Arts & Entertainment
A Hug In Time
By Charles Alexander
Originally printed 10/17/2013 (Issue 2142 - Between The Lines News)
I don't recall growing up as a kid and getting or giving hugs. Hugs were not part of my straight-laced family life.
I also don't recall as a teenager getting or giving hugs to other gay teenagers. Back in the late 1950s men -- straight, gay, so-called bi -- didn't demonstrate affection in public. Period.
Not only was hugging a no-no for gays and lesbians, but holding hands was out of the question. Same-sex dancing in a bar was wishful thinking. (You could be arrested for dancing together, even if you were an Arthur Murray's dance instructor; and God knows many a fox-trotting Arthur Murray dance instructor was gay.)
As far as hugging goes, I've come a long, long way. I now hug freely. I now hug happily. I even comfortably hug straight women. (You've got to be kidding, Mary!) And just recently in Chicago for Halstead Market Days I hugged nine people at the Water Tower, greeting each, "Thanks, you've just hugged a gay person."
For today's gay, lesbian and transgendered teens, hugging's no big deal. For these uncloseted kids hugging is a way of bonding and celebrating rainbow personhood, youth, coming out experiences. (Caution is for school settings, especially if bullying is not checked by teachers and administrators.)
Yes, odd as it seems today, more than half of my adult life was hug free. My friends didn't hug; or if they did it was so rare that no one thought about it one way or the other. I came to the act of hugging -- embarrassed, cautiously, shyly -- born out of a desperate need to reach out at a crucial time in my life.
In 1982, following alcohol rehab, I started attending AA meetings, and on Sundays retreating for safety and much-needed sanity to Metropolitan Community Church of Detroit, when it was then located in Central Methodist Church near Grand Circus Park.
It was important for survival to stay sober. One day at a time.
For weeks I sat in the last row of the Central Methodist Church sanctuary. I listened inattentively. I observed vacantly. Shaky. Another week ended, but also began with a touchstone to my long-neglected spiritual past. I spoke to no one. I left quickly. Embarrassed. Ashamed.
On Mondays I began another uncertain work week, determined -- muddled though my thinking was from years of martini meddling -- to make things different. One Sunday before I could dart out, an usher stood between me and the side-door exit, introduced himself, invited me to stay for coffee. And touching me gently he added, "Here. I think you need a hug. May I? It doesn't hurt, you know." (Oh, if he only knew.)
Looking back at his act of understanding kindness -- he was in recovery himself I later learned -- I was inwardly touched, outwardly moved. Just then I needed someone to reaffirm my long-lost worth and nearly forgotten dignity. "I'm Jimmy Carroll. In the future, you just might be a little more comfortable if you sat closer to our family of friends. We're here for each other."
Yes, it pleased me recently to find a group of people, young and old, holding inviting signs at Chicago's Water Tower corner. "WE GIVE HUGS!" They embraced me wholeheartedly. I couldn't resist. I came out to them joyfully. Life's too short. Hug someone today!