February 7, 2011

The End Of The “Gay Chicken” Game: Is Homophobia On The Decline?

One researcher has found that kissing is common among heterosexual young men in the United Kingdom. Is this a sign of total acceptance of same-sex sexuality?

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From conception, boys and men are socialized to be tough, motivated, and unemotional.  As early as elementary school, if not earlier, boys learn that a lot is at stake in terms of masculinity.  One might face ridicule, harassment and bullying, and social exclusion if one is not considered masculine enough by societal standards, potentially determined to be weak, feminine, or even gay.

Gay Chicken — The Game

Interestingly, testing other boys’ and men’s masculinity is a common practice, even a source of fun, including the “gay chicken” game.  The game entails two boys who compete against one another to see who will back down first in preparing to kiss one another.  The first to back down is considered the loser, thus he is not as manly and tough as the winner.  An episode of the television show, Scrubs, demonstrated this counterintuitive practice: he who is more willing to actually kiss another man is considered more masculine.

The End Of Gay Chicken?

Sociologist Eric Anderson has begun studying kissing among heterosexual men, including the “gay chicken” game.  He was intrigued by anecdotal reports that young men continue to play the game in the United Kingdom, but no longer do they back down — they simply end up kissing one another.  A few months ago, he and two colleagues published an article in the Archives of Sexual Behavior on the increasingly common practice of kissing among straight men in the UK.  In their sample of 145 young heterosexual-identified men at 2 universities and 1 advanced high school, the overwhelming majority (90 percent) reported at least one occurrence of kissing another man on the lips.

Boys Kissing Boys

In Anderson’s study, athletes were more likely to report kissing other men for both brief (simple) and extended (prolonged) kisses than non-athletes.  These men noted that the practice of kissing other men as not sexual, rather its about bonding with other men, especially during sporting events.  While it may be that the emergence of this practice started in the athletic arena, the participants (both athletes and non-athletes) noted that kissing between men is common in social settings as well, including parties, clubs, and when hanging with friends.  Some noted, however, that they would not kiss other men in their home towns because others would accuse them of being gay, thus the university setting is considered more liberal and accepting of such practices.

Is It Really Acceptance?

The researchers of this study argue that the increasing prevalence of kissing between heterosexual men indicates evidence of greater acceptance of same-sex sexuality.  Whereas social science research in the US has noted a significant decline in negative attitudes toward lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people, the optimism for a “post-homophobia” must be tempered.  Younger generations have been found to be more tolerant of LGBT people and supportive of equal rights for them; however, last year’s series of suicides among youth who are or are perceived to be LGBT due to homophobic bullying in schools reminds us that anti-LGBT prejudice and harassment continues to plague schools, as well as the rest of the country.