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Dear Izzy,

This is the most awkward thing so I’m hoping you’ll be able to help me out. I’m a dude, straight last time I checked. I have a lot of gay friends whose company I enjoy. I think they’re cool and smart, and so with it. But here’s the thing—I find them too touchy-feely. I’m pretty sure it doesn’t mean anything, but there are days when they’re so aggressive. Little innocent touches would suddenly turn into lingering, uh, touches. It’s making me a little uncomfortable; actually, a lot uncomfortable. Even my girlfriend is beginning to give me the side eye. I know, I know I should be man enough to handle this, but I don’t want them to think I’m being a discriminatory wuss. Surely, there must be a way around this?

Stiff and straight

Dear SS,

I can tell you’re trying to come from a good place. But let me ask you a question: If your friends were women, would you be second guessing yourself?

You mention your girlfriend and I’d imagine you’d get on this quick if it were other women overstepping their boundaries. I appreciate you being honest about your fear of being called discriminatory, but it shows me that you seem to hold your gay friends to a different standard as everyone else. That’s why your girlfriend is giving you the side eye.

Your friends should be able to understand that you have boundaries and it has nothing to do with them being gay. You have to tell them this. This is not a matter of being man enough, it’s simple human decency. If they are decent people, they will understand and respect your boundaries.

Where are your fears coming from? Are you afraid that they’ll take offense because you won’t let them touch you in a way that makes you uncomfortable? Say this out loud and listen to how ridiculous this premise sounds.

If they make a big deal out of this, that makes them awful people–the same way it makes a woman awful if she keeps touching you inappropriately.

SS, what makes a person discriminatory is when he or she treats others differently based on their gender. Don’t be that guy. Examine your motives and your biases and learn to keep yourself in check. You have some serious issues if you find yourself more lenient on girls who do this to you.

I also get where you’re coming from. You don’t want to antagonize and hurt people’s feelings. You don’t bring down the hammer on people you intend to stay friends with. This is why it feels awkward having to deal with these situations. It would be a lot easier to tell people to fuck off–because it wouldn’t have to involve navigating through the intricacies of relationships you want to preserve.

When my daughter was born, I was terrified of people touching her, typical noob parent paranoia. I was afraid of lipstick stains, cloying perfume, and yes, diseases clinging to my kid. Unfortunately for me, most of the people who were eager to plant kisses on my baby were relatives.

I had a similar dilemma. I needed to figure out a way to tell them to back off without hurting their feelings. When she was an infant, I cited my fear of sickness and people were able to understand.

When my daughter got a bit older, I knew the germ phobe excuse wasn’t always going to keep them away. So I taught her how to fist bump. She extends her fist when she wants to greet you. People find it charming and since they’re still able to interact with her in a cute way, we can dodge kisses.

As the gets older, this gesture also reinforces a lesson I want her to learn: that she is not obliged to kiss or hug anyone she doesn’t want to, no matter who it is. It’s not disrespect. It’s honoring her agency as a person. It’s teaching her that she doesn’t have to use her body to please other people. She gives fist bumps or beautiful eyes. Everyone’s happy.

This was something I learned from other parents but it’s also rooted in child psychology. To cease negative behavior, try to find a positive one to replace it with.

As you ask an end to the touchy-feely behavior, you can still communicate your desire for a friendship with more platonic gestures like shoulder pats and high fives.

I hope it all works out. Aspire to be a good human, not just a good man.

Love,
Izzy

Illustrations: Madel Crudo

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