October 16, 2017

I Wanna Hold Your Hand: Being Physical In A Sexual World

couples-holding-hands-at-beachThere’s a lot of talk about sexuality these days.  Whether it’s about sex outside of marriage, LBGT issues, pederast priests, celibacy as a lifestyle, or gender change – everyone has an opinion, and most opinions are heated.  Let’s take a step back from sexuality and consider instead physicality.

We as a society are far too sexualized.  Too many choices and behaviors are thought of as sexual when they are really something else.  Young children are being forced to consider issues of sexual identity when they should be working on getting along and growing up.  Devout, restrained, and modest people are told that they are repressed and need to get in touch with their own sexuality – and presumably talk about it every chance they get.  People who aren’t very interested in sex of any kind are barraged with voices telling them that they have to “self-identify” as something or other, whether they want to or not.

But sexuality is only a part of us – I’d even say a small part.  It can color other aspects of ourselves, but it is not the only determiner of who we are.  My intellect, my conscience, my perception of humor, the acuity of my senses, my talents – some of these may be affected a bit by my gender but not much by my sexuality.

Why has sexuality taken center stage these days? Freud and his philosophy are the facile answer, but I’m not sure if he is a cause or an effect.  It may be that technology has had as much impact as philosophy.  Because of the technology that we now enjoy, our lives have much less “physicality” than our ancestors’ did.  And living isolated from other bodies affects us.  We are not just intelligences carried around by a fleshly apparatus that any year now will be replaced by something more efficient; we are an inextricable blend of the physical and the spiritual.

Physicality was more easily satisfied in pre-modern times.  Travelers shared a bed with other customers of the inn.  Children shared beds with siblings; parents slept with their children.  Babies were more often breastfed and for a longer time than is typical now.  Kids played games involving physical contact – Red Rover and jump rope, cat’s-cradle and clapping rhymes, not X-box and Mass Effect.  Grown-ups danced together, hand in hand with both men and women.  More workers touched and manipulated physical objects in their work than they do now.  More workers touched each other, even if it was just a brush of hands in exchanging a cooking pot or a tool.  Many adults felt bare earth with bare feet as they worked.  Women gave birth at home, with female friends and relatives in attendance.  Sick people were nursed at home by family members for long periods of time; dead bodies were laid out by relatives on the kitchen table.  People smelled stronger and more individual than they do today.

Even our religion, for many of us, used to be more physical than it is now:  incense, food and drink, bowing, kneeling, standing, crossing ourselves, chanting – now these are often replaced by sitting in chairs with isolating armrests and listening to either an emotional music performance or an intellectual sermon.

The physical world used to impinge on all of the senses all of the time.  And that’s as it should be.  We are physical beings.  We were made so by God.  We eat, sleep, make love, and defecate.  We cuddle for warmth and comfort.  These things are all healthy and satisfying –and not sexual.  We have a need for physical satisfaction of all kinds, not just the sexual; we must have it to be healthy.  In our digital, cubicle-dominated modern world, we are starved for physical interaction.  Because we’re starving, we try to satisfy basic needs for contact, comfort, and belonging –which the surrounding culture tells us to do through sex.

Don’t misunderstand me.  First, I’m not idealizing older and more difficult times.  I wish we had more folk dances, but I like having my own hotel room and not having fleas.  Second, I know that there are specifically sexual needs and always have been.  Meeting those needs has always provided pleasure, intimacy, and the perpetuation of the species.  I also know that not everyone will be driven to express and satisfy these sexual needs in the same way.  But that’s not important right now, to quote Leslie Nielsen – I’m not talking about an ideal past or about genuine sexuality.  I’m talking about the misguided message we get from our society that all physical needs should be met sexually.  Really?  The kindergarten boy who likes to hold hands has chosen a gay lifestyle?  The teenage girl who finds comfort curling up in bed with a girlfriend to talk about her troubles needs to be a lesbian to do so?  When did these become sexual activities?  Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

We’ve fought hard for equal rights in the last century, in many cases with success.  But we still peg and stereotype people cruelly:  not by race or gender so much, but by sexuality.  I remember the lament of a young male ballet dancer I knew: “Do I HAVE to be gay to be a ballet dancer?  ‘Cause I kind of like girls . . .”

