America: A No Touch Zone

My daughter was called a lesbian yesterday at school because she sat on a female aide’s lap. When she told me, I asked her, “What do you think about that?”

She responded, “What’s the big deal? There’s nothing wrong with being a lesbian.”

I agree. What’s the big deal? This kid meant it as an insult but my daughter didn’t take it as such.

The reason?

I think it’s because my daughter knows LGBT men and women. We are people to her, not labels. I’ve gone out of my way to introduce my child to the diversity in our world, from choosing to live in one of the few culturally diverse communities in my white-bread state to talking to her about how no one’s experience is the same.

But what the discussion I had with my daughter really brings to mind is how averse to touch American society has become. The moment two people touch, it is now seen as sexual. When I was a child, I held hands with my sister, my friends, my mom, my cousins, my teachers. I kissed them. I hugged them. I sat on their laps, and never once was I called a lesbian.

How have we come to this point, that sex is at the heart of everything?

I know that’s rich coming from someone who writes erotica because I see sexual subtext everywhere. Yet I still wonder. To me, touch is simply another form of communication, and often a much more powerful one than words. It says things. Trust me. I’m here for you. You’re important to me. I love you. Withholding touch communicates messages too. You’re alone. I’m angry with you. You disappoint me. And touch can also communicate hate.

Little boys might be hurt today for holding hands, and probably not even by other children, as much as their fathers. In my day job I have heard parents freak out when their preschool children hold hands, hug, or kiss another child. God forbid they ever find two five year olds showing each other their “parts” like I did as a kid. It would be off to therapy for months for something that is part of the typical development of a healthy child’s sexual identity. They are just curious.

And children need touch. They need us to hold their hands and to rub their backs. In fact, they melt into us like little cats when we give them physical affection. What does that tell you?

It tells me that children are starving for affection because our entire society is starving for it. People are terrified of being called lesbian or gay or even worse, being sued if they reach for others. So we live in little bubbles of isolation and fear, and we pay people to rub our feet or give us massages, because professional touch is “safe” touch. I disagree. It’s just impersonal touch that makes my bank account $75 lighter.

Five years ago I met an amazing woman who initially scared me with how affectionate she was, and that’s saying something because I’m quite touchy-feely. She hugged me or held my hand as we waited for our kids’ school day to finish. She squeezed me and told me she loved me. She even kissed me when we said hello or goodbye. And none of it was sexual. None. She is my best friend. Why shouldn’t I be able to show her my love through the non-verbal language that speaks volumes with the single brush of a finger to push hair away from her eyes?

In other countries around the world, touch is not seen as purely sexual. Why is that? How can Italians kiss people they greet and Americans can barely be bothered to nod their heads or shake hands?

I say hug and kiss and hold hands with people you love. Stop paying people to touch you when you already have people around you who are probably just waiting to be invited in.

Leave a comment

  1. June 1, 2012 / 11:36 am

    Couldn’t agree with you more, sweets. It’s sad, really.


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