This post of Gretchen Leary's made me wonder again about touch and aspies. People on the autism disorder spectrum are often thought of as being averse to touch, but I've been struck by how many massage therapists (I among them) seem to be over on the aspie side of things: a bit geeky, fascinated by how things work, a bit literal minded, a bit peculiar. When we're lonely we're often very literal about it – we want a hug. You don't need to chatter to us or make promises you might or might not keep; you don't need to map out a whole delusory universe in which we understand each other perfectly and our thoughts will never diverge. Just a hug, huh? It doesn't need to go anywhere or mean anything beyond itself. It's not a binding declaration. It's just a fierce, loving clasp, a spark of the sun brought to earth, a moment of communion.
For ordinary folk, it must be a little weird and a little unnerving. We may hug slightly too hard, slightly too long. It means both more and less to us than it does to you. The Christian mystic Charles Williams was notorious for hugs like these.
People – especially people who don't get it – will tend to construe them as sexual, or perhaps as displaced sexuality. And of course they can be infused with sexuality, like anything else. But it's as often the other way around: for us sex is often a displaced ecstatic hug. Eros in this case is just one more of those metaphorical interpretations, replete with social obligations, with which neurotypicals love to saddle raw experience.
God, how I craved touch, when I was growing up! My mother was very physically affectionate, but no one else I knew was. I used to love going to the dentist, the doctor, the barber: I was going to to be touched by someone else!
I knew, of course, that this was very wrong and weird of me, that it was something to be ashamed of. I would not have dreamed of telling anyone.
Then came the revolution, the hippies, the alternative free school, encounter groups, all that. I was delighted. Everybody was like me! it was just that some people were, like, way uptight, man. And my mission in life would be to get them to hang loose and be cool.
It turned out not quite to be as I imagined, and over the years I gradually faced the fact that I really was weird, even if I needn't think of myself as wrong. Not everyone needed a hug as much as I did. Some people didn't need them at all. To some people hugs were inseparable from a whole encrypted universe of meanings and repercussions, which was downright scary. I grew somewhat wary of touch, though I craved it as much as ever.
Well. You know how the story ends. Fast forward to to seven years ago, when I finally filled out the application to massage school that had been stowed in my sock drawer for years. I was too old, too fat, too male to be a massage therapist: I knew that. I knew I'd never be able to make a living at it. I knew I'd be a pariah at school. I knew it would be one more stupid mistake in a life of stupid mistakes: but I did it anyway.
Once again, happily this time, I was very very wrong.