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Touch Isolation
November 17, 2013 11:55 AM   Subscribe

Touch Isolation: How Homophobia Has Robbed All Men of Touch, a reflection prompted in part by Bosom Buddies: A Photo History of Male Affection
posted by Pater Aletheias (122 comments total) 54 users marked this as a favorite

 
I was lucky enough to be able to visit China when I was in high school, and I was totally gobsmacked by how normal it was for men to have their arms around each others' shoulders in public. A lot of the other American guys on the trip were made really uncomfortable by it - they couldn't really look without nervous snickering.
posted by en forme de poire at 12:04 PM on November 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


Meanwhile the new "Obama is a secret muslin" meme is "Obama is secretly gay." The evidence for this is apparently that he once sat too close to his Pakistani roommate on a couch, and another time he let some ebullient pizza shop owner pick him up.
posted by en forme de poire at 12:06 PM on November 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


and another time he let some ebullient pizza shop owner pick him up.

I think I totally misread this statement.
posted by GenjiandProust at 12:14 PM on November 17, 2013 [16 favorites]


This is one of the horrible things about being a single, adult man in the U.S. I remember being starved for touch. My mom was the only person who could touch me.
posted by Area Man at 12:15 PM on November 17, 2013 [27 favorites]


Why Arab Men Hold Hands (NYT).

Stuff Indians like #170: holding hands

Russell Peters about the Indian men
posted by Foci for Analysis at 12:15 PM on November 17, 2013


Also, you can't affectionately touch women without it being construed as flirtatious.
posted by cman at 12:18 PM on November 17, 2013 [8 favorites]


I was lucky enough to be able to visit China when I was in high school, and I was totally gobsmacked by how normal it was for men to have their arms around each others' shoulders in public.

I had the same surprise in Turkey several years ago. Male friends would touch each other like teenage girls in the US do - they'd hold hands, walk down the street arms around waists, sit on each others laps, etc, without a moment's self-consciousness. It was wonderful and one of those really moments that shows you something about home that you never realized before.
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:19 PM on November 17, 2013 [7 favorites]


One of my favorite memories from Seoul was the sight of two cops in riot gear walking hand in hand by the American ambassador's residence.

I'm pissed that immigration flows, globalized media flows, and probably most immediately, the back-and-forth lives of many Korean students who study abroad / follow their parents on overseas postings means that Korean boys are now being taught to think male affection is gay.
posted by spamandkimchi at 12:23 PM on November 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


As in, I saw some of my students (middle school kids) chastise their male classmates for being too affectionate with their friends. "That's so gay!" "Ew!" And it was invariably the students who had spent at least a year in the U.S. or Canada that felt compelled to police their peers behavior.
posted by spamandkimchi at 12:24 PM on November 17, 2013 [8 favorites]


"Obama is secretly gay." The evidence for this is apparently that he once sat too close to his Pakistani roommate on a couch, and another time he let some ebullient pizza shop owner pick him up.

Of course they never said that about Bush Jr. Image

But to the broader point yeah, it feels kind of dissociative to recognize the problem, and recognize how basically screwed up our touch phobia is, and still be at least partially stuck in it.
posted by edgeways at 12:25 PM on November 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


Picked up, literally (you probably saw it on the news at the time). Video.

Related, this photo that went viral of two border guards from China and Pakistan holding hands. Alas, when I saw it on my feed it was basically portrayed as "two gay border guards".

Also, I couldn't find a clip online, but in The Persuaders you more than once would see the aggressively-womanizing characters played by Tony Curtis and Roger Moore join arms and march down the street while having a walk-and-talk. I would like to see a study of the metrics here and find out just when it stopped altogether (based more on filming real people as opposed to fiction, of course).
posted by dhartung at 12:28 PM on November 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


You see this all the time on Shorpy, but mostly pre-WWII.
posted by tommasz at 12:33 PM on November 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


If we take the idea of gender out of the equation we can maybe focus on socialising people to be comfortable with appropriate platonic touch fullstop.
I love a good hug regardless.
posted by manoffewwords at 12:34 PM on November 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


I remember this being one of the most shocking things to me when I moved from eastern Europe to the UK - not only did men not touch, but there was a lot of self-consciousness and awkward joking about accidental touches. Where I come from, men routinely hug, even kiss, and are physically close in many other ways. The stand-offishness in the UK initially struck me as an affectation, until someone actually explained it to me in the same terms this article does: everybody is scared they might be thought gay.

Initially, this sounded off, partly because so what, and because something similar was happening with women as well, though to different degrees. At home, we used to frequently walk hand in hand, even as young women, or with locked arms, arm around each other's shoulder etc, all sorts of things I was rebuffed for in the UK. Plus, my own country is rampant with homophobia, and yet... if you adjust for contemporary clothing, pictures like those are taken every day here. So home is massively homophobic (much more so in fact than the UK, which is my point of reference), but at the same time, infinitely more touchy-feely.

So to me it seems that, in addition to homophobia, this

we frame all contact by men as being intentionally sexual until proven otherwise

is also essential for the touch isolation he talks about. As an eastern European woman in the UK, I also felt it quite acutely, even though woman-on-woman non-sexual touch seemed more normalised and acceptable. In general, though, it did seem like touch was a highly charged issue all round and that you were on knife's edge regardless of who touched who; but man-on-man touch was pretty much guaranteed to trigger a negative reaction or an uber-self-conscious performance.
posted by miorita at 12:37 PM on November 17, 2013 [11 favorites]


It might also be caused by general body shame as much as homophobia, transmitted by mass media driven by a commercial culture that uses shame as much as anything else to sell things.

Personally, I think some of it has to do with the negative associations I have about people that touch me. They have often used touch as part of a sales routine, or to try to keep me from thinking deeply enough about something they're saying. Touch is disrupting and powerful, and good salesmen and other manipulators know this.

Meeting or parting, I apparently shake hands much more often than most people, from the reactions that I get. Some people get their touch in other ways: when I'm walking R-dog, I often meet people that want or need a fur-fix (we all call it that).
posted by the Real Dan at 12:47 PM on November 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, when I have been a single woman I've often felt starved for touch, too. This is more acute with men perhaps but there's a weirdness about friendly platonic touch between women, too. Even somewhat between girls. I'm always nervous about touching. A girl from Germany I barely knew asked me to braid her hair once and I did but I was all weird inside about it. WHY??? Because I'm American I guess.

I like cudding and touching, too, but I have always done it in a mildly flirtatious way, however. It's a shame.
posted by stoneandstar at 12:47 PM on November 17, 2013 [10 favorites]


You can have my male affection when you pry it from my warm, soft hands

Anecdata: discovered this week that Mexicans give superb hugs, and confirmed their general fabulousness
posted by jake at 12:48 PM on November 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


This is more acute with men perhaps but there's a weirdness about friendly platonic touch between women, too. Even somewhat between girls.

