In response to the kiss seen round the world, plenty of commentators have said quite forthrightly that they themselves were uncomfortable watching Michael Sam kiss his boyfriend simply because they are not used to seeing two men do that. Bomani Jones captured this sentiment well when he tweeted: “and let’s be clear: i’m not pretending i’m used to seeing men kiss. it caught me off guard. i just gotta get over it. we can do so together.” Jones also cut to the heart of the matter – “and the issue isn’t whether seeing two men kiss is uncomfortable. it’s why you think your comfort should matter.”
In a similar vein, Stuart Scott tweeted, “NFL guys get drafted. Kiss girlfriends. @MikeSamFootball kissed his boyfriend. Don’t like?..that’s a “you” problem.”
A digression for a moment here about Scott. A friend reminded me yesterday that Stuart Scott gave the UNC commencement address in 2001 (Scott is an ’87 Carolina grad). She remembered it because she found a portion of his talk to be problematic. The subject of Scott’s address was, interestingly, “diversity.” Here’s the part of Scott’s speech my friend remembered:
Given the way the world is changing, you absolutely cannot depend on stereotypes. Do that and you might lose money. Lose a customer. Lose constituents. Lose the faith of a child. Or worse: Have a child lose faith in you. Every time you speak, you’re making someone else’s reality. Especially in relationships. Your words have power. Remember this, and this is important. When you get a girlfriend and/or a fiancé and/or a wife. Know this: We communicate differently. And guys, I know you’re going to hate it because you’re going to think, “I don’t get her,” “She doesn’t make sense,” and you’re gonna try and talk to her like you talk to your boys. And when she doesn’t understand you, you’re gonna complain. You are in a relationship with a woman. You’re not in a relationship with a man who looks like a woman. Do you want to be right, or do you want to get your point across? Do you want to be right, or do you really want to communicate? Ladies, I’m talking to you, too.
Scott’s not trying to offend anyone here. He’s just speaking as if a particular group of people doesn’t really exist – women who love women and men who love men. My friend spoke with him afterwards about the fact that Carolina had plenty of grads who were gay and described Scott’s response as polite but dismissive. I don’t bring this up to criticize Scott, but to highlight one of the many instances of people “evolving” on this issue. Like Tim Hardaway, Sr. I admire it and find it heartening.
Of course, lots of folks really did have a problem with Sam’s PDA on Saturday and with ESPN’s apparent eagerness to broadcast the moment repeatedly over the next 24 hours. There were the unsurprising expressions of blatant homophobia. There was also widespread anxiety about the fact that children were being “exposed” to the kiss. Mark Schlereth, who has truly been a voice of sweet reason on this topic, was among those who reminded such anxious parents that moments like the kiss were what parenting was all about – explaining how the world is to your children. Schlereth, a self-described “Christian man,” has had his own journey about acceptance of forms of love that used to make him uncomfortable. On Monday night, he acknowledged those feelings and said that, as he gets older, what it means to him to be a Christian is, more than anything, grace and love and acceptance. The three-time Super Bowl champ also noted that his next door neighbors are a gay couple and two of the most wonderful people he knows. He was proud, he said, to be at their wedding.
The worry over explaining such matters to young ones is interesting on a couple of levels. For one thing, kids today, on the whole, are vastly more accepting of same-sex couplings than us old fuddy-duddies are. That doesn’t mean all are. But the polling on gay rights among those younger than thirty is striking. Fully 70% of Americans in that cohort support same-sex marriage, including 61% of young Republicans, according to a recent Pew poll. I think it’s safe to assume that those numbers will only increase over time. Second, it’s pretty astounding what it is that we Americans regard as fit or unfit for broadcast television and for our children to see. An errant breast is the focus of national panic. Curse words are still bleeped out. But an endless parade of bloody carnage splashed across our television and movie screens – no problem.
Amanda Marcotte wrote yesterday about a brouhaha over a book called Nineteen Minutes, by Jodi Picoult. Right-wing activists are livid that teachers are assigning the book to ninth graders. The offending passage in the 480-page book is eight paragraphs long, and describes explicit sex. As Marcotte notes, what’s striking about the anger over the book is that:
the offensive scene isn’t even a sex scene. It’s a rape scene. But the objections from Baer and Starnes have nothing to do with the violence depicted at all. Indeed, it’s clear from their take on it that they don’t even understand that penetrating a woman who is protesting and clamping your hand over her mouth to shut her up while you finish, which is what the male character in the scene does, constitutes a rape, both legally and morally. It’s not supposed to be arousing in the slightest, but horrifying.
For those of you keeping score at home: Rape? Not even worth commenting on. Sex? Hide the teenagers!
I am a father myself. There were certainly times, when my daughter was younger (she’s now 16), that we were watching a show or movie and, for whatever reason, something came on that I didn’t want her to see. Sometimes, I changed the channel. At other times, I talked to her about what we just saw. In still other instances, I let it go, because I thought whatever I found uncomfortable was my problem, not something she would necessarily find upsetting. If those watching Michael Sam and his boyfriend kiss don’t like it, they can change the channel. Or not watch ESPN for a day or two. Or talk to their kids about it. But if the “what-about-the-kids” line is meant to shame broadcasters out of showing two people kissing, because you don’t like who those two people are, that is, indeed, your problem. The world won’t be worse off because two men can openly express themselves. And the odds are high that your kids really aren’t going to give a whit once they start thinking for themselves.