Sunday, April 30, 2017

When Did Touch Between Male Friends Become Taboo?

Are we too afraid of going outside our own comfort zone to risk having the kind of friendships we long to have?

Mark Evan Chimsky, ContributorWriter and editorial consultant

Why don’t men friends touch? I’m not, of course, talking about intimacy between male lovers, but the kind of physical expressions of affection between male friends that was once common in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. According to Richard Godbeer’s eye-opening book, The Overflowing of Friendship, it was not unusual for platonic male friends to write tender letters to each other and to hold hands, cuddle, and even sleep in the same bed. Instead of such behavior “causing talk,” it was accepted by their wives (or girlfriends), families, and the wider community as a healthy, even necessary, aspect of their bond. Intimacy was understood to be beneficial to men’s well-being, and it was common for men to share both emotional and physical closeness. “Early Americans,” writes Godbeer, “exalted love between men as a personal, public, and spiritual good.”

But that aspect of male intimacy has all but disappeared from our culture. Godbeer calls his book “in part an elegy for a world of love, and even the possibility of love, that we have sadly lost – let us hope not forever.” These days, it’s rare to find straight male buddies who do anything more physical with each other than a “bro” hug. And even though, as a gay man, I feel that society gives me a free pass to be more “emotional,” more “physically demonstrative,” I am hesitant to be physically expressive with my closest male friends, especially the ones who are not gay.

Apparently, we live in a culture where it’s okay to have a best buddy, as long as we refrain from almost any physical contact with him. As one friend says, “Everyone craves physical touch but sometimes they’re unwilling to act on the need.” Why did something that was so natural and prevalent between friends centuries ago become virtually nonexistent today? Has all physical contact become sexualized? When did touch between male friends become taboo?

Sex between men wasn’t codified as a distinct medical concept until 1869, when the word “homosexuality” was coined. Before that, labels really didn’t exist the same way they do now. Today, in our more “evolved” age, each sexuality is boxed in its own separate silo. But in the 1700s and 1800s, the lack of formal labels in some ways made it easier for men to be physically close without having their sexuality immediately branded.

To be sure, there were men who engaged in physical intimacy that was sexual. In his book, Godbeer discusses the intense relationship between Alexander Hamilton and his close friend John Laurens. In a footnote, he quotes author William Benemann, saying “while there is ‘no irrefutable proof that Laurens and Hamilton were lovers,’ there is ‘sufficient circumstantial evidence to render indefensible any unqualified pronouncement that they were not.’” Still, from what we can gather, a majority of the male friends who wrote each other letters of affection and held each other in long embraces appeared to be platonic friends.

Then, due to a perfect storm of scientific investigation, expanded legislation, and the scandalous Oscar Wilde trial in 1895, when the flamboyant genius was found guilty of homosexual conduct (“gross indecency”), the age of innocence of chaste intimacy between men began to fade away. Men suddenly became self-consciously aware of how their own loving friendships might be mistakenly perceived by others. At this same time, the death of this kind of platonic touch was hastened by the medical community’s designation of homosexuality as a mental disorder (according to some historians, this was, ironically, a “progressive shift” that was initially intended to protect gay men from criminal prosecution).

When I look at early-twentieth-century photographs of male friends in loving embraces or positions that would raise eyebrows today (a man sitting on another’s lap, or a man with his legs casually draped over his friend’s knees) I feel a twinge of sorrow for what we’ve lost. (Check out Brett and Kate McKay’s article “Bosom Buddies: A Photo History of Male Affection” on the Art of Manliness website.) If I can share my deepest thoughts and feelings with my best male friend, why should physical contact be off-limits?

To be sure, I bear some responsibility for not rebelling against this new status quo. The fact is, when I was growing up, it was rare to get a hug from my dad (at 92, he’s become much more mellow and hugs freely now). But the combination of being taught to refrain from physical contact – as well as the worry of being misconstrued if I attempt it with a friend – makes me feel awkward about initiating it.

Is this how other men feel as well? Are we too afraid of going outside our own comfort zone to risk having the kind of friendships we long to have? Friendships that allow us to express ourselves without fear of being judged – by our friends, our community, and yes, ourselves?

We are not so different from our male brothers of another century, but our times are. If we live by labels, then we die by them, too. And something has died. The way we interact has certain (sometimes self-imposed) boundaries that didn’t exist before. But can we break free of them? Is there a chance we can defy this modern taboo of male touch and feel at ease expressing our friendship both physically as well as emotionally?