For our society to become healthier and more balanced, we have to consider physicality as a separate need from sexuality.  Although we often find each other difficult, hot, smelly, and loud, we fulfill each other in many ways.  And although creation is dangerous, extreme, and uncomfortable, we were made to interact with it.  People who long for physicality, who need to touch and be touched, should not be expected to satisfy that longing only sexually.  Attempting to meet all one’s physical needs through sex shows not only a misunderstanding of human nature but a real lack of imagination.

Everyone will have to come to terms with sexuality, but as adults and in private, considering desires, experiences, and conscience.  Most people, judging by statistics, will chose to be heterosexual and more or less monogamous.  Some will feel drawn to alternative forms of sexual expression that may or may not be allowed in their societies.  Some will also, for part or all of their lives, just not care much about sex at all.  But whether they are having sex or not, are culturally “normal” or not, they all need physical touch; they need to see, hear, feel, and smell people around them.  They need to be hugged and jostled and patted and curled up with.  And they shouldn’t be forced to buy the satisfaction of that need with sexual coinage.

Comments

  1. Maybe I overlooked it, but I think you left another category of folks off your list in the last paragraph: people such as me who believe the Bible teaches sex is for marriage only, we’ve never been married, therefore, we have never had sex, and yes, we’d like to be married and would like to have sex.

    I think one of the biggest misconceptions among Christians about adults who have remained celibate past their 20s is that God granted us with a “gift of celibacy” or “gift of singleness,” whereupon, they assume, God took away every last speck of our sexuality and desire for sex; this is not the case.

    Celibacy is not the same as asexuality: celibates want to have sex, but have made a choice to refrain, for whatever reason (for many Christians, it is to follow biblical teachings about sex). Celibates are not anti sex, and do not lack sexual desire.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > Maybe I overlooked it, but I think you left another category of folks off your list in the last paragraph:
      > people such as me who believe the Bible teaches sex is for marriage only,

      QUOTE: “Everyone will have to come to terms with sexuality, but as adults and in private, considering desires, experiences, and ****conscience****.”

  2. People are too obssessed with sex, and think any physical contact is connected with it. In the Bible, people were embracing and kissing a lot, and with no reference to sex.

    And yet, we’d rather rewrite the Bible than admit it. Where Paul says “Greet one another with a holy kiss” (1 Corinthians 16:20) some translations change it to read “Give each other a handshake.” Something is lost in the translation.

    (I understand that the church’s liturgy used to include the Holy Kiss until people were using it as an excuse to smooch their sweethearts, so they deleted it. )

    It really opened my eyes to what our culture thinks, when I and others were greeting one another with a hug, but one guy balked. He said “Men don’t hug, they shake hands.” If only he knew the origin of the practice. The handshake originated to prove non-hostility, showing they had no weapon in their hands. They were saying “I won’t kill you. At least for now.”

    I’m a hugger and don’t care what people think. That may make me part bear, LOL!

    • Richard Hershberger says:

      “Where Paul says “Greet one another with a holy kiss” (1 Corinthians 16:20) some translations change it to read “Give each other a handshake.” ”

      Seriously? That is some combination of sad and absurd. I wonder: the people who put out such things: do they imagine that they read the Bible literally?

      • I’m no fan of paraphrase, but you can see how a less-informed reader might get the wrong idea. A footnote, pointing out the necessary social context, would be ideal.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      The handshake originated to prove non-hostility, showing they had no weapon in their hands. They were saying “I won’t kill you. At least for now.”

      There was a barbarian tribe in an Edgar Rice Burroughs pulp novel whose traditional greeting was to announce “I CAN KILL YOU!” then give it a try on the spot….

  3. Very insightful! It is strange that as we become more obsessed with sexuality we are becoming more manichaeistic. It makes sense indirectly. In gnosticism, sex was a means to the divine. In an odd way, sexual obsession enforces the notion of the physical realm as evil and the goal of life to become gods. That may be the serpent’s temptation reaching its fruition: the humanity meant to be physical creatures are estranged from even themselves by becoming bodiless deities. It reminds me of things I’ve read by C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton, which I can’t recall at the moment.

  4. Your comments regarding religion are spot-on, too. As religion has become less physical, preachers are spending a disproportionate amount of time talking about sex.

