We hold hands.
Samantha: He did something to me that was so perverse! Okay, I'm just going to say it. He tried to hold my hand.
Carrie: You mean to tell me that Smith is a hand-holder? And to think he once served us food.
There ya go. It is shocking thing I know. Oh well, in our defense holding hands helps us fall sleep. I've blogged before wondering how it would be to live in an environment where we could do this openly in public. Now we are living in such a place and see gay couples all around us holding hands. However, it's been hard for us to overcome years of lessons about avoiding this seemingly innocent act. All of our lives, we've learned not to stand too close, act too friendly and certainly never to hold hands!
Earlier this year the New York Times published an interesting article about handholding. What I thought was most interesting was a study, conducted by the University of Virginia, that examined "the impact of human touch, particularly how it affects the neural response to threatening situations." James Coan, an assistant professor of psychology and the neuroscience graduate program at the University of Virginia stated, “We found that holding the hand of really anyone, it made your brain work a little less hard in coping,” adding that any sort of hand-holding relaxes the body.
The study, which will be published this year in the journal Psychological Science, involved 16 couples who were rated happily married based on the answers in a detailed questionnaire. The wives were put inside an M.R.I. machine and were told they were to receive mild electric shocks to an ankle. Brain images showed that regions of the women’s brains that had been activated in anticipation of pain and that were associated with negative emotions decreased when their husbands reached into the machine.
“With spouse hand-holding you also stop looking for other signs of danger and you start feeling more secure,” said Dr. Coan, who led the study. “If you’re in a really strong relationship, you may be protected against pain and stress hormones that may have a damaging effect on your immune system.”
Handholding has many implications for gay couples. First of all, just as in straight couples, it defines your sexual orientation. At the same time, it shows that you are part of a couple. Because of these two factors, this leaves gay couples vunerable to verbal abuse or worse, violence. The irony is the study above shows that for many couples, holding hands makes them feel safer. In addition, a gay hospital patient often has to deal with his/her illness, temporary or terminal, without the comfort of their partner to hold their hand. (Gay partners are not allowed entry because they are not recognized as "next of kin.")
This brings me to the other night, when we were walking to the subway. I had rushed out of the apartment, forgetting my gloves and it was freezing cold. My partner grabbed my hand and held it inside his coat pocket and we walked like that all the way to the station. I know it's not much, but for us, it's a start.