An Intimate Moment on the Beach


70 Responses to “An Intimate Moment on the Beach”

  1. piminnowcheez says:

    “I also think, at least in India, a little bit of it is because the mere *possibility* of someone being homosexual is just not even considered.”

    Agreed. I have a good friend from India who is gay, now living in NYC. It’s quite interesting to hear him describe the mental gymnastics of being out and gay here, and then going back to India, where his parents don’t mind if he likes men, as long as he’ll just get with the program and marry a woman. They just don’t really have “gay” as an identity there, so there’s no notion of being mistaken for gay by being touchy with a male friend. Also common: overnight guests are typically expected to sleep in the same bed with their host.

    While in Japan, I noticed something similar. Men and women live really segregated lives, and there is not a general understanding that men should look to wives/girlfriends for emotional intimacy. The result is a very resilient sense of masculinity, such that young men are totally unashamed of things that would make them perceived as “girly” in the US (wearing pink, being into cute stuff, cross-dressing) and unphased by casual same-gender nudity (public baths, etc). On the other hand, friendships between het Japanese men can have an emotional intensity that I’ve never seen between straight American men.

  2. highlyverbal says:

    “There is homosexuality in Pakistan, like there is in Iran and the rest of the world. It’s just this moment isn’t one of them.”

    I’m sorry, but this ‘moment’ isn’t one of WHAT??

    The moment is not a homosexual? How could it be? Is the moment not a country with homosexuality?


    I am confused as to how the same-sex aspect of this is relevant. Speaking as a moronic American: if I saw ANY* two persons embracing like this, yes, sure, I might assume there was some intimacy there. Americans are all screwed up with respect to intimacy, touching, nudity, etc. (Also with respect to homophobia, of course.) But I think this item is straining to make it about gayness, with shoddy analysis. Americans have so many taboos it is easy to apply the wrong one.


    * Ironically, if one (or more) female(s) were involved and also TOPLESS I would have a much higher assumption of intimacy! So the male-on-male component REDUCES my own assumption of intimacy due to the nudity taboo for boobs. What would it mean in Pakistan for 2 ladies to embrace topless? What assumptions would YOU make??

    • Tim says:

      “The moment is not a homosexual? How could it be? Is the moment not a country with homosexuality?”

      I’ve read your comment three times now and can’t figure out what you are saying. It seems that you are saying it’s not about homosexuality in one sentence and acknowledging preconceptions based on culture in another, thus supporting Bassam’s initial intent in posting the picture while, at the same time, calling it shoddy. I’m really confused, but not by the picture.

      I experienced the same same-sex intimacy in Kenya when I lived there. As with many cultural differences I came across, this one seemed a very healthy one to me. One that I wish were present here in the US as well.

      • highlyverbal says:

        Tim, thank you for reading my comment. My comment had 2 parts, the first part relates to the grammar error. The second part relates to whether or not same-sex is relevant to the cultural issues at play here.

        You quote back the part relating to grammar but then say you don’t understand the cultural part, which you are not quoting from. So I am not sure how to clear up the confusion.


        Of course there are cultural issues at play here, and only a fool wouldn’t immediately perceive that. But there are two questions about this display that relate to culture:

        1) how likely is an American to perceive this as intimate?


        2) how likely is an American to actually DO this?

        The answer to #1 is “very likely” — but has nothing to do with same-sex stuff and everything to do with intimacy issues. The sex of the two individuals is not relevant; if anything there is an inverse relationship. (Imagine a topless man embracing a pregnant topless woman with their arms intertwined… ratchets up the intimacy, doesn’t it? So the same-sex thing is a red herring. Americans have intimacy issues with all kinds of displays.)

        Sure, the answer to #2 is “not very likely” for 2 American males, and that is where the homophobia comes in (and other stuff, too). But the item is not just about how likely the display is (that would be cliche).

  3. senorglory says:

    It’s the fault of Richard Nixon.

  4. Antinous / Moderator says:

    I’d have to say that the earring in the right ear of the guy in back is what’s doing that for me.

    Congratulations on building the time machine. Gay costume has changed a bit since the 70s.

  5. technogeek says:

    Americans, for the most part, are utterly paranoid about sex, and more broadly about grooming behavior and friendly touch in general.

