News & Blogs Touch Isolation: How Homophobia Has Robbed All Men Of Touch (1 Viewer)

wizehop

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For the sake of discussion...

Touch Isolation: How Homophobia Has Robbed All Men Of Touch
Homophobic prohibitions against male touch are hurting straight men as well.
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By Mark Greene / goodmenproject.com

“Boys imitate what they see. If what they see is emotional distance, guardedness, and coldness between men they will grow up to imitate that behavior…What do boys learn when they do not see men with close friendships, where there are no visible models of intimacy in a man’s life beyond his spouse?” -Kindlon and Thompson, Raising Cain
(With thanks to BRETT & KATE MCKAY)


Recently I wrote an article titled The Lack of Gentle Platonic Touch in Men’s Lives is a Killer in which I asked people to consider the following:

American men, in an attempt to avoid any possible hint of committing unwanted sexual touch, are foregoing gentle platonic touch in their lives. I’ll call it touch isolation. Homophobic social stigmas, the long-standing challenges of rampant sexual abuse, and a society steeped in a generations old puritanical mistrust of physical pleasure have created an isolating trap in which American men can go for days or weeks at a time without touching another human being. The implications of touch isolation for men’s health and happiness are huge.



Gentle platonic touch is central to the early development of infants. It continues to play an important role throughout men and women’s lives in terms of our development, health and emotional well being, right into old age. When I talk about gentle platonic touch, I’m not talking about a pat on the back, or a handshake, but instead contact that is lasting and meant to provide connection and comfort. Think, leaning on someone for a few minutes, holding hands, rubbing their back or sitting close together not out of necessity but out of choice.


Yet, culturally, gentle platonic touch is the one thing we suppress culturally in men and it starts when they are very young boys.

While babies and toddlers are held, cuddled, and encouraged to practice gentle touch during their first years of their lives, that contact often drops off for boys when they cease to be toddlers. Boys are encouraged to “shake it off” and “be tough” when they are hurt. Along with the introduction of this “get tough” narrative, boys find that their options for gentle platonic touch simply fade away. Mothers and fathers often back off from holding or cuddling their young boys. Boys who seek physical holding as comfort when hurt are stigmatized as cry babies.

By the time they are approaching puberty, many boys have learned to touch only in aggressive ways through rough housing or team sports. And if they do seek gentle touch in their lives, it is expected to take place in the exclusive and highly sexualized context of dating. This puts massive amounts of pressure on young girls; young girls who are unlikely to be able to shoulder such a burden. Because of the lack of alternative outlets for touch, the touch depravation faced by young boys who are unable to find a girlfriend is overwhelming. And what about boys who are gay? In a nutshell, we leave children in their early teens to undo a lifetime of touch aversion and physical isolation. 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.

In America in particular, if a young man attempts gentle platonic contact with another young man, he faces a very real risk of homophobic backlash either by that person or by those who witness the contact. This is, in part, because we frame all contact by men as being intentionally sexual until proven otherwise. Couple this with the homophobia that runs rampant in our culture, and you get a recipe for increased touch isolation that damages the lives of the vast majority of men.

And if you think men have always been hands-off with each other, have a look at an amazing collection of historic photos compiled by Brett and Kate McKay for an article they titled: Bosom Buddies: A Photo History of Male Affection. It’s a remarkable look at male camaraderie as expressed though physical touch in photos dating back to the earliest days of photography.

The McKays note in their article the following observation:

But at the turn of the 20th century, … Thinking of men as either “homosexual” or “heterosexual” became common. And this new category of identity was at the same time pathologized — decried by psychiatrists as a mental illness, by ministers as a perversion, and by politicians as something to be legislated against. As this new conception of homosexuality as a stigmatized and onerous identifier took root in American culture, men began to be much more careful to not send messages to other men, and to women, that they were gay. And this is the reason why, it is theorized, men have become less comfortable with showing affection towards each other over the last century.

