Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Be kindly affectioned...

Why is it that we as Americans, and especially as Mormon Americans (for the most part - and I include Canadians and US in this discussion) have such a hang up about male-to-male "touching"?

I find it a bit intriguing that L and Abelard's recent efforts to define guidelines for MOHOs on what is appropriate in gay Mormon relations have hit a nerve regarding the appropriateness of touching (hugging, handholding, kissing etc.). Don't get me wrong - I am the poster MOHO when it comes to needing such guidelines (just read my recent posts). And, at the same time the recent "encounter" between Max Power and John, has been so refreshing and sweet and exciting to read. There is a huge part of me that is saying: "GO FOR IT! SHOW US HOW IT IS DONE!" as well as a small, almost insignificant part of me that is saying: "PLEASE DON'T DO IT!"

Can we MOHOs have such a thing as proper touching between each other? Why are we so hung-up on things that should be naturally expressed?

I've admitted that I'm a touchy-feely guy. I crave it! I NEED IT! And yet, in this conservative, anal society and culture we live in, there seems to be such unnecessary cultural boundaries that keep us from being able to express those needs, with willing partners.

As I've traveled and lived outside the United States, I've been keenly made aware of how free other cultures are in their expressions of affection toward friends, platonic or romantic. I've lived in southern Europe and traveled it extensively and have come to appreciate and LOVE the ability of that culture to be open in their friendship touching. I have come to intimately understand the power and meaning and importance of having such touching in my life and not being "afraid" to express such things in a physical manner. I have "bonded" with men of the southern European cultural mindset and persuasion, and they have helped me to see the fallacy of my American cultural hangups.

I would venture to say that if young adults, active in the Church, living in Europe, could comprehend the dialogue we are having on "appropriate touching", they would laugh it off as American cultural folly. And mind you, these wouldn't be the young adults of the European culture at large, but of the active Mormon mentality!

The truth in this matter - of what is appropriate in our human needs for bonding - must span cultural boundaries. God is not an North American middle-class male! And if the Church is to be truly for everyone, where do cultural mindsets fit in to such discussions? What is truth in this matter?

Recently, I traveled through parts of South Asia. Astonishingly, even shockingly, I was impressed at how that "culture" expresses man-to-man touching in such an open physical way. I noted numerous instances where men would be walking arm-in-arm, hand-in-hand, hugging and kissing openly with each other. I would notice that with woman-to-woman as well. (What was interesting was to note the lack of physical contact whatsoever between man and woman, married or otherwise!)

I saw young guys and old holding hands and being physical with each other a lot. I know that homosexuality is frowned upon in this culture, so these expressions of affection were obviously viewed as between JUST FRIENDS. And that is the kind of affection I'm talking about.

I was walking along a riverfront that had a promenade with a marble wall railing along the water's edge. This promenade was at least a mile long. And there sat two young guys on that wall railing just inches from each other. They had all the room in the world to spread out and yet they chose to be 1" not even from each other. I took their picture because I wanted to capture the profound imagine in my mind of these two guys.

I was at a Hindu temple and palace where I found myself amazed at three guys holding hands together. I followed them around and observed their camaraderie and spirit of friendship and love between each other. They weren't asking whether it was appropriate or not, or what a pamphlet of guidelines might tell them to do or not do, they just did what came natural and culturally acceptable between male friends.

Now, I realize the gayness of our MOHO situation and the religiosity of our MOHO situation add a wrinkle to these expressions of touch as romantic arousal can so easily enter into the picture (as I've personally experienced), but I suggest that as Americans as a whole (and I recognize I'm stereotyping) we are way too up tight about such natural displays of affection between ourselves and we associate everything within the realm of a sexual context. Why do we do this? Why as a people, as a culture, do we limit ourselves and turn everything into a "sexual" expression? Why have we distorted something that is natural and beautiful and intimate and personal in person-to-person bonding with an "evil" connotation? Why?

I have tried to live my life free of this attitude and mentality - sometimes with great success and acceptance - other times with revulsion and disgust. I struggle with being compartmentalized and labeled because of "cultural" mindsets.

I believe the Lord would have us be open in our expressions of affection with each other. Paul said it best:

"Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love, in honour, preferring one another."

-- Romans 12:10

Let us not be afraid to meet each other and express our brotherly love with each other in ways that are good and honorable and natural - without the unnecessary restraints of cultural mindsets and let's greet each other with a "kiss".
Let us celebrate the natural wonderment of two MOHOs meeting and expressing open affection toward each other!
Let us find the appropriate middle ground that the Lord would have us find in sharing "brotherly love" for each other!


Anonymous said...

i think that deep down inside me there is a touchy-feeling guy, but sadly buried under several decades of repression (read homophobia).

MoHoHawaii said...

I spent all last month in Asia on business. I saw a lot of the kind of same-sex handholding and physical affection that you describe. It was clearly nonsexual but very affectionate. I found it touching.

Our prohibition against (nonsexual) physical affection makes us cold and sour. (North America follows the conventions of northern Europe.)

iwonder said...

