Fundamentally, homophobia is the fear of closeness with members of one’s own gender, not fear of LGBT people. In society today, straight men are homophobic when they fear their actions with other men might lead them to be regarded as queer. To a lesser extent, the same dynamic affects women.
In the infamous Snickers commercial, the lips of two guys chomping on a single candy bar meet, and the men are so alarmed by the accidental kiss that they have to prove to themselves and each other that they are not gay by doing “manly,” painful things, as if gays are not manly and as if hurting oneself is.
The two lesbians kissing recently at IHOP in Grandview, an incident that has attracted national attention, led me to wonder whether George Bush and his buddy Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah would be welcome there for pancakes. Bush shows no religious prejudice in the people he kisses — he doesn’t limit his kisses to Muslim men. Remember his famous kiss of Sen. Joseph Lieberman, a Jew, after the State of the Union address in 2005? And to celebrate Greek Independence Day at the White House, he planted a big one on Christian Archbishop Demetrios, primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in America. Bush may bow to the religious right’s prejudice and enforce it on their behalf, but he seems liberated in his personal life, though that doesn’t do us much good.
One could argue that homophobia is more of a problem for straight than LGBT folk. It prevents them from being honest about themselves. A liberated straight friend told me recently that he was showing a house to a potential buyer, a burly military officer, certifiably heterosexual. In commenting on the yard, the buyer lowered his voice, looked around, and confessed, “I really like gardening.” My friend responded, “You don’t have to be embarrassed about that. Real men are great gardeners.” The buyer went one step further in looking at the kitchen. “Don’t tell anyone, but I like to cook, too.”
Sure, there are gay people who play sports and straight people who like ballet, but the stereotypes have hardly disappeared from our culture. Twenty-some nations, including the United Kingdom and Israel, welcome gays into military service, but not the United States, with its baggage of stereotypes.
It’s not so much fear of homosexuals attacking straights that keeps the military policy in place as it is fear that straight people might want to be close to friends in ways they think of as queer.
Homophobia is really a relatively recent phenomenon. In many traditions — think Fiddler on the Roof, for example — it was the custom for men to dance only with men. Now men dancing with men is a “gay” thing.
Behind the objection to the “public display of affection” between the two Grandview lesbians may be the fear among those who saw the harmless, non-sexual kiss that they, too, might be tempted to show affection to someone of their own gender and thus be stigmatized as gay.
Fortunately, more and more straight men are comfortable hugging and even kissing male friends, whether they are on the sports field or in a restaurant or in a private situation.
Some of my straight friends enjoy kissing me in public. On the lips. One friend, secure in his sexuality and his marriage, who doesn’t care what people might think, is actually pleased to model what liberated men are like. Another 100 percent straight friend from the Middle East knows very well about American homophobia but delights in exchanging kisses with me, even in the most public of places, where people are acquainted with one or both of us, and is not afraid to tell me he loves me in front of other people.
Isn’t this the way the world should be? Why should anyone, regardless of what he or she does with his or her genitals, fear being close to another person one cares about and showing it in a gesture of respect?
This is, pardon me, the Christian thing to do, as the New Testament repeatedly commands, “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” (Romans 16:16, 1 Corinthians 16:20, 2 Corinthians 13:12) Variations include “Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss.” (1 Thessalonians 5:26) and “Greet one another with the kiss of love.” (1 Peter 5:14)
So if you are caught kissing your friend and someone complains, just say, “Hey, I’m just doing what God commands.”
The Rev Vern Barnet, DMn., does consulting, teaching and writing for religious and educational organizations here. His Kansas City Star column appears each Wednesday.

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