It certainly gets awfully weird, at least for me, because I am a lesbian. I still want and need platonic, friendly touch, but there is just sooo much baggage around it.
posted by restless_nomad at 12:49 PM on November 17, 2013 [7 favorites]


It's an interesting article. The place of touch, platonic or otherwise and its cultural contexts is fascinating. Very hard to unwrap, actually. I do think that this is a bit much:
The emotional impact of coming of age in our touch-averse, homophobic culture is terribly damaging. It’s no wonder our young people face a epidemic of sexual abuse, unwanted pregnancy, rape, drug and alcohol abuse.
Hrm. Ok.

There is something to women providing all the touch for a man that is pretty intense to contemplate.
posted by amanda at 1:00 PM on November 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm lucky in the fact that my close group of friends are all touchy. We sit hip to hip, hug one another, touch when we talk.

This is men and women, but we've all been friends since we were tweens or younger. I have noticed whenever we add a new person to the group, which is not all that often, they are typically weird about the touchiness.

For awhile that is, then they end up accepting it and seem to enjoy the ability to just be human.

It is odd that my family is not a touchy bunch. While we hug and kiss the kids in the family, I cannot remember the last time I hugged my sisters or brother, or my parents.
posted by SuzySmith at 1:02 PM on November 17, 2013


This is a cultural phenomena that I enjoy.

But then, even as a small child, I never liked being held or hugged or touched - much to the dismay of my mother and other relatives. Why do people gotta be touching me ? Keep your filithy hands to yourselves.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 1:02 PM on November 17, 2013 [6 favorites]


I've felt the lack of this too as a woman. I think there was more of this in my early adolescence because drama kids tend to be huggy and cuddly. My manperson is super cuddly and ends up in cuddle piles with his friends, but they're mostly either female or genderfluid but raised as girls and so subject to female socialization.

In my experience this can be particularly confusing as a queer kid-- my teen years had a lot of semi-platonic touch and I didn't have a framework to conceptualizer it in, it was always sort of potentially sexual or romantic. The combination of touch starvation-- especially because I never much liked being touched as a preteen so it felt weird kicking in-- with teenage hormones is really jarring.

Though there are more opportunities for female/female touch, most of them are doing something, like painting nails. Maybe women with sisters are a bit different with this, I'm not sure, but most of the female touch I've had is from people who are in social circles that are unusually touchy and acknowledge themselves as such.

I think this is probably part of the health benefits of having pets, though.
posted by NoraReed at 1:02 PM on November 17, 2013


It's mentioned in the very first sentence of the article, but the author's previous piece on the subject is also well worth reading.
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 1:07 PM on November 17, 2013


"Tiny rushed up to Barger, threw his arms around him and planted a sloppy wet kiss on his mouth. This is guaranteed square-jolter, and the Angels are gleefully aware of the reaction it gets."
Hunter S. Thompson - Hells Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga.
posted by 445supermag at 1:10 PM on November 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


In grade school we called it "palling around": two or more of us guys ambling around with our arms around each other's necks. ISTR by the sixth grade some kids had absorbed the "yelling 'fags'" variety of assholishness from somewhere which eventually killed it.
posted by George_Spiggott at 1:15 PM on November 17, 2013


Friendly platonic touch didn't exist for me until I was about twelve. Touching somebody else in a non-punching manner opened you to accusations of being a "gaywad," whether you were male or female. It only changed around age twelve, and I remember being astounded, and a little relieved, to see two girls hugging in a friendly way. The practice of actually touching people may actually have been something brought South to our school by a big Italian family who moved from New Jersey, who had kids in several grades there. Grabbing and hugging was friendly and commonplace with them.

I'm still not good at touching people, so I avoid it, not because I don't like it but because I don't know how it should work. I like hugging, being hugged, and so forth, but suddenly feeling someone's bare skin is a shock to me and triggers an urge to apologize. I, um, I don't have an easy time dating.
posted by Countess Elena at 1:16 PM on November 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


Thus the development of the "side-hug".
posted by emjaybee at 1:18 PM on November 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


This hit home with me because of the long stretches I went without touch when I was single. There were times that I went months with little more than a handshake or two. I realized how touch-deprived I was when a grad school professor put his hand on my shoulder during a class discussion and it felt bizarrely good just to be physically acknowledged in that way.

When my wife and I discovered that child #2 would be a boy, I started asking fathers of boys for advice, because my own relationship with my father is strained, to say the least. One of my good friends, also father of a boy and a girl, said that he was equally affectionate with both kids. Kiss them both, hold them both, snuggle with them both. That really surprised me to hear, since I was seldom affectionately touched as a kid, but I decided to treat my kids like that. We slowly developed a really physically affectionate family culture, with lots of hugs, kisses, and cuddles all around, and it's a remarkable thing to be a part of. The kids won't let any family member leave the house without giving them a hug first. I think it makes a lot of stresses easier to deal with when you know that there are hugs and snuggles waiting when you get back to the house--and that goes for the adults just as much.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 1:18 PM on November 17, 2013 [33 favorites]


I've been wondering when this disappeared in the west. Men hold hands in most of the world - Europe & the Americas are the odd ones. I've lived overseas a few times, and losing male touch is one of the hardest parts of readjustment.

I think there are other forces beyond gay panic, though. American men seem very comfortable with each other in WWII-era movies, but that all seems to disappear as the 50's progress - well before gays became more active and visible.
posted by kanewai at 1:19 PM on November 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Homophobia was active and visible long before the LGBT/GSM communities were. Sodomy trials are a major part of this.
posted by NoraReed at 1:23 PM on November 17, 2013


I remember moving to Holland and spending weeks without getting any more physical contact than a handshake from anyone. And then a big group of Francophone women arrived in the office and wave after wave of relief and bisous washed over me. It would've never even occurred to me to hug one of my new male friends. I'm happy to say that this is changing a little bit, and I suspect that it's one of the few positive things to come out of "bro" culture. Guys are comfortable, to a degree, having physical contact again.
posted by 1adam12 at 1:25 PM on November 17, 2013


I remember when I was in my touch-starved teen years and 20s, how hyperaware I became to accidental touches. I have a distinct memory of standing in a group of kids waiting to go into assembly, and a girl next to me had long hair that was, unbeknownst to her, brushing my bare arm; meanwhile I could juuust feel the edges of other kids' clothing touching me all around, and it was strangely electric and also comforting. We eroticize touch so much that I felt vaguely ashamed of liking it so much, but at the same time also aware that it wasn't about sex at all.