I’d like to think we haven’t lost forever the essential, open-hearted ability to connect with our male friends with a long hug (and not the kind that involves a slap on the back), or a caring hand on the shoulder or knee, or even spooning as we rest and talk. (I was heartened by a study in the U.K. that found that 93.5% of heterosexual male college athletes spooned when they shared a bed with a teammate.)

However, for most men in the U.S., it seems that such physicality will instantly be “read” as an attempt at foreplay. This often inhibits even the spark of a conversation about the subject from taking place. In order for contact to occur, do we have to state upfront that it is about love and not lust? Even if promises are made, will there be a constant wondering if a line will somehow be crossed, whether intentionally or not? Do we allow ourselves to risk, to trust, or have we drifted so far from seeing male friendship in physical terms that we will allow that aspect to become extinct?

My hope is that we in the U.S. will become relaxed enough with physical contact to make it part of our comfort zone with our male friends. After all, isn’t true intimacy the ability to be on the same page, to respect boundaries, and know that our friends will do the same? Can we bring back an age of innocence when it comes to consensual touch?

When I think of all the embraces that are not happening because of shame, and all the tender letters that aren’t being written just because a man thinks it’s not “manly” to express his feelings to a male friend, I get sad. And mad. If things are ever going to change, we have to be the ones to change them. It’s scary, but you know what? It’s time.

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My Buddy
Life is a book that we study
Some of its leaves bring a sigh
There it was written by a buddy
That we must part, you and I
Nights are long since you went away
I think about you all through the day
My buddy, my buddy
Nobody quite so true
Miss your voice, the touch of your hand
Just long to know that you understand
My buddy, my buddy
Your buddy misses you
Miss your voice, the touch of your hand
Just long to know that you understand
My buddy, my buddy
Your buddy misses you
Your buddy misses you, yes I do
Written in 1922 by Walter Donaldson, “My Buddy” was adopted during WWII by the troops as a way to express their deep attachment to each other.

“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

Why I Have A “Partner,” Not A “Husband”

When I post an article, it doesn't mean I necessarily agree with it but want to stimulate thinking and conversation . . .

Why I Have A “Partner,” Not A “Husband”
Words are powerful, and adopting terms previously used to constrain and police us is dangerous.

Johannus M. Steger  |  04/26/2017

Yes, in December I married the man who is legally my “husband.” There is no denying that, and we were bond by legal stance and by the actual cords we had that tied our hands together. (Pagan wedding ― he’s an atheist, I am not.)

There is nothing wrong with the term, “husband.” However, there is everything wrong with the concept. Throughout the history of humankind, the words “husband” and “wife” have been used in the legal marriage of a man and a woman. Now, don’t get your knickers in a twist, this isn’t one of those Anti-Gay Marriage posts… bear with me.

This term was one of ownership. Throughout history, a husband owned his wife. Now, being two men ,  we escape this reality, right? Surely, these social standards are not presented upon the bonding of two presumably white males. (I say presumably because I’m Native American, but as my doctor would tell you ,  I don’t get enough sun. What she means is I get no sun.)

Well, guess what, you’re wrong. We are not excluded from the binding of social terms and the society’s baring of them. This is the complex answer of why I want people to stop asking why I say, “my partner,” and not “my husband.” Because I am not his husband, nor is he mine. We are not in ownership of one another. Neither of us “wears the pants” in the family. I am not his “man-wife” or whatever crazy analytic bullshit heterosexual people have cooked up for us.

But it goes deeper than that.

A husband and a wife often have a dynamic  ― one of which we do not fit. Now, there are a lot of modern hetero couples who share in the wonderful world that my partner and I do. You know that world… the one where you and your significant other actively share in each other’s lives rather than melding into one uni-person where everyone starts referring to you as “You,” instead of “you two.”

There is this weird dynamic that still exists where the husband brings home the bacon, and his dutiful wife does the dishes, and mops the floors. If that’s for you, great, but it’s not MY reality.

I am all for the happy family, I fully support you doing whatever is right for you. Just please support me in being... not that.

My partner and I are a team, first and foremost. He supports me in my endeavors, he helps me out with my disability, we both take care of chores, we both cook, we both bring home the bacon  —  and hell, sometimes we bring it home as a joint effort. We are the gears inside a clock and our love is the oil, and we will continue to tick and tock and enjoy our union together.

Neither of us feels the need to “be the man” in our relationship, and god forbid you ask me about our sex life, I will physically spit rainbow dust on you. I don’t know how, but I will find a way. Don’t tempt me.

