Up Front by Emma Hart

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Up Front: Or It's Who We're Drinking With...

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  • Emma Hart, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    A huge part of this is the social conditioning we have that we are unaware of. Snogging is part of sex, holding hands is not, but why?

    This is a really interesting question. Or at least, 'holding hands' in our culture seems a bit fucked up. We hold hands with lovers, and with children. And that's it. It's quite common in other cultures for friends to hold hands, but Pakeha NZers never seem to do that. And if I'm sleeping with someone, and they're reluctant to hold hands with me in public? That relationship isn't going to last long.

    The rest of it is a bit simpler. Holding hands, along with kissing, is Love. That's sweet and lovely and fine in public. Snogging is sex, which is dirty and wrong in most contexts and definitely not fine in public. (If I'm sleeping with someone and they're reluctant to snog me in public? That relationship isn't going to last long.)

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4350 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Emma Hart,

    Or at least, 'holding hands' in our culture seems a bit fucked up.

    Dunno, it's just how it's done. Is there any right or wrong about it? Doesn't seem any more fucked up than, say, the rule that you should never touch a Thai on the head. It sends a particular signal in this country.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8433 posts Report Reply

  • Amy Gale, in reply to Megan Wegan,

    There’s a question on (internet dating site) OK Cupid, that asks “straight girls who kiss each other in bars are…”. I’ve never been able to bring myself to look at the possible answers, but imma go ahead and assume that one of them isn’t “often playing into the patriarchal narrative that faux-same-sex-attraction will get a guy to think you are hot.”

    nor "how would I know who's straight?", nor "'girls'? seriously?"

    tha Ith • Since May 2007 • 457 posts Report Reply

  • Megan Wegan, in reply to Tom Beard,

    Unless you find that “playing into the patriarchal narrative that faux-same-sex-attraction will get a guy to think you are hot” is annoying in itself.

    Hate the game, not the player. Mostly.

    There’s also the assumption inherent in the wording “straight girls who kiss each other in bars” that kissing each other isn’t something that real straight girls would do for its own sake, so they’re faking it.

    I try really hard not to give myself a label, for various reasons, but I assume most people who know me would describe me as straight. And yet, I've done my fair share of snogging girls in bars.

    Once, when I was (much, much) younger, because a guy dared my friend and I to - because female sexuality is illicit and therefore dangerous. (And also, hot.) I remember at the time doing it not at all because I was "scared" to kiss her, or required daring, but because drunkenly kissing a girl in bar seemed like the thing to do at the time. And this was pre-Katy Perry. And I wanted him to think I was hot. But yeah, as Amy points out, if I'm seeing two girls in a bar, how the hell am I supposed to know a) they're straight, and b) what their motivations for kissing each other are.

    Except that a) the default position is that women are straight, and that sexuality it fixed, not fluid. And b) their motivations must have something to do with men, right?

    Welly • Since Jul 2008 • 1273 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to Emma Hart,

    Or at least, ‘holding hands’ in our culture seems a bit fucked up.

    I do find it such a pity that our culture has developed taboos around touch. We are tremendously affected by touch, much more than we think. So I find it sad that the act of touching, carressing, hugging have such restrictive boundaries.

    The idea that every touch is interpreted as a sexual overture is just wierd. It must be even more confusing for those who are attracted to both sexes.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3310 posts Report Reply

  • Emma Hart, in reply to BenWilson,

    Is there any right or wrong about it? Doesn't seem any more fucked up than, say, the rule that you should never touch a Thai on the head.

    My 'logical pattern loving' brain says there should be a continuum of touch, and the more extensive the touch, the more it's reserved for lovers. But I'm allowed to full-body hug my friends (except those who don't like it, and that's personal not social) but I can't hold their hands walking down the street.

    if I'm seeing two girls in a bar

    See, I'm looking at it from this perspective. If I'm young, and same-sex attracted, and a woman in a bar is kissing me, how do I know if she's attracted to me, or if she's kissing me because she wants a man to find her attractive? Consider, for a moment, how fucking depressing that question is.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4350 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    The idea that every touch is interpreted as a sexual overture is just wierd.

    My elderly grandmother (since passed) said a few years ago to me that one of things she most missed since granddad died (over 30 years ago) was physical contact. She reckoned it was a big part of why old ladies get their hair done so frequently - it's a legitimate excuse to be touched by someone. It could also be a big part of the reason grandparents love grandchildren so much - it's like a touch bonanza.