I assumed at the time that my even caring about such a thing made me a freak, but then later I read about newborn babies, and how periodic stroking and touching is absolutely, provably necessary to their well-being. Babies in NICUs survive better if they get stroking and rubbing whenever possible. Needing touch is no more sinful than needing food.

I do think some of the loss of touching has been fallout from our vigilance against sexual child abuse and even harassment between adults. It's a fine line between comforting and creepy, so most people are going to play it safe.
posted by emjaybee at 1:30 PM on November 17, 2013 [9 favorites]


Following on the comment here, homophobia doesn't really seem like an adequate explanation. Countries where there's far more same-sex touching are also countries where hanging is a widely-supported punishment for sodomy. I think it's something specific to Anglo culture, which America inherited, but I'm not sure what... Germ theory?
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 1:30 PM on November 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


There are few things that make me more uncomfortable than touchy people. Nothing to do with either specific gender, I just don't want people touching me. Just a hand on my shoulder causes an almost electric jolt to run through me that makes me jump and blanks out my brain for a second.
posted by octothorpe at 1:31 PM on November 17, 2013 [7 favorites]


Touch is vital to me. I'm generally a very tactile person and was raised in a family that was demonstrative. To do without human touch would be unsettling to say the least.
posted by arcticseal at 1:37 PM on November 17, 2013


There are few things that make me more uncomfortable than touchy people.

Personally while I intensely dislike casual touching from strangers, professional colleagues, basically anyone who's not a friend or relative -- and that includes shaking hands -- with friends it's another matter. In fact, for me a number of workplace quasifriendships that became actual friendships have been signaled basically with a straightforward nudge from one or the other of us; a touch means it's gotten personal.
posted by George_Spiggott at 1:38 PM on November 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


ThatFuzzyBastard: my theory was always that men there can get away with touching one another because even the suggesting that homosexuality exists is taboo. Once a culture hits that middle ground where you can at least acknowledge such a thing exists, the accusations come flying.
posted by idiopath at 1:45 PM on November 17, 2013 [14 favorites]


Countries where there's far more same-sex touching are also countries where hanging is a widely-supported punishment for sodomy.

What is and isn't sexual is heavily socially constructed, though. An action that is construed as sexual or romantic in one place can have a totally different meaning elsewhere. Homophobia can differ from what it targets from place to place as much as any cultural phenomenon.
posted by NoraReed at 1:46 PM on November 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think too we've shifted from a genuine sort of touching and emotional connection to a more shallow, overaffected sort of touching. Like we're great friends now because I've seen you several times at the cantina and let's take a selfie of us with big love then maintain distance the rest of the night.

My male family members and I hug and or kiss depending on how long it's been since we've seen each other and it rarely fails to get an "eeww!" reaction. Spent about 3 hours talking to my cousin after the fire downtown (he's a firefighter) and got some "get a room, faggots" from some acquaintances of ours.
It's very strange. I mean, I hate being touched by people I don't know well. Not the touching, or not just the touching, but the presumption. Like hey, we know each other. Hey, I'll come visit you in hospital. I'll take a bullet for you because we've bought each other a few rounds. Uh huh.

But with someone I love (yes, there are male family members I tell them I love them) it's just unpretentious intimacy.
Spending a few hours with someone close to you who's been risking their life - I don't know how people don't get the need for an emotional connection there.
What's more, I don't know how they don't show it. Family member almost dies in a fire, yeah, handshake, phone call, send you a card on Christmas maybe. The fu? is wrong with people.
I probably seem distant to many people, but I'm a big sloppy St. Bernard dog around people I'm tight with.
I don't think it's just homophobia. I think many people see strong emotional connection as a sign of weakness. Like barking at people and looking stern seems like a vital component of good leadership. It's just not so.
Facile shows of affection, or an inability or social inhibition to show love to the people you do love seem far more indicative of poor character.
But then we've been more and more conditioned socially to take those things as some sort of status symbols. As though loving was a submissive position.
F'ing used car salesman mentality running our social emotional lives.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:46 PM on November 17, 2013 [5 favorites]


I remember on time in high school, I was having a really bad day (I don't remember why though) and a girl who I didn't know came up to me and said "You look like you could use a hug. Do you want one?" I said yes, she hugged me and I don't think I ever saw her again. But it still sticks in my mind as a very kind act -- I needed a hug and she wanted to give it.

I'm not a fan of touchy-feely people overall (I don't want strangers or near strangers touching me!), but I like touch. I like hugging people I like and having them hug me. I've platoniclally cuddled with friends and held hands with them. I think physical affection is a great compliment to emotional/verbal affection.

But yeah, sadly, so much of it for men and women is loaded down in "it must mean sex." No, it just means we're social creatures and sometimes being close to one another feels natural.
posted by darksong at 1:48 PM on November 17, 2013


Countries where there's far more same-sex touching are also countries where hanging is a widely-supported punishment for sodomy.

Yeah, right. Cite please, FFS.

Anyway, I came here to mention that in Japanese junior high school there is a *lot* less fighting between boys than in JHS back in Canada (although bullying does exist). One reason (or so I like to think) is because it's more acceptable for boys to hug each other, sit on their friend's lap, or just reach out absently and grab each other. Boys *need* touching, which is why they fight in Canada. It's more socially acceptable.

It's a very friendly culture - and no hanging for sodomy :)
posted by KokuRyu at 1:52 PM on November 17, 2013


I first started thinking about this when I ran across that photo montage of American males in intimate closeness. Of course, they didn't think of it as intimate, that's my construction based on my cultural baggage. They probably just thought of it as natural closeness between friends, an outgrowth of their trust and affection with no strings attached about how close they are sitting, or omygod are we touching in some way.
Upthread someone mentioned that they thought this male-to-male distancing behavior started really getting traction in the fifties. I'm wondering if it's related to the way the mass media began to penetrate everyone's lives in that period. Instead of learning about what's appropriate from friends and neighbors, people, including me, began getting those lessons from movies and televisions.
I'm sure my cultural baggage about maleness has a lot of lessons in it about the strong male based on basically psychopathic stereotypes in movies and television that were caricatures of what real people are like in their daily lives.
When I saw that photo montage, my initial thought was 'what country is that?' What alternative universe did that take place where American males were friendly, in close touch physically and completely relaxed with the closeness of other males? I hang out with a very touchy-feeley dance crowd, have a lot of latitude to be in 'touch' with people and still find it hard to cross physical space to another person without it bringing up a lot programming around what's appropriate.
posted by diode at 1:54 PM on November 17, 2013 [6 favorites]


UGH this hits too close to home. I am a super touch-craved person and I always feel way too awkward about touching people because I know how much some people really don't like it. Men especially, because yeah, guys freak out sometimes at random hugs and pats and stuff. It totally sucks.
posted by Rory Marinich at 1:58 PM on November 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


Heck, I know people who won't watch Ultimate Fighting because two men hugging and making so much physical contact makes them so uncomfortable, even if said men are punching each other in the face while doing these things.