    Any country where kids are allowed to see depictions of violence before they’re allowed to see depictions of intimacy, or even simple depictions of the human body, has its head on backward. Wish I saw some way, or at least some hope, of curing that.

    For now, the best you can do is hope to find one of the subcultures which isn’t quite so confused. SF fans exchange hugs and backrubs more generally than most of the populace, for example. And my crowd back when I was a student tended to wind up in “puppy piles” of casual group contact fairly regularly — yes, there was some flirtation to it, but it was also just a matter of our trusting each other not to abuse the privilege or to take it more seriously than intended. Most of us still have that level of trust in each other these several decades later.

  6. Bassam Tariq says:

    There is an interesting article on SAPNA Magazine’s website written by a gay South Asian Muslim on him coming to terms with his identity. We actually went to high school together. He once thought I broke into his car, true story.

  7. Avram / Moderator says:

    I was at a party a few years back, mostly full of people I didn’t know. There were these two guys there, I don’t remember their names, who were physically very intimate with each other, like the two men in the photo. Most everyone assumed they were gay (which nobody found unusual enough to remark upon). Some chance comment made it clear that they weren’t gay, however, and they explained that they were two straight guys who happened to be secure enough in their sexuality that they didn’t mind being physically close to each other.

    Which is a roundabout way of saying that while it is possible for two men in the US to be close that way, it’s pretty much impossible that they won’t be read as gay (by other Americans, and possibly most other Westerners) when they do so.

  8. Anonymous says:

    The claim that this has something to do with past religious repression and the Puritans seems to be a very weak argument. If anything it has to do with ‘sexual liberation’ rather than repression. There is plenty of data showing that the ‘religiously repressed’ Western society of the 19th and earlier centuries was very comfortable with non-sexual mutual physical expressions of affection between men – far more comfortable than our culture often is.

    Besides the claims about repression of male intimacy in friendship arising out the Christian tradition is patently ridiculous to anyone who actually knows that tradition. Early Christian men liturgically greeted each other by kissing each other on the lips. The monastic tradition is full of celebrations of such friendships. The Bible has numerous references to male intimate friendships, from Jonathan and David (who prized Jonathan’s friendship over the many women he married), to Jesus and John (who is described as the disciple that Jesus loved, and laid his head on Jesus’ bosom while they ate).

    The same texts that celebrate such relationships can strongly condemn homosexual activity. In some ways such closeness of male friendships was easier in a society where homosexual activity was often regarded as unthinkable (not that we want to return there). In large part it is the repression of sexuality, or its restriction to certain realms that renders such relationships possible.

    This is one reason why macho soldiers and sports players can often manifest a degree of physical intimacy with each other that would strike many as ‘gay’ in other contexts. The flip side of this is often a deep homophobia, as open homosexuals are perceived to bring the repressed sexual realm to the surface and sexualize relationships that can only exist as they do because they are openly non-sexual.

    Perhaps ironically, a ‘repressed’ society is probably the only one where such male intimacy in friendship is possible to such an extent. In a ‘liberated’ society the perceived boundaries between sexual and non-sexual, between friendship and sexual relationship are far more blurred. Consequently, male physical intimacy will always tend to have sexual overtones that it would lack in a repressed society.

  9. Anonymous says:

    After having read all the comments I think it can be summed up into:
    In some cultures physical intimacy (Such as depicted) is accepted between friends simply as a show of friendship
    In other cultures physical intimacy (such as depicted) is accepted between lovers/partners as a show of intimate affection

    They (The two statements above) aren’t neccasarily mutually exclusive but often seem to be that way where ever they apply

    Personally my experience is that intimacy such as depicted is reserved for lovers or extremely close friends in certain circumstances. This experience naturally leads me to read this situation as (most likely) a hug between lovers/partners.

    Someone who had grow up with this sort of intimacy between friends regularly would naturally read it as simply friendship

    I’m not saying one is right and the other wrong, just that it is two different points of veiw and that we should be thankful for Bassam Tariq for posting this and enlightening us to these different POV and possibly making us a little less judgmental

  10. Anonymous says:

    Like others mentioned, it reminds me of trips to italy watching men hold hands decades ago or trips to india, where men walk pinky-finger locked in pinky-finger, whilst checking out women.
    i hate that when i go to parties with a male friend, here in the us, people assume we are a couple. america is so regressive in so many ways. These parties I attend are held so-called liberals, but they automatically assume since a single guy brings a male friend to a party, that we are gay lovers. Yawn.

