TIME Marriage Equality

Black Gay Men Are Still Invisible

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Whenever I read about this mythical place in which a person’s sexuality is no longer taboo, in the wake of a handful of states allowing marriage equality, I often think to check the balance of my credit card. I would love to be able to afford to go to such a wondrous place. Unfortunately, reality quickly smacks me upside the head. There’s no way I could ever enter such a utopia — given that the only people allowed admittance are white, upper middle class white gay men. (Oh, and maybe the occasional straight “ally.”)

Months ago, I read David Carr’s essay in which he asserted “now that gay marriage is a fact of life, a person’s sexual orientation is not only not news, it’s not very interesting.” I chalked that up to him being a straight, white guy who didn’t know any better. However, Brandon Ambrosino recently lent credence to Carr’s possibly misguided remarks by noting, “Carr’s is a welcome reminder of the progress we often forget we’ve made. A person’s gayness isn’t a talking point, and his alleged gayness ought never be since it takes us back to an era when it was culturally acceptable to shame a gay person as a curious oddity.”

For the record, it’s still culturally acceptable to shame a gay person as a curious oddity. Otherwise, any conversation about a public figure’s sexuality would reflect that on its own. What really bugs me about this conversation, and all those like it, though, is that marriage equality is often the sole basis on how to weigh progress.

Should I meet the R&B singer or NBA player of my dreams, I’d love to get married and have all of the legal protections that come with that institution in all of the 50 states. Nonetheless, when I think about actual progress, as a gay Black man I can’t be silly enough to base “how far we’ve come” on where I can get married. I can see same sex marriage being legalized nationwide — but at present moment, I have other things on my mind to worry about.

We can start with the one-sided representation of the LGBT community.

Although Black people have traditionally been portrayed as the boogiemen and boogiewomen of gay rights (disproportionately opposed to gay marriage, on the whole), a Gallup poll nonetheless found that “Blacks are more likely to identify themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender than any other racial or ethnic group in the nation.” A year before that, the Census Bureau highlighted that gay couples “in Southern states like Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas are more likely to be raising children than their counterparts on the West Coast, in New York and in New England.”

And yet, who are the faces of gay families in the media? I recall Stephen Marche’s review of the now cancelled NBC comedy, The New Normal, in which he claimed that, “Gay people are becoming too boring for television.” Well, maybe the ones we’re stuck with are.

And even when there is some diversity — e.g. the picture of two gay Black men raising children together that caused a stir recently — it comes from the Internet and is still framed with a disingenuous, “Ohmigod, why are you talking about their race as if that matters?” It’s always the people who aren’t subjected to scrutiny because of their color telling everyone else about the beauty of colorblindness.

The lack of effort to reach and represent other types of gay men has numerous consequences. For instance, take the New York Times report about Black and Latino men becoming the face of HIV. The story notes that “there has been little political pressure to focus on young gay blacks and Hispanics.” On the booming AIDS rates among minority gay men, Krishna Stone, a spokeswoman for Gay Men’s Health Crisis, lamented, “There wasn’t even an ad campaign aimed at young black men until last year — what’s that about?” Phill Wilson, president of the Black AIDS Institute in Los Angeles, added that there are “no models out there right now for reaching these men.”

But again, someone’s sexual orientation doesn’t matter anymore because a few guys in New York and San Francisco have gotten married, which means the gay dudes living in New Orleans, Houston, and Atlanta just need to shut up and smile. The struggle is over now.

TIME Gay Rights

What the Gay Rights Movement Should Learn from Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr.
Civil Rights activist Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gives a sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church. Donald Uhrbrock / Time Life Pictures / Getty Images

In contrast to contemporary gay activists, King found a way to condemn evil without condemning the evildoer

I was recently in a discussion with a gay activist who was angry at my insistence that we treat our opposition with compassion. How, he wondered, could I expect our community to be kind to those who continue to fight against us? Quoting Martin Luther King, I told him that only love can drive out the hatred of our opponents, to which he responded, “Sometimes I think we can love too much.”

