Spider-Man isn’t necessarily straight. At least that’s the message former Spidey Andrew Garfield was spreading a few years ago while promoting The Amazing Spider-Man 2, telling Entertainment Weekly in 2013, “Why can’t we discover that Peter is exploring his sexuality? It’s hardly even groundbreaking!…So why can’t he be gay? Why can’t he be into boys?” Two years later, a licensing agreement between Sony and Marvel stipulating that Spider-Man must be a straight, white male leaked to the public. Afterward, Garfield held his ground, telling Mic.com, "I’m excited to get to the point where we can have a pansexual Spider-Man” and “What are we so scared of? Why are we so, ‘No, it has to be this way, a man and a woman.’ Why is that even a conversation?”
Fast-forward a few years and Garfield is now on a man-on-man kissing tour while promoting his Oscar-nominated work in Hacksaw Ridge. In January, he shared an intimiate kiss with Stephen Colbert on The Late Show. This was, of course, just a few days after he locked lips with Ryan Reynolds at the 2017 Golden Globe Awards after Reynolds lost the best actor trophy to Ryan Gosling. More recently, he told BBC’s Graham Norton the whole thing “was a ridiculous thing.” And it was.
But let’s ease up on Garfield, because he isn’t the only straight guy kissing other straight dudes in front of cameras to cause a buzz. At a Golden Globes after-party thrown by InStyle, two of the stars of the Netflix’s Stranger Things, Charlie Heaton and Joe Keery, shared a kiss inside a party photo booth. At best, it was a perfect and unexpected moment of sexuality awareness that nicely rounded out their costar Noah Schnapp’s recent comments about his character Will’s speculative homosexuality. “A good book, or a good show leaves a lot of unanswered questions but makes you think. Which is what you are all doing,“ Schnapp, age 11 (11!), wrote on Instagram. One would think these Stranger Things millennials are signaling to us they’re all about living in world of sexual fluidity. But we’re not done yet! Even more dude-on-dude kissing transpired in late-night TV that very same week thanks to James Corden, who managed to get in a few kisses with Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston.
Straight male kissing isn’t a new thing. The Greeks engaged in it thousands of years ago and the Romans certainly followed suit. In the swinging 1960s and the cocaine-fueled 1970s, kissing between men hardly raised eyebrows, even in circles outside of San Francisco. Of course, if you’re a European soccer fan, you’ve seen it plenty of times on sports channels; that being the routine of a player scoring a goal, ripping off his shirt and planting a big wet kiss on the lips of another player. Star FC Barcelona player Ivan Rakitić and Sevilla FC player Daniel Carrico had perhaps one of the most intense kisses in sports history after a European League game in 2014. Of course, neither identify as homosexual.
So why do men who are not gay or bisexual like to make a public spectacle out of kissing each other? Sure, it might be the ultimate sign of a bromance to kiss your friend without it leading anywhere sexual, but the issue with straight male celebrities kissing other straight male celebrities is that it’s being done seemingly to no end. Are they trying to show us that it’s normal and there isn’t anything wrong with kissing another man? Or that straight men can be buddies and kiss and that doesn’t make them gay?
If that’s the case, then the presumably sex-positive Garfield has made his point—in both interviews and his behavior. We agree: Why do superheroes—and the people who play them—need to be so goddamn heterosexual? The problem though is that Garfield’s method of exposure and desensitization is only successful because of its shock factor—and that counter-intuitively underscores the point that yes, there is something “different” about two guys kissing.
No doubt, we need more famous people talking about sexuality. Society still has a lot of work to do in working out its feelings about men who love other men and furthering the discourse. For example, can we all agree we need to stop expecting James Franco to come out the closet? Rather, can we just let him force us into a space where we can discuss male sexuality without the usual reserves, boundaries and judgments? Unlike Garfield, I am almost certain Franco is kissing a man somewhere right now for one of his new projects or movies—and he isn’t making a hullabaloo about it. Yes, some people, queer and otherwise, might cite such behavior as “gay baiting,” but despite such criticism, it does help normalize the conversation. And that’ll lead us into deeper conversations about masculinity and how it changes. Conversations like, What is homophobia really based on? And what actually makes you gay?
In 2013, French photographer Olivier Ciappa debuted his series “Imaginary Couples,” which featured straight celebrities, such as Arrival director Denis Villeneuve and Dallas Buyer’s Club director Jean-Marc Vallee, posing as gay couples. The series hung in a Paris city hall building and carried an obvious message: Let’s have an open discussion about this. That same year, GQ Germany enlisted 13 heteroseuxal celebrities from various industries to make out with each other in a campaign called “Mundpropaganda: Gentleman against homophobia.” (Could you picture American GQ doing that?)
Last year, in Holland, Jan Versteegh and Tim Hofman, two straight television presenters for the Dutch broadcasting association BNN, stripped down and kissed (and then some) for the July 2016 issue of L’Homo magazine to make a statement about what defines masculinity. "I hope we can show people that it’s just two men on a picture,” Versteegh said of their cover (below).
With less “shock factor” and more “matter of factness,” such examples from Europe suggest better ways to start the conversation about sexuality and masculinity when compared to the spectacle of two dudes kissing for laughs. Soccer players kiss because it’s normal and they’re not making a big statement about it. Celebrities, however, kiss to garner clicks on YouTube and talking points on TV. As long as it can be refined into a laughing matter, that method, however righteous, will never fully force us to have the conversations we need to have about masculinity. It may spark them, but we need more than that. I can almost guarantee people learn more about masculinity from more subtle displays, such as artwork. Case and point: Consider the global impact of this piece by a Lithuainian artist, which shows two chauvinistic chest-pounding world leaders—you know, real men–celebrating their special relationship.