Spend some time looking at these remarkable images. You’ll get a visceral sense of what has been lost to men.

These days, put ten people in the room when two men touch a moment too long, and someone will make a mean joke, express distaste, or even pick a fight. And its just as likely to be a woman as to be a man who enforces the homophobic/touch averse stigma. The enforcement of touch prohibition between men can be as subtle as a raised eyebrow or as punitive as a fist fight and you never know where it will come from or how quickly it will escalate.

And yet, we know that touch between men or women is proven to be a source of comfort, connection and self-esteem. But while women are allowed much more public contact, men are not. Because how we allow men to perform masculinity is actually very restrictive. Charlie Glickman writes quite eloquently about this in his article, Escape the “Act Like a Man” Box. Read it. It’s a real eye opener.

"As much as gay men have faced the brunt of homophobic violence, straight men have been banished to a desert of physical isolation by these same homophobic fanatics who police lesbians and gays in our society."
Male touch isolation is one of many powerful reasons why I support gay marriage initiatives. The sooner being gay is completely normalized, the sooner homophobic prohibitions against touch will be taken off straight men. As much as gay men have faced the brunt of homophobic violence, straight men have been banished to a desert of physical isolation by these same homophobic fanatics who police lesbians and gays in our society. The result has been a generation of American men who do not hug each other, do not hold hands and can not sit close together without the homophobic litmus test kicking in.

The lack of touch in men’s lives results in a higher likelihood of depression, alcoholism, mental and physical illness. Put simply, touch isolation is making men’s lives less healthy and more lonely.
Recently, when visiting my 87 year-old father for a few days, I made a point to touch him more. To make contact. To express my affection, not just by flying a thousand miles for a visit but to touch the man once I got there. It may seem simple, but choosing to do so is not always a simple thing. It can raise a lifetime of internal voices, many of which speak of loss and missed opportunities. But I hugged him. I put my arm around him as we shared a cigar and cocktails. I touched him whenever I walked past his chair. Each evening, we would watch a movie. As part of that nightly ritual, I would sit in the floor, take off his shoes and socks and rub his bare feet for while. It is something I will remember when he is gone. Something I did right. Something that said to him, I love you. Spoken on the same deep touch levels by which he connected with me when I was a toddler sitting next to him, his strong arm around me as I watched the late show fifty years ago.

This touch thing is so crucial. I kiss and hug my son constantly. He sits with me and on me. I make a point of connecting with him physically whenever I greet him. The physical connection I have with him has been transformative in my life teaching me about my value as a human being and a father.

We need to empower men to touch. We need to fix our sexually repressed/obsessed American culture and put an end to distorted and hateful parts of our culture that allow homophobic people to police all men everywhere down to the very tips of our fingertips.

It’s too late in my life for the impact of these stigmas to be fully undone, but I have great hope for my son. When we collectively normalize gay life and relationships, my son, whatever his sexual orientation turns out to be, will be free to express platonic affection for others, be they men or women, in any way he sees fit. The rabid homophobes who have preached hate in America for far too long will finally be silenced, and men will be free to reach out and touch each other without fear of being labeled as somehow less of a man.

It’s a dream for a better America I can already see coming true.

For those who are interested, here are a few sources on the issues I raise here: In an article in Psychology Today Ray B. Williams writes about the central role of touch in living happier, healthier lives:

Daniel Keltner, the founding director of the Greater Good Science Center and professor of psychology at University of California, Berkeley, says “in recent years, a wave of studies has documented some incredible emotional and physical health benefits that come from touch. This research is suggesting that touch is truly fundamental to human communication, bonding, and health.” Keltner cites the work of neuroscientist Edmund Ross, who found that physical touch activates the brain’s orbitfrontal cortex, which is linked to feelings of reward and compassion. Keltner contends that “studies show that touch signals safety and trust, it soothes. It activates the body’s vagus nerve, which is intimately involved with our compassion response…”