(And I've done a little BJJ so I know your thought isn't usually "Oh my Steve is so rugged and masculine" but is more "fuck fuck shit shit he's got my arm ahhhhh")
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 2:00 PM on November 17, 2013


It's not really ultimate fighting without the makeup sex
posted by George_Spiggott at 2:06 PM on November 17, 2013 [13 favorites]


Men accidentally touch feet.
posted by Saxon Kane at 2:06 PM on November 17, 2013


Following on the comment here, homophobia doesn't really seem like an adequate explanation. Countries where there's far more same-sex touching are also countries where hanging is a widely-supported punishment for sodomy. I think it's something specific to Anglo culture, which America inherited, but I'm not sure what... Germ theory?

The photo history which prompted the article suggested that this might be down to how homosexuality is pathologised in Anglo culture as a state of being, rather than being an activity.
Not sure how widely it applies but it seems to fit with what I've seen written about strong male (and female!) friendships in 19th century Britain.
posted by ocular shenanigans at 2:10 PM on November 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


But touching in public is creepy, though
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 2:15 PM on November 17, 2013


Previously. The linked site in that post is dead, but Brothers in Arms: Masculinity in Whitman's Civil War is still live.
posted by octobersurprise at 2:15 PM on November 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


I remember being really touch-starved as a teen because I was a lesbian and I was terrified that my female friends would associate any physical affection from me as coming on to them. I have this awful memory of a friend crying and *desperately* wanting to hug her and feeling like I just couldn't. It sucked, and I've always felt bad for (straight?) men who I suspected feel like this all the time.

It took me years to get over, except now most of my friends just aren't a cuddly bunch. I have one friend who is, but she lives far away, and so whenever she's in town I kind of gorge on platonic petting.
posted by insufficient data at 2:18 PM on November 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Things might be changing, at least in the UK.

The sociologist Mark McCormack had a book out last year The Declining Significance of Homophobia: How Teenage Boys are Redefining Masculinity and Heterosexuality (OUP) noting an apparent decline in homophobia and a commensurate increase in touching among boys at some UK schools.

There was a discussion of the book and its findings in the last 15 minutes or so of the 30 April edition of the Radio 3 programme Night Waves.
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 2:18 PM on November 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


For the folks who are startled by and don't enjoy touch, may I introduce you to the jedi hug? I think emjaybee's point about the fine line between comforting and creepy is helpful, as well as remembering how people can have very variable levels of touch comfort.

Skinship is the East Asian term for this kind of physical affection. Apparently there is a Tumblr devoted to images of Koreans engaged in skinship.
posted by spamandkimchi at 2:19 PM on November 17, 2013


I'm not sure if it's homophobia or what but yeah it is pretty scary how much I jump when someone touches my hand if I've been single for a while.
posted by Teakettle at 2:22 PM on November 17, 2013


This, of course, alludes to you: I assume you meant "butt touching"?
posted by 256 at 2:24 PM on November 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm a little bit envious about how it's possible in some parts of American society for straight girls and women to laugh off or even embrace accusations of lesbianism rather than be put off by it. This is much rarer among heterosexual men.
posted by George_Spiggott at 2:24 PM on November 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


the way to avoiding hugs is to beat 'em to the punch with an offer of a handshake.

(incidentally, I'm going to a funeral next weekend and that'll be my strategy)
posted by jpe at 2:24 PM on November 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


After pondering some of the comments here, I think the problem isn't so much homophobia, but that male-touch at some point became sexualized, and platonic touch became harder.

In a lot of Pacific Island cultures touch goes far beyond holding hands. Men will nap on the beach with their heads on each other's thighs. As an American it used to drive me insane ... my brain would be saying "this isn't sexual; it's a sign of friendship; please don't get hard" while my body would be ... well, reacting differently.

I do see a correlation with male / female taboos, though. In the Middle East and Oceania, and somewhat in SE Asia, men and women do not touch in public. It's just not done. These are also the places where same-sex touch seems more casual and routine.

And yet ... even though I miss platonic contact immensely ... those people who stand on the corner offering "free hugs" creep me out.
posted by kanewai at 2:25 PM on November 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


Also, has the affectionate-arm-around-the-shoulder really disappeared among men? I do this to my friends regularly and it has never seemed weird when even casual acquaintances or coworkers did it to me. I'm in Toronto but I grew up in rural Canada.
posted by 256 at 2:34 PM on November 17, 2013


Guys I will put my arm around all of you, shake hands, high five you, lightly punch your shoulders. Chest bumps? If there's a reason for the season!

I can host too.

d/d free (partial to settlers of catan though)
posted by Teakettle at 2:47 PM on November 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


There is something to women providing all the touch for a man that is pretty intense to contemplate.

I recently became single very abruptly - ie, I was dumped unexpectedly, without any of the more gradual decay-of-affection I've experienced in past breakups. As I've gone through the recovery/rebound/healing process, I've come to understand that the sudden withdrawal of touch is in fact one of the biggest impacts the breakup had on me. My career gives me some of the "view of the future" I gain from relationships; my friends give me some of the companionship; my hobbies provide the involvement. But, as a heterosexual man in mainstream American culture, I have, essentially, no source of casual, ongoing touch except a romantic partner. Until I'm partnered again, I will never hold a hand, rest against a shoulder, feel another human weight against my side for more than a brief moment.

As much as I may hope and work for a longer-term normalization of platonic touch, I don't have an answer or a solution, in the short term, for my own life. And it is not a healthy thing, for me or for the society I live in.
posted by Tomorrowful at 2:48 PM on November 17, 2013 [8 favorites]


"Obama is secretly gay." The evidence for this is apparently that he once sat too close to his Pakistani roommate on a couch, and another time he let some ebullient pizza shop owner pick him up.

See also: Abraham Lincoln and the Log Cabin Republicans' creation myth.
posted by acb at 2:51 PM on November 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


There are few things that make me more uncomfortable than touchy people.

My very closest friends and I basically groom each other like a troop of orangutans in public, but woe betide the new acquaintance who puts their hand on my forearm while we are talking.
posted by elizardbits at 2:53 PM on November 17, 2013 [10 favorites]


I think the solution is to get more men playing rugby.
posted by Metro Gnome at 2:57 PM on November 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Like if I don't actually shriek like it's a spider and slap their arm away, at the very least I will stare at it with visible loathing until they get uncomfortable and move away. Also if people are close talkers I will just stand with my arms extended in front of me like bumpers so they can't loom over me.
posted by elizardbits at 2:57 PM on November 17, 2013


It isn't needed to go back to the turn of the century to see photos of "bosom buddies" either. I have photos from the 1930s from the rural US midwest.