Well, in the spirit of Dr. King, I disagree with my gay brother. I do, however, worry that many of our loudest gay activists agree with him. That is, even as they position themselves within the tradition that produced Dr. King, they seem to have lost sight of King’s true legacy of love.

The current landscape of queer politics is growing increasingly hostile. We no longer prize intellectual conversation, preferring instead to dismiss our opponents in 140-character feats of rhetoric. We routinely scour the private lives and social media accounts of our political opponents in the hopes of demonizing them as archaic, unthinking, and bigoted. Whenever we find an example of queer hatred, we are quick to convince the public that the only proper way to deal with these haters is to hate them.

In contrast to contemporary gay activists, King found a way to condemn evil without condemning the evildoer. From within the midst of a people grown weary with struggle, King stood up to remind the oppressed of the humanity of their oppressors; to remind them that if love were the goal, then the path of hatred would never lead them there.

This isn’t to suggest King wasn’t angry — he was. With the righteous indignation of a prophet, he demanded that his society grant him the dignity that God had guaranteed him. But King’s anger must be situated within his overall ethics of nonviolent resistance. King might have marched into the corrupt marketplace of his day, hurling to the ground every graven ideology of injustice; but his actions and his message only have meaning when they are framed within his firm conviction that “unconditional love will have the final word in reality.”

Though we have come quite far in the past few years, we are still routinely discriminated against. But rather than follow King’s example, some of us have decided to meet ideological violence head on with our own. We demand to be taken seriously, even as we dismiss our opponents’ request that we listen to them.

Here, too, we can learn from King, who calls us to “see the enemy’s point of view, to hear his questions, to know his assessment of ourselves.” For, as he reasons, it is possible for all of us to “learn and grow and profit from the wisdom of the brothers who are called the opposition.” When we listen to our enemies — no, when we listen to our brothers — we allow ourselves the opportunity to effect lasting change at relational levels. Further, by seeking to understand those with whom we disagree, we call bluff on the entire system of fundamentalism, which is the very condition that makes ideological tyranny possible in the first place.

King called for blacks to love the white men who hated them. Why? Because, says King, the white man “needs the love of the Negro … to remove his tensions, insecurities, and fears.” In a similar way, when we love the straight people who fear and misunderstand us, we become an example of the kind of queer love we’re advocating. When we love our opposition, without any promise of return, we remind our power-drunk world that true love is always queer since it subverts the norm of tribalism by forcing the lover to traverse the chasm between “us” and “them.”

Of course, King’s is only one way of doing activism. We have every right to keep going about queer politics with the same fundamentalism we’re ironically impugning. But if we are serious about our desire to be “on the right side of history,” we need to be clear about where exactly that boundary is drawn. As Dr. King reminds us, that boundary isn’t between black and white, or queer and straight — that boundary is between hate and love. If Dr. King is right about this, then I wonder if it’s possible to side with the queers, and yet still be on the wrong side of history.

But perhaps rather than think of love as merely the right choice to make, we should think of it a bit differently: as the liberating choice to make. Perhaps, following in the footsteps of one of history’s greatest activists, we should choose to side with love since hate is, in his opinion, too great a burden to bear.

Brandon Ambrosino is a writer and professional dancer based in Baltimore.

TIME Sports

A-Rod: A-nother Narcissist

The narcissism pandemic has itself a brand new poster boy, this time disgraced and juiced New York Yankee Alex Rodriguez, who has been slapped with a 162-game suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs. Rodriguez, facing a towering mound of evidence showing he was a doper, did what any self-respecting, self-adoring narcissist would do, which is to say he cried foul—and donned the victim mantle: “The number of games sadly comes as no surprise,” he said in a statement, “since the deck has been stacked against me from day one.”

