The recent Disney release of a live action Beauty and the Beast has also brought masculinity to the forefront of my mind. Ed Vitagliano of the American Family Association wrote an article on March 13 entitled "Protect your children from Disney's gay agenda!", complete with exclamation point to drive home the seriousness of the message. Many Christians will undoubtedly boycott this movie on the warning of Vitiagliano and others with the same message. That choice is each person and each parents prerogative.
I, for one, don't know if Disney was promoting a "gay agenda" with Beauty and the Beast. There are indications that it may have been intended and, if I turn my head and squint my eyes, I can see that. (I will leave it to the pundits, who perceive it's necessity, to wrestle with that question). But as I came away from the movie yesterday (which I loved), I found myself wrestling with another question regarding masculinity. My question was not, "is Disney promoting the 'gay agenda'?", but "what ever became of nonsexual masculine intimacy?"
In today's American culture, men equate physical touch with sexuality. Any suggestion of intimate physical touch--in other words anything except a punch on the shoulder or a high five--suggests sexual desire. To hug another man, face to face, for more than a second, raises questions about motive and repressed homoerotic desire.
American masculinity often eschews deep relationship with women and especially with men. Emotions, apart from anger, are to be quickly suppressed or denied. Men are to be virile, and sexually interested, noticing, and perhaps commenting upon or even having sex with, as many women as possible. Men are supposed to seek power and control. Women and other men are to be used, not loved. In other words, American culture, and too often the American church, wants us to be more like the brutish Gaston from Disney's original Beauty and the Beast than like the sensitive Lafou from the 2017 version.
American men are loners.
But they feel so alone.
Beginning at an early age, boys receive the message that to be masculine is to be tough. Physical touch between fathers and sons all but disappears as they age, if it was ever there to begin with. The judges on the playground court convict boys as gay and sentence them to social isolation if they act contrary to the unwritten rules for masculine touch. Fighting is okay; hugging is not. Confusion ensues and the potential effects are legion.
This macho masculinity is a more recent phenomenon, I believe driven in some ways by a media culture that promotes a strong, even pathologic, male independence that eschews all need for affection and especially physical touch. It hasn't always been that way. Even in the Bible, we see evidences of physical intimacy between men that would make many of us modern men squirm.
- When Jacob sees his brother Esau, whom he has not seen for a long time, he runs to him, falls on his neck, and kisses him as they both weep. (Genesis 33)
- As Paul left the Ephesians and would not see them again, they wept and embraced and kissed him. (Acts 20)
- Though he didn't need to, Jesus often touched the people he healed.
- In the New Testament, believers greeted one another with a kiss.
- On his last night before the crucifixion, Jesus had an intimate dinner with his disciples that involved not only foot washing, but John leaning back into Jesus at the table. (John 13)
I don't fully know what recovering biblical masculine intimacy looks like. I do know that one of the most healing moments in my life involved an intimate and extended hug from a man. So in closing, I offer a few thoughts:
- American men and boys need to be seen, valued, and yes, even touched.
- Explore your own assumptions about touch. As you read through this essay, what stirs in you? Are you questioning my agenda, or perhaps my sexuality?
- If you don't know where to start, dads you can begin by hugging your sons (and your daughters). Many adults never knew loving touch from their parents growing up.
- Don't equate touch with sex. They are not the same thing.
- Men, seek intimate relationships with a few other men.
- Consider reading this article that a male friend of mine posted: The Lack of Gentle Platonic Touch in Men's Lives is a Killer.
Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him.--Luke 5:13