I come from a family that was not very tactile at all, so for most of my life have not defaulted to touch as a way of communicating with other people. Cats yes, people, not so much. Thanks to some random accidents of history and some misfortune, I’ve had trouble differentiating between affection and sexual expression as well. That’s a long and complicated story in its own right, and something for another day. For the greater part, my bodily contact with other humans has been shaped by what they deem normal and acceptable, and it’s only recently that I’ve started to think about who and how I want to be in the world, as a potentially tactile physical presence.
There is so much scope for self expression and communication in touch. Who am I? How am I in situations of bodily intimacy, from the cool handshake to the deep hug and beyond? Who do I want to share that with? I’ve spent a number of years learning how to say no, and to hold my boundaries, and that’s been a very good process for me. I have come to recognise that I hate unmeant, casual and empty gestures of affection. ‘Social affection’ can so often be about enforcing norms and expressing power – particularly the power to make someone else accept your kisses, embraces, and bodily presence. Above all else in this arena, I hate being pounced on and kissed by people who mean nothing, but want to appear open, expressive, passionate, or whatever the hell it is they think this gets them.
If someone is going to touch me, I like to have a warning, and the space to decide whether or not that’s welcome. I’ve got a lot better at holding that line, moving away when it seems threatened, and choosing the company of people who will give me space to say no in the first place.
I also want to be able to say yes. In holding the space of mostly saying no, I’ve had the scope to figure out more about who I am, and what I want for me. I have the capacity to be an intensely emotional, passionate, deeply affectionate and physically expressive sort of person. I don’t want to offer that where it’s not wanted. Up until recently, I’ve seen this side of myself as something likely to be an affront, something to hide and apologise for. Over the last few weeks I’ve learned what an enormous difference it makes dealing with people who welcome me as I am and reciprocate. I’ve known and understood this for years in the context of my marriage, but finding out how the same things could work with true comrades, is a whole other process.
To be swept up by someone who makes no secret of adoring me in return. A hand on an arm, lightly but sincerely from someone who is expressing something important. Being able to trust enough to ask ‘may I kiss you?’ and having that answered with exactly what I was looking for.
I know that the phrase ‘in perfect love and perfect trust’ is used by some Witches or Wiccans in a ritual context, as an expression of how you should be entering sacred space. As a Druid, I’ve been taught to think of each person (human and not human) as having a kind of personal sacred space around them. I do not go casually into the sacred space that is proximity with anyone else. I’m starting to realise what it might mean to do that in perfect love and perfect trust, and it changes who I can be in the world, how I think of myself as a physical presence, and the scope I have to say yes, as well as no.