It’s never about that for us. It’s about compromise, both of our needs being met, and finding success together. We don’t have a struggle for the top of the dynamic, we don’t argue over finances. (I know that sounds shocking — but it’s true.) We do argue… it would be abnormal if we didn’t, but when we argue it’s over stupid things that are quickly forgotten.

In full truth, sometimes I will cutely refer to him as “hubby” as a pet name, but 99.9 percent of the time I will say “my partner” or “my significant other.” I am in no way ashamed of him. I am not hiding anything. I am truthfully telling you that there is no role in our relationship. We are a unit, not a boss/employee scenario.

Now, I am not telling you to go out and change the way you talk about your significant other, that’s your business and the words could mean something entirely different for you. I am saying, just for the sake of having it out there, that it’s honestly none of your business why anyone says it one way or another.

Stop. Making. Other. People’s. Lives. Your. Business.

Because they are not your business. If it has no impact on your life, then let it go. Seriously, do not make me start playing Frozen.

Let it go.

I understand the curiosity. We are, after all, only human. We seek knowledge when we feel confused, and we seek to hide when something is so different we fear the change of it. We are horribly fearful creatures. This likely has to do with the fact that evolution has us walking upright with no protection on our stomachs. But I digress…

The short answer is that my partner and I both prefer the term “partner.” It’s gender neutral, it’s inclusive, it doesn’t denote ownership, it’s just a good word.

Try it for a spin, if you want. I don’t honestly care. This post is for educational purposes, really.

If you have any questions  —  about writing, I hope ― then let’s chat! If you don’t, then let me summarize: Historical terms have bad reputations, and my partner and I don’t feel comfortable with the term “husband.” We are just happier the way we are, we are partners and that’s how we like it.

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Hasan Minhaj at the White House Correspondents Dinner


Grab Bag Sunday

Friday, April 28, 2017

Friday PM

Have to admit I've got a thing for boys in nature, especially when it comes to memories of the time our bodies began to change and we discovered what they were for and what we could share with those discovering the same things at the same time . . .

“–Anne Carson, Bakkhai


Thinking Pic of the Day

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Famous Bisexuals

Gossip is fun. Just for fun, here's one example . . .


(April 3, 1924 – July 1, 2004) was an American actor and director. He is hailed for bringing a gripping realism to film acting, and is widely considered to be one of the greatest and most influential actors of all time. A cultural icon, Brando is most famous for his Oscar-winning performances as Terry Malloy in On the Waterfront (1954) and Vito Corleone in The Godfather (1972), as well as influential performances in A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), Last Tango in Paris (1972) and Apocalypse Now (1979). Brando was also an activist, supporting many causes, notably the African-American Civil Rights Movement and various Native-American Movements.

As Darwin Porter reported in the Sunday Times of London in 2006, "Marlon Brando was bisexual and voracious. The roles he lived off-screen were even more provocative than those he created in films.”

Pushing Dead (Movie)

Because I still like James Roday . . .

When a struggling writer, HIV positive for 20+ years, accidentally deposits a $100 birthday check, he is dropped from his health plan for earning too much. In this new era of sort-of universal care, can he take on a helpless bureaucracy or come up with $3000 a month to buy meds on his own?

Starring James Roday, Danny Glover, Robin Weigert, Khandi Alexander, Tom Riley

Nico Tortorella Comfortable Identifying As Bisexual

The “Younger” star recalls his first same-sex experience.

By Curtis M. Wong

Nico Tortorella said he sees himself as “emotionally fluid.”

Nearly six months after coming out as “sexually fluid,” Nico Tortorella is still answering questions about his sexuality with an ease that’s unusual among male celebrities.

In a new interview with New York Magazine’s Vulture blog, the 28-year-old “Younger” star once again clarifies that his sexual desires don’t always align with a traditional identity. He traced his unorthodox view of sexuality back to high school, when he had his first sexual experience with another man. His partner, he said, was a closeted friend who was struggling to come to terms with being gay.

“This is going to sound f*cked, but I knew that he was really struggling. And I was like, ‘Look, if I hook up with him, maybe it will make things easier for him,’” Tortorella said. “We hooked up. There was no assplay at all. It was just dick-to-mouth here.”

The friend, Tortorella recalled, had a very emotional reaction to the experience. “He was shaken up about it,” he said, “and I was like, ‘It’s fine. What happened last night doesn’t make you the person that you are. Why are you putting so much weight on it?’ And when that happened, I was like, ‘Oh, I’m thinking about this differently than everyone else is thinking about it.’”

