Parting Glances: A Hug At A Time



By Charles Alexander
Originally printed 11/5/2015 (Issue 2345 - Between The Lines News)

I don't recall growing up as a kid and getting or giving hugs. Hugs were not part of my 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, bi -- didn't demonstrate affection in public. Period.

Not only was hugging a no-no for gays and lesbians outside of gay bars, but holding hands was out of the question. Same-sex dancing in a bar was wishful thinking.

(You could be ticketed, possibly arrested, for dancing together, even if you were a professional dance instructor. And God knows many a fox-trotting, samba-stepping Arthur Murray dance instructor was gay.)

As far as personal 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 last August in Chicago for Halstead Market Days I hugged nine people at the landmark Water Tower, greeting each, "Thanks, you've just hugged a gay person."

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 critical time in my life.

In 1982, following alcohol rehab, I started attending sobriety meetings, and on Sundays retreating for non-drinking social regrouping and much-needed sanity to Metropolitan Community Church of Detroit, when it was then located in Central Methodist Church near Grand Circus Park.

For weeks I sat in the last row of the 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.

On Mondays I began another uncertain work week, determined -- muddled though my thinking was from years of martini meddling -- to make things better. Hopefully. One day at a time.

One Sunday before I could dart out, an usher stood between me and a side-door exit, introduced himself, invited me to stay for coffee.

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.) I was inwardly touched. Outwardly moved. Just when I needed someone to reaffirm my long-lost worth. My nearly forgotten human 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 last August -- 34 years sober -- to find a group of young people -- probably from the Moody Bible Institute -- holding inviting signs at Chicago's Water Tower corner. "WE GIVE HUGS!"

I couldn't resist. I came out to them joyfully. Life's too short. Hug someone today.

Charles@pridesource.com
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