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If a man finds a man handsome, a man tells the man he is handsome. If a woman finds a woman beautiful, she tells the woman she is beautiful. I think we should not get caught in the stereotypical claptrap that does rounds of the rather savagely knuckleheaded social order. A thing of beauty is a thing of beauty. Appreciate it for what it is. A compliment would not only be cherished, it would do you a great deal of good to make someone else feel nice too. Do not look at anything from the point of view of sexuality and gender. That is the occupation of the lame and insecure.

I am a heterosexual, and I have never felt uncomfortable around my close (male) friends. I have never shied away from letting them give me that big tight hug or giving them one. I have had no qualms even when some of my core mates have leaned their heads on my shoulders while sitting by the bonfire and chatting about the usual that men talk when men get together. Coming to think of it, physical closeness has never been anything but a natural manner in which to show my love to my gender. Has it aroused in me any other feelings at any time? Perhaps being conditioned not to misread everything in terms of sexuality, I grasped early on to discern between a wanting touch and a touch of want. Yes, there have been times when I have taken note of what might be going on inside a friend’s head when someone articulates their admiration on say their physique, or a new haircut. And when these people have said things like – Why did he do that? You think he was hitting on me? I have been blatant in telling such people (who come up with this homophobic nonsense) that if they suspect someone’s genuine words of praise as something else, then they seriously have issues to sort within themselves.

I have written enough in my earlier reflections about how I was homophobic. How some elders in the family believed that no two men must be close physically or emotionally, and that such a union is nothing short of unhealthy and will lead to sexual entanglement. I figured, in time, that no amount of proximity could evoke feelings of a sexual nature if they aren’t there to begin with in the first place. So as time passed, I further figured that we are all human beings, and we all need love, and that an occasional hug, and to be physically close to people whom we love, even if they aren’t from our own family, but from our own gender makes us feel wanted and secure. It is these healthy bonds that garner a healthy relationship.

I sat my father down one day and asked him if he had been propositioned by anyone amidst his circle that he was so vehemently against people of the same gender being intimate. He shared with me that when he was young, he had lived in a joint family that consisted of forty people, and when you live with those many people, you see and hear more than what I could have possibly imagined coming from the nuclear family that I was raised in. That is when I realised that experiences are responsible for people to construct this wall around themselves, and this is, once again, a hindrance that the society forcefully daubs us men with: where a woman can get a grip on things by seeking assistance, but for a man to even reach out is branded to be non-masculine, and therefore, he tends to encapsulate himself with rigid notions that could hamper his own healthy development in various spheres of the heart and mind.

I have friends with whom we talk the shittiest shit in the world, shit that if someone else were to overhear, would think us strange, but we are in our own comfort zone, and we are all die-hard heterosexuals, and none of us make, or take, any other meaning of what we pull each other’s leg with. Then there are us, amidst those from the group, who have gone skinny-dipping, and have swung towels at our groins by calling each other homos for the sake of amusement, and that has not clouded our idea of heterosexuality, or even for that matter altered anything between our friendship.

Every now and then the world coughs up new labels to report the diversity in psychology and sexuality, and when people read such transitional statistics they are at times troubled whether they might fall into that category: do not take such things as the gospel truth. I cannot generalise things, but, yes, considering that I have never been tempted by anyone of my own sex does not stop me from being myself – free and easy before people who are attached to me from my gender. Like I clarified earlier, the very stiffness of men being men, and holding themselves from an overt expression of affection, has caused sufficient havoc over the decades in the western world, while, in our part of the globe, Asia, we are not overly bothered about physical nearness. Hugging a male friend, or coiling our arms around the necks of our male friends isn’t unusual or homosexual, as is generally perceived weird by the western world.

Homophobia exists in my country, predominantly in the urban. I lived in Richmond Town right from my infancy, but when I moved to Whitefield, an upscale suburb, I observed, on countless occasions, men, in pairs, and even large groups, holding onto their fingers and (hands enmeshed in hands in some instances too) promenading joyously on the pavements or strolling about shopping malls. While Whitefield is colonised by some of the influential and affluent, the very fact that we c0-exist with the original inhabitants: the farmers, lends us a glimpse into their simple life – they swim in the nearby lakes with nothing but a string and a virtually transparent piece of fabric to cover their groin, and in some cases, with nothing but their bare naked bodies. They shower sitting under a tap with people around them. In short, they are not pedantic like the educated and qualified people are, and they certainly don’t view everything through the lens of straight, gay, bisexual and what not. I even wonder if they are familiar with such terminologies, and drawing from their demeanour, it is rather evident that they are seamlessly ignorant to such ailments that plague the biosphere of the knowledgeable.