A clear indication of how central touch is in our emotional and cognitive development can be seen in the range of studies examining touch and infants (both human and animal), here summarized in an article titled The Importance of Touch in Development found on the National Center for Biotechnology Information’s web site. The article notes:

Developmental delay is often seen in children receiving inadequate or inappropriate sensory stimulation. For example, orphaned infants exposed to the bleakest of conditions in eastern European institutions exhibited impaired growth and cognitive development, as well as an elevated incidence of serious infections and attachment disorders (1) Much evidence now points to the importance of touch in child development and suggests the possibility that these orphaned infants are not suffering from maternal deprivation, per se, but from sensory deprivation, and more specifically a deprivation of mechanosensory stimulation.


Read more about the central role touch plays in human communication in this amazing article in Psychology Today titled The Power of Touch. https://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/201302/the-power-touch
 
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Tude

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Interesting article.

I guess I rather grew up with a disfunctional family. Dad was just that - a title - he had little interaction with immediate family - his bar families knew him better. The Mom was a powerless and oppressed woman who worked constantly for family and house and then side jobs to bring in more money. There was no emotional support or touching/hugging at all. Ha,Think I hugged my Mom the first time when I was going through a bad time - 90's? Anyway us kids made it through fine but what a loss of contact (we grew up in the fields and swamps and not in that house and it was good out there).

I see now that my siblings family life is NOTHING like what we grew up with - and that is very good. Seems we all learned from what we missed and made it better. My nieces and nephews are golden. Lots of hugs and emotional talks between them and parents. They are all very close and this is also good. :)
 

CelticWanderer

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I came out as bi to my friends and I dont get hugs anymore. Or joking pats on the back. or anything. They say they do't care about it but they sure do act different.
 

Mankini

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Psychology Today had the results of a great study a while ago: They found that homeless men feel the same amount of emotional pain due to shunning and rejection as a person would with a broken arm...This done through EEG and PET scans. ...I dont know. I'm pretty huggy. I think it depends alot on how integrated you are into the whole hippie community thing; and what your cultural background is. Latinos tend to be more demonstrative for example...One of the major problems in the US is the lingering vestiges of old Puritan/WASP cultural roots. No dancing, singing, fun, or affection. ...??...
 
P

Pope Fnordarious V

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I think there's a tangentially similar dynamic between men-women touch. A lot of guys hypersexualize women to such an extent that they never experience any platonic touch--they automatically interpret any touch as an expression of sexual interest.

I came out as bi to my friends and I dont get hugs anymore. Or joking pats on the back. or anything. They say they do't care about it but they sure do act different.
Woww some friends.
 

Matt Derrick

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I came out as bi to my friends and I dont get hugs anymore. Or joking pats on the back. or anything. They say they do't care about it but they sure do act different.
wow yeah, that's pretty fucked up! get new friends maybe? i kinda know how you feel, since i remember when some of my friends came out when i was younger and i was really shocked how people in our punk community (this was in Los Angeles) reacted to them from that point. It wasn't always negative, but definitely different, which I found really discouraging, and is actually one of the reason "gay rude boys unite" is one of my favorite leftover crack songs, since if you listen to the lyrics of that song it perfectly describes that situation in punk scenes.

I think there's a tangentially similar dynamic between men-women touch. A lot of guys hypersexualize women to such an extent that they never experience any platonic touch--they automatically interpret any touch as an expression of sexual interest.
so i'll have to admit i think i still suffer from this problem. there's only been two girls i could 'cuddle' with comfortably since they were really into that, and they were basically the first people that taught me about platonic cuddling (which i wrote about here in the early days of stp). i mean, i don't even bother anymore because even to ask is to come off weird or with some kind of ulterior motive because of my gender.
 
