Hugs and masks

This social group practises consensual touch, and I have been held and cuddled this weekend. I feel revivified, warmed, cared for.

It is a wonderful exercise, and quite simple. In pairs, one touched the other. The other responds yes, to consent, no to veto such touching, “Pause” to consider, or “please” to show enthusiasm. The giver of touch can say nothing but the phrase “Are you still there?” if there is no response.

And then, in pairs, ask for what you want.

I want to be held. In fact I want to be cradled. I feel incapable of facing the demands on me, and without support, and this is lovely. I look up at my friend, and she looks down at me and smiles.

We started with a series of personal growth weekends, but from around 2000 they built a community of those who had done level one. I joined in 2011, when there were a number of community camps, and though we don’t have the courses in the UK any more, we still have community gatherings. It had been fading for a while- our youngest participants are in their forties, and when I wanted to encourage those actresses into it I felt unable to as there were no men their age.

My friend held the gathering in her three acre garden, and I went early to help put up the marquees. I also helped with food prep.

We have lots of time to sit around in the sun talking, or enjoying the garden, and we started our personal growth activities with a ritual in which we make eye contact with each other participant in turn, and appreciate them. It seemed to me that even in this work, where we seek maturity, self-knowledge and growth, I was wearing a mask. I know the rules of these workshops. I share my feelings and touch as required, and even get more able to know them, yet hide my true self so well I hide it from myself.

And I know what I should feel- pleasurable anticipation- so when I actually feel irritation at what I perceive as timewasting it’s a shock. I seek refuge in rules, even here which is supposed to liberate my authenticity.

Possibly I have never really participated in such activities at all.

Go with it. What do I feel, really? Anxiety, frustration, a touch of anger. Fairly normal, then.

Making the eye contact, a ritual I have found pleasant, is confusing and painful now. Rather than safe, non-threatening types also following rules, these are human beings, with different characters, perceptions, feelings. Perhaps I see them better than I have seen people before (consciously, at least).

I become aware how I reinforce privilege and oppression, also unconsciously. People ignore her, she says, as they see her as unattractive therefore uninteresting. I did too. I saw her in 2011 and have not really talked to her before today. I saw what her profession was, and that made me take note, though I had mistaken her level in it. My ignoring her and paying attention to another will hold her back. That she is where she is, is despite an unfair system I uphold.

Similarly with one of the most generous, self-effacing man I know. I am on the first floor chopping veg by the window, and notice him walking past below. “What are you doing, skiving there?” I call down at him. I thought of it as a “joke”, though I felt on some level even as I said it that it was mean. Then I thought I would never have shouted like that at a white man, and was ashamed. I apologised later, surprising him. He had thought nothing of it.

When she talked of being invisible, I was tempted to give a consoling hug, but forebore- we agreed after that such a hug would be disrespectful. It means people will still ignore you, but you can’t complain about it any more.

I find another woman attractive. I find myself acting coquettish or shyly girlish with her. Even though I have transitioned I don’t believe in transsexuals, not really. My femininity surprises me.

It is Me, I decide. I will go with it. It is against the rules I was taught, for men, and I am judging myself, and I am untangled enough to accept.

I talk to another small woman used to being invisible, and she impresses me. She values me, too, calling me highly intelligent and caring. And a man I asked if he respected me seven years ago finally said that he does. These people value me. I am once again with a tribe I might sojourn in, and it feels good.

“Do you have wise people you can see at home?” she asks. Well. It’s complicated.

Talk to me.

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