  11. Zaren says:

    My first thought on seeing that pic: the color’s a bit harsh in the yellow (I worked in a few photo labs before, so sue me). My second thought was that I was looking at brothers on a beach, possibly lifelong friends. Their sexual orientation didn’t even come to mind.

    If it helps place my mindset at all, I was born, raised, and still live in middle America (Michigan, to be more accurate), and brought up Catholic. I’m a bad(?) Catholic, though, because I don’t believe someone is going to hell just because they’re gay, and feel no need to condemn them for how they live their life.

  12. Calladus says:

    When I lived in Korea in the late 1980′s, my good Korean friends would often walk arm-in-arm with me, or even holding hands. They never thought it meant anything more than friendship.

    The same thing when I lived in Japan in the ’90′s, two girls holding hands, or walking arm in arm only implied friendship, nothing more.

  13. Anonymous says:

    But what do you all think? Is it possible that two heterosexual men in the States could hold each other like this and no one would question their sexual orientation?

    I read “Intimate Moment” before I saw the photo, and now I have no idea what I’ve had thought otherwise. Maybe some kind of game involving physical contact which the photographer interrupted – but that’s not how I would normally hug someone.

  14. ameca says:

    When I chaperoned a group of Japanese university students to the US, some of them expressed their unease with the way I kissed my female friends and relatives and hugged the males (man smacks only, of course). This sort or affection is reserved for sexual partners in Japan – not friends and family.
    I pointed out that when they walked hand in hand with their friends through the mall, Americans would likely imagine them to be lovers. They enjoyed this realization of cultural difference. By the end of the trip several students told me they were used to and even enjoyed the shows of affection between American friends and family members.

  15. nanuq says:

    You have to wonder whether these cultural differences will start to disappear over time. Media coverage about homosexuality from Western news sources is already being broadcast all over the world. This is why you hear religious and cultural leaders from these different countries pontificating on “degenerate” sexual practices in the West. If they weren’t seeing same-sex intimacy in sexual terms before, they probably are now.

  16. Decay says:

    Want some no-strings hugging and body contact? Make friends with some furries. We love to hug, male or female :)

  17. vert says:

    Am I the only person who’s bothered by the first two opening sentences? “There is homosexuality in Pakistan, like there is in Iran and the rest of the world. It’s just this moment isn’t one of them.”

    Isn’t one of *what*?

    Kind of reminds me of “I am America (And so can you!)” Only… unintentional… and therefore not funny… except in a point and laugh kind of a way.

  18. The Mudshark says:

    Am neh fuckin bufty, and dats d’end o’ it.
    Begbie, Trainspotting

  19. volp says:


    Are we too quick to conflate American social norms with homophobia?

    I am a heterosexual male, and though I love my male friends dearly, this kind of contact would probably never occur to me. Is that necessarily because the codes of conduct I ossified are homophobic?

    Los Angeles in the 1990s (where/when I grew up and learned about the world) was pretty tolerant and sexually-plural, I believe. Maybe 1/3 of my close friends are/were openly and confidently homosexual, and my social group took it for granted, like how maybe 1/3 of my social group were Asian-Americans.

  20. PaleDave says:

    It used to be a common enough practice in the UK as well until Oscar Wilde was imprisoned for Homosexuality, I’m not sure how or if this applies to continental Europe and the US. Although it is not uncommon for European men to greet each with peck on the cheek which to my sensibilities is a little Gay. Historical records show even stranger behavior among my own ancestors, apparently as a gesture of trust upon meeting a stranger it was common practice to suck on their nipple, better than getting a spear through the neck I guess.

  21. Antinous / Moderator says:

    Early Christian men liturgically greeted each other by kissing each other on the lips.

    There’s a great scene in Andrei Rublev where the priest orders the warring brothers to make peace by kissing. A lengthy lip-lock ensues that looks more like arm wrestling than kissing.

  22. Skizz says:

    I lived in India (Bangalore) for 2 years for work and I go back fairly regularly. I am a gay man and I am out to my friends and colleagues in India. When I first got there I was surprised by the physical intimacy between men. And personally I like it (no, not that way). Although I know I am the only openly gay man many of my friends knew, they were and are still comfortable being physically close to me. And I find that healthy and refreshing.

