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…