I've always hated the culture that forces us (me) to not be able to openly express my (platonic)love to other men, and makes it so that those to whom I would express such, would be totally creeped out if I tried.

It's just so idiotic.


But what can we really do about it? I mean can we really change centuries of socio-cultural conditioning?

Beck said...

SANTORIO: How sad is that, that we allow this homophobia to bury our expressions! I hate it! I refuse to conform! I won't do it!

As I walk down a hallway, be it at work, or particularly at church, I touch people as I go by. I'll tap their shoulder, rub their arm, slap their back, or bonk their head, be they men or women, young or old. But in some way, I'll touch people as I pass. It is a normal and natural response. Of course, I also hug, as previously noted! :) As I am consistent in being who I am, I've found that people accept me for doing that and do not pull back as I am consistently touching, reaching out and saying "I care about you".

Of course, there are negative experiences as well. I once reached out and touched a client's arm once in a very stressful conversation and he jumped back and was so repulsed by my touching him or entering his "personal space". It shocked me how negatively he took this simple incidental touch. I will never forget how horrified and cold he was! And I will never forget that - when we have enough of these negative experiences in our culture, we naturally back off and become repressed.

How sad! I refuse to let such sour homophobic people change a fundamental characteristic of who I am.

Beck said...

MOHO-H: I'm glad that I wasn't imagining it as I traveled in South Asia. At first I felt that maybe my eye was zooming in on that piece of cultural touching expressions, but my wife noticed it, too. It was everywhere and it was so refreshing to see!

Though my travels to northern Europe are limited, I would still see Brits, Germans and Dutch men be affectionate with each other, but to a much lesser degree than Italians and French, but to a GREATER degree than us Americans. Why is that?

Sigh... too bad we North Americans have to be so cold and sour...

Beck said...

IWONDER: The "totally creeped out" factor cannot be used against us to not TRY! Keep trying! Keep being! To allow the few creeped out folks to set the agenda for the mass majority that are really okay with it (per my experience most guys are genuinely fine with it in a natural platonic way) given the chance to recognize the beauty of it (as other cultures have obviously advanced beyond us to recognize and embrace)is to cave to "idiotic" overreaction.

Chris said...

For me, one of the nice things about being gay and having many gay friends is that there is more opportunity for expressions of that platonic love between men. I greet all my gay male acquaintenances with hugs, and many with a kiss on either the cheek or lips. And it's no big deal. But it is very nice. I even have a straight male friend, the boyfriend of one of my good female friends, who always exchanges a kiss on the cheek with me as well.

Sean said...

just to add my own experience in South Asia. I found it as you did. It amazed me to see young men would and could hold hands, sit in the bus with one leg draped over their friends leg, or sitting with such closeness. And the wonderful thing i saw in myself when i saw that was their friendship.

there is a wonderful book that Samantha recommended to me and it is called "And they were not ashamed".

this delightful book spoke of the cultural uptightness that exists in the NorAm culture and that is a part of the protestant puritanism - which comes from the victorian age.

i do think it would be hard overcome our cultural norm. Which, like you, i find very disheartening.

Granted I'm the certainly not the best with being touchy feely, but i want to be, desire to be; however i'm more nervious of the crusty people and their "assumptions" that come from this cold culture of ours.

MoHoHawaii said...

Chris-- I forgot the obvious. Now it comes back to me. Before I came out I touched almost no one. Now I touch a lot. Gay culture is much less hung up about this issue. We can hug and kiss each other socially, just to express affection. It's been so long since I came out I'd forgotten that bit.

P.S. My BF is Japanese. In that culture there is far less touching than even in the U.S.

Here's a shocker: in Japan parents do not hug their children. They would kiss young children goodnight when they are in bed, but that's about it. My BF hasn't seen his parents in several years. They are coming from Japan to visit this summer. I asked him what will happen at the airport when they meet. Apparently, they will wave when they see each other and smile. When they get close he will ask how the flight was. There will be no touching of any kind. No kisses, hugs, handshakes or pats on the back. This kind of freaks me out, but I know they love each other, and you have to make allowances for cultural differences.

As I say to my BF sometimes (usually after we talk about how indirect the communication is in his family), "I'm so Western!"

Beck said...

CHRIS said: "I greet all my gay male acquaintenances with hugs, and many with a kiss on either the cheek or lips. And it's no big deal. But it is very nice."

Yes, that is very nice indeed... I just wish it was more a part of my world...

SEAN: Who wrote the book "Any They Were Not Ashamed"?

MOHO-H said: "Gay culture is much less hung up about this issue. We can hug and kiss each other socially, just to express affection." So my idealic question for the day is: Why does this have to limited to the gay culture? or to any other culture? Why can't it be universal?

I'm pouting and I'm jealous... can you tell? :(

Sean said...

Beck: Her name is Dr. Laura Brotherson.

and here is a link to her website: http://www.strengtheningmarriage.com/

Sean said...

my mistake. she's not a DR.