That Kiss

George Takei has a blog post up that I want to complain about, because it distorts, probably without realizing it, an issue that needs to be better understood. The complaint is that so many people reacted with public revulsion to the kiss that Michael Sam and his boyfriend shared on the air when he got drafted by the Rams. And as far as that goes, Takei is right:

This much is clear: The world simply is going to have to get used to seeing two men kissing.

Sure.

But then he wants to conflate support for gay rights with feeling comfortable with gay sexuality. It’s not just that I can’t quite follow him there, it’s that I actually think it’s important that I not.

If you’re someone who finds yourself repulsed by the idea or the image of two men kissing, ask yourself why that is.

Actually, I’d rather hear Takei’s opinion on that, because I can’t see that there’s anything to explain. We all have revulsion instincts, and it makes sense that the idea of sex with someone who isn’t in a class that I consider a target of sexual desire would strike me as repulsive. My repulsion to gay sex is much more rational than, say, my repulsion to eating mayonaise, and yet no one asks me to examine my inner motivations for ordering food without it, or for wincing a little when thinking of people eating mayonaise on french fries. It might be a problem if I refused to dine with or hire people who like mayonaise, but the feeling itself is not something I need to examine or explain. So why would I need to examine or explain it as it has to do with sex?

Indeed, it isn’t confined to gay encounters. I’m also repulsed by the idea of sex with the very old, or sex with children, or sex with extremely fat people, or even certain kinds of sex acts with women I’d otherwise find attractive. Sex just is that way. It’s instictual, and why we’re attracted to who we’re attracted to is poorly understood, and that’s why there’s so much research into it and so much counselling avaiable for married people who lose their attraction, and so on. Finding gay sex repulsive is not a political statement.

Now, I think Takei’s right that news anchors shouldn’t walk off the set just because there’s an image of two men kissing they have to report on. Feeling disgust isn’t an excuse for unprofessional behavior, and I don’t think we need to leap to the conclusion, as the anchors in question evidently did, that ESPN’s decision to air that kiss was politically motivated when the "ratings motivated" explanation for reporting on a current hot news item will do.

The visceral negative reaction many experience comes down to what I call the “ick” factor–seeing or thinking about something to which we are unaccustomed, and reacting with an “ick.” There are in fact lots of things in life that make people go “ick.” Broccoli, for example, is simply abhorrent to some. But “ick” is never a sound basis for public policy or law. Your own discomfort is just your own issue, and you can’t and shouldn’t make it other people’s problems.

Yes, right: "ick" is never a sound basis for public policy or law. "Ick" and politics should be separate. Which is why Takei’s a bit out of bounds to ask anyone who supports gay rights to pretend like there’s no "ick." Sorry dude, but there’s "ick," and there’s going to continue to be "ick," and asking people to pretend there’s not "ick" is oppressive in its own way. We could just as well ask why Takei, or even Michael Sam himself, need to express their affection in public if they know it disgusts people. But why don’t we not. Because it doesn’t actually matter.

Yes, Takei’s right that gay people have as much right to kiss in public as the rest of us, and he’s right that the way the historical tide is turning means that there’s going to be a lot more gay kissing in public going on that those of us who don’t necessarily want to see it are going to have to get used to. Done! I agree, and I’m getting used to it as we speak. But I feel what I feel about it, and I’m not going to stop saying so just because it makes Takei uncomfortable any more than he’s going to stop kissing Brad in public because it makes me uncomfortable. And that’s something he and others like him need to get used to too.

A lot of people these days like to use "tolerance," in the political sense, as though it were synonymous with "approval." It’s not. "Tolerance" just means that we agree on ways to live with things we don’t like but don’t have any rational legal objection to. And that’s what I do with gay people: I tolerate them. I’m happy to live and work with them, to hire them, be hired by them, live next door to them (in fact, I do live next door to a lesbian, and she’s a great neighbor), watch movies about them, be friends with them, etc. I don’t have to approve of gayness to do that. And I don’t.

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