    Unfortunately I have noticed recently, and particularly since the (fantastic) Naz foundation ruling that read down section 377 and the consequent higher profile of homosexuality, that there is more avoidance of such physicality through a fear of being perceived as gay. It’s immensely sad.

  23. Anonymous says:

    > Why does my mind go there while his doesn’t?

    Because we in this country (or western hemisphere, possibly) are obsessed with a preoccupation / hangup on homosexuality. It’s on everybody’s minds. Such that seeing a photo like this, this is instantly what everyone goes to in their minds.

    The hangups in this country are ridiculous.

  24. Anonymous says:

    People think it’s weird that I hug my brother and sister. Or that I work on family members or friends of the family. (I’m a Massage Therapist) Touch is good. REALLY. It raises the hemoglobin in your blood, making it able to absorb more oxygen. What’s weird is having someone scrape your teeth and drill holes in them – Dentists!

  25. Mikey says:

    I think it’s kind of naive that so many commenters say the US is repressed or backwards because we see the image as sexual. The reason men in these countries act this way towards each other is because they are not allowed to talk to, touch, or in any way socialize with females. People need to touch other people, in the West we’re allowed to touch the opposite sex. These guys might not ever talk to a woman in an intimate manner until shortly before their arranged marriage.

    So who’s backwards, the culture that thinks it’s sexual that two shirtless me hug or the country that completely segregates the sexes into adulthood with criminal penalties or worse for violating the segregation?

    • Antinous / Moderator says:

      The reason men in these countries act this way towards each other is because they are not allowed to talk to, touch, or in any way socialize with females.

      The reason men in these countries act this way towards each other is because it’s normal primate behavior. I’m shocked how many people think that touching should only happen in a potentially sexual situation and every other instance is some kind of transference or vicarious behavior.

      • Daedalus says:

        The reason men in these countries act this way towards each other is because it’s normal primate behavior. I’m shocked how many people think that touching should only happen in a potentially sexual situation and every other instance is some kind of transference or vicarious behavior.

        See, that’s why this is the fault of Puritans. ;)

        It’s not homosexuality per se. It’s sexuality. We’re so scared of it here in the states that we see it everywhere. We all know we’re not SUPPOSED to think about it. So we do. This is one of our cultural obsessions.

  26. Anonymous says:

    Public displays of affection between men and women aren’t something you typically see in Pakistan, right? However, it’s not uncommon for people in America, or other Western cultures to see heterosexual couples posed like this all the time. It’s pretty natural to associate the visual of two people holding each other in that way, and them being a couple if that’s what you’re used to seeing. And I don’t know if it’s wrong necessarily, making connections between previously observed behavior and what you are witnessing in front of you is how you make sense of the world.

    As far as a socially acceptable level of hetero dude love… That’s probably the bro-hug mentioned in the post earlier today. I had a buddy in high school, (an evangelical christian who I suspect was in the closet) who used to actually say, “I’m! Not! Gay!” timed one word per slap on the back.

    • Moriarty says:

      Exactly. If I saw an American man and woman in that pose, I would assume they were romantically involved. So too with man and man, or woman and woman. It’s got nothing to do with perceptions of homosexuality in particular. Americans are just less physically affectionate in general.

      Furthermore, I’m thinking the double standard in American culture is actually a good deal LESS pronounced. Would you ever see a Pakistani man and woman posed like that if they were just platonic friends? Or would it be considered scandalous?

      So, it’s a tradeoff. We Westerners acknowledge the existence of homosexuality, and therefore all the social baggage between men and women becomes possible between same sex friends, and “I’m straight” signifiers develop in order to continue to allow unburdened same sex affection. It’s funny, but I think the “haha stupid Americans” comments are uncalled for.

  27. Anonymous says:

    I’m a little confused why some people seem to be so appalled at American culture’s relative lack of intimacy. Is it really a big deal? It’s only a small difference between two cultures, is it worth getting angry about?

    On a different note, if they had been facing each other it would have looked like they were just friends, so it’s not like touching is completely taboo.

