When Andrew Garfield and Ryan Reynolds kissed at the Golden Globes last week, I immediately felt a knot in my stomach.
How could this have happened at the same awards show where “Moonlight,” a film that explored the black gay male experience, won best picture? A story from the more marginalized gay community was up for recognition, and the story of straight white men kissing was soaking up some of the spotlight.
The predictable headlines followed: “Andrew Garfield dishes about that kiss with Ryan Reynolds.” “Here’s Why Andrew Garfield Kissed Ryan Reynolds At the Golden Globes.” “I just wanted Ryan to know that I loved him, no matter whether he won or lost,” Garfield said last week on “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert.”
It might seem like a step forward for the LGBT community, that two men kissing is now seen as so normal even straight men are doing it in public. But that knot in my stomach said otherwise. I worried that this was actually detrimental, because it was seen as a spectacle.
I kiss men because it’s natural for me — it’s hardly a joke. Even if this were just an “innocent” moment and not a performative stunt, both actors must have known the media and public would latch on and discuss it. When Garfield kissed Colbert on his show, too, the ensuing laughter confirmed what I was worried about: This was being treated as a joke.
I was expecting to see angry reactions to the initial kiss on Twitter. But everyone seemed to be okay with it. Was I being oversensitive? Was I missing something?
When I spoke with Jane Ward, a professor of gender and sexuality studies at the University of California at Riverside and author of “Not Gay: Sex Between Straight White Men,” about kisses like these, she saw them as a recognition of sexual fluidity, which she views as a step forward.
“There’s a good amount of policing that has become common in the gay community in the last 15 years or so, I think related to the rising popularity of the belief that sexual orientation is innate or biological,” Ward said.
“There’s this sense: If you are going to have any kind of homosexual encounter whatsoever, you better identify yourself as bisexual or gay,” adding that “whenever we can complicate people’s rigid understanding of human sexuality, that is a good thing. And one way to do that is to get people to think about the fact that how we identify ourselves, which we often call our sexual orientation, doesn’t always line up neatly with our sexual activity.”
So is feeling firm about identity not something to celebrate? Or is it just about being more open to all kinds of experiences?
Like me, John Paul Brammer, a Latino writer in New York, rolled his eyes at the kisses. He said that situations like these draw attention away from the more stigmatized parts of gay culture, such as flamboyance and dressing femininely. Still, Brammer thought it was great that Garfield can kiss other men comfortably, but pointed out that Garfield also doesn’t have to worry about the potential negative repercussions, a privilege that many gay men don’t have.
Maybe the kiss between Reynolds and Garfield wasn’t as malicious as I first perceived it. But it still strikes me as one done with little regard for consequence. While one closeted gay child could view that kiss as freeing and appreciate all the attention around it, another could hear their mother mutter “gross” in the background and feel more trapped than ever — like they’re being laughed at, too.
We need to keep talking about moments like this, dissecting them for all their implications. Otherwise, the gay community risks losing its voice in this conversation entirely.