Interestingly, Tortorella now says he’d prefer to identify as “emotionally fluid,” and sees himself as more bisexual than anything else. “The more I’m having these conversations, the more comfortable I am identifying as bisexual,” he said. “I’ve been so hesitant about using the word for so long, because it does have a negative connotation in our generation.”

The actor, who recently opened up about being in a same-sex relationship with hairstylist and Instagram personality Kyle Krieger, then added, “People fought for so long for that ‘B’ in LGBT, and I refuse to be the person that’s going to throw that away because I think I have a more colorful word.”

Tortorella won’t be shying away from the subject of sexuality anytime soon. His podcast, “The Love Bomb,” features plenty of intimate discussions about gender, sex and relationships. The actor is also reportedly at work on a TV series that will tackle similar themes.

"I’m Bisexual And You Treated Me Like Crap"

Dear Lesbians And Gays — I’m Bisexual And You Treated Me Like Crap. I’m done with you.

Beth Sherouse, Ph.D., Activist and writer
03/09/2017 02:13 pm ET

My dearest gays and lesbians —

I’ve loved you since before I even knew you. From a young age, I was drawn to your transgressive sexuality and gender expression, your courage to be yourselves in the face of oppression, your fabulous rainbows and your sensible shoes.

I’ve marched in your parades, joined and organized protests for your rights, volunteered with your local groups and worked for your most prominent national organization.

I’ve loved you fiercely and advocated for you tirelessly. But I’ve finally accepted the fact that you will never love me back because I’m a bisexual woman, and you have shown me time and again that you are not here for me or my community, despite the numerous disparities we face in comparison to you and the non-LGBTQ community.

You have shown me time and again that you are not here for me or my community.

When I was a newly out baby bi, I co-founded the first ever LGBT student organization at my Southern Baptist university with this beautiful and charming lesbian classmate with whom I fell madly and angstily in love. She was the first of many who told me I should just “choose” to be a lesbian.

Then there was the time I was at a drag show and the performer came up to me and asked me why I was at a gay bar. I said “I’m bisexual” into her microphone, and she cackled wildly and said, “Oh honey, we all know that’s just a stop on the way to gay town.”

In grad school, a “straight” female friend repeatedly called me greedy and suggested I was promiscuous whenever I mentioned my bisexuality, even though we slept together several times. But she wasn’t gay, and apparently bisexuality wasn’t a valid option.

Then there were the countless times one of you told me my identity wasn’t real, was just a phase, or that I wasn’t committed to the cause because I could choose to pass as straight.

There were the countless times one of you told me my identity wasn’t real.

Too many times, I thought you might be right, that my identity was something strange, that maybe I was fooling myself about my lifetime of attraction to people across the gender spectrum. And I sincerely thought if I just kept fighting for you, for all of us, that I would prove myself worthy of your love and acceptance.

Then I took a two-year fellowship working at the nation’s largest LGBT civil rights nonprofit. I knew going in that, like any large movement organization, they had a rocky past with both trans and bi communities, and a tendency toward centrist politics. But I thought maybe I could effect change from within. What a silly, naive bisexual I was.

By far, the most pervasive biphobia I have ever experienced was during my two years working at the Human Rights Campaign. When I started in 2014, the Human Rights Campaign website didn’t have a single bi-specific resource, much less a topics page about one of the four identities it claimed to represent.

The staff who identified as bisexual were rarely empowered or allowed to do bi-specific programmatic work, if they were even out to their gay and lesbian colleagues.

I met bi community leaders, and tried desperately to heal the deep rifts and end the organization’s longstanding neglect. I believed HRC could do better for a group that constituted half of the LGBTQ community.

In my two-year tenure, with the support and feedback of a small crew of wonderful coworkers, I created the content for a bisexual page on the HRC website, wrote three of the five publications for the page and edited a fourth, all co-branded with national bi advocacy organizations, wrote nearly all of the bi-related blog content and op-eds, organized an employee resource group for bi, queer, pansexual and fluid (bi+) coworkers, worked with the diversity staff to bring in bi community leaders to do trainings, developed and conducted my own bi community cultural competency trainings for board members, staff, and volunteers and coordinated all of HRC’s programming for Bisexual Awareness Week.

When bi community leader Robyn Ochs came to do a training with HRC staff, a cis white gay man who directed the organization’s entire field operation said, “You know, I just never think about bisexual people.” No shit you don’t.