  5. Prodigal Daughter says:

    It’s been more than a decade since I was single, but when I was, I experienced exactly what you talk about here: a lack / starving for physical contact. I lived in a city far from my family. My friends were my family. I remember one time being at church and one of my male friends touched my back in a kind, friendly manner. My physical reaction stunned me precisely because it was NOT a sexual reaction. My back tingled at the touch and I realized that I was starved for physical touch. To meet that need in a non-sexual manner, I would treat myself to a massage every now and then. And, when my girlfriends and I hung out, we often massaged each other’s shoulders, etc. as a means of friendship and fulfilling non-sexual physical needs, though we probably were just begging for someone to rub our shore shoulders. It must sound strange to read this, if you have never been starved for physical touch, but I can reassure you, it was a legitimate need that we sought to meet in legitimate ways.

    Now I am a married mother and I have plenty of physical touch and nary a minute to myself. Thank you for this great reminder about how we need each other and how we are tied to creation, Chaplain Mike.

  6. Prodigal Daughter says:

    CHAPLAIN MIKE, PLEASE DO NOT publish my previous post. I’d like to remove my picture first!

  7. We’ll see how this plays out, but I think you just gave my marriage a huge shot (caress) in the arm.

    Thanks, Damaris.

  8. It is not like this in all cultures. I remember the first time I hung out with some of my Arab friends. The guys greeted each other with a kiss or man-hug, and as we drank and celebrated, it was not uncommon to see the boys lounging across each other, or even holding hands. It was different for me, but seemed much more healthy than the physical isolation that seems to characterize Western gatherings.

    • I had the same experience in West Africa, Dr. F.

    • I grew up as an MK in south Asia. Same thing there. Cultures definitely vary. I think in the west it’s not only modern developments that have confused the physical with the sexual; the puritans and the Victorians also moved us in that direction early on.

    • Me too, there are some of my dearest Muslim guy friends in Bosnia that I have no compunction to kiss when I go back. In America, I stand a respectable 3 feet from other men and offer a handshake. Or if dear brothers in Christ, a loose hug. Having said that, I recoil at the nonchalant obscenity of our Miley Syrus culture; I long ago determined I just don’t fit in here anymore. For example, like last evening. We host homeless families at church – I have a Santa beard (and girth). But never know what to do when a little girl runs up to hug me, unless it has been cleared with her parents first. Many of these kids have been abused by family members. Our diocese – thankfully – has strict rules on touching. And yet it often borders on the antiseptic. In any event, it is disturbing to live in a culture where touch somehow implies sex, and we have to think twice before hugging back.

    • Healthy?! A culture where men grow up not knowing any woman that they’re not related to?! If you like Arab culture, you’re gonna love prison.

  9. Thank you so much for posting this. Very well stated. Very well said.

    Last year when there was a controversy about an Iowa wrestler who forfeited a state tournament level match rather than wrestle a girl, Al Mohler came out with a post that I had to respond to. I wish I had stated as eloquently as you that not all touch is sexual. Wrestling is a martial sport and is about as non-sexual as it can get. I have two daughters who wrestled boys in high school, and I can assure anyone who is interested that it is most definitely non-sexual touch. It is unarmed combat (which some may feel is inappropriate for girls, but that is beside the point), and not sexual at all, as many seem not to understand.

    Thank you for posting this. I appreciate it.

  10. In a virtual world, perhaps we have lost the distinction between touch and sensation.

  11. David Cornwell says:

    What a wonderful post; thank you.

    We have attempted to spiritualize our Christian walk to the point that we many times forget the sacredness of the physical. And everything you have written here makes testimony to it’s centrality in the story of creation, redemption, and resurrection. Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, says Saint Paul. Jesus came to us in human form, born of woman in circumstances that would make us squirm today. He was as fully human as any of us.

    So– physicality is holy, and we must strive (? bad word sometimes among some of us) to keep it that way. It is not easy because we are constantly flooded with images and entertainment and celebrity that seek to make it otherwise. Physicality reduced to sexuality turns the holy into hell with constant untold and far reaching consequences.

    The other night, on the late side, I was changing channels looking for a movie to watch and accidently hit on Francis Ford Coppola’s movie “Bram Stoker’s Dracula.” For some reason this movie has escaped notice by me all these years. It was luscious gothic color and fantasy carrying along the story so full of lust and blood. I did not watch it to conclusion because Marge finds these kind of stories drifting into her dreams (leave Freud out of this). But one line spoken by Anthony Hopkins (Van Helsing) stuck with me, when he says in best voice, “Civilisation and syphilisation have advanced together.”