As I wrote yesterday regarding the titanic narcissism of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, such I’ve-been-wronged behavior is one of the central features of narcissistic personality disorder. Narcissists simply don’t say “oops,” they don’t say “sorry.” Even when investigators can draw an all but straight line connecting them to the banned drugs or the traffic cones or anything else they shouldn’t have been messing with, they never come out their hands up. Instead, they double down on their sense of grievance. And so Rodriguez has filed a lawsuit against baseball commissioner Bud Selig and even his own union seeking reinstatement, just as Christie fired or demanded the resignations of everyone in sight after the George Washington Bridge story broke, while spending his entire marathon press conference insisting he’s a good man who was simply betrayed by bad aides.

Christie may have time to save himself. For A-Rod the clock is ticking. He’ll be 39 this summer—pushing 40 when he’s next eligible to play in the 2015 season—damaged goods with a nasty ‘tude and a very high price tag. Would you pay that guy $20 million per? Regardless of when his career ends, it’ll be over soon enough. But narcissism—as the psychologists who try to treat it will tell you—is often forever.

TIME society

This Guy Attempted to Find Out Exactly How Hard It Is for Women to Online Date

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He lasted two hours.

As it turns out, being female on the Internet isn’t all Instagram likes and daily deals sites. Every day women face harassment both minor and significant through social platforms, dating sites and comment sections that can range from a supposedly flattering remark about their appearance to terrifying rape and death threats. And you don’t need to be a budding social media star with a well-groomed personal brand to attract the ire of the Internet.

Of course, nowhere is the cruel and cavalier treatment of women online more prevalent and unabashed than online dating websites. Women who’ve drummed up the nerve to put themselves out there, quantifying their likes and dislikes into neat little boxes to attract someone to love or sleep with or just have a drink with, are subject to sexual harassment and maltreatment that’s difficult to fathom if you haven’t experienced it firsthand.

Perhaps armed with this knowledge, one male Redditor attempted to see exactly what women go through when engaging in online dating. According to a post in Two X Chromosomes, one of the only corners of Reddit that’s particularly female-friendly, he used a friend’s photo (with her permission) to create an OKCupid account in order to experience being a woman online for himself.

He lasted two hours.

Under the throwaway handle OKCThrowaway22221 he writes:

Guys would become hostile when I told them I wasn’t interested in NSA sex, or guys that had started normal and nice quickly turned the conversation into something explicitly sexual in nature. Seemingly nice dudes in quite esteemed careers asking to hook up in 24 hours and sending them naked pics of myself despite multiple times telling them that I didn’t want to….

I would be lying if I said it didn’t get to me. I thought it would be some fun thing, something where I would do it and worse case scenario say “lol I was a guy I trolle you lulz”etc. but within a 2 hour span it got me really down and I was feeling really uncomfortable with everything.

OKCThrowaway22221’s experience on OKCupid is just one of a series of recent experiments that have thrust the difficulties of online dating into the spotlight. Cracked writer Alli Reed recently created the worst online dating profile she could possibly imagine, and still got an onslaught of messages from interested dudes. Guess there’s no accounting for taste.

TIME society

Masculinity Is More Than a Mask

Is it O.K. to tell boys to "be a man"? An upcoming film that is much buzzed about on the web ignores the real differences between the sexes

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Are school shooters and mass murderers born out of an aggressive emphasis on masculinity in our society? The trailer for filmmaker and feminist activist Jennifer Siebel Newsom’s new documentary, The Mask You Live In, would have us think so.

The recently released trailer has attracted 1 million views on YouTube. It argues that American boys are captive to a rigid and harmful social code of masculinity. From the earliest age, they are told to “Be a man!” “Don’t cry!” “Stop with the emotion!” and “Man up!” This “guy code” suppresses their humanity, excites their drive for dominance and renders many of them dangerous. The trailer features adolescent men describing their isolation, despair and thoughts of suicide, artfully interspersed with terrifying images of school shooters and mass murderers.

