Hugging — Stop the Madness

I attended a gathering of friends and acquaintances the other evening and the hostess was really great.  When it came time to call it a night, the thank yous and good-byes I extended toward her were returned with a hug.  “Oh,” I said in surprise, “a …  hug.”  My body stiffened involuntarily as her arms extended around me, and she said warmly, “Yes, of course.”

Yes, of course — she was a “hugger.”

Huggers (and this is my own personal definition) are folks who will give you a warm, friendly hug for hello and good-bye, sort of like saying “Aloha,” and they’ll do it even if they’ve just met you or barely know you.

To be honest, I’m not sure what makes huggers tick.  Take this hostess for example.  Although I know her, I don’t really know her, and so similarly, she doesn’t really know me.  And yet, she felt comfortable enough to engage in light bodily contact with me.  In fact, she pretty much insisted on it even though I balked.  What, then, is the motivation behind the hugs?


Perhaps huggers hug in order to instill trust in others, or maybe to show how much they enjoyed the company of the “huggee” (the person being hugged).  My friend Jonas thinks that whether a person is a hugger or a non-hugger depends on their family culture, their up-bringing.  I guess it might be as simple as that.  Huggers might beget more huggers.

What I do know is that some huggers are downright adamant about hugging and somehow take offense if the hugging is not returned in kind.  Sort of like, militant huggers.  For example, I met a hugger once through mutual friends who, at the end of one group outing, with arms spread wide as if to catch a giant beach ball, said exuberantly, “I’m a hugger!!  How about a hug!!”  Being a non-hugger, I refused and ended the night with a handshake, which earned me a testy email two days later in which I was told, “This is the way that I am so you’re going to have to change if you want to be friends.”  Right, I have to change but you don’t??  Fortunately, militant huggers are few and far between.

When I entered the trans community, I thought that my problems in the hugging area would be over.  I am trans, I am currently not comfortable with my body and so I don’t want just anyone touching it.  I figured that other trans people either felt the same way or would remember a time when they used to feel that way, but that assumption was incorrect.  Huggers abound in the trans community just like they do in the non-trans community.

As I come out to people who are not trans, however, I have noticed a hesitation on the part of huggers who used to think nothing of giving me an embrace, and it’s mainly been straight, non-trans men.  There are natal men who will hug the daylights out of any woman within hugging distance but would not consider hugging another man.  Fortunately, with that type of hugger, coming out as a transgender man has caused my HF (huggability factor) to fall precipitously.

The above does not hold true for some male relatives, however.  I have an uncle who was trying to sort out the fact that his niece was now his nephew. He exclaimed, “But I don’t know what to do now.  I mean, should I still hug you?”  “Well,” I said, “I never particularly cared for being hugged anyway.”  He replied with reflection, “Yeah, I kind of noticed that.”

And therein lies the rub, er, hug.  Why in the world would a person repeatedly insist on hugging someone who obviously wasn’t comfortable with it?  Do they think that if they keep trying, they will convert me, or that I will grow accustomed to the ritual and stop being uncomfortable?

I know huggers don’t do this maliciously – the huggers are sincerely nice people who don’t mind showing their affection.  On the flip side, by not wanting to be the huggee, that does not mean I am insincere or devoid of affection.  It also doesn’t mean that I won’t hug anyone at all.

I suppose that a lack of reciprocation on the part of the non-hugger huggee could be construed as a withholding of some sort, or maybe selfishness or impoliteness, but I hope not because it’s nothing personal.  Huggers and non-huggers are just on different wavelengths or have different hugging thresholds.  Perhaps non-huggers are from Mars and huggers are from Venus, or something like that.

Because of this difference, I was going to suggest that huggers devise some sort of signal amongst themselves so that in social situations, they can readily identify each other and thereby avoid awkwardness from trying to hug a non-hugger.  My thought was that, being the one who is taking some sort of action (i.e. hugging) the hugger then has some responsibility not to foist a hug on a non-hugger. After some contemplation, however,  I realized that all that wouldn’t be necessary because non-huggers already have a signal that is well-known and universal.

It’s called a handshake.

It’s easy.  If I put my hand out to shake, that should stop even a hoard of huggers dead in their tracks.  The problem is, this signal doesn’t seem to work consistently.  I’ve been trying to use it for years, but many huggers will dodge and by-pass my outstretched hand like a tight end going around a linebacker.

So I think I’m going to try this:

It’s called a Boyfriend Arm Pillow.  I am not kidding.  Apparently, these things are quite popular in Japan and are now available in Europe for the person whose boyfriend is not there to give them a hug when they go to sleep.

But don’t take my word for it.  There is a scientific study quoted on the web site of Pillow Partners, a company that sells the Boyfriend Arm Pillow in the UK.  “A recent study revealed that 63% of people need a hug to fall asleep.”  My gosh, if that’s true, that would make for a lot of tired people!  There must be something to it, though, because they’re out of stock!  (There is a little news story about the Boyfriend Arm Pillow that I recommend reading. It cracked me up!)