    Whether it can really be called an “advance” I’m not sure. But we are stuck, it seems, with the consequences of our worshipful lust toward all things sexual.

    The physical that God gave us, however, is holy. During the passing of the peace at our church, we go into the aisles, and sometimes touch and maybe hug those who are in one way or another untouchables. Some are old and lonely, some sick, others unlovely, some with the scars of the years etched in their faces. But life is physical and will continue to be when the trump sounds, graves are opened and the and the dead are called forth from the of this old earth and all things are made new. And our physicality will find redemption. This gives me hope each and every day.

  12. Great post! I love what you chose to leave out as much as what you wrote.

    I wonder how much of out fear of touching and being touched is simply caring too much what others thing? I try to only consider the person I am going to touch.

    You sort of touched on it (see what I did there?), but I think many people are lacking enough truly strenuous activity in their lives. The hormonal activity of a truly hard day’s labor or an equivalent bout of exercise is simply vital.

  13. That Other Jean says:

    I agree absolutely with you that so much of the modern world is deprived of physicality that all touch becomes sexualized, because sexual touching is nearly all that is left to us. I think there is another reason for our emphasis on sex, also: sex sells. Sexual images make us pay attention, and advertisers need our attention to sell their products. Since seventy percent of our (U.S.) economy depends on consumer spending, we are exposed to advertising in some form for a large part of every day, much of it emphasizing sex as much as the product for sale. As things stand now, our hyper-sexualized society seems inescapable. I hope that isn’t really so.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      I agree absolutely with you that so much of the modern world is deprived of physicality that all touch becomes sexualized, because sexual touching is nearly all that is left to us.

      Ever since puberty, I have had this mental image about sex. Remember geometry class, specifically the hyperbola? Two hyperbolic curves almost touching in the center at a point of closest approach?

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Hyperbola_properties.svg

      Well, the image I’ve had of a lot of sex is two sweaty bodies arced in a double hyperbola, connected by genitalia at point of closest approach, the rest of the bodies arcing as far away from each other as possible.

      • Headless….that is sad and interesting and actually quite an accurate view of how our culture has divorced sex from an truly intimate connection.

  14. My wife finds it funny how many people come to her just for a hug. A good hug does wonders on a bad day but so few people are willing to give them.

    The one thing in this post that kept me grinning was the mention of smells. Something we don’t often notice. My wife (again) when at my place of work would walk into the engineering department and inhale deeply. “Men, a wonderful smell.”

  15. Dana Ames says:

    St John of Damascus was talking about a different, though not entirely unrelated, subject, but I think it is apropos here:

    “I do not worship matter, but the Creator of matter, who for my sake became material and deigned to dwell in matter, who through matter effected my salvation…”

    We often forget or overlook this, for various reasons.

    Thanks, Damaris.

    I’m curious as to which saint you took when you were received into the Catholic Church.

    Dana

    • Dana,
      Our RCIA class was a little vague, to say the least, and the option of choosing a saint for confirmation was not really touched on. So I didn’t; now that I don’t have a deadline to choose, I can’t make up my mind which I would have — I like St. Isaac of Syria a lot, also St. Francis de Sales — and lots of others.

  16. Damaris, I liked this post a lot but some things struck my funny bone.

    You made a list that included “making love” and then said these things were “not sexual” — SAY WHAT??

    While reading another of your lists I couldn’t help it, I began thinking of Snow White’s seven dwarfs: Difficult, Hot, Smelly, Loud, Dangerous, Extreme, and Uncomfortable.

    Sorry. The hot green tea I drank today had caffeine in it. I must remember to buy decaffeinated in the future.

  17. As a long-time educator who sometimes works within the church, I loved this post. I agree the sexualization of touch is a dangerous place for our culture and our children. As a society we are creating an environment where only one thing is acceptable. I think it is wider than only the sexualization of touch. It is a wider systemic isolation of people from community. No hugs much less candy to children or you’re a molester. Children’s eyes solely focused on a game boy. Watching DVD’s in cars. Don’t go outside. Don’t talk to strangers. Germs and disease. . . . I see the results in the children we are rearing. Fearful. Reactant. Isolated. On Guard.

