“Love him, and let him love you.” – James Baldwin
Out of nowhere, my friend started making loud, “Eww!” sounds. Over and over again, “Eeeeewwwww!!!” I was like, what? He said he saw two men on the TV, kissing. I had missed it. He continued to register his disgust on our eardrums. My other friend reacted more with his face than his vocal chords. It, too, said, “Eww!” just with greater subtlety.
At some point I remember saying, it’s not that bad, really, come on. Eww! Friend wouldn’t have it, though. He saw nothing but grossness personified. Subtle Friend eventually said, “Well, it’s okay if you’re that way.” He should have stopped there. He was clearly trying to sound more mature than Eww! Friend, but then he had to keep talking. “But that doesn’t mean that I want to see it, say, in the park. I don’t think it’s appropriate.” He may have mentioned something about children, too. His maturity had vanished. Though less deafening than Eww! Friend’s response, it was no less homophobic. And it made me feel no less uncomfortable. Granted, they didn’t know yet about me. At that point, I wasn’t 100% sure about me, either. Indeed, it was only within a couple of weeks of this incident that I referred to myself as gay for the first time, privately in my journal.
The Eww! Incident occurred while I was visiting my friends at their place in Oakland. I was on spring break from UCLA and they went to Berkeley. It was the last time I would see either of them.
I thought about the Eww! Incident in light of the furor over Michael Sam kissing his boyfriend after learning of his recruitment by the St. Louis Rams. Eww! Friend and Subtle Friend both represent the two most common reactions to “the kiss heard ‘round the world.” One Eww-er stormed off the set of her own TV show in disgust. Others, sounding more like Subtle Friend, tried to rationalize their feelings by condemning all public displays of affection, gay or straight.
Maybe. But one never hears that argument when it is about a straight kiss, so I usually don’t buy it. The sad reality is that over a quarter century after my friends reacted badly to seeing two men kissing on TV, the world collectively still has an issue with same-sex intimacy, particularly between two men. (Some straight guys get off seeing two women kissing intimately, but that’s another story.) Enlightenment has diminished the numbers of those who feel discomfort, but only by so much. Indeed, George Takei rightly states that even some gay folks felt uncomfortable about the kiss. Some feared a backlash, he argued. But I’m sure also that some gay folks who took it badly were merely acting out their own internalized homophobia, a deadly side effect of living years in the closet.
When I saw the Michael Sam video, I saw a young man experiencing great emotion being comforted by someone who cares for him deeply. You can see it in his boyfriend’s eyes. Vito Cammisano did not take his eyes off of Michael’s face for one moment. He touched Michael on the arm, held him, stroked him. He supported his boyfriend the way any partner would give support during an emotional moment. He held Michael and let him cry on his shoulder. He was there, in the moment, present. I thought to myself, Mr. Sam is a very lucky young man to have someone like Vito in his life, someone who clearly cares for him very much and gave him support unconditionally, even in the glare of national TV cameras. The kiss, in light of the emotions displayed by them both, seemed almost an afterthought.
There was nothing Eww! about that video. It was an important life moment, one which we all have experienced at one time or another. When my mother died, my other half held me, as I did for him when his mother died many years later. When we married, after nearly 20 years together, we looked at each other the same way that Vito looked at Michael, with intense feelings of pride and joy.
Eww! is probably the most powerful weapon homophobia has in its arsenal. It’s a battle cry, a call to arms, a harbinger for worse denunciations to follow, whether they are harsher words or fists and iron pipes. Next time you find yourself going Eww! over two men kissing, think. Think to a moment when you felt your world was changing, and how grateful you were to have your significant other at your side to hold you. Think about how much harder or sadder or less joyous that moment would have been if you had had to spend it alone. Think of the hollowness that you would have felt. And then think, would you really wish that upon Michael Sam?
Be glad he had someone to hold him, someone to stand by him, someone to kiss him. Then banish the Eww! for good.
© 2014, gar. All rights reserved.