  28. Anonymous says:

    Homosexual sex between men in Pakistan and India is very common, even between siblings, although they don’t consider themselves gay, they consider it to be fooling around for fun or “maasti.”. An AIDS survey of truck drivers in Pakistan found that 70% of them had sex with men, in India it’s the same. For more see

  29. Jacki says:

    I saw this picture and smiled I thought look a happy couple enjoying what appears to be a nice day outside. The pose is what made me think automatically that they were a couple, that pose in particular is used in everything from wedding pictures to pictures taken at home by our parents for high school dances. I expect different poses or cues from two men that are friends. To me if the men in this picture were hugging (back slaps optional) I would have found it more ambiguous. That is a function of culture. It is not good or bad just different. I personally celebrate our differences they are what make us unique and interesting. They also give us a reason to keep talking to our neighbors.

  30. wylkyn says:

    I was raised in America, and my initial assumption of the photo was that the two guys were intimately involved. I would have thought the same had it been a guy and a girl or two girls. This isn’t a homophobia issue, it’s a cultural body language/personal contact issue. My assumptions are based on my personal experiences. Duh.

    As for the original “Dear Straight People” comment, I don’t really appreciate being lumped in with the people who persecute others. Couldn’t you have said “Dear Homophobes”? Treating all straight people as if they are homophobes is a little homophobaphobic. Just sayin’.

  31. MrsBug says:

    Bassam, your mind goes there because if you’ve been exposed to American culture long enough, the default thought on positions are like these are, “Oh noes, teh gays will get us! Run!” Unfortunate.

    Not to mention that Americans seem to have a much bigger personal space than many cultures so intimate body contact like this is automatically thought of as sexual.

    I find the same sex hand-holding that many other cultures do very sweet and a nice testament to the closeness of a friendship.

  32. WaylonWillie says:

    Men in many South Asian cultures just have different rules about non-romantic touching than we do. For instance, in some places it is common for men to hold hands while walking down the street, and this does not imply any sort of homosexual relationship, any more than shaking hands might imply homosexuality in the west. My first thought on seeing the picture was: those two guys are not homosexual, but I am about to read a post saying that they are (this wasn’t what your post was about, but that was my expectation).

  33. Richard says:

    When I was in India a decade ago, I noticed a similar form of affection shown between males.

    It may have to do with the more pronounced segregation of the two genders, because generally men hang out only with men they don’t include the women.

    While I think it’s clear this exclusiveness has to be changing now with the rise of the tech industry in the Asian countries, I doubt that at this time it is all that fundamentally different than it has been.

    When all the guys from the office got on the floor to dance with each other, I sat that out because it was clear to me that dancing with any of the single women wasn’t something that was ever going to happen. So yes our boundaries are cultural, and our vision is different, and what we see here in looking isn’t what they see there.

    So how are you going to show that when it’s not there to be seen so obviously as we expect ? The images would need to be more subtle than this and deeply introspective …

    • nutbastard says:

      “It may have to do with the more pronounced segregation of the two genders, because generally men hang out only with men they don’t include the women.”

      Like… prison?

      in all seriousness, American male sexual orientation paranoia is a big part of why i like to go to, er, ‘electronic music parties’. you haven’t experienced unconditional mutual love and affection until you’ve been in a cuddle puddle.

      • Master Pokes says:

        Cuddle puddles FTW!

        See my comment at position #19 on the “Man Smacks” thread below.

        It’s all the Puritans’ fault.

  34. Anonymous says:

    I lived in Morocco for a while and men there hold hands in public while walking. I have to admit I reacted the same way as you described your initial reaction to the photograph above. It took a day or so to get used to it, even being from enlightened S.F.

  35. Anonymous says:

    I agree that homophobia plays a part in why men don’t touch more often in the West. However if the question is simply “why does my mind go there when I see this picture,” I think it’s just because that’s the body language that couples use here and doesn’t imply that the viewer is in a panic. Even in a perfect gay-friendly society we’d still have behaviours that are typical or exclusive of couples. (FWIW, I’m brazilian. I don’t think anyone is going to jump at the chance of calling us puritans…).

  36. ian71 says:

    Dear Straight People,
    I’m gay, and I’m not out to get you. Honest. You’re fine, and your kids are fine, so you can stop worrying now.

  37. narrowstreetsLA says:

    I saw a lot of this in inland China too. I thought it was kinda cool, like when little boys don’t know any better (by American standards) and walk around holding hands simply because, well, they’re friends and they really like each other.

