Handshake or Hug?

  
Okay, I got the keyboard squared away. Sometimes if I’ll just hang with something I’m more tech savvy than I think. 
So yeah, yesterday– this is going to be quick because I have one more “exercise” to do before I go to sleep and I’m going to workout early tomorrow with or without a partner. So yesterday, when I was in Birmingham, this cashier was hitting on me. She wasn’t being gross or anything in fact it was sort of sweet. She was a very attractive women, about a foot shorter than me with skin the color and smoothness of a mocha latte. Her voice was something right out of a Betty Boop cartoon. Like I said, she wasn’t being lecherous or anything, but she wanted me to know that it would have been okay if I asked her out. I didn’t even get to the gay part; I just let her know how much I appreciated it and left it at that. As I was walking out of the store, she yelled after me, “Hey Mister, do you mind if I give you a hug?” You know damn well what the answer was and she complimented me on my hugging prowess. As I drove back toward Walker County, I thought, wouldn’t it be nice if it was always like that– I mean, when somebody finds somebody else attractive that they could be so forthcoming (and respectful) about it? What would it look like if I could say those things to a straight man without being afraid he would freak out? I actually do have a few straight guy friends who would be totally cool about being complimented by a gay guy in that way; most of my straight buddies actually and most of my guy friends are straight. I reckon things are changing for the better. Let’s see what we can do to create the world to be like that, whatd’ya say? 
I think I’ve mentioned this to you before but I used to always “queen it up” a little bit or come out and say I was gay whenever I would compliment a woman in public. I didn’t want her to feel any distress because I know that it’s not always been a positive experience for women when men compliment them in public. (Often, I realize, that this is because of the way that compliment comes making it much more like abuse than a compliment. There is the issue, too, of the historical direction of oppression of females by males. That’s no small thing and has an impact on such scenarios.) Anyway, I’d like to be able to compliment a female without always having to come out to her as gay and without her thinking I want to rape her (no matter how skillfully and/or politely I frame it). Who knows if that can happen in my lifetime– the damage may have been too great for too long. I hope not. I’m going to keep trying. 
Anyway, on the drive home I was on the phone to my longtime friend Susie Knoll (I worship her). I was telling her about the sweet experience with the cashier in Birmingham. It lead to a long and thoughtful conversation around gender issues and sex. She and I have had many of these great conversations over the years. I’m so blessed to have powerful, smart female friends with whom I can discuss these things. They are patient with me as I try to uncover, discover, and discard my own misogyny where it lurks. Any man who tells you he has no misogyny running anywhere in the system hasn’t done his work (in my humble opinion) and is therefore not as ready as he might be to step and be an ally to women in their overcoming of the oppression. That’s what I want to be, a good ally to women. Part of that, as I’ve come to understand, is not showing up to tell women how I’m going to be a good ally to them and how we’re going to “fix” things for them. It’s far better for me, being a man and therefore on the injurious side of the power disparity over the centuries, to simply say to my female friends, “I want to be an ally to you in the way that feels safe and useful to you.” I have come to this understanding through the generous and patient counsel of some incredible women including Jen Hogg, Freddie Harris, Andrea Prine, Jennifer Plumb, many others, and of course it all began with one of the strongest women I ever have known, my mom. 
My conversation with Susie got me all the way to Parrish and into Son’s Supermarket to pick up some spaghetti sauce and milk. I told Susie I’d have to call her back because I was about to check out and I have a firm policy against being on the cell phone when I go through the checkout line. Whether they actually care or not, I want the cashier to know I acknowledge that it there is a real human being there helping me with my groceries. I’ve seen too many people treat them like they’re not even there. “Be the change” and all. So I told Susie I’d call her back and she, in great Susie form, said, “Don’t forget to hug her!” (referencing my story of the Birmingham cashier who hugged me). I laughed and when the young woman finished ringing me up, I said to her, “My friend on the phone just now suggested that I offer you a hug.” I could tell she was taken aback a bit. She smiled and said, “How ’bout a handshake?” 
Now see, there is something very important here that might go unnoticed but this is a part of the story that I particularly like: she did not rebuff my kindness but she also didn’t do something she was uncomfortable with. She shook my hand kindly and there was as much warmth in her rural Southern, Christian, teenage girl, handshake as I could hope for. She got to feel safe and appreciated; I didn’t end up feeling like my overture of friendliness had been rejected. Everybody got something and no one had to sacrifice their feeling of safety. 
There’s so much bad news out there today. Often when issues of gender or sex or sexuality or race are mentioned, its only about the horrific ways we’re still getting it wrong. I’d like to point out that some of the time we get it very right. It just rarely makes the news. 
See y’all tomorrow. 

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