    I made a point of touching her more frequently after that. I held her hand for a long time, the last time I saw her alive. I was certain she was dying at that point, despite Mum keeping a brave face, and my grief began then, a few weeks before she actually passed. Touch was almost the only communication that was meaningful - she couldn't hear too well, and certainly could not concentrate. I felt she was terribly frightened, knowing that she had reached a point where the degradation was no longer gradual. She held on back like a child, and listened and smiled, even though I could tell the words weren't really getting through. It didn't matter.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8433 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Emma Hart,

    But I'm allowed to full-body hug my friends (except those who don't like it, and that's personal not social) but I can't hold their hands walking down the street.

    I can't do either one, not for male friends. An overlong handshake is about where it ends. Putting arm around shoulders, sometimes. And any number of jocular male touches - friendly arm punches, pushes, seizing, back patting, high-fiving. Not so much with women.

    I think it's telling that our stand-offish physical culture has as it's iconic male sport a game involved a huge amount of body contact, and for the females, a game in which contact is a foul.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8433 posts Report Reply

  • John Armstrong, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    I do find it such a pity that our culture has developed taboos around touch. We are tremendously affected by touch, much more than we think. So I find it sad that the act of touching, carressing, hugging have such restrictive boundaries.

    I became acutely aware of this during a two month holiday in South America a few years ago. I found myself envious of the incredibly warm hugs exchanged between male friends, in public and in private. I consciously decided to make that a part of my life here, and after a few awkward (and some, happily, completely unawkward) attempts, it's now a pretty natural thing.
    (In slightly tangential reference to Emma's post, I have since wondered if these cultural differences are related to the clear differences in alcohol use, which seemed in general to be much more controlled over there. Certainly had nothing to do with 'manliness': Argentinian men are about as macho as they come..)

    Hamilton • Since Nov 2007 • 127 posts Report Reply

  • B Jones, in reply to BenWilson,

    She reckoned it was a big part of why old ladies get their hair done so frequently - it's a legitimate excuse to be touched by someone.

    I still remember how amazing it was to get my hair washed by someone else after having three days at home alone with no company a few years back. Like chocolate after a fast. Different when you're at home with little kids, because while they're not the best conversationalists they're usually stuck all over you one way or another.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 810 posts Report Reply

  • Lucy Stewart, in reply to Emma Hart,

    We hold hands with lovers, and with children. And that’s it.

    I remember having an excessively awkward conversation with my mother, sometime at the beginning of puberty, about why it was no longer okay for me to hold my father's hand in public. I didn't see how it was any different from when I'd held his hand all through my childhood. But just the knowledge that other people would interpret it differently made it impossible for me to keep seeing it that way.

    Amherst, MA • Since Nov 2006 • 2093 posts Report Reply

  • Tom Beard, in reply to BenWilson,

    can't do either one, not for male friends. An overlong handshake is about where it ends. Putting arm around shoulders, sometimes. And any number of jocular male touches - friendly arm punches, pushes, seizing, back patting, high-fiving. Not so much with women.

    I was brought up a bit like that, with middle-class English stiff-upper-lip detachment. While my parents have always been liberal and inclusive, we were never a huggy family, and even now giving my father a hug is awkward. Among my geeky cohort at varsity there was not a lot of touching, either, not even among opposite-sex Platonic friends: all that touchy-feely stuff was for the crazy arts students.

    All of that changed quite quickly when I moved into a different circle of friends. At first I was ... not wary, exactly, just sceptical, as giving a full-body-hug and an intense "how are you, man?" seemed falsely intimate for someone you've only just met. But by now most of my social circle sees a hug and a cheek kiss as a minimum for a friendly hello, and curling up with close friends doesn't seem odd, even among straight men.

    Part of that change is generational, partly because I'm now in an artier and more liberal milieu. I also know a lot of people who live with depression, PTSD or other mental illness, and I think many of my friends are aware of the value of Platonic touch (as Ben, John and B Jones have pointed out) for maintaining self-esteem and human connection. It makes for a much more humane society.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 1039 posts Report Reply

  • Jeremy Andrew,

    Anyone who's not too busy or cool to watch Shorty might have seen a very good example of the power of a hug the other night...