No, the real nastiness started sometime after that. I'd like to credit it on WW2 and the Nazis, but I'd also credit the eugenics movement, the lobotomies, electroshock and mental-home incarcerations for upping the ante for those who wouldn't toe-the-line, and for giving strong encouragement to the bigots.

So what's missing in photos after that is not evidence of absence but absence of evidence. Like much of history, those who didn't live through the vacuum might find it hard to believe the pervasive sense of threat and fear. Lucky them.
posted by Twang at 3:01 PM on November 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


445supermag:"Tiny rushed up to Barger, threw his arms around him and planted a sloppy wet kiss on his mouth. This is guaranteed square-jolter, and the Angels are gleefully aware of the reaction it gets."
Hunter S. Thompson - Hells Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga.


Makes me think of Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd.
posted by history_denier at 3:29 PM on November 17, 2013


ut, as a heterosexual man in mainstream American culture, I have, essentially, no source of casual, ongoing touch except a romantic partner. Until I'm partnered again, I will never hold a hand, rest against a shoulder, feel another human weight against my side for more than a brief moment.

Ballroom dancing class is great for that sort of thing.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 3:35 PM on November 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


While systemic homophobia makes it, perhaps, more taboo for men to touch one another in any way that's not violent or that doesn't have some awkward joke that amounts to "no homo" attached to it, I think we in North America (Canada and the US, at least) have bigger issues with touch in general. Any touch outside of close family and/or sexual partners is basically forbidden and considered "weird," to that point that a lot of people feel really uncomfortable showing affection beyond a handshake, even to close friends.

Ingrained, and often unconscious, homophobia doesn't help. But I think the issue actually runs deeper than that in our society.
posted by asnider at 3:41 PM on November 17, 2013


Ballroom dancing class is great for that sort of thing.

Yessss. Platonic touch is quite possibly my favourite thing about partner dancing. Seriously, all you touch-deprived folk, go out and learn some swing or blues or ballroom or salsa.

I would recommend east-coast swing (aka lindy) most highly if you are an awkward anxiety-prone dork like me, because, in my experience, that describes 90% of the people who are drawn to it, and you will find a home there (seriously, you could not throw a rock at a swing dance here without hitting a scientist, an engineer, and/or someone with a mood disorder).

Blues is my favourite, though it's not for everybody. At its most intimate, it's an extended chest-to-chest hug set to music. The scene where I am has been increasingly encouraging the removal of gendering from dance roles, and both male and female same-sex pairings are delightfully common.

Dancing has been one of my best coping methods over this last year of being both depressed and single. I've also made a lot of friends from dance, many of whom are into extra-curricular platonic cuddles. Yay!
posted by bethnull at 3:44 PM on November 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


I remember having a strong emotional response to having my hair cut. Someone was touching me for longer than a handshake.
posted by Area Man at 4:01 PM on November 17, 2013 [6 favorites]


I remember having a strong emotional response to having my hair cut. Someone was touching me for longer than a handshake.

I used to love the feel of someone touching my scalp/hair when getting a haircut. I never really realized why until you said that. At the time, I essentially had no other forms of human touch in my life. While it's still a nice sensation, it's no longer as big a deal to me as it once was, since I'm able to get plenty of touch -- both platonic and otherwise -- from my wife.

Of course, that last sentence still kind of proves the point of the FPP.
posted by asnider at 4:05 PM on November 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


TFB, homosexuality is discouraged and taboo but not at all illegal in China.
posted by en forme de poire at 4:15 PM on November 17, 2013


There are studies showing a strong correlation on the individual level between homophobia and opposition by men to touching other men.1 On the other hand, there could possibly something of an anti-correlation on the country level. For instance, of those countries mentioned in the discussion above where male-male contact seems more open than in the US or western Europe, here are some data (which in no way demonstrate causality, of course):2

China: Opposition to homosexuality: 57-70% (vs 10-20 for western Europe and 33% for US)

"Arab men holding hands": Saudi Arabia, Iran, Yemen: Punishment for homosexuality: Death penalty. Oman, Qatar, Syria, Kuwait: Illegal with >10 years in prison. Opposition: over 90% in all countries.

India: Against the law; 73% think it should be illegal and 90% wouldn't rent to gay couple.

South Korea: 59% opposition (though decreasing rapidly)

Pakistan: Illegal with >10 years in prison; opposition, 87%

Eastern Europe: Opposition to same-sex neighbors, 30-60% (vs less than 10% Western Europe); assult rates, 5-10x Western Europe.

Turkey: Opposition, 78%. Opposition to neighbors, 90%.

Japan: Opposition, 36% (only a bit higher than the US).

US, early 70s: Opposition over 70%, presumably even higher in the 50s or earlier.

1 ref, ref
2 ref, ref, ref, ref, ref, ref, ref, ref, ref, ref, ref
posted by chortly at 4:30 PM on November 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


i cannot get laid in montreal, and i think one of the things i miss most is not the orgasm, but the touching, i rarely socialize platinically (maybe twice ta week) and i touch much less during those times as well. i am so lonely, and i think i am missing the touching.
posted by PinkMoose at 5:00 PM on November 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


I think the apprehension of males to touch comes from ignorance of what gay males do to hook up. I am straight, but mostly I'm asexual, or at least I have no social life, and I'm also not interested in stereotypical male pursuits in a notably unenlightened town (and I grew up here, so it's not like I'm really superior to any of them in this regard really), and some of my friends, I think, assume I must be gay. And it's the kind of thing where it's awkward to just tell them plainly, in day-to-day situations, I'm just not as focused on sex as most people, so I have no opportunity to clear things up.

So once in a while there's a case where something happens that, were that suspicion not hanging in the air, would be taken innocently, but because of those guesses causes an Awkward Moment. I hate it. I can't help but think, in those other countries, it wouldn't be such a big deal.
posted by JHarris at 5:03 PM on November 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Want to be touched? Buy a dog. Problem solved.
posted by Renoroc at 5:16 PM on November 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


Not denying that this is a problem, but my group of (American, largely educated and politically liberal) friends is pretty platonically touchy -- hugs, warm handshakes, arms-around-shoulders, etc. -- across and within genders and sexual orientations. No cuddling or anything, but I've never really thought that was appropriate anyway. Maybe my standards were defined down a priori.
posted by eugenen at 5:28 PM on November 17, 2013


US culture is not normal and probably not healthy on so many levels, I chalk this up to our general tendency toward paranoia and anti-social attitudes and behaviors. Not sure if it'll ever be as simple as finding any single cause, but we seem to have an extraordinary amount of antipathy towards humanity and normal human behavior. We're a country that until recently taught that it was unnatural and bestial for mothers to breastfeed their own children. We're all kinds of psychologically screwed up.
posted by saulgoodman at 5:35 PM on November 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Want to be touched? Buy a dog. Problem solved.

