight. We don’t find deviations from society’s constraints on sexuality shocking, we find deviations from people’s own constraints on their own sexuality shocking. We don’t mind having bummers around as long as we both keep on our sides of the line, and we’ll even put up with bisexuals as long as they don’t confuse us by settling down monogamously with just the one gender. But step out of your bracket and you become a joke.

    But they may still have some ‘not particularly PC’ reservations about and attitudes to homosexuality. But then so do many gay people when it comes down to actual sex!
    What’s wrong? Were the rubbish men in the video not bumming hard enough for you?

  10. I think alex the research found that these lads DONT kiss for shock value any more, but now do it for a range of reasons, for a laugh as in amusment, not to laugh at kissing, and also to show affection to friends. If you read the whole post on Mark’s blog it has some quotes by men students which give more nuance to the findings.

  11. Alex says:

    I dunno, I can’t imagine anyone ruffling his friend’s hair, or giving his girlfriend a casual squeeze, or scratching his dog behind the ears “for a laugh”. Manly back-slap hugs aren’t for a laugh, they’re a deadly serious matter. That bumming picture you put up a while back seems pretty straight-faced too. There’s still a fine layer of irony and detachment for Man-Kissin’, it’s still a conspicuous act in a way girls affectionately kissing and other more standard affection isn’t. Just because they don’t mean ‘laugh’ literally doesn’t mean they’re not tittering a bit inside.

    By the way, did you see the worst-rated comment in the Mail article?

    • yes, mark noted that in his piece about the research, which is well worth reading if you haven’t already. Neither he nor I nor the researchers are saying homophobia has disappeared from society. The point is in these university settings, often linked to sports groups/friendships, straight men are not homophobic which has led to them being more open and relaxed about showing affection to each other.

      That’s all. It is not a grand claim but it is quite a change in attitudes that has occurred over a short period of time. Which is interesting.

  12. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Prometheus Ink. Prometheus Ink said: RT @quietriot_girl: https://quietgirlriot.wordpress.com/2011/01/05/a-kiss-is-still-a-kiss/ New Post A Kisss Is Still A Kiss […]

  13. I do seem to remember various college guy pals of mine offering to kiss each other if the gals would return the favor.

  14. ..and you were at college this century, Caroline, unlike some of us. So I take your word for it! But it is definitely a recent phenomenon as far as I know.

  15. Hans says:

    Hmmm, could it be that there’s also such a thing as “a selective heterophobia by certain homosexuals”?

  16. well some gay people are very down on heterosexuals, yes. and bisexuals. and some gay men don’t like women much either!

    But I think Mark may have found the key to many gay people’s annoyance at ‘straights’ enjoying some same sex action, and that is they realise their whole ‘raison d’etre’ as ‘gay’ is kind of undermined. If you dont have to be gay to have same-sex-snogging, what IS the point of being gay at all?

    • Hans says:

      Well, yeah, on a basic level it takes away a perceived “specialness”, like, “this is MY club, how dare you waltz in here, and afterwards you get to leave?” But I don’t know about that part about “there being a point”. It sounds to me perilously close to the fundamentalist cant about gayness being a “choice”, something you DECIDE to go into and could quit once it becomes devalued by those “straight men kissing.” Which, btw, that’s a pretty British story, I don’t know how it would fly on these shores. Picturing the hypothetical event all I can see is these two straight guys making out while all their male friends, gay and straight, stare in annoyance at them, for entirely different reasons.
      I can see how the girls might like it, though.

  17. to what extent is sexuality a ‘choice’, is a massive debate I think… I expect we all feel we are ‘fated’ to our sexuality, but really, is there anything actually stopping us from going out and trying something/someone new? I could fuck a woman tonight. At some level or other I am choosing not to. Just as I am choosing not to be going and getting laid by a man or at least trying to! I think we make choices regarding sex/uality all the time. But I know my view is a little bit out-there.

    I think that kissing boys do exist in American universities too though maybe it is a little more subdued, due to various pressures in America.

    This girl would love to see more boys kissing definitely.

  18. Hans says:

    Hmmmm… I dunno. I think the distinction is between gender and sexuality? SEX is a choice, gender is not? I don’t need to see someone having sex to figure out which way they WOULD like to have sex… as a rule…But wait, no, that’s not true either: if a straight man can choose to “act” gay, then a gay man could choose to “act” straight? Then why not do this? Why would gay people not have spared themselves some trouble by “choosing” differently? Most would tell you they can’t.
    I thought about this endlessly- COULD I have sex with another man? I’m the least homophobic person there is… But it just doesn’t scream out to me. My fantasies are geared towards women, (plus I can’t stand dudes 90% of the time.) Gay sex wouldn’t feel right somehow… But how do I know if I haven’t had it? I suppose I know because I haven’t WANTED to have it? But THEN it’s not like sex should feel right with MOST women, just some specific women.

    Oh wow, you’ve made me think and say too much! There are no absolutes when it comes to sex, no final answers, just pokes in the dark. At least you consistently ask amusing questions.

  19. sex is quite often ‘just pokes in the dark’ Hans, that much is true! 🙂

  20. elsewhere – on mark simpson’s blog- we discussed ‘repression’ a bit. Now you see the way I see ‘repression’ is partly as an un-opened box. If we are repressed at all, which I’d say most of us are, we have not come to terms with or explored the full gamut of our sexuality. ‘Repression’ can be a self-fulfilling prophecy, that ties us to particular forms and aspects of our sexuality. But it always means we are not telling the whole story of ourselves, to ourselves or anyone else.

    I like repression I see it as potential… But maybe the older I/we get, the less it seems like potential and the more it seems like missed opportunities.

    Like standing at the top of the helter skelter, or peering over the edge of the aeroplane door with our parachute, or standing at the tip of the high-dive, if we don’t jump, we will never know what we could have been.

    • Hans says:

      hahaha were you implying I’m repressed? 😉 No, not my story :-p If anything, the problem is I can’t shut up about things I should shut up about. Working on being a little more repressed than I currently am. Related to that: if I haven’t said this enough times, this is one brave blog. I already get enough weird looks from friends when I say slightly personal things in my blog- I have no clue how YOU do it.

  21. well not many of my friends know about this blog Hans. But my sister found out about it over Christmas and told my Dad I am a sexual deviant! So I don’t have much self-respect to lose anymore…

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