A reflection by Steve Gorman, PCUSA Liaison to the Synod of the Nile
The very title of this sounds so provocative and gay in the West. The result in our culture: affection among men is seen as effeminate, perhapshomosexual. I have even been asked this by visitors about "all these homos in Egypt." Touching, holding hands, walking arm-in-arm and kissing on the cheeks is absolutely everyday in the Middle East. (I am avoiding the word "normal" for it quickly means that doing anything differently is "abnormal.")
My experience. I meet a male who is new to me. We kiss on both cheeks saying "Hello" and "How are you?" Those I know, this is even more frequent and a regular way of showing attention and affection. Riding on the Metro. If it is crowded, which it normally is, you are pressed into a group of men who make no effort to "protect" their physical bubble. We are altogether leaning into the movement of the train. Sitting? If the seats are full you are touching arms and legs with those on either side of you. Walking. Take the man's arm and he pulls in, holding you closer. Hands? Men take hands while walking or in conversation.
Living in a country of 90 million on 7% of the land, people are used to being close - very close. Touching between women, between men and parents with their children is as regular as a handshake in the West. Talking together standing close, man touch my chest (heart) and shoulders, my knees and pat the sides of my legs. It all says, "Pay attention" or "I have your attention" and, usually, "we are friends and I like you." Nothing more.
How human to touch. How necessary from our very beginning as infants. All this physical contact has become a regular part of my daily existence, sitting, standing, walking, riding the Metro, etc. This touching is, well, touching because it means we are together and paying attention to one another.
For me, this is a much warmer society than feeling you always need to "keep your distance." It just feels, now, regular and the everyday pattern of behavior among male friends in the Middle East.
But when I return to Cleveland and the US this will all stop. I do not want my touching to be misread. Sadly, I will keep my distance. It's our loss.