We need to talk.
posted by mhoye at 5:41 PM on November 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


as a heterosexual man in mainstream American culture, I have, essentially, no source of casual, ongoing touch except a romantic partner. Until I'm partnered again, I will never hold a hand, rest against a shoulder, feel another human weight against my side for more than a brief moment.

Thisthisthis. Whenever I have been single or in a long distance relationship, the lack of regular, casual touch is what I really notice. In a normal week, outside of a relationship I'll get a few hello/goodbye hugs, but that's about it. Massages are nice, but you'd have to have a lot of money to get them often enough to compensate for all of the touch you get from a partner.

I've only done a few partner dance classes, but my experience was that it gave you some good touching and some not so great touching. Maybe I'm just unlucky, but I always seemed to spend more than my fair share of time with the extra-sweaty or oddly-smelling people (and for all I know, they say the same about me). But with the right group, I could see that being a great way to get at least some touch back into your life.

I don't think it's just homophobia. I think many people see strong emotional connection as a sign of weakness. Like barking at people and looking stern seems like a vital component of good leadership. It's just not so.

I agree. I don't get any more hugs or touching from gay or super pro-gay-rights friends than I do from ultra-conservative people. Actually it might be more touching from the latter, since at least they sometimes want to try out a UFC move they saw over the weekend or something like that, and their very homophobia and the obvious lack of sappy emotions in UFC maybe gives them the cover for a tiny bit of touching.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:42 PM on November 17, 2013


Another arena in which male-on-male touch is at issue is on the massage table. In my experience, most male clients would prefer not to be worked on by male therapists. Men just don't want to be touched while in states of nekkidness by other guys.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 5:48 PM on November 17, 2013


When I visited West Africa I noted that men touch and even hold hands with their friends. This is sort of another place where north America is just not any sort of norm.
posted by clvrmnky at 5:59 PM on November 17, 2013


I completely agree that widespread aversion to casual touch and, simultaneously, being very vocal about your aversion to touch and your generalized loathing of people out in public are very characteristic of American culture.

Of course, the last time I tried to say that greater acceptance of casual touch might be a good thing, I got exploded at by several people right here on MeFi. Even little children know that touch is by explicit verbal permission only, why don't you?
posted by Nomyte at 6:15 PM on November 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


I dunno if you can blame it on homophobia, but it is pretty interesting!
posted by zscore at 6:22 PM on November 17, 2013


MDMA is amazing stuff and can be used to create social environments where this stops being a problem.
posted by Mars Saxman at 6:27 PM on November 17, 2013


Men just don't want to be touched while in states of nekkidness by other guys.

Turkey would like to suggest that there's a cultural component to this.
posted by pompomtom at 6:40 PM on November 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is why I hate the fist bump.

The fist bump is a further step in depersonalizing interpersonal contact. People used to hug. That was too personal, so it got depersonalized into things like high fives. High fives are too personal (sensory part of the hand on sensory part of the hand -- you can even tell if someone has sweaty palms), so we have moved to the fist bump. It is the least personal form of human contact we have come up with. It will likely get supplanted by something less personal in the future.

The same thing has happened with romantic relationships. People went steady. That implied that people were consistently in an interpersonal relationship, so that was was too personal. People then dated people. It was less intense than going steady. But soon dating was too personal, so people started going out with people. Going out with someone was much less personal. You can go out with anyone, right? You can go out with your mother or with a friend, right? But that was too personal so we started just seeing people. Seeing people is far less intense than going out with someone. Hell, you don't even have to actually be near someone just to see them. You certainly don't have to be going out with someone to see them. But that was too much, too, so people are now talking to people. Talking to people takes the pressure off of labeling something as seeing someone. You can talk to someone without actually even being in the same town as them. How perfect! How impersonal! Here is the de-evolution of romantic relationships: Steady>Dating>Going out>Seeing someone>Talking to someone.

Anyway, I hate the fist bump.
posted by flarbuse at 7:14 PM on November 17, 2013 [9 favorites]


Of course, the last time I tried to say that greater acceptance of casual touch might be a good thing, I got exploded at by several people right here on MeFi. Even little children know that touch is by explicit verbal permission only, why don't you?

That is an extraordinarily ungenerous interpretation of the idea that people have the right to control access to their bodies, which as I recall it was the argument in that thread.
posted by winna at 7:35 PM on November 17, 2013 [6 favorites]


Do you guys wanna trade clothes?
posted by Divine_Wino at 7:44 PM on November 17, 2013


North American culture is poisonously screwed up and I think this fear of men getting in any way close to other men is both a symptom and a cause.
posted by blue shadows at 7:52 PM on November 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


That is an extraordinarily ungenerous interpretation of the idea that people have the right to control access to their bodies, which as I recall it was the argument in that thread.

Right, yes. And I said that it'd be great if it was more socially accepted for people to touch in various ways in public without it being an expression of line-crossing intimacy. I also said that it's really unfortunate that almost any kind of touch, with the exception of extremely limited ritualized touch, has been consigned to the same category as people who fondle others in public and harass women on public transit. And I still think that drawing the equivalence between "more touch" and "personal support for sexual harassment of women" is really sad and characteristically American.

But I think this is leading to another big blowup, so I'll just shut up and let other people eulogize the dearth of interpersonal touching in American culture.
posted by Nomyte at 8:04 PM on November 17, 2013 [5 favorites]


Probably a single comment pointing out how you mischaracterized the arguments presented last time is not "leading to another big blowup", lbr.
posted by elizardbits at 9:31 PM on November 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


MetaFilter: Everyone needs a hug.
posted by carsonb at 9:32 PM on November 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


As I was reading this thread (in medium-small town China), two male students came into my office to use a printer.
They sat down in one chair and tangled themselves up together to the point that it was funny watching them try to type. One of them was in class today with another boy on his lap (it's getting cold here, so there is even more cuddling than usual, all same-sex).

I think this openness to touch triggers some positive* stereotypes in me, as I have very warm feelings for my students here, even though I have only known them for a couple months and I find it more shocking when they say terrible (racist, sexist, homophobic) things. I didn't think I had much of a reaction to seeing all the touching, but hmm. I seem to just have a different set of stereotypes than I was expecting.

