Something that I absolutely detest is strangers kissing my hand. I have never seen this happen to a someone who is presenting as a man, not once. I have seen it happen to people presenting as women numerous times, and I've experienced it myself far too often. My discomfort with it is partly based on its genderedness - I hate behaviours that so clearly separate 'men' from 'women', particularly when it's someone else who is behaving in this way, so I can't do anything to change it.
However, it's also just plain unpleasant. A stranger's lips on my skin? No! Why? I understand that this is culturally condoned behaviour, and that in many cultures (including ours, it seems), it is considered acceptable and possibly even polite to do this. But I just ... can't take it. A handshake I can take; even, in some circumstances, a hug. But hand-kissing is different, and the difference is that, for the most part, you don't have a choice when someone kisses your hand. In my experience people grip your hand really quite hard, and resist your pulling it away.
I was in the Embankment Gardens last week with a date. We were sitting on the grass in the last of the sunshine, chatting. We were approached by a man with a collecting tin who held out his hand to my friend and, when she took it, he first shook it and then kissed it. When he held out his hand to me, I said "please don't kiss my hand" and held out my hand. He took it and tried to kiss it, so I pulled my hand back saying "don't kiss my hand". My friend gave him some money and told him to be well. I reluctantly put a few coins into his tin, not wanting to look mean since my friend had given him something. He took my hand again and tried to kiss it. I wrenched my hand away and repeated the only words I'd said to him since he approached us. He backed off. He looked at us. He waved his hand vaguely in our direction. "Lesbians?" We stared at him. "Lesbians, cool. Gays, urgh, they can fuck off. Lesbians ok."*
OK, so that guy was hateful. I guess not everybody who tries to kiss your hand is like that. But, to me, that experience kind of epitomises the reasons that I'm uncomfortable with it. The people who kiss your hand don't give you the choice, and they don't accept that touching you should be your choice as well as theirs. Hand-kissing says "I am entitled to touch you". It says (usually) "I'm a man and you're a woman, so this is ok". It says "This kind of behaviour pedestalises you, and women like being pedestalised, so this is ok". I don't like the distancing that it involves, the implication that we are so different. A handshake is equality; a hand-kiss is hierarchy. I don't like the implication that I should be flattered or pleased, that I should giggle or blush or feel pretty and delicate. It's pretty much the same reason I don't like most acts of 'chivalry', when 'chivalry' means men performing kind acts for women because he's a man and she's a woman, not because he's a kind person that likes opening doors for people regardless of their gender. Chivalry implies difference, implies distance - implies strength on one side and weakness on the other. Hand-kissing is those things too, but with added nonconsensual touching. My favourite.
*I'd be interested to know why that guy read us as lesbians. Did we look like lesbians? It's not unlikely. Or was it because I didn't want him to kiss my hand? Perhaps he's an old fashioned guy, who saw 'bodily autonomy' and thought 'feminist' and therefore 'man-hating' and therefore 'lesbian'. And by "old-fashioned", I of course mean "dickhead".