Note: for the "short version", skip to the bolded paragraph of questions. That's what this post started with. It became a monster. Not my fault. It's just what my sometimes hyperactive brain does. I'm genetically programmed this way, and I wouldn't change it if there were a pill, so there.
SHUT UP AND HOLD ME
OK, I have my fair share of thoughts on the theories of holding therapy or "healthy touch" as it relates to therapy of homosexuality (as opposed to "healthy touch" for victims of physical abuse or therapeutic holding for those with attachment disorders, for example, although I'd guess they're all related to theories of underlying developmental causes of homosexuality), as far as I understand it, which, I've found, is at least considerably more than the average skeptic, most of whom think it's totally nutty when they hear about it, so they don't bother to learn any more.
YOU WANNA TOUCH MY WHAT?
First of all, as far as I know, when done in the "correct" therapeutic way, "healthy touch" or "therapeutic holding" is done with clothing on, is done with at least one objective third party present and with full knowledge of any spouses, doesn't include laying down together in bed, is more about embracing than caressing, is just part of a larger, concerted whole effort to connect with and affirm one's own latent masculine identity, is supposed to include a sort of father-surrogate role for the holder, ideally a straight man (I've heard of a couple who have actually been willing to help a buddy out in that way), etc. It's not the same as cuddling with someone you feel affection for, even without the feelings of attraction by which most of us are motivated to cuddle with someone.
GOTTA BE HONEST: I MISS MY VERSION OF HEALTHY TOUCH
I've said before that I've had friends I trusted and had no attraction to with whom I've cuddled, or who have held me, or I them, in difficult times or just to express affection and trust. As I've had experiences where I've discovered not everyone is good at separating physical contact from sexual urges, I've backed away, but to be frank, I do miss having friends I can just rest my head on or snuggle up with to watch a movie. I do still have friends I can kinda do that with, but they're relatively few, and experience has brought caution, and I miss the broader innocence of what I saw as non-sexual affection, my own perception of healthy touch. I think the world could benefit a lot from more physical connection without always interweaving sexuality into it. There's something calming and reassuring about knowing you can literally lean on someone you trust and give or receive supportive affection without sexual tension or suspicion of motives. It could be a female friend or a guy friend, but there's something about it being a guy friend that's just more...comfortable...or comforting?
I know. Some of you are thinking "HELLO THAT'S BECAUSE YOU'RE GAY!" But I'm not sure that simple statement explains it, if what you're implying is I like it more because I fall for guys because some of the friends I've been affectionate with are those I've not been the least bit attracted to physically. It's been more of a brotherly thing. And yes, I've known a couple of guys who were affectionate with their brothers...though spooning was probably not part of that, let's be honest.
AH-HA! YOU JUST CONFIRMED REPARATIVE THEORY!
Reparatives might jump on this and say it makes total sense that I'd feel more secure and fulfilled cuddling with guys because it has to do with my underlying need for male attachment which wasn't met in "normal" ways, the same developmental hiccup which led to the sexualization of that need: homosexuality. And then I'm supposed to say, "Oh my gosh...that so makes sense! That's why I want non-sexual affection from guys I trust!"
But I can't help but wonder: do straight guys sometimes like to be close to female friends for whom they don't feel sexual attraction? What about if they're the kinda guy who doesn't think he's allowed to think about a girl sexually, let alone touch her? And assuming they're not all weird about homophobia, do they find the same kind of comfort in physical expressions of affection with guy friends, or is a nice cuddle with a female just...different? Female friends are more physically expressive with their affection towards each other. Is cuddling with a guy friend different for them even when they're not attracted?
THE QUESTIONS THAT GOT THIS WHOLE, LONG POST STARTED: WHAT IF YOU PUT A STRAIGHT GUY THROUGH HOLDING THERAPY?
And I've always speculated: what if you take a pent-up straight guy, tell him his strong sexual urges towards girls are based on unmet feminine connection, tell him he needs to surrender to his need for the love and affirmation of women when he's felt rejected by women his whole life, have him hold and be held by women, some not so attractive, some smokin' hot, tell him it's natural that he should get an erection but "what goes up must come down" but that his response will decrease as he gets used to the experience, and he needs to just experience the affirmative and supportive contact and let his defenses down and just take in the affirming energy this woman is giving him, breaking down into tears if necessary over the years of rejection and resentment? Would he experience great healing and confidence from this, not to mention demystifying and desexualizing physical contact with women? Wouldn't he experience a healthier sense of sexuality and diminished cravings for physical contact with women if he knew he was going to regularly have these intimate holding sessions with women which taught him to see them as people with whom to connect rather than as sexual objects?