I admire Newsom for using her considerable talent to advocate for boys. But I worry that she is less concerned with helping boys than with re-engineering their masculinity according to specifications from some out-of-date gender-studies textbook. The trailer is suffused with males-are-toxic ideology but shows little appreciation for how boys’ nature can be distinctively good. The Mask You Live In is scheduled to be released later this year. Let’s hope there is still time for edits.

Here are a few suggestions:
1. Recognize that masculinity is more than a “mask”
The title and content of the film suggest that masculinity is a cultural creation. That is only marginally true. A lot of typical boy behavior, such as rough-and-tumble play, risk taking and fascination with gadgets rather than dolls, appears to have a basis in biology. Researchers have found, for example, that female monkeys play with dolls much more than their brothers, who prefer toy cars and trucks. Are male monkeys captive to a “guy code”? A recent study on sex differences by researchers from the University of Turin, in Italy, and the University of Manchester, in England, confirms what most of us see with our eyes: with some exceptions, women tend to be more sensitive, esthetic, sentimental, intuitive and tender-minded, while men tend to be more utilitarian, objective, unsentimental and tough-minded. We do not yet fully understand the biological underpinnings of these universal tendencies, but that is no reason to deny they exist.

(MORE: It’s a Man’s World, and It Always Will Be)

2. Appreciate the difference between healthy and pathological masculinity
Some boys are hypermasculine or pathologically masculine. They are bullies and worse, establishing their male bona fides through destruction, mayhem and preying on the weak and vulnerable. But most boys evince healthy masculinity. They may enjoy mayhem in games and sports, but in life they like to build, not destroy. Their instinct is not to exploit vulnerable people but to protect and defend them. Of course, all boys need guidance and discipline from the adults in their lives. I agree with Newsom that telling a boy to “man up” can be harsh and degrading. But teaching him to “be a gentleman” is another matter. It’s a tried-and-true way to bring out the best in males.

3. Acknowledge the virtue of male reserve
Newsom’s film tells us that boys in our society don’t feel safe talking about emotions and personal struggles. To do so violates the boy code and subjects them to shame and ridicule. The driving message of Newsom’s film is that we must free our young men to become emotionally expressive. Of course, parents should do all they can to improve their sons’ emotional literacy. But parents (as well as wives and girlfriends) should keep in mind that male reticence has its advantages.

A 2012 a study surveyed and observed nearly 2,000 children and adolescents and found that boys and girls have very different expectations about the value of problem talk. Girls were more likely to report that personal disclosure made them feel cared for and understood. Boys, overall, found it to be a tedious waste of time — and “weird.” Contrary to what we learn from Newsom’s film, boys did not find personal disclosure embarrassing or unmasculine. According to the study’s author, Amanda Rose: “Boys’ responses suggest they just don’t see talking about problems to be a particularly useful activity” (emphasis added).

But in girls, excessive problem talk is in fact linked to anxiety and depression. Male stoicism may be adaptive and protective. If you want a boy to be more forthcoming, Rose has good advice for parents and counselors: “You will have to persuade him that it serves a practical purpose.” Engage his male instinct for problem solving.

(MORE: What Boys Want: Hook-Up Culture Doesn’t Just Hurt Girls)

4. Make clear that most boys are psychologically sound and resilient
The Mask You Live In gives the impression that the average adolescent boy is severely depressed. In fact, clinical depression is rare among boys. (National Institute of Mental Health data show that the prevalence of depression among among 13- to 17-year-old boys is 4.3%; among girls of the same age group, it is 12.4%.)

Newsom’s film reports that every day in the U.S. three or more boys take their own lives. Suicide is, indeed, primarily a male disease. Among 10- to 24-year-olds, 81% of suicide victims are male. In 2010, a total of 3,951 young men died by their own hands. Male suicide is a much neglected scourge, and Newsom’s efforts to raise awareness are admirable. Still, in a nation of nearly 33 million boys, that means that the percentage of boys who commit suicide is close to 0.01%. Each of these deaths is a tragedy. But it helps no one to pretend that suicide is typical male behavior.