*not "positive" as in correct, by any means, just positive as in I associate this touch with openness and loving-ness, which I consider "good" things.
posted by MsDaniB at 9:52 PM on November 17, 2013


Yeah, Iran and Saudi Arabia were the particular countires I was thinking of where there's a lot of casual same-sex touching and the death penalty for homosexuality. But as noted above, North America and England are really outliers here.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 9:53 PM on November 17, 2013


Just recently my wife and I were chided by an Italian-Spanish friend who lamented that she "didn't know how to hug [us]." Incidentally, she was unaware of the "Christian side-hug." We now hug warmly, and all is well.
posted by grumpybear69 at 10:01 PM on November 17, 2013


I imagine that a person in Saudi Arabia assuming that two men holding hands were gay would be like an American assuming that someone who lets their dog sleep in their bed is regularly engaging in bestiality. In other words, if you think of something as completely abnormal and unnatural, you're just not going to blithely assume that people you see walking around you on the street are doing it.
posted by bookman117 at 10:15 PM on November 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


Really, the chart above is why I think homophobia in general is a red herring. Sure, North American culture is homophobic, but more homophobic than China? Yemen? India? Obviously not. So homophobia is not just an insufficient explanation, it's the opposite of the visible pattern.

If it were strictly an American thing, I'd attribute it to the open spaces of the New World; there's a lot of aspects of American body language that are clearly the product of the large spaces (I remember English friends being shocked at how far apart Americans would stand while talking to each other). But the no-touching thing is very much Anglo-American, so strike that as a theory (and strike the assertion that this is some uniquely North American sickness).

That's why I was wondering if germ theory is really behind it. Was there some point when people decided it was healthier not to touch, England and America ran with it (being two countries always in love with health theories), and later it got rationalized as a sexual thing?
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 10:16 PM on November 17, 2013


I imagine that a person in Saudi Arabia assuming that two men holding hands were gay would be like an American assuming that someone who lets their dog sleep in their bed is regularly engaging in bestiality.

Y'know, that's rather well put.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:52 PM on November 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Sure, North American culture is homophobic, but more homophobic than China? Yemen? India? Obviously not.

I don't think more-than/less-than is the key difference here, though. It's more like, in the US homophobia is about other people thinking I might be gay, so I adjust my behavior accordingly, but I don't give a shit what might happen behind someone else's closed doors. In some of the other places mentioned in this thread, homophobia is more about policing other people's identities, but my own behavior isn't a concern.
posted by Dip Flash at 10:56 PM on November 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


TFB, but homophobia and aversion to male touch are still correlated within the USA as per the comment you linked to. Also I am pretty sure the US and UK are represented in that photo gallery as late as WW2.

I agree there's more to it than just absolute level of homophobia. For one, the US is emphatically coed these days; not so much with the Saudis. Segregation by gender probably normalizes homosocial affection. But also, as others have said, if homosexuality is so taboo that gay visibility is nonexistent, most people won't be thinking about their actions in those terms. I think part of this wariness is the flip side of visibility.
posted by en forme de poire at 11:14 PM on November 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


I had male friends whom I was physically (but not sexually) intimate with, and playful with (as I was with my platonic women friends.) When I was engaged to the woman I eventually married, she expressed significant concern that I was gay; it warranted a serious sit-down conversation and extensive follow up reassurance. Just a little memory provoked by this thread.
posted by davejay at 11:24 PM on November 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh, and worth noting: this was a very gay-friendly and non-homophobic woman, whose full-time job at the moment involves supporting LGBT causes. It wasn't a question of homophobia, but rather of finding man-on-man friendship intimacy to be so unusual that it could only be explained by me being gay.
posted by davejay at 11:27 PM on November 17, 2013


There was an item on QI a while ago saying the big change here - at least in a UK context - came with the Oscar Wilde trial of 1895. I'm not sure if it was the squalid aspects of the trial's press reports, the public reaction to those reports or Wilde's ultimate jail sentence which explains the effect, but there seems no doubt it was a dramatic one.

"The Wilde case precipitated an immense change in British cultural life," the programme's Stephen Fry explained. "Soldiers used to walk arm-in-arm in Hyde Park. They had done for a hundred years. [...] Men would walk arm-in-arm, or arm linked, as they do on the continent, still. And as soon as the Wilde case came up, everyone . . . [sits up very straight, with arms stiff at his sides]. Never touching each other."
posted by Paul Slade at 12:02 AM on November 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Take the fist-bump one step further: forearm cross, where you tap the side of your forearm against that of the other unit, because touching hands is unsanitary. Keeps them at the maximum possible distance without using your hands, also has the handy effect of blocking them with your arm.
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 12:02 AM on November 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's not even that I'm building your horrible future; if I was, I might be able to stop it
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 12:03 AM on November 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Asked to hug his then son-in-law on New Year's Eve Dad totally went with: "I'm not hugging a man, I'm not a faggot." I did a double take (never heard him say the f-word before, just very awkwardly "g-a-y"), I mean, I knew Dad had some "issues" there, but I didn't know they went that deep.
posted by ZeroAmbition at 12:26 AM on November 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


One of the things I love here in southern France (it's a bit more less common in northern France) is seeing young men greet each other warmly. Hands on shoulders, "comment ça va, pote !" and bises (cheek kisses), often followed by the man-hug. North American-style enveloping hugs aren't a thing here; cheek kisses and side-hugs are pretty much the norm for all genders.

I was thinking I too am touch-starved as a long-term single woman, but not too badly, and wondered why, then was greeted by a colleague: cheek kisses here in the South. Same thing, in the north they don't necessarily kiss in offices. I look forward to the 20-odd bises every day; the occasional gentle hand on my shoulder. Also the furballs. Miss Pouncy-Toes in the mornings and Mister Fluffy-Pants Cuddlebug in the evenings, who is like "cuddle me NOW or I will MAKE YOU by CLIMBING UP YOUR SHIRT AND PURRING IN YOUR EAR". It does help.
posted by fraula at 1:31 AM on November 18, 2013


Countess Elena: "I'm still not good at touching people, so I avoid it, not because I don't like it but because I don't know how it should work. I like hugging, being hugged, and so forth, but suddenly feeling someone's bare skin is a shock to me and triggers an urge to apologize. I, um, I don't have an easy time dating."

I'm married, and I still am awkward about touch. Ten bloody years! And I still sometimes feel weird, or apologise. I'm currently in this weird awkward state where I want to be more physically affectionate with a few people (as our relationships have become closer/better/whatever) but I have no idea how to do it. Do I just hug? I don't know! I have a friend who hugs a lot and it's okay when he does it, but I don't know how to initiate it after years of non-touching.

At the same time, I am extraordinarily physically affectionate with my best friend. I pat her hair, hug her, walk close by, without a thought. Same for my daughter.

