Even now, with us gay men legally being mostly equal to everyone else in South Africa thereby allowing men more and more freedom to escape from what we might term traditional masculine roles, it can be difficult for some men to fully accept the tenderness, sensitivity and emotional vulnerability that comes with hugging another man.
Indeed, if they have been subject to homophobic abuse, they may have introjected their attackers’ hatred of those qualities which made them seem gay, and so learned to repress all admission of feelings. However, if they fumble a hug, it’s less likely they’ll be fully emotionally responsive to their partner in the rest of their relationship and during sex.
Hugging is partly about admitting feeling and exposing vulnerability, the need for reciprocal feeling. They are also tied up in ideas about gender roles. More often than not, it’s your mum you get a hug from when you’re little – and to whom you turn for a hug in times of distress. Then, as the heterosexual world would have it, it’s to a girlfriend you turn for your next hug – unless, of course, your team just scored a goal. Off the pitch, hugging a boy would be, well, gay. It can be difficult to un-learn that lesson, even when one is generally happy with being, well, gay.
It is perhaps for this reason – among others – that many needy, intimate encounters between gay men have taken place in the dark, in relative secrecy, with strangers, where and with whom it can be easier to acknowledge those underground needs we were taught to repress.
It might also be that once we’ve been hurt enough times by relationships which didn’t work, we become more wary of offering (relatively) non-sexual intimacy – since that can tend to expose our feelings more than sex.
If that’s the case, then it’s time to move on.
If you experience difficulties admitting to feelings and emotional needs, you might want to spend time alone working through those difficulties and enabling yourself to find greater emotional freedom. On the other hand, it does work the other way too. One way of finding that emotional freedom is to jump in at the deep end, floundering awhile, no doubt, but probably not for long. Once you give it a go, you can tend to discover it’s very easy.
Recognise and accept the feelings involved in a hug. There’s protection – to offer and to receive. There’s affirmation – of relationship, love. There’s simple friendship, the joy of being close to another person… And there’s a whole lot else besides. All of those feelings are reciprocal: they run each way.
There are times when words alone don’t seem to catch what you have to say to a loved one, but, whatever the immediate need might be, relaxed, open, face-to-face, eye-to-eye contact – i.e. a really nice hug – will usually communicate your feelings without you saying anything.