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) does appear to be an epidemic among boys, but the implications of that are ambiguous. It could be that as a society, we are pathologizing age-old male rambunctiousness. Some experts have suggested that ADHD would be significantly reduced if we allowed boys more unstructured recess and occasions for spirited rough-and-tumble play. Yet, in Newsom’s documentary, scenes of boys engaging in mock fisticuffs, playfully head-butting and chasing one another around the playground are offered as evidence of how young males are driven to “prove” their aggressive masculinity.

5. Include specific ideas on how to help boys with depression or thoughts of suicide
Some of the most promising, innovative ideas are coming out of Australia. In 2006, a report in the Medical Journal of Australia argued for a paradigm shift in the nation’s mental-health system. Rather than blaming “masculinity” or trying to “re-educate” men away from their reluctance to seek help, the author asks, “Why not provide health services that better meet the needs of men?”

The Australians are now developing male-specific mental-health protocols. A 2012 Australian study, for example, found that large majorities of young men associate the term mental health with insanity and straightjackets. Mental fitness seems to go over better with men. The Australians recently launched a mental-fitness app for guys. The focus is on acquiring “skills,” developing “strengths” and achieving “self-mastery.” But doesn’t that reinforce traditional narratives of masculinity? It certainly does — that’s the point, and the key to its promise.

The energy, competitiveness and corporal daring of normal males are responsible for much good in the world. No one denies that boys’ aggressive and risk-taking tendencies must be socialized and channeled toward constructive ends. But the de–Tom Sawyering of the American boy should not be anyone’s agenda. I am sure it is not Newsom’s. Yet her film in progress suggests otherwise.

MORE: Women in Combat: A Mirror of Society?

TIME feminism

Men Are Obsolete

Silhouette of young man looking up.
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How do I know men are finished? I’ll read you a quote that says it all: “Yes. There have been times when I’ve been in a drunken stupor.” Toronto’s mayor, a shining example of modern manhood is what I would call the canary in the coal mine, only he’s not quite as delicate as the canary. Because, you know, He’s got “more than enough to eat at home.”

Are men literally obsolete? Of course not, and if we had to prove that we could never win. For one thing, we haven’t figured out a way to harvest sperm without them being, you know, alive. But in order to win this debate we have to prove that men, quote unquote, as we’ve historically come to define them — entitled to power, destined for leadership, arrogant, confused by anything that isn’t them. As in: “I don’t understand. Is it a guy dressed up like a girl? Or a girl dressed up like a guy?” They are obsolete.

(MORE: It’s a Man’s World, and It Always Will Be)

Once upon a time, the men ventured out to hunt bison while the women stayed behind to dust the cave, gather berries and raise the very hairy children. This is the story we have told ourselves for tens of thousands of years to explain why men rule the world while women are relegated to being the second sex, (“physiologically unsuited for leadership” is how the current Australian prime minister put it). Now after more than a century of global economic revolutions and a few decades of recession it’s become obvious that this story is no longer true, if it ever was. Here are the reasons:

ONE: It’s the end of men because men are failing in the workplace.

Over the last few decades men’s incomes have been slowly declining and women’s have been rising. Last year one in five men were not working, something economists call the biggest social crisis we will face. Party this is because the economy is changing quickly, but men aren’t. As the manufacturing economy gets replaced by a service and information economy, men are failing to adjust or get the skill they need to succeed.

Meanwhile, women are moving in the opposite direction: In 2009 they became the majority of the American workforce for the first time ever. Now in every part of America young single women under 30 have a higher median income than young men, which is really important because that’s the phase of life when people imagine what their future will look like. As one sorority girl put it to me — remember, I said sorority, not someone from the women’s study center — “Men are the new ball and chain.”

