In a subculture as sexually liberated as they come, why is kissing such an issue for some gay men?
Sometimes, being a gay man in America at the end of the century just makes me
want to cry.
At this point in history, queer tears suggest AIDS and grief and Matthew
Shepard and possibly the right wing’s latest fear-mongering tactics. But for now, the sadness leaking out of me has more to do with all the issues we gay
men have with kissing. Yes, kissing.
It is supposed to be so easy. Thoroughly natural. Lips touch, smooch, linger: You take it from there. Tongue, no tongue; smacking, no smacking. A smoldering
glance across a room, a stolen kiss in the hallway, and the next thing you
know, you’re in bed, six months down the line, arguing about patterns for the
china. If, of course, that first kiss was hot enough to spark.
Easy as pie and twice as yummy. No?
Well, no. It’s not that simple for a lot of the gay men I know, including a lot of the gay men I have loved. It’s not easy, it’s not necessarily instinctive and the connection to romance is not just an issue, it’s a mess.
My first kiss with a guy was in a car. I pushed him away so hard, his head practically bounced off the opposite window. He was amazed and horrified, and
so was I.
I thought girls were for kissing, and men were for cocksucking, to put it bluntly. I did not want male lips touching mine. In a word, “Gross!” I mean,
really, what was he thinking?
To my ignorant, twisted teenager’s mind, men provided a sexual outlet until the vow of marriage. Then, at some unforeseeable altar, a magical kiss following “I do” would forever seal my attraction toward women and eliminate the need for men. Unbelievable — but this is just one example of the many fantastic fables we gay kids told ourselves, growing up without a clue in the ’50s and early ’60s.
So when I first fell in love with a man, it wasn’t because of his eyes or
his biceps or his hair or how he filled out his jeans or the thickness of his
wallet; it was how he kissed me. He made the past disappear. Pure and simple.
I moved in after a week, and moved out after a year. Typical.
Several lovers and 25 years later, when I go to a sex club in the city, half the men want to slobber all over each other with tongues big as fists falling out of their mouths, while the other half turn their heads the moment a potential pucker comes within two feet.
Trust me, kissing is a very loaded issue for gay men.
One friend (who is the most deeply spiritual gay man I know — there
are those of us who sit at his feet and feel love pouring out of him like water out of a fire hose) is always making this joke about how he doesn’t kiss and tell after a night out … because he doesn’t kiss at all. It’s true, he hangs out at the same sleazy haunts that I do, and he will suck cock, lick nipples, talk dirty and just generally carry on with that mouth of his something fierce, but he will not kiss. Anyone. Anywhere. He thinks it’s yucky. He’s no stupid 18-year-old living in Bumfuck, Indiana; he’s a 50-year-old San Francisco seeker of Truth, but he still thinks kissing is yucky.
He is not alone.
My theory is that many of these men do not like the feeling of merging that can coincide with kissing. I think they’re afraid of the loss of control. You have to surrender to a kiss. You have to trust. You have to risk being intimate.
No one says this, of course. Many guys will say they don’t want the germs. They say that bars and sex clubs are breeding grounds for diseases, and the less kissing, the better. These same guys will chow down on seven greasy
honkers in one night, though. They’ll shove a finger, or two, up a cute, willing butt, and then grab 10 other guys without ever visiting the sink.
I am not trying to gross anyone out here.
It just comes naturally. Like many gay men, I believe most Americans are grotesquely obsessed with cleanliness, and ridiculously frightened of germs.
We fags call ourselves pigs and bears and take on names like “Wolf” because we
know we’re animals. We have all the evidence anyone could need. And if germs
were as deadly as the soap commercials would have us believe, we gay men would be dying like flies.
Actually, the fact is, AIDS is a difficult disease to catch, pathologically speaking. If it were lightly communicated, I would not be here to write this, for example. And you perhaps would not be here to read it.
No, kissing is not how serious diseases are transmitted, yet it is one of the main sexual activities gay men are willing to give up. We are not a rational species, no matter what your eighth-grade teacher told you. The Age of Reason was a crock, in my not-so-humble opinion. Fear and desire preempt rational thought any day of the week.
Romance, though, is a social construct. There’s nothing natural about it. People invented it, and people muck it up.
But God, I want a man who can do it to me just once more.
Forget everything I said. Kiss me now. Don’t hesitate, you fool. Make me shiver. Make me melt. Break my heart using only your lips. Let the world
collapse around our ankles. Make me hard. Make me yours.
Help me believe the fantasy again.
One man kissed me like that. OK, more than one, but Marcus (the one I’m thinking of now) took it to a whole other level. Way out there on the astral plane. I left my body when Marcus kissed me, slipped the chains of this world altogether, and flew away to never-never land. His tongue was our guide, and smooching was all we needed. For a while. Sex with Marcus was routine, talking with him was frustrating as hell and shallow as a child’s wading pool, even friendship with Marcus turned out to be too stoned and cool for me, but
man, could he kiss.
To tell the truth, the men who have been the best kissers have turned out to
be my worst lovers. These guys may be putting all their eggs in one basket, so
to speak. It is a gift to kiss another human being with 100 percent of your
intention and awareness, but in the end it’s not enough. At least, it wasn’t
enough for me.
I feel nearly hopeless, writing this. It’s difficult to imagine a kiss that could slip through my defenses. Or be totally convincing. A great kiss can be dismissed as fantasy. A sloppy kiss: just lust. A mediocre kiss: fear of intimacy, lack of commitment. Hell, half the time, I feel as though the guy I’m kissing is keeping his eyes open just enough to watch who’s coming
around the corner. (Hello … did I really dare to use the word “trust” a
few paragraphs ago? Somebody spank me.)
It’s not just other guys who get funky and weird around kissing. Not by a long shot. When some guy’s face moves in on me, my mind grabs my heart and straps it in, and goes “OK, OK, here we go … shhiiiiiiit!” I have to work this out with somebody, and unfortunately blow buddies
are not the best place to go for soul-searching sexual therapy.
See, heterosexual kids get to practice all this while their brains
are still plastic. While their lives and values are still malleable. With movies and books and friends to guide them. And they still get royally fucked up. Imagine the difficulties a queer kid gets into with no information about homosex stuff and all the same misinformation heteros get about “straight” romance. It’s practically tragic.
Somewhere along the line, maybe when the concept of “being gay” entered my consciousness, the idea of kissing a man started sounding pretty good. Feeling good, as well. Tasting good, too, more and more. And more.
It just would have been nice if I had been the teensiest bit prepared for the road ahead. “We need to talk.” That’s what I would like to say to the outrageously confused teenager I was, so many years ago.
Not that he would have listened.
Horny little queerboy. Wanting to kiss the world. Closing his eyes and dreaming of love. Wishing the world were safe.
That to me is the promise of a kiss: risking everything and feeling safe, even as the walls of Western civilization might come crashing down around our ears.
Greg Nott is a writer living in San Francisco. More Greg Nott.
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