If I can get my hands on one of these babies, I can use it to deflect even the most rabid of huggers.  I could whip that sucker out when a hugger comes at me, sort of step back and just toss it into their open arms for them to hug to their hearts’ content. Then they’re happy, I’m happy, no harm, no foul.  The problem is, I think these Boyfriend Arm Pillows are like DHT cream:  hard to come by in the U.S.  But if I can get one, then, who knows, maybe I can stop the madness…

— ATM

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9 Responses to Hugging — Stop the Madness

  1. Alex says:

    Ok, Next time we meet, I was planning on hugging you, but now I may think twice! hahaha. My girlfriend and her family are several generations of militant huggers, no way to avoid without risking wwIII. I have tried to start using the “bro hug” which combines a handshake with a shoulder bump. It doesn’t always work and I get a full on grab and hold, but that is nothing compared to the Italian hug kiss that must be done on meet and greet and departure! I actually got admonished once that my kiss was always directed at the netherland air around the recipient and not planted firmly on the cheek! Being Trans has changed some of the previous grab and holders to Bro huggers, but I do still get the occasional face plant.. even from the Uncles!!! I don’t mind if they don’t! At least not much!

    • Haha. Yeah, there are all kinds of huggers. The bro hug sounds good. I might try that one, at least with the guys. Good luck with your GFs family – tricky waters to navigate 🙂

  2. nome says:

    I love hugging. I didn’t grow up around a lot of hugs and realized about a yr ago that I just wasn’t getting enough hugs so I turned into a hugger. At first, I was the space-invading mess you describe here. After pretty much every interaction I would hug the person. I very quickly learned my lesson. It’s an issue of personal space and I’m sorry people aren’t respecting that. :S

    • That’s interesting. What happened that caused you to pull back a little from hugging? Do you still hug and if so, how do you measure the other person’s personal space needs? Thanks for the comment.

  3. Eryk says:

    I’m a hugger, but not a militant one. I’m actually not your usual hugger. I love to hug, and do so frequently, and I even hug people I’ve just met. But I ask before I hug. I say, “You’re cool. Can I hug you?” or something of the sort. Although I still haven’t hugged the one other transman that I know of at my school…

  4. rabbit says:

    I’m a hugger (not militant), probably because of the way I was brought up. I do, however, try to be aware of whether other people are comfortable with physical contact, so I don’t tend to initiate contact or assume hugs are ok unless the touch barrier has already been broken with that person. Good to hear your perspective as a non-hugger to get a sense of the other side. Actually, one of my concerns about transitioning is that I’m afraid people will be less touch-friendly towards me as a man than they were before.

    • Well, I can’t be sure, but you might have some influence on that by the way you interact with people. You can guide them by your hugging nature.

      Also, I have found with some people who are close to me, that since I came out to them, they are now more inclined to be “touch friendly” (as you put it), perhaps because I shared very personal information with them and they feel even closer to me now, or perhaps because I am more authentic and they feel more comfortable with me. I know that in living as someone I was not, I unconsciously put up a barrier that people could somehow feel. Now that the barrier is gone, some people notice my openness and respond to it in a more touch friendly way.

      What I’m saying is that although there are legitimate fears to transitioning that are very apparent to us (maybe even magnified), there are benefits that we might not even be able to imagine until we move forward.

  5. A says:

    George Kappas (hypnotherapist) developed a model about people’s suggestibility.
    Now suggestibility in hypnosis has everything to do of course with how to communicate with people who have a different way of processing information and or learning style. That’s why the same hypnotic induction doesn’t have the same effect on everyone. He suggested there were physically suggestible people and emotional suggestibles, (and a small percentage right in the middle).

    Emotional being people at ease with their emotions but less in touch with their physical body. Being at ease emotionally they communicate very directly (almost bluntly) but pick up inferences (and wonder how what was said is “really” was meant).
    They learn by picking up inferences (analyzing) but communicate directly.

    The physical person being kind of the opposite. Very at easy with their physical body but not so much emotionally so they dread rejection and they kind of beat around the bush. They learn directly without looking too far past what’s been said, but talk in inferences.

    Obviously communication between these groups can work really well, and adjusting the way you communicate to the way someone learns can really improve any communication.

    While people tend to stay at their end of the spectrum they do vary naturally in how extreme they are. The better you feel about yourself and your surroundings the less extreme people tend to be on that scale and the more “in touch” with the “other side” of themselves. A physical person prefers the physical learning/ communication style but isn’t limited to it and vice versa, it’s like learning to write with your non dominant hand.

    Maybe this is just one of many explainations/ideas why some people are huggy, while others aren’t and why people might change how they react to you as you change even when people don’t know what or why you’ve changed.. 🙂

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