    Touch, sight, smell, sound, taste are all part of community. We destroy community when we don’t engage these parts of our body in remembering our past, celebrating the present moment, and sharing our hopes for what will come.

    Sorry a little bit of a rant – it’s the first full week of school.

    *NOTE: I’m generalizing to a culture as a whole.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      I see the results in the children we are rearing. Fearful. Reactant. Isolated. On Guard.

      Interacting only by txtg or Twitter, “getting physical” with the addition of Internet Porn at puberty.

  18. Thanks for this post. It is spot on. I think the lack of a non-sexual physicality in so much of the church is just another way we have unwittingly taken on the values and approaches of western culture (it’s different in many eastern cultures). God wants a wholeness for us, not just spiritually but physically also, for our whole being. There is much physicality in the Bible. Indeed, the physicality of the resurrection is what proves it for the disciples and Jesus’ followers. Jesus eating fish; Thomas putting his hand in Jesus’ side.

    Nowadays, I see two errors when it comes to things physical. Not only is there a tendency to sexualize everything, but on the opposite side of the spectrum (and sometimes, but not always, because of an unhealthy focus on sexuality) is a tendency to demonize the physical. I had a (non-seminary-trained) pastor once who began teaching that your spirit was saved but not your body, and that as a result your physical body was the repository for all the evil within you. I tried to explain to him that this was very like the error of Gnosticism and some of the logical conclusions to this kind of thinking, but had no luck.

    So often the church is schizophrenic about both physicality and sexuality.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      I had a (non-seminary-trained) pastor once who began teaching that your spirit was saved but not your body, and that as a result your physical body was the repository for all the evil within you.

      Let me guess… Afterlife belief was Fluffy Cloud Heaven instead of Resurrection of the Body?

  19. There is a lengthy quote from Owen Barfield’s Unancestral Voice, perhaps the least Evangelical-friendly of all of his works, which explains the recent supremacy of sex in the current phronêma. I would like to reproduce it here for discussion. I have a real hard time sussing what Barfield is all about, and maybe I could get some help here.

    Reading Barfield is a lot like reaching your arm down into Teilhard de Chardin’s entrails and pulling him inside out. If you are anything akin to a theistic evolutionist, you should be reading Barfield, panning out the anthroposophy, and putting the nuggets aside for future refining.

    Maybe somebody could point me in the right direction. No, not Altizer. I tried reading Altizer and he sounded to me like the death-rattle of modernity. Owen Barfield is somebody whose thought is only now coming into its own.

  20. Lots to say on this.

    First, we live in a society where bad can happen, and when it does we know within minutes, so we have taken a zero tolerance approach. From a physicality point of view it manifests itself with the message – “you are not to touch”…. I am a mandated reporter because I deal with children (run a CCD program, coach, cub scouts) or I lead people who do. Basically the safest avenue is to not touch the kids (no hugs, etc) or, if you do, do it in the open with other adults around. I fully understand the reason for this but it makes it tougher for the kid who needs a hug or some redirection.

    Second, media, in the form of commercials, shows, movies absolutely sexualizes are children at a young age, In fact, from my observation media has a huge influence, and we, as parents are not around enough to monitor or address it. Not a condemnation, it is what it is. I am not being a culture warrior, but when there’s an elephant in the room we should acknowledge it.

    Third, we as parents, have accepted the change, social media being the dominate form of communication now, not only for kids but for us. We are satisfied (are we?) with going home and posting rather than one on one interaction, not alone touching. In a world full of instant connectivity, we live in our own isolated bubbles. Compound that with parents in my suburban neck of the woods, who buy into all the trends, think their kids shakin it like strippers in a pole dancing competition are all that, worry about the social status of said kids and make sure they are all provided with all the latest gizmoes, provide opportunities for their kids to do selfies, skype their nakedness etc because they give them the technology but don’t want to be aware enough to police it…. Ok, you see where I am going….

    So… in reality we have created our own issues…. How do I combat this in my own life? First, I don’t tweet. Second, I don’t Facebook. One blog following – this one. Third (and by the way I do all kinds of technology as a profession), I make it a point to talk one-on-one (you miss so much when you can’t see body language). Fourth, if I am coaching or teaching and a kid needs a hug he/she gets it ( with another adult near by – I may be one brick short of a load but I’m not stupid). And, my wife and kids get hugs and stuff every day (no I am not really a touchy feely type).

