A Conversation on PDA
Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of articles on different LGBT experiences in public displays of affection. Read the next here.
Public Displays of Affection: Manners, Preferences, Limits, and Age
“Speed Limit 25 – School Zone.”
“No Smoking – Oxygen in Use.”
“Don’t Touch – Wet Paint.”
Whether enforced or merely socially sanctioned, a worthwhile rule has a reason for being. Manners are no exception. Holding the door for another person, chewing with your mouth closed, dressing appropriately for a wedding, writing a thank you note—by using such courtesies, we show respect for each other and maintain social civility.
Public displays of affection—PDA—are part of that code. Keeping them appropriate keeps the peace for everyone. Unfortunately, though, the rules seem to be different for gays and lesbians than for straight people.
On a recent trip with friends to a small wine festival, I decided to get input on the topic. How do my 40-something lesbian friends feel about public displays of affection? And what would I see at the festival—affection among both straight and gay?
One of my friends, Marti, agrees with the manners label. She sees her choice through the filter of respect. “Melinda and I don’t want to offend anyone,” she says, so they express physical affection only around people whom they know are comfortable with it.
Another friend, Terri, recalls a recent gathering at a straight friend’s house. “We would be respectful of our friend,” she says, “not being all sucky-face on the couch.”
Lisbeth has another angle on the topic: preference. “I think it totally depends on the person.” She reports that she has been in both heterosexual and gay relationships. “I’m not a touchy-feely person in public in either instance. It’s just not me.” Her partner, Connie, is more openly affectionate, but is careful to respect Lisbeth’s limits in public.
At the same time, however, Lisbeth acknowledges the problem that is distinctive to the gay community. “Granted,” she says, “I could have done it more easily in a heterosexual relationship and felt comfortable about it.”
As the conversation progresses, the women discuss the limits that they feel as lesbians—that they have felt for years.
“We all took an Olivia cruise together,” Terri recalls, “and that was such a nice, freeing feeling to be able to do whatever you wanted to do. You didn’t have to worry about anything. And to go from a week of that and to come back and then go back to what you were doing before—it’s tough.”
Terri and Connie, who both knew they were lesbians as teenagers, see that their limits began when they were first exploring their sexual preference.
“It wasn’t talked about,” Terri reports. “I didn’t ask questions because I didn’t know about it. Back then the affection would’ve been kept a little quieter.”
“We knew what lesbians were, but we didn’t know what they did,” Connie recalls. “We didn’t see any public affection back then, so you didn’t know quite what to do. There was only public affection out at gay bars.”
But as times change, the hope is that the rules will converge for gays and straights. Young gays are coming of age and coming out in a time that’s more accepting than in Terri and Connie’s time.
“The younger gays are so much more open than we are, being in our late 40s,” Connie comments. “They are way more open and they don’t mind showing affection.”
“They don’t mind showing anything,” quips Terri, “whether it’s affection, anything—they’re wide open.”
So what of my informal survey at the festival? The event was small on the windy February day—hardly a scientific poll—but I did see some PDA. My findings: gay affection, 1; straight affection, 0. In fact, the lesbian affection was not even among my eight friends, but between two women we didn’t even know, one gently rubbing her friend’s neck.
The festival demographics would certainly affect the findings. The crowd consisted of co-ed groups, both white and black, mostly 40 and over, seemingly straight. Besides the affectionate lesbians, there was only one other obvious lone couple, a young black man and woman.
Among my 40-something group of friends, the consensus can be summed up thus:
I will be affectionate with my partner in a manner that is comfortable for us both and respectful of those around us, despite the limits we face around sensitive straights. If I were younger, with the brash insouciance of youth and the relatively more open and accepting attitudes of the 21st century, perhaps my story would be different. And hopefully the unfair limits will continue to fade.
There’s so much more to this topic than my informal interview could begin to cover. For example, do manners mean that we should we avoid offending others when their narrow notions are offensive to us? Should we perhaps go out of our way to display affection in hopes that it will eventually change minds?
However, I didn’t want to belabor the issue. My friends and I were on a quest to enjoy a day of friendship, laughter, and epicurean pleasures. We didn’t want to dwell on the deep social changes needed today in much of American society.
And perhaps that is part of the answer: identify and follow your purpose. If the purpose of your affection is to communicate your feelings to your partner—a selfish desire between the two of you to enjoy life together—then let that be your guide. If the discomfort of others will temper your joy, save the PDA and the social statement for later. If their discomfort doesn’t bother you, go for it! Let a new rule be posted:
“PDA Ahead – Be Happy for Two People in Love”
Annie Tobey is a freelance writer and editor living in Richmond, Virginia. For six years, she’s shared her philosophical passions through V Magazine for Women, combining love for life, the diversity of women, and a celebration of success in all its forms, on the printed page and online, now at www.MyVMagazine.com. She also shares her joie de vivre as a travel writer at www.ActiveWomanTraveler.com. She welcomes freelance opportunities for writing and editing, helping businesses present a polished written message that builds a quality brand. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Wednesday, the NBA released its first collection of LGBTQ Pride teeshirts featuring the logos of all 30 pro basketball teams. The line is a collaboration between the basketball league, the Gay Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) and TeeSpring and was released in celebration of LGBTQ Pride Month. This is the first time an [...]June 9, 2016
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