    Hamiltron - City of the F… • Since Nov 2006 • 841 posts Report Reply

  • Emma Hart, in reply to Tom Beard,

    Among my geeky cohort at varsity there was not a lot of touching, either

    But -

    all that touchy-feely stuff was for the crazy arts students

    Oh. Yeah. Called it. Our group was mostly sciencey boy-nerd types. But there were enough arty geeky girls to offset that, and because of the gender imbalance, they were the ones who had the social power. So, hugging. Massages. Non-consequence snogging.

    I still remember how amazing it was to get my hair washed by someone else after having three days at home alone with no company a few years back. Like chocolate after a fast.

    Even though I live in a fairly touchy environment, I still quite like this. I get it with massage, acupuncture, even tattooing. Being touched in a completely safe, non-demanding way is very relaxing.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4350 posts Report Reply

  • Josh Addison,

    I remember hearing that it was the trial of Oscar Wilde that put an end to public touching in British society; that before that it was common for male friends to walk arm-in-arm and so on. Depressing if true.

    Onehunga, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 297 posts Report Reply

  • Tom Beard, in reply to Emma Hart,

    So, hugging. Massages. Non-consequence snogging.

    That arrived ... a bit later in my life. I obviously hung out with the wrong people at varsity.

    One thing that helped break the ice for me was discovering dance in my early twenties. It was initially a shock to be in physical contact with so many people when there were was no expectation of a romantic engagement. But it didn't take long for the simple joy of touch and movement to kick in, and that holding a lot of peope by the waist or by the hand didn't mean it was leading to an orgy. Although come to think of it...

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 1039 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Tom Beard,

    I was brought up a bit like that, with middle-class English stiff-upper-lip detachment.

    I've never really thought of it as resulting from my upbringing. It's the general social environment as I recall it. It's not like I was hugging and kissing my Pacific Island and Maori mates, or the Chinese, either, nor can I recall any skew in terms of university faculties. But it's hard to say, memory is colored by perception, which is formed early. Yet even the peer group of my first girlfriend, who was an actress, were not much touchy-feely.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8433 posts Report Reply

  • RaggedJoe,

    I know some Chilean guys who I see at various places around the world for work. Greetings are always a big back slapping hug, which I generally manage to stuff up with a handshake in the middle. Whilst it is just a business relationship, it is a really warm and I enjoy those greetings. Same applies to some Californian guys I know who are very organic. However I would not consider hugging the men I know in NZ, whether business or personal, good old Anglo Saxon reserve and social conditioning I guess.

    I am making a real effort to keep hugging my son at nearly 18yo. However he does seem to want to turn it into a bear hug contest, which he mostly wins. I also often greet our women friends with a hug. Seems more acceptable now. I think it it would be really healthy for our society if we could all just hug a bit more...

    City of Sales • Since Sep 2008 • 60 posts Report Reply

  • Pete,

    Presumably more Bis are drinking due to social isolation seeing as they're a smaller proportion of the population - are we going to see Auckland (for example) as the getaway city for Bis to go to like Sydney traditionally has been for teh gays?
    Being Bi in Cromwell, Blenheim or Foxton has gotta be, everything else aside, limited due to less possible partners.

    I used to take the piss out of Bis ("Oh make ya damn mind up!") but now I've reverted to my default setting which is taking the piss out of anyone who wears crocs or has stick figure families on the back window of their cars.

    Since Apr 2008 • 81 posts Report Reply

  • Megan Wegan,

    See, I’m looking at it from this perspective. If I’m young, and same-sex attracted, and a woman in a bar is kissing me, how do I know if she’s attracted to me, or if she’s kissing me because she wants a man to find her attractive? Consider, for a moment, how fucking depressing that question is.

    Oh, completely. I think I meant that maybe if (especially young women's) sexuality wasn't so performative, and so tied up in so many things, that would be easier to know?

    Welly • Since Jul 2008 • 1273 posts Report Reply

  • Megan Wegan,

    Part of that change is generational, partly because I’m now in an artier and more liberal milieu. I also know a lot of people who live with depression, PTSD or other mental illness, and I think many of my friends are aware of the value of Platonic touch (as Ben, John and B Jones have pointed out) for maintaining self-esteem and human connection. It makes for a much more humane society.