S

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Another shitty aspect of homophobia is the guys who would rather be hanging out with and being close with other guys seek out women who they end up resenting and abusing. These types of guys also do a lot of drugs or become involved in some kind of addictive behavior like working too much as a result of not confronting their homophobia and feelings of shame for wanting to be with men.

My father was like this and we hated it when he was home. As much as he must've. He secretly saw guys on the side unknown to me until I was about 18. He's a closed, emotionally fucked up person with crohns disease now. He has no friends. He treats my mom like shit. Basically waiting to die.

My brother is gay so the family dynamic unearthed that thankfully. He has a full social life and is happy.

I've dated several of these types and it ends up being an abusive fuckmess almost every time.
 
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Odin

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Thanks for this article wizehope.

It is so informative and eye opening. I definitely come from one of those families that through my childhood did not nurture affection. There was violence in the home and regular GOOD physical contact was rare if nonexistant. A few short years of sharing beds when very young siblings mostly comforted me in the youngest years from the "boogey monster in the night". When perhaps reassurance from parents would have done a world more to a small child.

Teaching normal human family affection and interaction among all members male and female was not part of my parents skill set... ha.

Soon enough after leaving the "toddler" years into ... what six? seven? I was later given the "living room couch" as a bedroom to myself. A walkman one Christmas received from an aunt newly arrived from overseas my companion. Listening to, (haha my memory is working today...) listening to B96 or some other Chicago radio station and songs from three non blonds or ace of base... along with my one Iron maiden casset tape. Strange musical exposure for a kid... specially since soon after up to my preteens rap and grunge would also through neighbor friends enter my experience. OH an I wont forget my fathers fondness for UB40...

Though the point is this side shuffle carelessness of treating a child.

It's Funny how there was money for large holiday partys with cognac and crystal goblets brought over from the motherland. Yet not enough money ever to keep the father and mother figure from bouts of rage at each other or delving into a spiral of hate that leads to a broken home; children neglected, psychological damage done.

The divisions in my family today can only be described as a type of effected insanity...

In the end money never made any of them happy and bankruptcy and struggle to make ends meet, further isolated each member while making perfunctory opportunities to justify rage at a child that did not conform. Sending him away when convenient with they're lies.

Interesting how... that has developed in my psyche...

Anyway... also an example.

The oldest, was first subject of many old school tactics in the early years from my parents and as such would take it out on the next two oldest. Often a hard punch in the knee would be the contact I received for annoying him... the kind that makes you feel sick when it hits your funny bone.

My transgression; just wanting to watch a tv show or observe him playing a video game. Other arguments would fast delve into a beatdown and as I was a number of years younger I was at the disadvantage then...(not anymore interestingly...Im bigger now)

The father... yea there was period of time where I would sit by the foot of a sofa during the late night show with leno...

There were also times when I would hide in the dryer machine after getting a bad spelling grade on my report card. The taste of the belt and the rage of a male voice a nightmare I tried to avoid.
Spelling wise... hehe perhaps my bilingual heritage and nervous disposition led to sub par performance perhaps.

I understand these things on an instinctual level. And although I never was exactly subject to the type of horrors of abuse some children experience. (media stories and examples from the most violent of violent of society).

The unique mix of anger, religious ferver, physical punishment, neglect and confusion to a child take a toll.

(I'm jumping around typing this... but I recall someone with smarter words than me let me post)

I heard this guy in the zeitgiest documentaries I believe and just googled this page... saved to read today.

EDIT: In the zeitgest documentaries... Gabor Mate' quotes this guy Winnicott below... before I posted thinking it was Mate'.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gabor_Maté_(physician)

http ://aminotes.tumblr.com/post/10437804440/human-nature-sapolsky-mat%C3%A9-wilkinson-gilligan

The great British child psychiatrist, D.W. Winnicott, said that fundamentally, two things can go wrong in childhood. One is when things happen that shouldn’t happen and then things that should happen but don’t. (…)

the ‘bio-psycho-social’ nature of human development which says that the biology of human beings depends very much on their interaction with the social and psychological environment.