It’s the end of men because men are failing in schools and women are succeeding. In nearly every country, on all but one continent, women are getting 60 percent of college degrees, which is what you need to succeed these days. Many boys start falling behind as early as first grade, and they fail to catch up. Many men, meanwhile, still see school as a waste of time, a girl thing.

(MORE: The Real Significance of Mary Barra)

TWO: It’s the end of men because the traditional household, propped up by the male breadwinner, is vanishing.

For the first time in history women all over the world are marrying down, meaning marrying men with worse prospects than they have. We have a new global type, for example, called the alpha wife, a woman who makes more money than her husband or boyfriend. Not that long ago she was exceedingly rare. Now she’s part of about 40 percent of couples in the US. And that does not count the growing number of single moms who head their own families.

Women are occupying positions of power that were once totally closed off to them. The premiers of the Canada’s four biggest provinces, the head of Harvard, the COO of Facebook, the newly appointed chairwoman of the Fed, ruler of the global economy, Janet Yellen, who got the job basically because Larry Summers said women weren’t that good at math. And lets not forget Christine Lagarde, who took over the job at the IMF from another shining example of modern manhood.

And why aren’t there more female CEO’s or heads of state, one of you will ask? To that I have to remind you that women’s ascendance is only about 40 years old, while men have been in power for 40,000 years. So by that standard we are rising at dizzying speeds.

THREE: It’s the end of men because we can see it in the working and middle class.

When I speak at public universities with commuter populations about the disappearance of men, the women find what I am saying to be totally obvious, like the sky is blue and Miley Cyrus is whacked. The working class feels the end of men the most, as men lose their jobs and lose their will to be fathers, and women do everything alone, creating a virtual matriarchy in the parts of the country that used to be bastions of good old macho country music style values. Why don’t these women marry or live with the fathers of their children? As many a woman told me, “He’d be just another mouth to feed.”

(MORE: Sorry, Camille Paglia: Feminism Is the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Men)

FOUR: It’s the end of men because men have lost their monopoly on violence and aggression.

Women are becoming more sexually confident, and something Camille Paglia has been waiting for, more aggressive and violent in both good ways and bad — that is, going to war, going to jail, and in the case of the Real Housewives of New Jersey, beating up anyone who knocks a drink out of their hand.

FIVE: It’s the end of men because men, too, are now obsessed with their body hair.

In her truly endlessly hilarious book Caitlin Moran catalogs the travails of being a woman, one of them being the unacceptability of hair, anywhere on the body. If that is a sign of patriarchal oppression then I counter it with Exhibit A.

This is of course Anthony Weiner’s chest, and as you can see, the landscape is meticulously tended. I mean, he has called the exterminator and made sure the weeds are dead and gone. And if you asked him, “Why are you so shorn, Mr. Weiner?” do you think he would say the matriarchy made me do it? No he would not, and neither should we.

Obsolete does not mean worthless. It means outmoded. The twin combustion engine made the bicycle obsolete but that doesn’t mean we hate the bicycle. We just use it the way we want to, while recognizing the necessity of efficiency and change. We don’t have to turn men into eunuchs. We can keep whatever we like about manhood but adjust the parts of the definition that are keeping men back.

I dedicated my book to my son because he is one of those boys who gets in trouble a lot, who thinks the institutions are rigged against him. I see my job as accepting him as he is, and teaching him how to adapt to the world as it is.

When I think of the world after the end of men, I think of the world my son will inherit, where, if he chooses to take his kids to a playground at 3 in the afternoon on a Tuesday, no one will look at him funny, no one will wonder if he’s out of work, no one will think, “What a loser,” and no one will think he’s from Portland or Toronto, they will just walk on by and not think anything of it at all. He can be his own lovely obnoxious self and also be at home in a new world.

