To PDA or Not to PDA?


Public displays of affection, also known as PDA, were the recent topic on the popular show “What Would You Do” where actors are placed within real settings to gauge reactions of the unsuspecting public on moral and ethical dilemmas. The particular episode I recently watched took place in the small town of Vicksburg, Mississippi where two actors portraying a gay couple were affectionate towards each other while having a meal at a local restaurant. Hidden cameras were placed throughout the restaurant to gauge what happens when another actor, pretending to be a patron of the restaurant, showed her disgust towards the gay couple. This actor would start off by huffing and puffing or scrunching up her face when the gay couple held hands or stole a quick kiss. She would then be more audible in her reactions and go so far as to ask the couple, loudly from across several tables, to stop doing that in front of her. The real test was to see how fellow patrons around her would react.

Well, react they did. For the most part, the reactions were pretty tame and consisted of whispers and glances across the tables that were in support of the woman, not the gay couple. When the gay couple asked other patrons if they were bothering them, some said that ‘not everyone understands that type of affection between same sex partners.’ Some said that they didn’t believe in same sex relationships but it was none of their business, it was ‘between you two and your God.’ Of course, one woman brought up the ever popular line ‘God intended it to be Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.’ (my personal favorite). Although there were a range of reactions, the majority of them sided with the disgusted patron with varying levels of tolerance for the gay couple.

Where do I stand on this issue? Well, I’ll be honest, I’ve never been big on PDA. For me, the idea of holding hands or kissing in public has never felt totally comfortable. I’m not sure if that is because I am afraid of judgement from someone who might see. I think it’s mostly because I have always been more private about my relationships. For the most part, I’m a pretty open guy and have no issues sharing most of what happens in my life. Some of the best stories or experiences I share are the ones that are the most embarrassing to me, but they also tend to be the funniest. I’m also quite open about my relationships and usually don’t have issues sharing personal details (as long as the person I’m with is also comfortable with sharing them). However, when it comes to affection, I tend to be more private about that because it feels more intimate to me and it’s something that I prefer to be shared only between myself and my partner.

That being said, I don’t have any issues with other people showing their affections in public (gay, straight, lesbian, anything in between). In fact, I think it’s quite sweet for the most part (excluding those demonstrations of affection that might be better suited for bedrooms…) In my opinion, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a little kiss between two partners, or holding hands, or sitting close in a restaurant and gently stroking each other’s arms. What’s wrong with that? As long as there isn’t any groping or tongues down each other’s throats, I say go for it. One of the loveliest signs of affection I’ve seen are where two older people hold hands. That, to me, is something to aspire to – to be at that age, in a relationship for that long, and to still have that shared connection. It’s beautiful. Would I have a different reaction depending on if the older couple was heterosexual or homosexual, of course not!

So let’s get back to the gay couple in Mississippi. One of the patrons justifies her distaste for PDA by saying that she would be equally objective of it if it were taking place between a heterosexual couple. So the show’s producers try out the same experiment using a heterosexual couple. They take their PDA to the same level as the homosexual couple, and the actor posing as a disgusted patron voices her objections in the same manner. What did they find? All of the patrons sided with the couple, ridiculing the disgusted patron and saying things like “oh, she’s just jealous.” Interesting… Kinda makes you think that perhaps the objections weren’t so much about PDA as they were about same sex couples showing the same displays of affection.

Towards the end of the clip, there is the biggest and best redemption that literally made my eyes well up. A couple of university aged straight guys sit down at a table across from the gay couple. As the disgusted patron starts her rant, the two guys take notice. The patron turns to them and suggestively asks them if they too are disgusted. They respond by defending the gay couple and asking the patron what difference it made to her. Meanwhile the group at the table behind them is recording the whole thing on their phones and giving the patron the thumbs up in support. The patron pushes it further and suggests the gay couple leave. This prompts one of the college guys to get up from the table and speak to a server. He defends the gay couple and complains about the disgusted patron. The server (who is also an actor) comes into the dining area and instead of asking the patron to leave, walks towards the gay couple and asks them to leave. The gay couple are shocked and sadly walk out of the restaurant. The patron turns to the college guys and says “you understand why I had to do that, don’t you?” One of the guys is visibly shaken and flatly tells the patron that she is what is wrong with America. You can see that he is so angry and is doing everything in his power to hold himself back. That’s when the show’s producers come out and reveal the hidden cameras. The college guy has tears in his eyes and when asked about them, he explains that he just couldn’t stand to see the gay couple treated so badly.

What an incredible validation for today’s generation of youth. Here are a couple of guys who are clearly more evolved human beings that understand diversity, tolerance and equality. They’re from the same little town in Mississippi and have grown up with the same social conditioning except they have also come to understand why just because someone is different from them, it doesn’t mean they deserve to be treated any differently. A homosexual couple should be afforded the same rights to display their affection for one another as a heterosexual couple would be.

So what’s your take on this? Do you believe in PDA? Does your opinion on PDA change depending on whether the couple is heterosexual or homosexual? No judgement either way, I’d just like to understand what motivates your beliefs.

Here’s a link to a clip of the episode.

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