To this day my older sibling is blatantly a homophobe... with anger issues comparable to the father. A single parent with abusive issues that were duplicated with his family... and absent my presence sometimes... I believe would have been magnified.

Oh and the father... now distanced and neglected by his children...though he is in comfort with his social circle through second wife supporting him... I don't know I recently last few years just stopped trying to relate or talk to him.

There is anti lgbt sentiments in all siblings participating in/with religous justification to a lesser degree... I could only imagine if any of my siblings were to find themselves other than straight I would be the only one with acceptance.

As for me...
I find myself uncomfortable with direct male contact often... rarely the clasp on the back or lightning fast hug with someone I explicitly trust and or a jolly celebration of intoxication. More so this article opens my eyes to contact and meaning of it between platonic male friendship. And physical contact in general. The interesting gulfs between friends from different backgrounds.

Also hyper-sexualization of touch is something I myself am guilty of perceiving. In past relationships the overt nature of needing comfort and confusing all physical contact and sexual need as love has in a way perhaps led to they're failures.

Though I have never been, never will be and abhore a physically abusive relationship... I have felt hyper sensitive to abandonment when a womans feelings have changed and I felt rejected on many levels. Even if after an attempt has been made to assure that is not so...

Damn... this what happens when I get a few hours of normal sleep and cut the booze out. I type to much. Heh...

I want to post this... but I gotta go brush my teeth or something. Plus I believe I just short circuited a brain cell or two and I don't have enough to spare. ...

Well first.
Also to mention. My mother abused at the hands of the father. Picked up his exact methods towards the children. Religious stricture through a I "own" this human mentality towards kids led her to her own bouts of rage. And once I was grown old enough to raise arms in blocking rage it did nothing but encourage spiteful hateful words when her ire was raised.

Funny now... she older and fragile... and the odd visit to her after an absence brings her rushing towards me for a hug and kiss on the cheek... one that I should not be uncomfortable with sometimes am. Though I try my best.

I'm gonna conclude this with the strange culmination effect on me.
The more I found myself seeking my family to show some semblance of societal/lgbt/race/intelligent tolerance and peaceful coexistence the more resistance I have encountered. This has in effect isolated and distanced me.

Of course I don't fully share my views with them. At least my siblings kinda know I am not a religious/ organized christian and open to lgbt rights and many ideas that espouse a better society. (though jesus has many good things to teach and the inherent ...possible divine nature of us all keeps me hopeful that i can drink a beer with him, buddah, elvis and einsiten some day lol)

Though as I'm saying this has isolated me... and at the same time I am finding difficulty to strike away again all on my own.

SUre I can pander to my family and to an extent keep intouch. I even have inklings that younger siblings are if not disillusioned with the born again religion they are not completely blind to the ill effects of fanaticism and emotional and physical abuse and misapplication on the family structure.

...

..

I don't know this was a bit exhausting to write. ... .. and even now I feel kinda uncomfortable sharing hehe...

But it's important people realize the way families and society raises children... have a huge impact on what those kids capabilities and dysfunctions and participation in the future will be.

normal physical contact and the understanding of those interactions is important I see for everyone...

I see now that my siblings family life is NOTHING like what we grew up with - and that is very good. Seems we all learned from what we missed and made it better. My nieces and nephews are golden. Lots of hugs and emotional talks between them and parents. They are all very close and this is also good. :)
Thats is very good. :)

I came out as bi to my friends and I dont get hugs anymore. Or joking pats on the back. or anything. They say they do't care about it but they sure do act different.
It is unfortunate... I know I want to change the way my reaction is to platonic physical interaction. Hopefully people can educate themselves and change.

Another shitty aspect of homophobia is the guys who would rather be hanging out with and being close with other guys seek out women who they end up resenting and abusing. These types of guys also do a lot of drugs or become involved in some kind of addictive behavior like working too much as a result of not confronting their homophobia and feelings of shame for wanting to be with men.
My brother??....



