Three Pats: “I’m not gay.”

The custom:

…is performed when two males give each other a hug. If they wish to convey/confirm that they’re not homosexual, they pat the other three times to indicate, “I’m not gay.”

The informant, from Houston, Texas, learned the custom in the 8th grade in a public middle school. He also included that he thought he learned it from one of his peers who played sports (the informant did not play sports.) When asked about why the custom may have started, he replied, “I’m sure that it started because of a transition into physical male interaction becoming less taboo. Meanwhile, homosexuality is still taboo.”

The informant: “My sister’s husband and I do it for fun now every time we hug.”

I think he hit the nail on the head with his speculation. And by acknowledging that there should be a taboo nature of homosexuality seems to suggest that Houston continues a trend of homophobia.

As for the gesture itself, by virtue of its existence, it would seem that there is an underlying continuing homophobia. Along the same lines, there also exists the need to affirm that one isn’t gay each time he hugs another male. On this point, it’s interesting that the informant has suggested an awareness of a shift in the norms of physical contact between males, hugs in themselves having once been a taboo gesture. But while all this may have once been the case and still may be the case around Houston, the informant’s final comment regarding his brother-in-law, who by the norms of marital union is clearly heterosexual, seems to suggest that the use of these gestures have gone out of fashion. For the informant to enact pats with a brother-in-law would be at the very least redundant, and yet there’s something “fun” about it.