MORE: Stay-at-Home Dad: Why My Wife Is Embarrassed by Me

Hanna Rosin is the author of the book The End of Men. Adapted from her opening statement at the Munk Debate, “Resolved: Men Are Obsolete,” held in Toronto.

TIME society

Let’s End the Hugging Arms Race

Man and woman hugging.
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I am not a hugger. And I am not alone.

It was a lovely party. Really. The wine was exquisite. The salmon canapés were memorable. The people were interesting. Conversation flowed easily through soft notes from the piano.

And then something went terribly wrong.

I sensed movement on my left. Coming at me like a drone strike was a known hugger; a dear friend, but a man who believed that personal space had plenty of room for two.

I could feel my flight or flee hormones surge. But resistance would be rude, and running was out of the question – especially in these heels. So I gave into his embrace, my hands just lightly on his sides. We broke soon enough. “So great to see you. How long has it been?” But for the rest of the evening, I carried his aftershave like a citrusy infection.

I am not a hugger. And I am not alone.

These are difficult times for those of us who are selective in our casual intimacies. Hugs, it seems, have become as common as hellos. Even among those prone to reach out and touch someone, these are also confusing times. A handshake is a handshake. But a hug demands an evolving set of calculations: setting, familiarity and – most dicey of all — reciprocation. Few things are more awkward than a hugger leaning in for a hug, as the hugee reaches out for a shake. The usual simultaneous reversals by both only ups the awkwardness, and sets up the next meeting for a repeat.

Men seem to have adapted well. They have managed to make the hug an extension of the handshake. A grasp of the hand, a quick touch at shoulders (the one-second rule applies, anything longer than that will be noticed), a few taps on the back and… clear.

For women, things are more complex.

Woman to woman, we always have the air-kiss. But that has become a red-carpet cliché – mainly for the most formal of occasions where time and money have been invested in cosmetic preparations. Denied the option of the shoulder-touch/back-tap (we should probably work on a variation of that), we’re left with a binary decision: to hug, or not to hug. The choice is situational, subject to all the vagaries of place and relationship.

Man-women is a whole other kettle o’fish. Awkward can easily careen into inappropriate. I feel my brothers’ pain. The first meeting is a handshake. Clear enough. But unless you’re operating under the rules of international diplomacy, the unease grows with each encounter. New friends become good friends, and at some point the handshake may seem impersonal, an even cold. What is that point? And who makes the call?

There can be a high price for getting it wrong. A male friend – not to my knowledge a high-volume hugger – may carry the scars of miscalculation for life. “I was part of a project team,” he said. “A younger woman and I did a lot of work together on a critical part of it. We got some big news on results. There was a feeling of celebration. I went for the hug. She put both hands on my chest and pushed me back. Didn’t say a word. Every time I see her now, it’s what I think about. So – never again.”

I told him not to take it personally; and to get on with his life. It may be that she was simply following the advice that women should not hug at work – not because it’s inappropriate, but because it looks weak. There are some good rules about body-language and leadership: head tilts can look submissive. Touching your face shows insecurity. Too much nodding in agreement relinquishes power. Hugging, many argue, is covered by the same set of rules. It can take a woman from the office alpha to the office mom.

Like most shows of emotion, that can be situational. In some work settings – nurses and social workers come to mind – hugging can be a useful part of the job description. Young kids in the classroom often need hugs; school boards have been forced to put in policies against them. In a psychologist’s office, it’s a judgment call. Refusing a hug from a patient can feel like rejection. Accepting one can be a big compilation in the patient-therapist relationship. When hugging seems to be a possibility, most therapists would say: set up the rules in advance. My people aren’t big on spontaneity.

All of this comes together to elevate a simple gesture to what some call a state of “hugging anxiety.” A simple gesture has become so imbued with options and so fraught with meaning (or no meaning at all) that we need a universal declaration of rules.

I would love to be able to wear my rules like a campaign button. They’re very simple. I won’t if you won’t. And we’ll like each other just as much.

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