Male Affection (Frankie – 2010)
I was at a friends Jewish wedding recently. During the reception the menfolk gathered for some traditional dancing. They linked themselves, arm over shoulder and began to skip in a circle. Faces flush, they gathered momentum as the congregation urged them along. I hung by the nibblies and watched the disc of men. The usual manly stiffness and concern had vanished, replaced with a disarming grace and lightness. It was so passionate and unselfconscious, suggesting an emotional generosity and clarity of spirit. For a secular Tasmanian from a single mother family, this fanfare of tradition and male expression could not have been more exotic.
The last time I stood arm in arm with a group of men was playing football for South Burnie reserves. Before the game we would frown and spit and stamp our boots like bulls as the world weary coach ran through earnest clichés. Locked in the pack, whacked on the back, my neighbours armpit presenting itself, I’d get a buzz. Here I was, ‘of men’ – belonging – all muscles and swearing and deep-heat. Suburban warriors bellowing empty threats. Sure, we’d get annihilated, but it’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the ego’s suppressed longing for male affection.
I get jealous of girls sometimes. They have such an easy intimacy with each other. I dub it the ‘girly pal thing,’ they can hug and sit close and share clothes and secrets. There’s an openness which a knowledge of ones own emotions brings. Men have the wall. A big ol’ blokey man-wall that they carry around like cladding. Even arty guys have it, no doubt left over from their fathers. A certain stand-offishness, a tight lipped reserve, a skeletal tension from years of crushing feelings like cars. With girls I can dive headfirst into a spirited conversation about psychological malarkey, with boys there’s at least five stages of red tape as we eye each other off and play ‘can I eat you, can you eat me’ status tennis, leftover from primitive ‘provider’ hardwiring.
Most men would agree they gravitate to women for their affection needs. Growing up, I would hug my Pop like a woollen tree, but it’d be Nan who would squeeze me till I’d fart. When I was eighteen I became involved in ‘Youth Insearch’ an organisation holding camps to help teenagers deal with issues in their lives. They’d dedicate a whole session to learning to hug properly, reminding us that some kids may not have received that kind of love. On paper it looked disastrous, but by nights end you’d see tough detention centre boys gently wrapping their arms around each other, hiding beneath caps, pretending not to like it.
‘I might look gay.’ Gloriously lousy homophobia is the main reason lads keep their distance. This isn’t helped by sporting rituals being referred to as ‘homo-erotic,’ a form of sexism perpetuating the myth that any male bonding must be sexual. I’ve tried to counteract this by being the hug starter. Even if the dude is holding out his hand for a shake, I just go on in there like a bear. A couple of years ago my friend Tom started greeting me with a kiss on the cheek. At first I found it confronting. I’d kissed my pop on the cheek once and that was a whiskery mystery. As Tom and I grew close and riffed on ladies and penmanship, his intimate greeting began to feel right. Maybe this was our ‘blokey pal thing.’ Tom had displayed the brute strength to cast off society’s shackles.
With each generation we phase out some of the bad habits from the ones before. I’m hoping this whole Aussie men don’t cry bullshit is among them. We may not have the tradition of the Jews, but we should have the same regard for ourselves and each other. Handshakes are for salesman. Next time you’re going brotown, rock the hug.