Matthew Daddario is spectacularly masculine, with just the correct extent of childlike charm. A heterosexual, Matt has portrayed same-sex characters on the screen, large and television. He is one of the ideal examples of how one can be assuredly bulletproof of their sexuality, and yet care little of the speculations of the world. He openly defies templates where, this and this, fits this, and if this and this do not fit, then something is amiss. This is where I think men get a bit too worked up with this entire – ‘Do not touch me, I am straight’ ideology. And this is not just foolish, but also vainglorious. Men see men’s members while watching porn, or in a fleeting glance at the gym lockers. Men indulge in threesomes and orgies and stand next to men with raging erections. They compare sizes at a drop of a hat, and chitchat about how they want their penises to be bigger than the biggest, and then they like to identify themselves as puritans. Closeness, be it emotional or physical, is a healthy way in which to nourish the mind and body, and I think we must grow up and not behave like imbeciles.

Sharing a pertinent article by Dwayne D Hayes, the founder and managing editor of Strand Magazine. It rings so bloody true to what’s going wrong with the male as a species in this century.

Men and Affection: Three Practices to Raise Boys Unafraid to Love

Your boys are watching and learning from your examples.

When I was twenty-one I spent two months living in London with a group of young people from around the world as part of a summer mission project. It was a great opportunity to meet people from various countries and to learn more about the world. I was part of a small team that included men and women from Germany, Finland, South Africa, Jordan, Brazil, and several others countries.

One afternoon Kamal, a young Jordanian, and I went to meet some others in Hyde Park. Along the way, he grabbed my hand as we walked side-by-side. I quickly removed my hand from his grasp and Kamal kindly explained that it was common for Arab men to hold hands as a sign of friendship and affection. But it was a sign of friendship and affection that I was not comfortable with, not mature enough for and, though he repeated this several times over the summer, I always let go of his hand as quickly as possible.

As a boy, I loved to hold my younger brother’s hand. He was my best friend and, though he was only eighteen months younger, feeling his soft little hand in mine made me feel good, and protective. That tenderness quickly moved into aggression and we would wrestle, punch, and kick each other. Yes, often in fun. But seldom have we, after our early years, expressed our affection for each other in a physical way (with the exception of a bro-hug).

Now, over twenty years after Kamal reached for my hand, my son is in kindergarten and I love to watch him interact with his male friends. They hug each other, can often be found with hands on each other’s face or in hair, rest their heads on each other when they talk and, yes, even hold hands.

Logan clearly loves his male buddies.

When and why do we stop expressing affection for our male friends? As adults, this extends beyond the physical. I can do “bro hugs” easily but find it difficult to speak if I try to tell a male friend how much I appreciate him.

For boys as they age there is the pressure to avoid being a “sissy”. Girls, we’re told (and shown) are emotional, weak, and cry. If you’re like a girl you must be gay. And sadly, of course, for many people that is still unacceptable. It is this pressure that quenches some of the natural physical affection that boys express for each other when they are young and we learn to express our affection violently, through punches, teasing, and other forms of verbal abuse.

It saddens me to think it will happen to my son.

So, what can we do to help our sons express affection for their male friends?

The following three practices can help our sons learn to be unafraid about showing affection.

1. Watch our words.
Don’t speak in demeaning terms about girls, crying, homosexuals, or the expression of emotion. Don’t react negatively when our sons share their affection in a physical way.

2.  Demonstrate appropriate physical touch with your male friends.
Hug your best buds, shake hands and stand with your arm around your friends. And tell them how important they are to you. Avoid confusing affection with violence or verbal attacks. There are various ways to express affection. Make a practice of demonstrating them in front of your son.

3. Express physical affection for your father and/or male siblings.
I kiss my father on the cheek when I see him. I do this not only to show my love for him but also because I want my son to always kiss me and not be afraid to show affection for me.

Did you see the film Eat Pray Love, starring Julia Roberts? I don’t remember much about the film, but what I do remember is Felipe, the character played by Javier Bardem, a Brazilian divorcé, whose college-age son visits. Felipe kisses his adult son on the lips and openly weeps when his son departs the country.

Rarely do you see an American father express this type of affection for his son. I was a new father when I saw the movie and thought: that is exactly how I will be when my son is older.

Every night, before I go to bed, I silently enter my son’s room (he is approaching six now) and kiss him and whisper that I love him.

I know, soon enough, he will likely ask me to end this nightly show of affection.

But he’s a deep sleeper. Don’t tell him and I just might get away with it until he goes away to college.

Previously published on the magazine STAND by founder and managing editor, Dwayne D Hayes.