Saturday, November 28, 2009

Men kissing men

(Hoping some people in Utah will find my blog through Google searches ;)

So you may have heard that Adam Lambert kissed a guy--his keyboardist--at the American Music Awards last weekend. The incident caused quite a bit of controversy, with some expressing appalled outrage and others delighted support. To be clear, I fall in the latter category, since I look forward to the day when such acts are seen as perfectly acceptable by everyone.

Anyway, I find it interesting how there has been a much stronger negative reaction to Adam's kiss than there tends to be when two women kiss on TV--say, Madonna and Britney at the VMAs. It seems this is because, in general, men like seeing girl-on-girl action but are disgusted by guy-on-guy action. Women, on the other hand, do not have such a strong negative response to seeing girl-on-girl activities. So quite simply, guy-on-guy is offensive to half the population, while girl-on-girl is not particularly offensive to most people.

I have long been puzzled by the apparent disgust men feel at the sight of guy-on-guy action (I remember guys refusing to see Brokeback Mountain because they couldn't bear the one minute of male-male intimacy. Heads lopped off? Blood and guts spilling forth? Cool! Guys humping? Ugh I can't bear to watch it's just so wrong make it go away!!). I think personally, my reaction to seeing a woman kiss another woman is not unlike my reaction to seeing a woman kiss a man I don't find particularly attractive. It's kind of neutral. Not something I'm dying to do myself, but seeing it in a movie or TV show doesn't mean they're making me do it, so why should I care?

The Lambert incident served as a springboard for me to investigate this mystery. I quizzed a male friend over lunch (poor guy) on what exactly this disturbed reaction to male-male action is and why it exists. It is understandably difficult to express, but he made a good effort at getting me to understand his viewpoint.

My first question was "What exactly is this feeling of disgust? I mean, is it like the kind of disgust you'd feel finding a bloody, half-eaten hare with its guts hanging out in your backpack? Or is it like the disgust you feel when your housemates once again leave their dirty dishes on the counter for several days?" His response:
"Well, how would you feel if there were some ugly obese guy in a Speedo making out with an ugly obese girl in a bikini? Wouldn't you think, Ugh, that's disgusting!?"
An interesting point. Of course, ugly people are by definition unpleasant to look at, so it is not unnatural not to want to look at something unpleasant. The two men kissing are not themselves unpleasing to look upon. So it's not an exact analogy, but still, this was an enlightening explanation.

The second question was "Why do you find it so disgusting seeing two guys kiss?"
This was a tougher question with a more hand-wavy response. He explained that a large part of male personality is masculinity, and, to be frank, penetration (implied: of women) is a crucial part of masculinity. Thus, the thought of gay sex which requires a male to be penetrated is so contrary to the nature of men (as seen by straight men) it is abhorrent. I pointed out that seeing two guys kiss is a far cry from forcing you to have gay sex. He said that he does not find men pleasing to look upon, so if both of the kissers are men, it is displeasing to see (I didn't think of it at the time, but this seems pretty irrelevant because obviously men don't mind watching men do other things on TV or in movies). But even if I understand why guys don't enjoy watching men kiss, that doesn't explain why men find it so gross. Here he brought out the fat and ugly couple in bikinis example, saying that seeing the kissing is gross because you picture yourself in the situation and find that situation to be gross.

A third, kind of food-for-thought question that we discussed was whether the negative reaction to men kissing is instinctual/natural or cultural/societal. He was quick to blame it on nature, but my little knowledge of the ancient Greeks gave us pause. According to Wikipedia, it didn't matter so much the gender of the person a man was penetrating, it just mattered that the penetratee was a social inferior--a woman, a slave, or a youth would be acceptable. In such a society, two guys having sex would not be seen as abnormal, as long as the more dominant of the two were doing the "active", penetrating role. Since this was well-accepted in society, I would bet that in that culture, men would not have been immediately disgusted by seeing two males kissing.

So I guess the summary is that (straight) men find it gross to see two men kiss because they can't help but imagine themselves in that situation which they would find disgusting because it implies sexual relations that defy the very nature of masculinity in our culture. This explanation still has holes, and it is entirely anecdotal, coming from just one person. Does anyone else have any input?


Sebastian said...

I'm pretty sure you're right-on with your ancient history thing -- masculinity is about being superior.

Whether right or wrong, that's just how it's been for... a very long time.

So we penetrate/stab/kill/own anything that is inferior to us.

I think the concept of gay sex is a little like impotence or something (which as you might know is one of the most 'debilitating' things that can happen to a man).

I don't find it disgusting myself, but I do find public displays of affection themselves not very pleasant :P

(But I'm not very manly.)

Hezabelle said...

Wikipedia didn't lead you astray! That's right about the Greeks, and lots of other ancient cultures.

I really enjoy man on man action, and I'm not the only girl I know who feels this way. I don't watch gay porn or anything, but I do find watching two guys make out a turn on, the same way guys like to see Britney and Madonna kiss. And I loved Brokeback Mountain.

Very good post! Made me think :)

~PinginRua~ said...

The ancient greeks thing is an interesting one...
Honestly, I don't know if I'll ever get my head around it all. Ever wonder if some of them could just be making a show of being disgusted? Rather than genuinely being bothered?

Eleni said...

Seb - Comparing it to impotence is an interesting point. And you're definitely right that PDA can get obnoxious or even gross. Hence "Get a room!"

You, not manly? You are large and covered in hair. That's manly.

Hez - So glad I have you to fact check my ancient Greek history. See how handy and applicable that knowledge is?

I generally find man on man action... adorable ("Aw, they're a cute pair), but I'm not sure I'm turned on by it. Of course, I see it so infrequently (since I don't watch gay porn, either), maybe I just haven't given it a chance.

PinginRua - Yeah, I wonder if some of it is a show. Just because they think they're supposed to find it gross. Like I've watched "chick flicks" with guys, and even if the movie really isn't that bad, they make a huge show about thinking it's the dumbest thing ever. Like they don't actually hate it so much, they just think they're supposed to. And, of course, thinking you're supposed to hate something does kind of make you hate it more than you may have otherwise.

Jill said...

My BF gets grossed out by any guy on guy things too but doesn't care about women doing it.

Eleni said...

Yeah, that seems to be the trend. Understandable to some extent, but it's the intensity of many guys' reactions that mystifies me.