Public Display

Couple kissing at the Dupont Circle fountain

When I was eleven years old, I travelled briefly through Iran with my parents during the reign of the Shah. Besides the wonderfully beautiful mosques and the little girls—much younger than I—who were woken from their afternoon nap to demonstrate carpet weaving to us (I felt so guilty), the thing I was most astonished by were the grown men walking down the street holding hands or with their arms around one another’s shoulders.

That was something you never saw in the West at the time. Yet it seemed to be common there, an unremarkable expression of friendship and camaraderie. I thought it was wonderful.

I don’t know whether that kind of public display of affection is still condoned in Iran. I do know that the regime there is in general vehemently intolerant of any form of public behavior that might even vaguely hint at the possibility of eros. Totalitarian regimes generally frown on the inherent freedom, unpredictability, and ungovernable power of love and its expression as physical attraction.

I am in favor of public displays of affection. Not the OMG GET A ROOM type, mind you, which is a form of social bullying (“We insist you take note of our mad passion for one another! Behold our lust is epic and not to be denied! Your tepid, pale lives are pathetically insignificant.”) But hand-holding, walking arm in arm, a little canoodling on a park bench—of these I whole-heartedly approve.

Our culture is so saturated with images of commerce and violence that displays of affection feel like a small but salutary salve on the big wounds in our souls. The world is not just buying and selling and controlling. There is also a gentle pleasure to be found in the entirely uncommercial exchange of mutual delight.

It is a sad thing to note that it still requires real bravery in most places in this country for two men or two women to walk down a public street holding hands. Half a century ago, or less, that was equally true for mixed-race couples.

So: kiss the one you love in the town square. And don’t turn away from the other kissing couples who have taken their places in the sun. We are who we love, and we should never have to be afraid to show the world our true selves.


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