From the outset, I should mention that I have way, waay too many feels about this image to approach it critically. There are a number of things that in all probability are highly problematic with this frame–but I’m not really able to go there.
Why? Well, where to even begin…
I flat out do not understand why the parameters for being ‘normal’ and ‘well-adjusted’ so frequently demand a sort of pre-dissociative state. It’s like this is the compartment where my work experiences go, so let me put on my work person-mask and get down to tit. Oh, this is the cubbyhole where my personal experiences go, let me put on my personal person-mask. We are ourselves perpetually for the time between our mothers and some maggots, why are we so damned and all fired determined to equivocate?
I know it’s not always that simple to dodge such equivocation. I mean consider our language. What percentage of our words describe visual stimulus? There’s words referencing a spectrum of light to dark, the totality of color, texture, etc. With sound we have a widely varied set of linguistic indicators–but (and I don’t know this for certain, I’m merely thinking out loud) there’s probably half the available words that describe what we hear than the total of words to name what we see. Smell and taste being a physiological response with overlap, feature much of the same language–which again is only a fraction of the total available sound describing words. When we get down to touch–what’s left: hot, cold, dry, wet, hard, soft, rough and smooth, essentially.
I know there are exceptions and that I am committing the most grievous sin of generalizing here but it feels like we use this sort of either or dichotomy when it comes to touch as a means of ordering shades and tonalities that do exist between extremes but are very difficult to fit to words.
For example: it’s very difficult to express concern, empathy and sympathy to someone who is grieving. We reach for stupid cliches–I’m sorry for your loss. How the fuck can you be–the nature of my feeling of loss is goddamn singular you fatherfucker! That’s part of what sucks so much is it’s a burden that only one person can carry.
I know there’s the whole sexist society coloring things as far as the experience of physical things go–the bullshit virgin whore dichotomy–another either/or for you. And you can’t discount that as it seeps its toxic way into everything. I’d like to think there’s another way, somehow.
It’s easy to point at monogamy and other aspects of patriarchal heteronormativity as roadblocks. And I’m aware that a counter-criticism can be leveled against me that I’m just cratchety because I am terminally unrequited. But honestly, although it’s true that I do feel terminally unrequited, I do not sit around all day bemoaning the fact that no one wants to fuck me. What frustrates me is that I almost never know the right words. I’ll frequently try to explain what I’m thinking or feeling to someone and they’ll be like, yeah, sure, I get it. And I’ll be like do you? I have no idea. With touch it’s clearer… or maybe that’s a poor way of putting it. If touch is misunderstood, the misunderstand is like a jolt of electricity–there’s no ambiguity as to whether or not things haven’t been muddled somehow.
As usual, I’m abstracting. Let me try to be concrete: during my Junior year of college was one of the three times in my life I’ve been suicidal. I was very close with my flatmates–even though I’d known not a one of them prior to moving in with them. Amadine (not her real name) had the room next to mine. I wasn’t as close with her as some the other five, but she was always staggeringly kind to me.
Everyone knew I wasn’t in a particularly good place but I think Amadine was the only one who picked up that it was actually a far worse place than I was letting on. With only maybe two exceptions, for three months, she would get up just before I was leaving for the day and stand in the hallway between me and the front door. She’s spread her arms and say sleepily: hug. And she wouldn’t budge until I complied.
The first couple of times I was furious with her. Everything about it felt manipulative. But since she always went out of her way to be so exceedingly kind, I couldn’t really justify how angry her insistence made me.
At first, she’d end up just hugging me. I refused to hug her back. She’d hold on until seconds before I felt like I might actually murder someone and then she’d step aside and let me leave.
By the end of things, I virtually lived for those morning hugs. She’d always be the last one to let go and would hold me for as long as I let her.
Her hugs weren’t passive either. She was attentive with something I can only refer to as openness and presence in the moment. Sometimes it felt as if she was trying to comfort me, other times calm me, other times still it was very clear that she felt sad and needed to feel connected to someone.
So while the polyamory/group sex implication of the image above appeals to me, what I appreciate most about it is the emphasis on touch and the ambiguity as to whether or not it’s merely intended as physical or if it’s also sexual (and if it is the latter, the openness to reciprocation absent any expectation for it.)
I’d like to be this open about myself, my body and my desires with those who matter to me. There are just for me times that words will always fail to convey what a touch (simple, sexual or otherwise) can. Sometimes you need to hug, be hugged, slap or be slapped, kiss and be kissed, come and be made to come. It doesn’t have to be about romance or love or lust, it can just be a profound need to communicate something in a way that is immediate and entirely clear.