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.
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.