    I have always been a fairly touchy person, particularly with friends. Lately, I am less so, and am sometimes (not often) quite uncomfortable, even with my closest friends touching me - in non-sexual ways. It's a weird feeling to be on the other side of it, and to not have the words to say "you're making me uncomfortable, please stop."

    Welly • Since Jul 2008 • 1273 posts Report Reply

  • Megan Wegan,

    She held on back like a child, and listened and smiled, even though I could tell the words weren’t really getting through. It didn’t matter.

    When I was little, I loved nothing more than to play hairdresser with my grandmother. I'd give her mohawks and spikes and I think I once attempted dreads. But she loved having her hair brushed, so it worked out nicely. When my grandmother was dying, of alzheimers, I went to visit her. She no longer knew who we were, and hadn't for a long time. I couldn't quite cope with sitting there watching her, raspily breathing, so I picked up a hairbrush, and started brushing her hair. She visibly relaxed, her breathing got slower. I like to think she knew it was me, and while I know she likely didn't, it did demonstrate the power of that sense. And it made me feel better too.

    Welly • Since Jul 2008 • 1273 posts Report Reply

  • Islander, in reply to B Jones,

    still remember how amazing it was to get my hair washed by someone else after having three days at home alone

    Interesting.
    I have no difficulty with hugging or hongi-ing* & I especially like to clasp/shake/touch hands BUT!
    I personally cannot stand anyone touching my hair/head.
    I've cut my own hair since I was 18 (after one traumatic venture into a hairdresser, my mother cut it for me from childhood until then**.
    My sibs happily cuddle their partners at social events, especially familial, and kiss/ hold hands/hug/snuggle up....

    *One of my sibs cannot stand a hongi (always gone before the hongi line forms at a hui...)
    **I have very tolerant hair! Curly, thick, fastgrowing...now grey, started off blond, then deepened to dark brown with natural red highlights.

    Big O, Mahitahi, Te Wahi … • Since Feb 2007 • 5643 posts Report Reply

  • Jackie Clark,

    Touch is a powerful thing, as Bart says. I spend much of my life hugging people (and dogs), and you can tell a bit about a person from the way they hug, I find. I have only fairly recently come to an acceptance that other people don't like to hug/touch either at all, or as much as I do. I may, in fact, be a bit of a hug fascist really. As for holding hands, I do a bit of that with my friends too. I think it's immensely sad when people aren't touchers, just because I know how ultimately healing and powerful it can be, and I so admire people who make a real effort when it's not so easy for them. I know many people who find touch difficult For Reasons, most of them to do with having been sexually violated and abused, and I understand completely how difficult it must be for people who have had those experiences to let loving touch into their lives again. Megan, I very much related to your brushing your grandmother's hair - and what a lovely thing to do for her. Whilst my father was dying - and I mean in the 15 minutes directly preceding his heart stopping - all of his children, and Mum, had a hand on his body, touching him to help him, and us, as his essence, his being, drifted to another place. His head was the only place left for me to stand so I edged my way around the hospital bed, and started stroking his hair. He had such fine, wonderful hair. I had always loved it so, and stroking it helped me focus in on him at a time when I wanted to be there, and yet not. An extension perhaps or wishful thinking since my head is one large erogenous zone. A head massage? Don't mind if you do.

    Mt Eden, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3123 posts Report Reply

  • Emma Hart, in reply to Pete,

    Presumably more Bis are drinking due to social isolation seeing as they're a smaller proportion of the population

    Smaller than straights? Yes. Smaller than gays? No.

    are we going to see Auckland (for example) as the getaway city for Bis to go to like Sydney traditionally has been for teh gays?

    One of the things that came out in the last bunch of US research was that when gays and lesbians 'move to the city', their mental health improves. When bis do it, it gets worse. Now, that wasn't my personal experience, because I at least had a peer group that accepted me, but I did still experience exclusion from minority-sexuality groups. So perversely, a city having a strong "LGBT" culture may not make it an easier place to be bi.

    I have always been a fairly touchy person, particularly with friends. Lately, I am less so, and am sometimes (not often) quite uncomfortable, even with my closest friends touching me - in non-sexual ways.

    I love having my hair stroked - if I am relaxed. If I'm not, , if I'm just not in that place, it feels hugely uncomfortable and proprietal. I live in my head more than any other part of my body. Touching my head is a really intimate thing.

    That said, I am really looking forward to getting my hair cut this afternoon.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4350 posts Report Reply

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