Men: how and where we can touch each other

men touching - Flyboys via Neil Crosby via FlickrI’m not talking about sex. No homo, as the cool lads say when they touch each other for any reason other than a punch. No homo, a guy says to assure his mate that even though he’s touched his mate’s face or arm or knee, it doesn’t mean he wants to touch his willy too. As ever there are ways that men are allowed to touch each other and ways that they definitely aren’t. If you want to keep your masculinity in tact, you’re allowed to touch another guy by punching him in the face—your knuckles pushing into his cheekbones—or by shaking his hand to say hello or to seal a deal.

But if you’re sitting next to a guy, can you let your head rest on his shoulder? “I’m so tired,” you say, as you tilt your neck and drop your ear onto the corner of his body, where the neck meets the top of his arm—hardly a personal place, hardly sexy, totally no homo. “Mmm, that feels better,” you murmur, your heavy head resting finally after a long day.

men touching by Eddy Pula via Flickr
men touching by Eddy Pula via Flickr

This is just exactly what I wanted to do recently when I went to see some live music with a friend. It was the kind of show where you sit down, theatre-style, and the singer-songwriter plays on a stage to a very civilised and attentive audience. The music was mostly soft, thoughtful, expressive, warm, calming… and I was in the middle of a very busy week so it instantly relaxed me. My friend Bill was beside me. I feel very safe with Bill. We enjoy each others’ company a lot. We have a similar sense of humour, taste in music, and very similar values. I know he’d help me out if I needed it. But we’re not tight. We’ll always keep things from each other; we’ll never be best mates.

My work gradually faded and the lovely music took over. My muscles drooped. My breathing grew shallow. And I just thought, Oh I could really rest my head on Bill’s shoulder right now. No homo, of course—but I wouldn’t wanted to have even whispered that in the middle of the music, even though Bill would have enjoyed hearing such a dumb phrase. I just wanted to rest my head there, just to feel his warmth and to feel his support and to snuggle even deeper into the music and the atmosphere.

men touching by Neil Crosby via Flickr
men touching by Neil Crosby via Flickr

But I didn’t. I didn’t do it. I kept my neck straight. I kept my head up. Bill sat beside me, listening to the music and having his own thoughts, oblivious to the dilemma in my mind.
I believe myself to be uninhibited by the expectations placed on men. It’s relatively easy for me, because I’m a man who has sex with men (so I’m already breaking one major gender-based taboo) and because I’ve read my bell hooks. And yet, even in the safest place with one of the safest people I know, something kept me from being who I wanted to be. All I wanted in that moment was to be a man who could rest his head on another man’s shoulder—a friend, no less!

Something stopped me. Something is stopping me.

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