Sunday, July 12, 2009

Public Displays of Affection

Tonight following a weekend of news about the kissing arrests on the Main Street Plaza near Temple Square and today's Kiss-In protest, I'm feeling the unwelcome presence of my old friend HP (aka Homophobia).

HP and I go way back. I knew him long before I knew his name or what he was about. He showed up in kindergarten when I found out that telling the truth about bullies made me a tattle tale. He later taunted me on the playground of my elementary school, but where I really got to know him was in my junior high gym class. He was the loud mouth in the locker room who threatened "You're gonna die a long slow death if I ever catch you looking at my ass that way again you little fag."

I tried to make peace with him and by the time I got in high school I thought of him as my friend. In exchange for averting my eyes and trying to be more manly in my walk and talk, I thought he was protecting me from the other bullies. HP's not so bad, I thought. If I follow his rules, I'll be safe. More people will like me. I might not be one of the jocks, but at least they'll talk to me. 

In college I tried to lose HP, but by then I'd pretty much accepted that he'd always be hanging around. To be fair, he's probably one of the reasons I dated women, fell in love, got married and had children. I guess I owe him thanks for helping out on that.

During the AIDS crisis of the early eighties, I again thought of him as a friend. Without him I imagined that I could have done things that would have caused a real-life version of that long, slow death he'd threatened back in junior high. He's a jerk, but I guess he helped save my life, I had to admit.

But by now, three decades later, I really thought I'd put the whole HP friendship issue in the lock box of the past. He was someone who used to be in my life. Someone I got over. Someone not worth the effort to even think about. 

But I got a strong dose of reality this weekend. I see the truth is that he's been a very busy and successful power broker. He hangs out with everyone from presidents and religious leaders to security guards. He's got a condo in Sacramento and access to a beautiful home in a gated community in Texas.

Even so, I have a feeling he's not forgotten me. I wonder if he saw me Thursday after lunch when I hugged a friend. I wonder if he saw me with my friends on Friday night when I put my arms around them both for a picture. 

I wonder if he's been taking his own pictures of me. I wonder if I'm going to get a email, or worse yet, he's going to be in the garage again some day, like he was years ago when he whispered, "If you just leave the engine running, the world will be a better place in just a few minutes." I feel like screaming the old Dylan song, "You've got a lot of nerve to say you are my friend." But the truth is I'm still afraid of him. 

Anyone else here know this guy? And have you got any advice for me on how to get rid of him once and for all or is he something I've just got to endure to the end?


  1. We are living in a heterosexual world. It's not going to go away completely EVER. But, the best way I've found of dealing with my HP is to engage it directly, and try to get to know people who represent things about homosexuality that make me uncomfortable or nervous. Talking about sex always made me uncomfortable, but as I've talked with some of my new gay friends, it's become less scary to actually say to someone what I've done and have them not think it's weird or gross... even to say "great!"

  2. Ezra's right--homophobia won't be going away any time soon (just like racism and feminism and a bunch of other "isms" still have a toehold).

    But I think you're mostly talking about internalized homophobia, and I think there's a distinction between the caution you might feel when you hug a male friend in public and the self-loathing you might once have felt before you came to terms with being gay.

    Internalized homophobia stems from a belief that homosexuality is wrong, and that being gay makes me wrong or of less worth.

    That's different than being cautious around strangers out of concern for how they might react.

    Of course, if your caution was motivated by a feeling that your behavior might somehow be wrong or shameful, and that you therefore didn't want people to see it, then perhaps there's still a bit of internalized HP to work through. Only you can say for sure if that's the case.

  3. I like the way you nail down all the possibilities, Scott! You and Sarah have also been the recipients of my awkward hugs. (It would have been a great idea to get off the bike, don't you think?) Thanks for your insights on so many topics. I'm also working on a response to your request to feedback on the hug that lingers a little longer, the snuggle.