The Times Asks: Is It Safe for Men to Kiss in Public?

It's not the silliest article the Times has written about the Super Bowl advertising (that would be this one, from Stuart Elliott) but the lead story of the Sunday Styles section by Guy Trebay provides some competition. Trebay used to write for the left-wing Village Voice, and he takes a libertine-liberal line in "A Kiss Too Far - For same-sex couples, simple public displays of affection are fraught."

Trebay manages to get 1,665 words and a lead section story out of that premise.

The Times also hired two male models to kiss for a photo accompanying the article, staging the shot in front of a piece of public art in Midtown Manhattan that spells LOVE in huge red block letters. The photo takes up the top half of the page.

"The spot was only 30 seconds, almost a blur amid the action at the Super Bowl. Yet the hubbub after a recent commercial showing two auto mechanics accidentally falling into lip-lock while eating the same Snickers bar went a long way toward showing how powerfully charged a public kiss between two men remains.

"Football is probably as good a place as any to look for the limits of social tolerance. And the Snickers commercial - amusing to some, appalling to others and ultimately withdrawn by the company that makes the candy - had the inadvertent effect of revealing how a simple display of affection grows in complexity as soon as one considers who gets to demonstrate it in public, and who, very often, does not.

"The demarcation seemed particularly stark during the week of Valentine's Day, when the aura of love cast its rosy Hallmark glow over card-store cash registers and anyone with a pulse. Where, one wondered, were all the same-sex lovers making out on street corners, or in comedy clubs, performance spaces, flower shops or restaurants?

Trebay lined up a series of left-wing gay groups to lament: "'There's really a kind of Potemkin village quality to the tolerance and acceptance' of gay people in America, said Clarence Patton, a spokesman for the New York City Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project. 'The idea of it is O.K., but the reality falls short.'"


"But for some the commercial left the lingering question of who owns the kiss? How is it that a simple affectionate gesture can be so loaded? Why is it that behavioral latitudes permit couples of one sort to indulge freely in public displays lusty enough to suggest short-term motel stays, while entire populations, albeit minority ones, live real-time versions of the early motion picture Hays Code: a peck on the cheek in public, one foot squarely planted on the floor?"