EVEN IF IT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH BECOMING STRAIGHT
I'm not saying "healthy touch" is useless: I'm just saying...I think it's more of a mindtrick or filler than therapy. The difference between me and most poopoo-ers of holding therapy is that I say, "Yeah, I don't think it's making anyone less gay, but if it's a tool that helps someone live more happily in his marriage or keeps a guy from tapping his foot in bathroom stalls or helps someone focus on finding a wife rather than dating guys, and his wife (if he has one) isn't threatened by it and supports him doing it, then why concern myself with it? Even if I don't believe it's doing what he thinks it's doing, and even if he keeps doing it his whole life rather than having the therapy just work and fulfill him, if it's helping him live happily with what he believes to be absolute truth, then why should he stop?"
BUT BUT BUT...
Of course, those who've bought into it and believed the stories from its practitioners about it diminishing their homosexuality and/or developing their masculinity and heterosexuality and only to look back years later regretting they convinced themselves of something which wasn't true after all, might have just cause to raise caution to others they don't want to see waste their time like they did. And I've gotta be honest, it grosses me out to think someone I loved and saw myself potentially having a great relationship with might trade our companionship, affection, commitment, mutual improvement, and investment for a possible lifetime of what might be substitutional coping mechanisms, including holding therapy, just in order to live a heterosexuality-congruent lifestyle.
But hey, if a guy truly believes that a same-sex relationship is absolutely not an option for him, for personal or religious reasons, or he believes he has unmet needs which are fulfilled by holding and other therapy, and regular therapy and/or holding brings him greater peace in his marriage or search thereof and confidence as a current or prospective husband and father regardless of whether he's any more heterosexual overall than he used to be, then I have to set aside my dismay. I have to set aside the nagging thoughts, "But I would have fulfilled that for you along with all the love I could offer and a possible lifetime of joy together as productive partners and parents without the need for holding therapy if only you had been able to believe it was right."
And then there's the fact that I've always (well, in adulthood, at least) believed partners or spouses rarely if ever are or have been absolutely everything to each other anyway. To expect your spouse to fulfill every single one of your needs is unfair and unrealistic, I think. Men usually still need time with the guys. Women usually still need ladies' nights. Even in a gay partnership, I think I'd still want my guys' nights alone with buddies sometimes. There are emotional benefits to having various relationships of different kinds, and what one couple may find in each other, another must seek in good friendships to find their balance.
And yeah, it's "weird" for most of us to think of people "getting their needs met" through physical affection outside of their marriage. I think most women would not be OK with their husbands going to even chaperoned "holding nights" where they'd be essentially cuddling with other women, nor would husbands be keen on their wives going to a holding group with a bunch of men, but the comparison isn't direct, and the situation for a marriage involving at least one same-sex attracted spouse is unique. So isn't that really up to the couple and their own assessment of what will make their marriage successful? Who am I to question their own, personal, uniquely tailored pursuit of happiness?
OK, O-MO, SO YOU SUPPORT 'HEALTHY TOUCH'?
As a method of increasing one's straightness, I think it's mostly bunk. As some sort of healing connection with one's own latent but damaged masculinity, I think it's mostly bunk. As a "safe" way of finding some affection and connection with trusted men without resorting to sex when a guy believes he is to refrain completely from any romantic or sexual involvement with other men, I think you should portray it as a sexual repression defuser or male affection session rather than trying to claim it's a straightening practice 'cause I know of just one part of you it's likely to straighten, and the rest...well...I can't presume to know any better than the guy who does it whether he's any less "gay", but let's just say I don't see a lot of guys finding their heterosexuality and leaving the holding therapy. I know several guys who have been to Journey Into Manhood weekends and recommend them who say they enjoy healthy touch and "feel better and more centered" after it but don't believe it has anything to do with making anyone straight.
But as a way to fulfill certain drives for affection or trust- and friendship-based intimacy in a safe way to reduce stress from sexual appetites or even tension around your self-perceptions and confidence, if it works for you, and it's done "correctly", and if your spouse--if you're married--supports it, I've gotta say I'm OK with it even if it does seem odd to people who don't agree with religious beliefs against homosexual relationships that anyone would "need" to do that rather than just pursuing a relationship which wholly fulfills that need. Religious conviction about the sinfulness of all same-sex relationships is powerful, and you're not going to just change someone's mind about that, so they're going to do whatever it takes, even things you think are "weird", to live within that context, and hey, if it's that or not finding ways to live within their self-imposed boundaries, why not let them do the best they know how?
As I said, even if it is a mind trick rather than actual therapy, a mind trick that helps you find temporary confidence and connection and reduced anxiety is probably better than living without anything to cope, right? Or would you rather they suffer in order to "recognize" what they're denying themselves of and date men, thereby validating your decision to do so or reducing the confusion of outsiders who don't understand that these men aren't really, truly straight, so they stop hounding you to do the same with statements like, "If only you tried like so-and-so does..." I think there are other ways of learning confidence, masculine identification (if that's necessary for mental health), interpersonal intimacy, and anxiety reduction more permanently, but gosh, until you've found those, I'm not comfortable telling anyone to refrain from doing...whatever works and doesn't harm anyone else.
Thoughts? Research? References?