We Kiss in a Shadow

“We kiss in a shadow,” sings Tuptim, slave-concubine in the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical and later movie The King and I, and her forbidden lover, Lun Tha. Both pay for their love. Lun Tha is found dead, and I'm not sure what happens to Tuptim. 
 

Tuptim and Lun Tha

In the book Anna and the King of Siam and the movie of that title (not a musical) with Rex Harrison as the King and Irene Dunne as Anna (more fatihful to the book, by the way), Tuptim and her lover are both burned to death. 

Kissing in a shadow is how many LGBTQ persons have lived their lives, and in less enlightened countries, still do. 

Now so much is involved, physically, culturally, and psychologically, in the act of kissing, and it's not necessarily something overtly sexual. In fact, people of the same gender kissing, especially on the lips, for any reason, was and is not an abhorrent act in many cultures. 

In the Bible, the blind patriarch Isaac asks Jacob (disguised as Esau to obtain the blessing) to kiss him, almost in this case a ritualistic act as well as an act that shows both obeisance and affection. 

In Ancient Greece, the kiss on the lips was used to express that two people of the same rank were equal (which in Greece, especially Athens, was probably two men, as women were not considered equal and pretty much did not participate in public life). 

The Catholic Church (not exactly LGBTQ-friendly in its history) in the Middle Ages recommended a kiss of peace, yes, on the lips, with no sexual connotation, of course. 
Kiss of peace


Kissing became more of an erotic act more recently in Western culture, but during the time when Victorian norms tended to keep all overt sexuality in the shadows, the first movie that showed a heterosexual kiss created quite a stir, in 1896, the film The Kiss
 

The 1986 film The Kiss


The kiss lasted 30 seconds and caused many to rail against decadence in the new medium of silent film. Writer Louis Blackwrite wrote that "it was the United States that brought kissing out of the Dark Ages." 

However, it met with severe disapproval by defenders of public morality, especially in New York. One critic proclaimed that "it is absolutely disgusting. Such things call for police interference." 

If that movie created quite a stir, imagine the premier of the opera Salome where Salome kisses the “cold, dead lips” (quoting Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond) of John the Baptist! 
 

Salome kissing the head of John the Baptist

Imagine then, the reaction of the audience many, many years later after the gay liberation movement when Michael Caine passionately kisses Christopher Reeve on the lips in the murder mystery Deathtrap. I was there; the whole theater gasped. 
Deathtrap kiss between Michael Caine and Christopher Reeve


In modern Eastern culture, the etiquette of kissing varies depending on the region. In West Asia, kissing on the lips between both men and women is a common form of greeting.

 

In South and Eastern Asia, it might often be a greeting between women; however, between men, it is unusual. Kissing a baby on the cheeks is a common form of affection. Most kisses between men and women are on the cheeks and not on the lips unless they are romantically involved. 
 

Woman kissing another woman to comfort her


In his book The Kiss and its History, Kristoffer Nyrop describes the kiss of love as an "exultant message of the longing of love, love eternally young, the burning prayer of hot desire, which is born on the lovers' lips, and 'rises,' as Charles Fuster has said, 'up to the blue sky from the green plains,' like a tender, trembling thank-offering.” 
 

Straight couple kissing with text that says Anthropologists report that 90 percent of people in the world kiss

Nyrop's rather florid language about the dynamic of kissing (when I was young, I used to think when you kissed someone romantically would make you see fireworks, a cliched image which appeared on an episode of The Brady Bunch) doesn't really jive with my prepubescent and adolescent kissing experiences. 

First, I thought the act of kissing itself would produce a baby (I saw my young parents making out, and then my mother was pregnant with my youngest brother). Then I found out what really happened, from a nun. I was horrified. 

Secondly, my experiences kissing girls (on the lips and also French kissing) gave me an uncomfortable wet and sloppy feeling, and one girl even smelled like lemons (only when we kissed). I hate to say this, but in one case, the feeling resembled more our family dog doing her usual routine to get attention: slurp, slurp. I was not turned on. The fireworks only happened at the local park on July 4th. 

Then, much later, too much later, I kissed a man. Passionately. We made out on the couch. I remember saying, “I have waited so long for this.” I was 26. I got hard without having to play with myself in the shadows. 

That man and I did kiss in the shadows, because, sadly, he was already taken. 

But to this day, I can't imagine any sexual contact with someone without a kiss. For me, if a kiss happens, it's like there is always more. You are satisfied paradoxically by always being hungry. 
 

Cute gay couple kissing

 

Cumshots, climaxes, orgasms: they are an end. Orgasm, the petit mort. The little death. Yes, death. What's beyond that end is unknown, even unthinkable. 

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