Damn this was difficult to think through and type. I kinda feel even now weird and embarrassed sharing.

There has to be a better way though.


Sorry for grammer and format... I'm posting before I change my mind.
 
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Mankini

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Womens company is good sometimes. But there are things about them that force me to go running to my male friends. I will not shop. I wont follow a woman around for seemingly endless hours while she browses through clothes, gifts, antiques, or what have you. I enjoy their company, but oftentimes they just dont want to do 'guy things'. The ones who do: the Unicorns: I salute you. You are a paragon. So, when I want farting, drinking, crude filthy humor, burping, guns and offroading, guy friends. And when I seek the soothing, extravagance of a womans company, then hopefully women friends are free. Intimacy can be cultivated: it need not be a sine qua non.

Masculinity and femininity are a joy and make the world wonderful.

Men should reject the societal pressure to exaggerate their masculinity: Women should reject societal pressure for them to be feminine and ladylike. Do, and be what you feel like.

Ultra-macho is off-putting and annoying: I say if you're feeling androgynous or metrosexual, then so be it. Fuck societal norms.
 
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Odin

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On a side note... I have to wonder what my grandparents were like to turn my parents into such... eh. I never knew my grandparents and most of my extended family is estranged as well.

... As for contact and cuddling... yes I am and am not completely comfortable with it. I mean going out for a night with a buddy and then both of us passing out on a bed together after a drunk... platonic... is not so much a problem. I suppose what I am not used to is the casual public displays perhaps?

And that is a shame as the photographs linked in the article here show. Men in the military, buddies in western style saloons... photographs of friends on the beach. That arm in arm even siting next to each other legs overlapped. IT's just normal human contact.

For modern society to somehow ostracize such behavior because of a current of homophobia is really tragic and sad.

We are a social species and denying our basic interactions is harmful to society as a whole.

My younger siblings no matter they're ideology are good for hugs. And I have a few military friends I deff will pick up in a bear hug next time I see.

Free hugs. The truth is out there... I want to believe.
 
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Kal

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I'm not the touchy feely type but that does not mean that I won't pat you on the back or even wrap an arm around you gay or straight it really depends on how well I know you.
 

Ridire

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I never really had anything close to a real male role model growing up within my family. When I was very young, my grandfather and I were very close and he'd hug me, kiss me, and carry me around on his shoulders. My grandma always said he married into the family just to be able to raise me. My mum and her parents had a falling out, and she took me away from them and married a complete idiot who did a number on me growing up. I sought comfort in men outside my family to make up for that, and I was surprised at how affectionate they got with me.
It kinda freaked my parents out that I was feminine, willowy, and perpetually in the company of much older men they didn't know who would hug me and tell me I was worth something, but for all the stigma of it they were probably the best thing to happen to me. I was never touched inappropriately by them or spoken crassly towards, which is more than I can say for my stepdad, and I learned a lot of valuable life skills from them that my parents were neglecting to teach me. One of them is actually the reason I found the courage to come out as trans. It's just kinda funny, I'm simultaneously very cuddly and super edgy about contact, because contact in my house meant being abused while contact outside it was very welcome but had to be done in private so nobody would assume the worst about what were always platonic, almost father-daughter relationships.
 

EphemeralStick

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Great article, thanks for posting! Similar to what @CelticWanderer has said, I often notice after coming out to most straight guys the reaction is always one of them becoming vastly uncomfortable around me.

"Oh, I'm not gay. It's cool you are, I just don't like it when guys hit on me," as if just because I'm into men it instantly means I'm going to be interested in them.
It's a bit annoying but I try to keep my sexuality to myself whenever I'm around a group strangers. Mainly for the reason of I don't enjoy having to have the same conversation over and over again. It's really limited my social interaction with most straight guys but oh well.
 
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