This is a submission to the Carnival of Aces, whose theme is “Second Chance at any Past Topic“. This may be considered a response to “Touch, Sensuality, and Non-sexual Intimacy” or “Kissing, Handholding, Bed-sharing, etc.“.
I have a confession: I am one of those folks who shows public displays of affection (PDA) all the time. My husband and I regularly hold hands in public, stand well within each other’s personal space, put hands on each others’ shoulders, backs, and legs. And occasionally hold each other or kiss. And while this wouldn’t stand out among couples of a certain age, we’re getting to an age that we’re clear outliers.
We don’t do it for show. In fact we’re more aggressive about it in the more private corners of public spaces. (Most private of public spaces: in an elevator. Most public of public spaces: in an elevator with one other person.) But there is an undeniable social dimension to it.
With m/f couples, PDA might be considered eye-roll-inducing; but with m/m couples, PDA comes across as defiant, victorious, or cute. And there’s good reason for that. PDA is the ultimate coming out–not just to family, friends, or acquaintances, but to utter strangers. We don’t do PDA just because it’s a political statement, and yet it inevitably makes a political statement that we are not interested in backing down from. We know some people will be annoyed, but we will not bow to that unless we felt threatened, and perhaps not even then.
We have gotten harassed for PDA, and it doesn’t even matter what kind it is. Just standing close enough together lets people pick up on the fact that we’re couple. More frequently, our PDA has provoked comments along the lines of “That’s cute”. I interpret that as a particular form of happiness that comes from seeing the fruits of social progress, but it feels objectifying and I’d rather people kept it to themselves.
Most people say nothing. In that silence, I imagine straight people who are slightly annoyed, but fear that if they said anything it would come across as homophobic. I imagine queer people immediately spotting us, gaydar pinging loudly, leading some of them to feel safer, and some to feel jealous.
And then some people are thinking, they must be having a lot of sex. (And this is based on a few comments where people have said so directly.)
I’ve spoken about being sex-favorable, but our PDA likely gives the wrong impression. We are not having nearly as much sex as people imagine. In private, we mostly do more PDA, but like, the P now stands for private. The biggest addition in private is just that we cuddle a lot. We’re kind of a classic “ace couple with sensual attraction”, except that I’m gray and he’s allo, and also I prefer to think of it as sensuality rather than sensual attraction because what even is attraction.
In the context of the ace community, Sometimes I think about the theoretical conflict between aces who feel uncomfortable around PDA, and people who wish to engage in PDA. In principle, this could be a tough issue, akin to societal arguments about appropriate levels of dress or nudity. But in practice, I hardly ever see it.
I’ve definitely heard expressions of discomfort–not towards me in particular, but towards PDA in general. It’s the sort of discussion that occurs more in semi-private forums, where people don’t have that primal fear of accidentally going viral. But very rarely are people calling for PDA to stop, rather they’re sharing personal reactions with other aces, a communal exploration of experiential minutiae.
I respectfully acknowledge experiences of discomfort but I hope it’s clear by now that we’re not going to stop. And nobody has ever really asked us to. We have toned it down at ace meetups (back when we had in-person events), but only in line with our approach to other kinds of public spaces.
In all these years, the worst comment I’ve ever heard from an ace person did not take the form of advocating for PDA to stop. Instead, it was a lie about the motivations of PDA. They claimed that people do PDA specifically to show off. Nobody needs to enjoy seeing PDA, but please don’t make hasty generalizations like that. People do PDA for a variety of reasons.
If I may go on a tangent, lately there’s been an argument going around about whether kink belongs at pride. I say “argument”, but when I searched Twitter I only found hundreds of people loudly arguing that kink does belong at pride, and I did not find out who they were arguing with. And that seems about right, because kink at pride is so deeply established, trying to kick it out is literally worse than trying to kick out the Dykes on Bikes. It’s hard for me to take seriously.
So this is all hearsay, but supposedly people who oppose kink at pride occasionally cite asexuals, under the theory that removing kink from pride might make aces more comfortable at the events. The general ace reaction is “No, we never asked for that, stop bringing us into this.”
I bring this up, because the supposed conflict between aces and public celebrations of kink is similar to the supposed conflict between aces and PDA. That is, the conflict is almost entirely imagined, and doesn’t really happen in practice. And why is that?
If any readers are uncomfortable with PDA, I’m curious about your thoughts. But my thinking is, there are just a lot more low-hanging fruit to mitigate discomfort. For example, simply acknowledging discomfort and not acting like people are weird for feeling it. Or allowing people to avoid media with more explicit depictions of sex. Or marking media with content warnings, so that people can more effectively avoid it, or come prepared. I think preventing people from sincerely expressing their affection or celebrating their sexuality is far from what people really want.