I found today’s article in the NYT about hugging between teenagers extremely heart-warming. Back in Sri Lanka and, I gather, in many other non-Western countries, touching is common. Policemen in Sri Lanka stand about in the middle of streets, holding hands – usually with civilian friends – letting the traffic go haywire. Touch is a way of saying, “I wish I could spend more time with you but right now I can’t.” It’s short-hand. The bigger your rush, the harder the embrace. If they have a lot of time on their hands, men tend to pound each other on their backs, maybe indulge in a quick hug. There is no stigma attached to showering together – my girl friend and I did it all the time – or sleeping together (ditto). Public physical connection between friends of the same gender is not considered unusual or undesirable or inappropriate. Censure is usually reserved for PDA between men and women, something which it is believed to be a private affair not for flaunting.
I have often wondered how many young American girls and boys find themselves chastised or ostracized for being affectionate with someone of the same sex. Our American culture attaches such value to the 18″ of personal space around each person that I think it destroys our basic human instinct to express ourselves through touch. At the same time, the permissiveness extended to public physical affection between men and women results, I think, in forcing us in general, and children/teenagers in particular, to think that the only acceptable type of affection is that which is male-female. I wonder how different the outcome in California would be today if the previous generations had grown as comfortable as this new one is becoming with the existence of deep affection and love between friends of any gender.