    Personally – its going to get a lot worse in this area before it gets better (with role models like Miley Cirus – maybe we have hit bottom).

    K – done.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Basically the safest avenue is to not touch the kids (no hugs, etc) or, if you do, do it in the open with other adults around. I fully understand the reason for this but it makes it tougher for the kid who needs a hug or some redirection.

      And explains the popularity of dakimakura rove pirrows:
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dakimakura

      Personally – its going to get a lot worse in this area before it gets better (with role models like Miley Cirus – maybe we have hit bottom).

      I assume this is the latest iteration of “Hannah Montana is a Ho”?

      P.S. You’ll know you’ve hit bottom when you start looking at Shari’a with longing. No hos under Shari’a. No Bratz dolls under Shari’a. No prostitot chic under Shari’a….

  21. Christiane says:

    Damaris, this is a great post.

    As a young married Navy wife with a husband stationed in D.C., I had the privilege of attending a Kennedy Center performance of Tennessee Williams’ ‘Summer and Smoke’, and of seeing the role of ‘Alma’ played wonderfully by Eva Marie Saint. We were in the second row. There is a part of the play where the young doctor Alma grew up with who loved Alma is back in town. Alma is very repressed and is having ‘symptoms’ in response . . . she visits her old friend the doctor and in one of the most astonishing performances of an actress I have ever seen, Eva Marie Saint’s face expresses Alma’s feelings as the young doctor unbuttons a few buttons at the top of her blouse so that he can examine her heart . . .

    it sounds strange, but when a great actress plays a scene like that to such perfection, it is an electric moment in the theater and you come away knowing you have seen something truly extraordinary . . . and elementally human.

    The tragedy of that story is that the young doctor marries a respectable young girl, one of Alma’s former students, and Alma ‘changes’ and becomes . . . well, the ending is not a good one for her and there is some lesson in there for the dangers of ‘repression’ and dishonesty with oneself and one’s own feelings and needs in this world, where a part of the human spirit is disowned, rather than offered up to God in the way of Christian celibacy . . .

    that play was about the soul and human sexuality and how they interact, and the pathos of it was perhaps because even then in those post-sixties days, the audience, including me, still were a bit lost on the plane of what was sordid and what was of human value . . . . young married sophisticate that I was, I had not got over the sixties media shocker ‘The Graduate’ wherein the notorious ‘Mrs. Robinson’ seduces poor Benjamin to the tune of Simon and Garfunkel’s best music ever . . . I rather felt sorrier for Mrs. Robinson than Benjamin at the time, but I still can’t think why.

    Have we ‘grown up’ any as humans yet and faced our own physicality with both the honor and the compassion it deserves in a world where the dignity and worth of a single human being needs to be upheld? I think we are trying. This post helps, Damaris. Thanks for opening the discussion and inviting us to come to the table.

  22. What’s driving this? Later marriage ages, the breakdown of old taboos, the influence of mass media…that’s enough to start with. Is this good? In some ways, yes–schoolgirls are no longer ostracized / expelled for going all the way, for example. Are Jesus, Mary, and the angels weeping at all this rampant fornication? You make the call.

    “There’s a lot of talk about sexuality these days” because sexuality is genuinely imporant, and today we can discuss things we couldn’t back in the “good old days.” For example, we are a lot more aware of abuse issues, and not necessarily because there is more abuse now, but because a lot of things used to be swept under a rug or not even recognized as a problem.

    Like the good book says, “hell is other people.” Certain Christian groups like to cultivate a fear of the influence of other people–keep your kid safe from all those bad kids, and nobody wants to think it’s their kid. Reform society, or start a new society where the old values can be preserved in miniature, and never mind about our own dark side.

    • Is it good? Really? Little kids sexualized at a young age? good really?

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > Like the good book says, “hell is other people.”

      Where does it say that?

      >Certain Christian groups like to cultivate a fear of the influence of other people

      Certain national|christian|muslim|political|hindu|athiest|ethnic|racial groups like to cultivate a fear of the influence of other people. Emphasis on “certain”, because some of any of those do not. It is not an extremely useful approach.