    I’m sure there’s a flip side, which I’m curious about. What are non-romantic male-female relationships like? If such relationships are even tolerated in that country?

  38. Anonymous says:

    This picture does show the difference between our culture and theirs. In many places men can be affectionate toward each other and be perfectly straight males. In the US we have been trained that anything that appears affectionate to the same sex is misconstrued as being homosexual. I would like to blame the media in general for this perception among most males in this country. You can see it everywhere when you turn on the TV. You see a scene between two old friends and they would rather just shake hands or awkwardly hug than even give a hint of affection to another member of the same sex. Kind of sad really…and is most likely why we walk passed someone dying on the street than to help them.

  39. CopraCandy says:

    As probably the only person who is living in Pakistan, posting on this thread, let me sum it all up for you.

    1. Pakistan will always be confusing for Americans.

    2. Americans will always be weirdos for Pakistanis.

    Seeing a pic like that, I thought “two pals, close like brothers, having a wrestling match”.

    Americans think “yo poofter!”

    Maybe there is too much fluoride in the waters already…

  40. jonathan_v says:

    Have you seen an American college frat or highschool football team ?

    They seem to be experts at walking a fine line between latent homosexuality and same sex intimacy.

  41. schmod says:

    Body language is a weird thing. See this old BB post for more confusion…

  42. Anonymous says:

    While I consider myself mostly an armchair anthropologist, I also found myself in India (I know, it’s not Pakistan, but the cultural overlap is there) a little while back. Male-male hand-holding and caressing was the norm there, although I did notice two interesting complications:

    -Maybe this is normal, but men in Bollywood movies (at least, the few that I saw) rarely engage in that level of (casual?) affection. So, more “Western” ideas about masculine affection seem to prevail, at least there. Shah Rukh Kahn walking down the street holding another dude’s hand? Never gonna happen. He can cry though. Man, can that guy cry!

    -I never saw women engage in this. All the hand-holding, hugging etc. seemed to be enjoyed solely by males. So it’s not just a same-sex thing, it’s deeper than that.

    Further undergrad (armchair) research revealed that full-on homosexual activity during one’s boyhood wasn’t really uncommon. When you’re 14 and you’re not allowed access to girls, it makes sense to turn to the next best thing…it’s not “gay”, it’s just pragmatic. The real societal issues seem to come when one persists in this behavior into adulthood.

    • Antinous / Moderator says:

      When you’re 14 and you’re not allowed access to girls, it makes sense to turn to the next best thing…it’s not “gay”, it’s just pragmatic.

      Because there’s no point to physical contact unless you end up sticking your dick in someone?

      • dw_funk says:

        Maybe a little harsh, eh? It’s certainly a true statement; homosexual experimentation among youth is relatively common. I don’t know that I buy the “pragmatism” argument either, though; I think a lot of things get “mixed up,” so to speak, when you’re young, dealing with developing identities, and hosting a range of very potent hormones.

        Of course, having been a member of an American fraternity, I can totally vouch for same-sex intimacy among heterosexuals being alive and strong in the US. We just have such a ridiculous stigma against being gay that it all has to be coached in loathsome doubletalk: “I love you man, no homo.”

        Veering away from the topic, I think that it’s good evidence that male bisexuality would be more prevalent if it weren’t for the fact that any activity vaguely approaching “teh gay” immediately demolishes a guy’s ability to be seen as masculine. But even beyond bisexuality, heterosexual intimacy as seen in the post is rare here in the US simply because we worship at the alter of masculinity.

    • Anonymous says:

      the odd thing about indian movies is that many of these male superstars get dressed up (by themselves or the wardrobe folk?) in what would be called in the US *very* camp outfits sometimes… my ex and I (she was Tamil) use to see it all the time when watching Hindi or Tamil movies – costumes you’d see in the Sydney Mardi Gras being worn seriously during an epic love Hindi love song…

      Salman Khan is a perfect example of this.

      go figure why though.!

    • invisibelle says:

      I’m way late on this, but for the commented who said there was no such contact in bollywood movies:

      interestingly, a couple of years ago when I played this song for some american friends, their nearly unanimous response was to ask if the male characters in the song were gay.