Six months have passed since I left HRC, and it seems that a handful of blog and social media posts during Bisexual Awareness Week last September is the only thing the organization could muster in my absence. Half of my out bi+ coworkers (love y’all!) have left and the others don’t have positions that allow them to do the kind of work I was able to do.

It seems clear that what started with one angry bisexual attempting to effect change from within also ended when that same angry bisexual left.

To be fair, HRC isn’t by any means the only national LGBTQ organization with this problem. Several national groups have a habit of using “gay and transgender” as shorthand for the LGBTQ community, completely erasing us. Although a few of our national LGBTQ organizations have openly bi+ staff who are doing amazing bi-specific advocacy, our numbers are dwindling and virtually no one else is doing bi work in these organizations except for those few brave souls.

To put it bluntly, when bisexual people aren’t around to advocate for ourselves and push for change from within, that work simply doesn’t get done, because the vast majority of y’all lesbians and gay men don’t give a shit about us. And yet, we still fight for you and with you.

When Amber Heard got the shit beat out of her by Johnny Depp and the media blamed her bisexuality, you were silent. When right-wing weirdos launched a public attack on a native bi+ leader who spoke at a White House event, more silence. When gay icon Boy George went on a blatantly biphobic Twitter rant, still nothing.

In the words of esteemed and dedicated bi+ leader Faith Cheltenham, former president of BiNet USA and a personal mentor:

Until bisexuals stop being the unmentionables of the LGBTQIA community we will continue to be the punching bags of both gay and straight, with respite nowhere to be found. If bisexuals believe there are circles of influence that they are systematically prevented from accessing to their detriment, they believe correctly.

Until bisexuals find equitable representations of their organizations in litigator roundtables, national and state policy roundtables, legal policy teams, national and state transgender policy roundtables, rapid response communications groups or faith working groups, we should protest our exclusion.

Lesbians and gay men, this angry bisexual is tired of being your afterthought. I’m exhausted by showing up for you, time and again, with no reciprocity. I’m tired of facing more biphobia from organizations that claim to represent bi+ people than I do in the straight cis world.

Lesbians and gay men, this angry bisexual is tired of being your afterthought.

I’m tired of trying to prove that I’m worthy of your love while you seem to forget or deny that I exist.

Bisexual people are tired of being told that our voices, our needs, our lives are a distraction from the “real” issues, when we constitute half of what you claim as your LGBT community.

And more than anything, I am tired of watching my fellow bi+ advocates — beautiful, talented and resilient people — burn out, break down, get fired for standing our ground and take our own lives because you make it so fucking hard for us to feel safe and affirmed.

Even after 15 years of being out, my voice still shakes sometimes when I say the word “bisexual” aloud to one of you, and I get a little jolt of adrenaline, bracing for the snarky comment, the rolled eyes, the dismissal of my existence.

I’m exhausted by showing up for you, time and again, with no reciprocity.

Let me be clear about what is at stake here, lesbians and gays. Bisexual people are literally dying because of your neglect, erasure and exclusion. We are sicker, both physically and mentally, than you are because more of us are closeted from our communities and our healthcare providers.

Our youth face more bullying and harassment and higher risk of suicide than their gay and lesbian peers do, and we all have less social support.

Sixty-one percent of bisexual women such as myself will be raped, beaten or stalked by our intimate partners — and as Heard’s experience shows, our identities will likely be blamed for our own abuse. For the numerous bi+ community members who are also transgender, disabled and/or people of color, these staggering disparities are compounded.

I watched HRC make its own bed in 2016, once again ignoring the voices of the LGBTQ community’s most marginalized members, and dumping its resources into mind bogglingly ill-conceived endorsements, most notably the political campaign of a candidate who waited until the last possible moment to “evolve” on marriage equality (sorry that job didn’t pan out for you, Chad).

I knew the time was coming when bisexuals, queers, transgender people, people of color, undocumented and other marginalized groups within the LGBTQ community would be asked to once again push aside our needs, close ranks with white cis gays and lesbians, and overlook our differences — you know, for the sake of preserving marriage equality.

And sure enough, here we are, fighting for scraps from a table at which we have never been welcome, and once again being told that our needs — our very survival — don’t warrant attention, visibility, funding or resources.

As the LGBTQ community faces an uncertain future under Donald Trump’s presidency, I’m giving up on you, gays and lesbians. I don’t love you the same way anymore. You broke my heart too many times. I will no longer fight for the liberation of people who actively perpetuate my community’s oppression.

I’m too busy just trying to survive.

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Gushing Flow Pic of the Day