By David Schultz
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, December 1, 2005
Public displays of affection. These high-profile embraces are a daily occurrence on campus, whether it's a perky couple smooching on the UA Mall, two hormonal students taking a "study break" in their cars or simply a homeless guy's solo antics in the library.
But what about gay PDA? This is about as rare a sight on campus as President Peter Likins lowering tuition.
An instructor for one of my courses claimed that this lack of intra-gender canoodling is because of society's entrenched homophobia. Even in the modern "Queer Eye" era, he imagined, two men wouldn't be able to walk around campus holding each others' hands without catching some kind of flak.
"No way!" I thought aloud. "This isn't 'sweet home' Alabama; this is the UA. We live in an enlightened arena of tolerance. If two dudes wanted to hold hands on campus, no one would bat an eyelash."
I knew there was no way he was right, but unfortunately, I also knew that there was only one way to prove he was wrong: I would have to walk around campus holding hands with another guy.
My friend "Donovan" (not his real name, but you knew that) agreed to participate, and we met at the Park Student Union courtyard on Monday about 12:30 p.m. - during maximum foot traffic hours. Our plan was to walk from PSU to the Student Union Memorial Center and back while holding hands to observe people's reactions (or lack thereof).
Much to my chagrin, more than several eyelashes were batted. It started immediately when we were entering PSU.
A woman in her mid 20s did a subtle double-take when she noticed our conjoined palms and then, for some reason, held the door open for us. This wouldn't have been that strange if the exact same thing hadn't happened to us again with a different woman as we were leaving PSU.
I thought it odd that two separate people were acting so chivalrously toward my faux-gay partner and me. Perhaps they thought we needed someone to open the door for us because our hands were occupied. Or perhaps they were merely assuaging some sort of liberal guild. Who knows?
Either way, Donovan thought it was nothing, so I shrugged it off and continued on with our trek. However, about 30 seconds later, an innocuous slip of the tongue threw another monkey wrench into my tolerance hypothesis.
Already forgetting about our linked appendages, Donovan commented that the beanbag chairs in the PSU's Cyber Lounge would be "fun to mess around on." Several people within earshot of us stopped haltingly to ponder all the possible meanings of this statement.
Under normal circumstances, Donovan's assessment would've been taken at face value. However, coming from a man casually gripping the hand of another man, it had myriad interpretations, most of them not appropriate for this newspaper.
We decided to walk faster.
When we got to the student union, the sideways glances and double takes only increased in frequency. No one overtly stared at us or even came close to verbalizing an epithet, but because we were watching for it, the attention we received was palpable.
After suspending our hand holding to check out some video games in the arcade, we clutched each other once again and embarked on our return journey to PSU. By this time it was already 12:52 p.m., and the sidewalks were jammed with people traveling from one class to another.
As one could guess, the gawking was rampant. Or at least that's what I assume was the case. On the way back, Donovan and I were engaged in an engrossing discussion about pros and cons of the pharmaceutical industry, and I completely forgot to pay attention to peoples' reactions.
And this is truly the conclusion of my extremely nonscientific experiment.
As a heterosexual in a heterosexual-dominated society, I have the luxury of being able to be oblivious to the plight of non-heterosexuals if I so choose, even when I'm engaging in phony gay PDA. But two men who want to publicly display their affection for each other have to deal with awkward glares and misinterpreted statements everywhere they go, all the time.
While it is a testament to how far we've come as a society that Donovan and I can hold each other's hands in public without getting pummeled, the UA and the nation as a whole still have a long way to go until homosexuality is no longer stigmatized.
In the meantime, Donovan and I will share many an uncomfortable silence, knowing that - for about 20 minutes one afternoon - we were an item in the eyes of the world.
David Schultz is a political science and philosophy senior. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.