Wednesday, November 16, 2011


I’ve been thinking a lot about touch.

When I was in undergrad I really craved touch, but had no way to get it. Touch was either something that was fleeting and affectionate, or something that led to sexuality. To desire nonsexual touch in a relationship was either creepy (if the relationship wasn’t sexual) or inadequete (if it was.) I saw my desire for touch as toxic, something that could poison my connections with the people that I cared about, and so I kept it far removed. It waited there, unfulfilled and unconnected from any one person, while my brain raced trying to figure out when initiating touch was ok.

Eventually I did figure that out. In my experience touch helps relationships when it expresses and reinforces emotion, it should occur after some activity (a conversation, a particularely powerul dance party) that generates emotion that needs to be expressed. But that’s not my piont.

A few months ago, I was hanging out with an Ace on a college campus who was exactly where I used to be. I asked him how it felt, and he said that he just couldn’t envision finding a relationship where he could have the kind of touch he wanted. He had that same look of humble sadness and fear that I used to have.

My point is that, as the Ace community, we should really get on this.

I started doing an exercise during my talks where I ask people to come up with as many words as they can for distinct forms of cuddling. I get about three: spooning, hugging, and nuzzling. I ask them to compare that to the number of words that they know for different types of sex.

Three words. There are a few more if you really dig for them, but not many. Without more words, how are we supposed to talk about the kind of touch we want? How are we supposed to know what kind of touch is POSSIBLE for us to want? How are we supposed to have meaningful discussions about consent? (Part of why I felt unsafe expressing a desire for touch was that I couldn’t ask people where their barriers were.) How are we supposed to name the kinds of relationships that involve the kind of touch that we want.

Sexual people have lovers, one night stands, fuckbuddies, partners, and books and books filled with positions and tactics that they can’t seem to get enough of. We have, in a few short years, done a fantastic job building an open-source taxonomy to describe the kinds of emotional intimacy that we form. We have biromantics, squishes, squashes, intimate communities, asexiness and ever-present cake. It’s time we spent a little more time talking about touch.

I’m looking at you, Tumblr.