And for all of this, like elizardbits, woe betide the casual toucher who has not actually earned the right. Casual touching is great, but it's still not 'random people holding hands' - it's simply different methods to show affection. This isn't about how touchy feely peeps should be able to arm stroke an acquaintance, but more about how touch has become a form of affection with strong rules that seem to correlate with sex rather than love.
posted by geek anachronism at 2:28 AM on November 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


My dad and my brother used to do this thing where they keep a seat between them at the movie theatre. And then when they want to make sarcastic comments, they have to lean over to talk to each other.

Because God forbid their ELBOWS touch.

They might still do this. But my nephew might now be in that middle seat, because if a small child is there, it still counts, right?

It annoys me so much. You don't even know.
posted by Katemonkey at 2:45 AM on November 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


So, I travel a fair amount by plane. Not tons and tons, but on average every other month. I opt out of the TSA scanner and get a pat down. It surprises me how much I enjoy it. It's like a little massage. Touch is so important.
posted by Stewriffic at 5:52 AM on November 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


Could it have less to do with homophobia and more to do with the paranoid sense that every stranger is a potential pedophile? I remember growing up in the 70s and being constantly warned about 'bad touch' and the possibility that anyone who offered candy wanted to kidnap me.
posted by BrianJ at 7:27 AM on November 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


As a deeply uncool person, I may well be doing it wrong - but I find the fist bump to be more intimate than the high five. A high five is a quick slap, with no eye contact because you have to concentrate on aiming. The fist bump has to be done relatively gently (otherwise you're just punching each other's knuckles), and you can linger for a moment and make eye contact.

Handshakes allow eye contact, but feel too formal for use outside of business.

Hugs are great, but again no eye contact. You also have a lot more variables to worry about - duration (don't want to be dismissive or creepy), whether to pat, which arms go over or under, how close of a hug your hug partner is comfortable with... This is all navigable, but sometimes you just want to play on easy mode with a fist bump, you know?

I have trouble believing that this is "the least personal form of human contact we have come up with"
posted by Turbo-B at 7:29 AM on November 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Until I'm partnered again, I will never hold a hand, rest against a shoulder, feel another human weight against my side for more than a brief moment.

I am just now realizing that one of the pivotal roles that my (liberal, new-age-y, touchy) church community played for me in adolescence was this.*

I intend this in the most sincere, least jokey way possible
posted by likeatoaster at 9:50 AM on November 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


A remarkable conversation happening here.
posted by megasahd at 10:38 AM on November 18, 2013


So, I travel a fair amount by plane. Not tons and tons, but on average every other month. I opt out of the TSA scanner and get a pat down. It surprises me how much I enjoy it. It's like a little massage. Touch is so important.

Soulmate! Long-lost twin! (Although I mostly do it out of habit and principle now. But the massage is nice too.)
posted by Nomyte at 11:15 AM on November 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Is this decline limited to male-male contact, or was there also more platonic male-female (and male-unrelated-child) affectionate touch back then? I think that if all types of platonic male-* contact were more prevalent in the past, only the male-male photos would stand out to us. The rest would blend in with romantic (and father-child) photos that are still considered "normal".
As a father, I would like to be able to physically show affection to my daughters' friends, but I avoid it even when they initiate it. The stakes are just too high.
posted by Tool of the Conspiracy at 1:54 PM on November 18, 2013


In Britain, where I grew up, the only time you used to see exuberant male physical affection was on a football pitch after a team has scored. All that hugging and kissing couldn't be misconstrued -- we're celebrating!

See also: Barbara Kruger.
posted by vickyverky at 1:56 PM on November 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


My high-school French teacher told me that men in the UK routinely walk arm-in-arm down the street when talking. I know she spent a lot of time all over Europe in her youth, so that must mean she was older then than she let on, and I'm a lot older now than I realized.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 4:06 PM on November 18, 2013


"Intrincate rituals which allow you to touch the skin of other men" Good call.

Martial arts is one of these — most are agressive, but there are some cool outlying styles such as capoeira and aikido, where the emphasis is on dynamics and a gentle touch, not actually fighting.

The most devastating aikido move I've ever seen was made by an absolute beginner. She had been training just for a few weeks: time enough to learn the stance and, with a bit of hand-holding, a basic roll. That day, we had a visitor: a big guy from some foreign dojo — harder style, lots of edges, in contrast to our firm and flexible approach. He insisted in attacking in the scariest, most "realistic" way he could. First time he partners up with her, she just comes and... hugs him. Dude changes completely, and is the nicest, gentlest partner for the rest of the session. Never shows up again. Thank you, Gentle Platonic Touch!
posted by Tom-B at 4:31 PM on November 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


Nomyte: "I completely agree that widespread aversion to casual touch and, simultaneously, being very vocal about your aversion to touch and your generalized loathing of people out in public are very characteristic of American culture."

As I read this thread, I can't help but disagree to some extent. At least in my part of the US, it's not so much an aversion to touch (aside from those individuals who do in fact have an aversion to touch, but those seem to exist anywhere), but an aversion to touch without a purpose. A reassuring hand on the shoulder or even a male-male hug in a trying time isn't looked at askance by anyone. Even as a ritual greeting/goodbye it seems to be generally accepted, at least in the context of a social event among people who are at least casual friends, and was even before the rise of the bro. But it's not for meeting someone you've never met.

Completely idle touch is thought of differently, at least if it is more than momentary contact. It's just not what you do, so people are thrown off at least a little bit. Again, this is how it looks in my part of the middle of the country among the people I know. Don't think we all go around hugging everyone we see on the street, though. Daily encounters merit a handshake if two gentlemen meet, but otherwise people don't touch. It's a thing done among friends, not acquaintances. You could get away with brushing a leaf off of someone or something, but that's about it.
posted by wierdo at 6:09 PM on November 18, 2013


Huh?? I hug my guy friends All The Time. I hug guys I just met often, as a warm farewell and way to say "really great to meet you, hope to hang out again". True that the one-armed "bro hug" is more common, but full two armed hugs go out to recent acquaintences often enough. Robbed "all men" of touch? That's blatant hyperbole.

I get that many people are uncomfortable with touch. I bought my dad a spa massage for his birthday a few years ago, and he declined because it was "beyond his comfort level". (I still give him hugs though!) I recall the MeTa thread where it was argued that clear consent was required not only for giving hugs, but (to a lesser extent) for shaking hands! at mefi meetups for gods sake. Can't have it both ways.

Need a hug? Get in here buddy. I will lift you clean off your feet if you want. Affection and kindness are as contagious as coldness and hate. Be the change.

Signed, 43yo straight southern white guy.
posted by NiceKitty at 6:39 PM on November 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


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