17 October 2010

Touch me healthily

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.


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.


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.


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.


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?


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?


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?"


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?


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?


BLB said...

*I've been thinkin' about this subject for a while. My theory is always "Never initiate a cuddle/hug/touch therapy." However, I won't refuse it if offered to me.
*I think the reason this kind of manœuver will fall short with me is that physical affection will always be trumped by emotional affection, in my opinion.
*Also, I've got no daddy issues, so it will really fall flat.

Original Mohomie said...

Not so fast, now: it's not just about daddy issues, even if you really don't have any (although some would insist you could've had a rejection experience you don't remember and have never fully healed from even if you think things are fine now...nevermind whether every straight man in the world can probably identify something similar), and the physical act of touch therapy is only a representation and tool for the emotional work needing to be done, so...sounds like you're still a candidate. Convenient, right? :-)

BLB said...

Mental gymnastics to explain cog-dis, eh? It's like an all new religion! Hmm, maybe I should give it a try.

Joned Rahadian said...

I live with my mother most of my life due to her divorce when I was 1. So Practically, I have no father figure. Perhaps that's why I always like older boys.

I always find a hug (a real hug, not just a Christian side hug or one arm hug) comforting my heart. I feel much better.

Unfortunately I dont get that much from my friend. Hugging or showing affection is not really a culture in my country.

I agree with O-Moho. I dont think healthy hug will change sexuality. If it is done correctly, It will diminish our sexual urge.


jimf said...

> 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?

My guess is that this is going to be a fraught situation **no
matter what**. Nobody can be absolutely certain of another
person's feelings or intentions, or even of the future
trajectory of their own feelings or intentions.

As a gay man, I would be very uncomfortable getting touchy-feely
with a straight woman, no matter what her professed intentions,
and no matter how "good" her past behavior, because I would be
phobic about the mere possibility of a line being crossed (and
an implicit request being made) someday. (Been there, done
that.) A friendship is always tested to the breaking point when
it becomes necessary for a friend to answer a friend's sincerely-made
request with "No" (been there too, on both sides).

In the case of a straight man and a straight woman who ostensibly
have no sexual intentions toward each other, it would be
the straight woman's turn to be suspicious and fearful of
the possibility of her male friend's intentions not being,
or not turning out to be, what they were currently professed
to be.

> 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?

There ain't no kinda guy like that (pace all you church-goin' dudes),
unless he has psychological problems of the sort that have been addressed
in the past by Dr. Brian G. Gilmartin. And in that case, the girl probably
doesn't want to get anywhere near him anyway. But if he's attractive --
if he's givin' off those signals, however unconsciously or unintentionally --
"Danger, Jill Robinson!" ;->

> 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. . .

I'm ignoring the "then" part of this question, because the "if" part
is a non-starter. This is the most fraught combination of all,
because there are **enormous** social barriers, even in the secular
world, and there's **always** homophobia. Even for two straight men
who **know** with certainty that they're both straight, this
would be a thorny issue, but with a gay man and a straight man --
forget it!

I had some experience with this not so long ago, with a straight
guy (20 years younger than me) with whom I was becoming very
friendly and toward whom I had been attracted from the moment
I met him and for whom I was gradually developing very strong
feelings (unbeknownst to him, at least in the beginning).

For a straight guy, he was a very touch-feely kind of dude,
and he would do things like grasping my forearm when I came
to his house to visit him (yes, he invited me home -- he's
married, too).

The **beginning of the end** of our friendship came when I decided
I'd be bold enough to return a bit of physical affection in
what I thought would be an innocent and non-threating way --
by sort of briefly ruffling the top of his crew-cut head as
a greeting. Freaked him right out! Of course, he knew I
was gay at that point (he knew I was gay when he was touching
my arm). But I was givin' off the wrong signals, apparently, and
he picked right up on it. (There was more to the rapid
denouement of our friendship, which I won't go into.)

jimf said...

There's a somewhat strange and slightly scary guy named
Jack Donovan, who has also written under the name Jack
Malebranche ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack_Malebranche ).
He wrote an interesting book called _Androphilia_
He's emotionally and sexually attracted to men, but **don't**
call him "gay"! He's an **androphile**! ;->

Anyway, one of his theses in that book is that a "properly"
masculine gay man **should** be able to cultivate straight
male friendships and win the trust of such friends. **But**,
he says, it's an absolute principle of his that physical
contact may **only** be initiated by the straight friend.
The gay friend may **accept** such affectionate gestures from
the straight friend, but must never **initiate** them, at the
risk of alienating the straight friend's trust. He says
it's exactly analogous to the protocol demanded of a
straight man towards the wife of a straight male friend.
He may **accept** a brief hug or a peck on the cheek from
his friend's wife, but he must **never** initiate such
overtures, at the risk of alienating **both** members of
the couple.

I can see his point here, but the price isn't worth it to me.
I basically don't have any straight male friends -- or not
really intimate ones, anyway. (There might be one or two
straight males who would be hurt and offended to hear me
say that I don't have any straight male friends. Depends
on what you consider to be a "friend", I guess.)

The one person I'm completely relaxed being physically affectionate
with (and who is completely relaxed around me) is another gay
man, whom I've known for more than two decades, with whom
I have had sexual contact in the past -- though the last time
was more than 15 years ago. With him, there are no issues.
(And he currently has a partner, going back more than a
decade. Still, there are no issues. Though if I **were** tempted
to try to reestablish explicitly sexual contact, there probably
would be issues. It might even ruin the friendship.
But I've never even been tempted to do try that.)

With anyone else, gay or straight, male or female. . .
it's a no-fly zone, I'm afraid. It's a shame, but there it is.
I get my physical affection from people's dogs (though I've
never had any desire for one of my own).