I kiss guys.
No I’m not gay (I’m not even bisexual anymore). And no it’s not sexual. I just greet other men with kisses. Oh, it’s not every man I meet – only close friends that know me. The ones who know me seem not to mind. The ones that did mind at first are fine with it now and often kiss me back. No, not on the lips. I reserve those for my wife and grandmother.
I picked it up from hanging out with Arabs my summer as a college freshman. In Arabic (and many other honor-shame) cultures, men greet men with kisses. In Lebanon, it’s three on alternating cheeks: right, left, right. Don’t mix up the order or you might end up making out with some old Lebanese doctor. In parts of Saudi, they alternate kisses on the tips of their noses. Bosnians and some Serbians do two kisses. I think Greeks do the same, or perhaps I’m conjuring up a scene (real or imagined) from My Big Fat Greek Wedding. It’s an intimate greeting between close friends.
Boys Kissing Boys
In America, we barely hug. We know two levels of greetings as men: THE HANDSHAKE and THE QUICK ONE-ARMED HUG. Maybe we escalate to a full embrace for close family, but that’s it. No further escalation. Me? I like having a kiss in my greeting arsenal for those inside my inner circle. It lets them see my trust.
For me, I find it unfortunate that the gesture’s been so sexualized as to lose all meaning. At best, we think kissing a feminine thing done between girlfriends on shopping trips. At worst, we restrict kissing to dates and the bedroom. Neither of those allow for manly greetings in our culture – the kind that, when used as a sign of betrayal, reveal a stark contrast against the backdrop of trust between masculine friends.
And I do mean masculine. It was Lewis who made a quick remark about kissing after confessing his fear of affection. Upon meeting a long-lost father figure, he said:
There would be tears for certain; perhaps worse things. It is one of my lifelong weaknesses that I never could endure the embrace or kiss of my own sex. (An unmanly weakness, by the way; Aeneas, Beowulf, Roland, Launcelot, Johnson and Nelson knew nothing of it).
Lewis refers to those gentile men who took chivalry to heart, greeting ladies with masculine bows, with kisses on the backs of their soft hands while embracing other knights in full armor, kissing cheeks that hid beneath an underbrush of beard. The great shame of the physical affection between Frodo and Sam is that some construe it as sexual and so diminish the depth of their great friendship.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m neither homophobic nor mysohomistic. I have friends that grew up and came out of the closet – friends whose company I enjoy to this day when our old crew reunites. I speak of something broader – of a culture so concerned with erotica that they all but lost the depth of philia. I don’t deny that in many cultures past authorities suppressed public displays of physical affection between lovers. However, often during those times, brotherly love – deep love between friends – thrived. Could it be that in the summer of our erotica we oppressed friendship? Could it be that in liberating sex, we brought winter to the intimacy of reunions between long-lost friends? “Frodo, dear Frodo you’re awake!” says Sam, and then he lays his hand on Frodo’s hand. Why need that hold sexual connotation? Can’t Sam fear for the well-being of his good friend?
And if Launcelot kisses Aurthur after the long journey home, does that make the love triangle with Guinevere swing both ways? Is Beowulf feminine for such affection? Or does there exist a kiss between men for the depth between two friends? A kiss that Chastity herself might smile on?
My good friend fathered a little boy. This boy turns three next month. When he says “Goodbye” and starts his leaving routine, this two-year old says “BYE FETZ!” (he calls me “Fets” < Fents < Fence < Fance < Lance). After “bye” he says, “Hug. Hug.” And we hug. Then he says, “Kiss. Kiss,” and kisses me right on the lips. It’s okay, I don’t mind – it’s how he says bye to his uncle. What wounds me – and will eventually wither this kid’s chivalry – is that other men cringe when he tries to kiss them at goodbye time. They back away. No kisses from these tough guys. I don’t blame them – that’s what their culture expects.
But why? To what end?
I kiss other guys – great friends of mine I meet after long periods of separation. I kiss them thrice on the cheeks – right, left, right – like my Lebanese mentors taught me. It’s not gay. It’s not even sexual.
It’s what brothers and fellow knights do.
Boys kissing boys?
Boys will be boys indeed.