A touching story

By Peter Whitcombe

"The men in my group hug pretty easily. Last week, we decided to have a drink out at a cafe. Afterwards, I felt really good hugging in public".

"I've studied massage. I've always like to touch, to hug men... or women".

"My father never hugged me, When I cried I was told to never cry again!. I never have. I hug my children regularly. And I once had a great fear of hugging other men".

"The first time I saw the Russian Olympic athletes kissing on lips, I freaked out. Then I realised that I had never touched another man except to compete. I envied the Russian men. Now at least I can hug another man,(although I'm still not ready to kiss...)"

Thai men hold hands with each other, Russian men kiss. In many cultures, it's totally okay for men to openly show affection for each other. Here men seem to be only permitted to shake hands, knock each other around on the sports field, and kill other men in war.

We are not permitted to hold hands, hug (except very briefly), kiss or otherwise show any tender, caring feelings for each other.

Ours is one of the most violent cultures in the world. Is there any connection between our fear of man to man affection and our violence? As we begin to examine who we are, how we behave, how we relate to ourselves, with children, women and with each other, I see that one unexamined area in relationships is how we touch each other.

Are we happy with this behaviour? Do we want to explore new options? For me, my emotional wellbeing is influenced by the quality of touch in my life.

Why are these so called feminine qualities devalued in our culture? Mainly by men I might add! Why do men disown their own tenderness to maintain an appearance of strength and independence? A real man only needs enough physical closeness to unload his sexual tension.

I have heard a lot of women complain about being the soul source of nurturing for men. They are beginning to ask why men don't do more nurturing of each other.

My childhood was very painful and confusing. I was picked on for my gentle nature and belittled for the most wonderful part of me: my playful, tender and affectionate self. By the time puberty hit, I had got the message that I had the choice between two mutually exclusive paths. I could be a "Real man" - John Wayne, and shut down my tender, loving, playful feelings; not only towards my male friends, but even towards my female friends whom I must now begin "making".

Or I could be a "queer", and cut off my real feelings from almost everyone.

There are three beliefs commonly held by men in our culture which tend to isolate us from one another physically:

1. Touch equals sex;

2. Sex/touch is either hetero or homo - we can only choose one; and

3. Hetero is good, homo is bad.

I disagree with all of these above. My experience has shown me that. there are lots of ways to share touch without necessarily leading to sex.(eg; hugs, massage, holding, cuddling.) We can choose to share sex and/or affection in any mode hetero/homo/bi. So a person can prefer to be sexual with only one gender and still be affectionate with both or vice versa. I suspect that many men. are ready to explore the possibilities that lie beyond. One potential problem is that affectionate touch can trigger emotional and/or erotic feelings, which can cause anxiety.

Because we have been taught that it is improper/immoral to be sexual with other men, and assume that erotic feelings will lead to sex, we tend to be afraid of those feelings in ourselves or one another.

For me the operative word in intimate sharing is CHOICE. We can choose when, how, and with whom we wish to act on the feelings we feel. In order for people to truly have this choice about the kind of contact we have that is mutually agreeable we need to develop sensible communication skills; to ask truly for what we want, to be respectful to others needs, to be able to set clear boundaries with one another about what we are open to at any given moment. To the extent that men are forced by social norms to conceal our affection for one another, we cut off a vital part of our loving nature.

I believe that repressing our loving energy for one another forces the energy to emerge as heightened violence. I would like to see the next step in the Men's Movement to be a conscious dialogue among ourselves about how we feel about ourselves and about how we feel about our ways of touching and showing affection.

Are we truly happy with the range of options presently acceptable? What new conscious choices might we make to connect more whole heartedly? I would like all men. to have permission to hug, kiss, hold hands, caress, massage, dance, sleep together and be as tender, playful, sensuous, and/or sexual as each man would like.

I invite the beginning of this dialogue in our men's groups presently open to men around our country.

The very life of the planet may depend in part on men's ability to fully embrace our tender, caring selves.

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