  43. Bassam Tariq says:

    I’m really enjoying a lot of the responses on this thread. I have been meaning to write back, but haven’t been able to cos of all the blackouts.

    dina b, #20, sums up my thoughts word for word. I was thinking of quoting a small excerpt, but all if it is gold. so I’m just gonna paste the entire comment for those who missed it:

    “in other countries, intimacy between people of the same gender is a lot more lax than in the US, but that’s not because of more progressive views on homosexuality. try calling someone gay? sometimes it can be the worst insult you could throw at someone, which does not signal progressivism.

    we have our own issues over here, too. in the US, we have an incredibly narrow view of sexuality while, ironically, we think we are super liberal compared to other countries. gay, straight, lesbian, bisexual… all we’re interested in is labels. and not just on clothing. i wish we could open up the conversation and be fair to the depth and richness sexuality presents, instead of being so terrified of it. ”

  44. Bray_beast says:

    People are making interesting points, but to answer the question of why you’re thinking this is a gay thing, I’d have to say that the earring in the right ear of the guy in back is what’s doing that for me. Earring code. I don’t know how it works or anything, but one earring and a shirtless dude grabbing another shirtless dude looks more like a sexual relationship than a shirtless dude without an earring grabbing another shirtless dude.

    I’m reminded of something that a co-worker told me. One time in the early eighties, he and his friends were told that Randy Rhodes (of Ozzy Osbourne’s band) was gay because he wore one earring in a particular ear. But then it turned out that it’s the opposite ear in England. I never really cared to learn the rules because as long as I’ve been an adult, gay dudes have been more or less allowed to be gay (of course, I’ve only lived in Madison, Chicago, and Santa Fe.)I still remember that there were rules about that though.

    So, if you can’t pinpoint it, I think it might be the earring that’s doing it.

  45. Anonymous says:

    naivety helps. I remember Stephan fry talking about how before the infamous Oscar Wilde trial, it was common for soldiers to walk arm in arm around London without getting any funny looks or getting self conscious. but immediately after the trial men stopped doing this. I suppose if you live in a society where it is accepted or in the public eye then you have to try harder to define your sexuality. I’m sure Iran sweeps it under the carpet and pretends that only one in a million are gay leaving everyone else less watchful and suspicious (which seems counter intuitive i know). maybe a society with an imbalance between male/female population can have an effect in how “tactile” men are towards each other?

  46. invisibelle says:

    It’s just not in their culture, like it is in ours, to constantly question whether your behavior/appearance/etc is too effeminate or homosexual. There’s a much lower threshold of acceptability here in the US, and a higher machismo bar. I also think, at least in India, a little bit of it is because the mere *possibility* of someone being homosexual is just not even considered.

    I don’t know how to express it well, but there’s definitely a difference. I’m an American woman married to a South Asian man, and I’ve always found it very refreshing how he’s “secure in his manhood” (to quote Salt ‘n’ Pepa) no matter what he does or anyone says.

  47. Anonymous says:

    In 19th century America, before society recognized that there was such a thing as homosexuality (they realized there was homosexual sex, but thought people just did it because they were crazy or bad, not because of a sexual orientation) it was no big thing for grown men to walk around holding hands or sleep in the same bed together. It was only after American culture recognized homosexuality as an orientation option (albeit a strongly stigmatized one) that men started shying away from doing things that might “seem gay.”

  48. Daedalus says:

    I’m glad to see it is officially Hetero Man Hug Day on BoingBoing. I can only hope we get a picture of two buff unicorns giving a Hetero Man Hug to each other before Friday.

    The States have a thoroughly twisted view of basically anything intimate, thanks in large part to our heritage of most of Europe’s most repressed religious wackadoos. You see it on high display in athletics, which have an entire ritual schema for when showing affection is Not Gay (but then everything in American athletics has a contorted ritual or two surrounding it).

    So, yeah, two guys, holding each other like that, would set off Gay Bells in a lot of the brains of people in the states (males and females alike). But we’re exceptionally weird.

  49. Rick. says:

    Just cultural. Isn’t it that simple? The first thing I thought when I saw the photo was “Oh, an article about gay guys in the Middle East.”

    • benher says:

      I thought the exact same thing. Touching other people in a non-sexual manner is plenty common here in Asia too.