      >we are a lot more aware of abuse issues, and not necessarily because there is more abuse
      > now, but because a lot of things used to be swept under a rug or not even recognized as a problem.

      Very true, I can tell you stories. Some of those forms of abuse are more likely to be unmasked now [at least, if you are affluent, otherwise, meh, we still don’t much care]. And we invent some new forms. Humans are so ingenious!

      • That’s in the Gospel According to Jean Paul Sartre. Wexel is having a little fun with us. You can’t fool me, Wexel; I know my existentialists when I see them.

    • Yes, but we have new taboos to replace the old ones. So are we really any better off?

  23. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    I will have to let my fiction speak for me, specifically a portion of a scene from my unpublished “Lament for a Cobra in a White Dress”, which I wrote in early 2010 to get myself out of a two-month bout of depression.

    The context is a dream sequence set in roughly 1989, where I am visiting my retired parents for Xmas, accompanied by the humanoid cobra-woman from the title. IRL my stepmother pressured me to “be normal”/become sexually active; in the dream-sequence visit, Miss Cobra and I are pretending to be sexual partners to avoid an uproar. In the following excerpt, she’s in a food coma after gorging herself at Xmas dinner in a Laughlin, Nevada casino buffet and I’ve just gotten her back to my parents’ place in Bullhead City:

    I got her into the bedroom; between the two of us we got her dress off and rolled her naked into the bed while the wind chimes tinkled outside the window. She curled up snoring the instant she hit the mattress – long snaky hisses with each exhale, like an intermittently-deflating tire.

    I looked at her laying there for a long time, her king cobra markings a column of golden chevrons running down her back from hood to tail. Then, just like my ex-girlfriend had done to me that time I conked out at that party back in ’82, I covered her with the blanket and quilt, leaving only her face showing beneath the pile of bedding.

    Then I went into the other room and sat for a while, amid the tinkling of wind-chimes from outside and intermittent hissing from the bedroom and Pekinese snuffling at my feet.

    Now what? Back to the casino while Conked-out Cobra slept off her meal? Or stay with her?

    I couldn’t take the foldouts in the living room. Not only were they taken by brother and stepbrother, but I knew what my stepmother’s reaction would be coming home and not finding Miss Cobra and me in bed together. Especially with my brother there to push her buttons.

    Finally I stripped down to T-shirt and tighty-whities and crawled into the other side of the bed as her breath hissed and the wind chimes rang. Then the pile of bedding rustled.

    A cool body pressed up against me from behind, scaly pseudo-breasts and scuted belly against my T-shirted back; I could feel her breathing and heartbeat, slow and steady, and the quivering and gurgling of her digestion. Cold scaly arms reached around me and held me to her belly, cold scaly legs pressed against my thighs, and a reptilian tail curled around me in a tail-hug. Finally an ophidian chin slid between my neck and shoulder and a long snaky tongue flicked before she whispered a single word.

    “Warm…”

    The snuggle up to someone, feeling her breathing and heartbeat, is a scene I return to over and over again. As is the putting my arms around someone and resting my head on her shoulder without her shoving me away and leaving as happened IRL with my only girlfriend. (Said ex-girlfriend later became very sexually active — or maybe she was all along and I wasn’t “exciting” enough. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll go back to surfing the Web art archives for pictures of Fluttershy and Twilight Sparkle.)

  24. Wonderful essay, Damaris, and something we don’t usually think about. I’ve learned that’s one of the issues of widowhood — the loss of simply having a physical relationship with someone.

    • I can imagine that’s true, Denise — no quick backrubs, no lap or chest to lean against in the middle of a busy day. I hope you can and do find other ways to “get physical.”

  25. Great essay, so well expressed – my thoughts exactly! I can relate to the loss of the physical relationship of the love of my life – already through ten years of illness prior to his death three months ago – although there were hugs and kisses for all the family until the very end. Working in a long term care centre for the past nearly 30 years, had already made me warmly welcome all kinds of folks into my personal space without fear – with now the added benefit of these physical gifts of touch blessing me!! I always take my cue from the resident – if she wants to give a kiss on the cheek – great; if he wants to clasp both his hands around mine for a hand-shake and hold it longer – wonderful!! It breaks my heart when such gifts of touch are looked upon as ‘too needy’, ‘too sensual’, ‘inappropriate’ , and so on.