    • oasisob1 says:

      And I thought, normal photo misconstrued. What does that make, me? For background, I’m white, hetero, raised in the midwestern US.

  50. Anonymous says:

    I encountered the same thing while in Myanmar. The impression that I gained over the course of my time there, from observation and from conversations with Burmese people, was that sex tended to be far more of a private thing in the culture. They were appalled by such things as the way that people dressed in the West and by the accessibility of pornography.

    When the public sphere is not drenched in sexual images, connotations and expectations as it is in the West, intimate friendships can flourish to a greater degree. Our obsession with sex has limited our capacity to enjoy a wealth of different forms of relationships, and leads us to mis-recognize non-sexual relationships as sexual ones.

    Much of this is probably an effect of the breakdown of a culture in which marital union provided the social norm for sexual activity. So long as such a norm persists sex will tend to be treated as a very private matter, or as an open secret that society keeps from itself. A culture that detaches sex from reproduction and marriage will tend to render sex far more public and, without social norms to limit it, sex can tend to become ubiquitous.

    Differences in male-male interaction can also be seen in older photographs and descriptions of relationships within our own Western culture.

  51. alphagirl says:

    I have to disagree with those saying that the taboo at work here is intimacy/sexuality and not homosexuality. Which is not to say Americans aren’t paranoid about sex and intimacy, I think we are, or at least that’s the mainstream culture here.

    But really, if this was two women in bikini tops in the same pose, I think a lot fewer would have the assumption that they were romantically involved. If it’s a man & a woman or two men, you assume romance. If it’s two women, it’s ambiguous. Because same-sex non-romantic touching of this sort is taboo for boys but not for girls.

    There is no way this perception/reaction isn’t related to American views on homosexuality, where the threshold for being perceived as gay is much lower for men as it is for women.

    highlyverbal @#41: I think your topless thing is a red herring. Socially equivalent attire would not be topless for a woman.

    • highlyverbal says:

      alphagirl @#63 says: “highlyverbal @#41: I think your topless thing is a red herring. Socially equivalent attire would not be topless for a woman.”

      Wait, you’re normalizing (somehow) for the taboos I claim are involved and then you claim that shows they aren’t involved?! My claim is clear: identical photos with other sexes: M/F or F/F would seem more intimate. I find your desire to manipulate the situation much more compelling evidence on this issue than your counter-assertions.

      I think there is some truth to your argument that men and women may have a different “threshold for being perceived as gay” although as many point out, intimacy isn’t restricted to lovers.

      (Also, I’m dying to see your math on the normalization process: 2 topless men become 2 women in bikinis? not halter tops, not 1 topless woman and 1 in a bikini, not 1 in a bikini and 1 with a partially untied bikini, no pasties?? I hereby accuse you of hand-waving; you are picking something convenient and have very little to justify your particular choice.)

      (Of course, this exchange also made me wonder what is the Pakistani-normalized female version of 2 topless men.)

      (Does this normalization function have an inverse? Can we then get the male version of a display of two females in burqas? Hmmm, starting to suspect some parts of this function are not 1:1! I am starting to entertain a priori arguments against any ability to calculate “Socially equivalent attire.” Maybe we have different ideas of equivalence.)

  52. IWood says:

    Dear Straight People,
    I’m not gay, but I am decidedly bent, and I’m totally out to get you. Honest. Your kids are fine, but you aren’t. Start worrying now.

  53. dina b. says:

    in other countries, intimacy between people of the same gender is a lot more lax than in the US, but that’s not because of more progressive views on homosexuality. try calling someone gay? sometimes it can be the worst insult you could throw at someone, which does not signal progressivism.

    we have our own issues over here, too. in the US, we have an incredibly narrow view of sexuality while, ironically, we think we are super liberal compared to other countries. gay, straight, lesbian, bisexual… all we’re interested in is labels. and not just on clothing. i wish we could open up the conversation and be fair to the depth and richness sexuality presents, instead of being so terrified of it.

  54. Anonymous says:

    I saw this kind of behaviour often when I worked in Nepal several years ago. In India and Nepal (and Pakistan, too, I guess), men walk hand in hand as a symbol of friendship and often share a bed together. No one bats an eyelash, and it isn’t automatically thought of as sexual behaviour (its not ever thought of as sexual, as far as I could tell). It only startled those of us with a western mindset.

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