An unworthy Deacon, named for the brother of God: James, striving to "work out his salvation with fear and trembling" within the Tradition (paradosis) of the Eastern Orthodox Faith. It is a strange and marvelous journey, and I am accompanied by the fourfold fruit of my fecundity. My wife, the Matushka or Diaconissa Sophia, is my beloved partner in the pursuit of Theosis, and she ranks me in every way.
The other night my Ugandan housemates and I were sitting out on the veranda sipping our beers when the other male housemate began to talk about how a Ugandan acquaintance had, in the course of their walking together, taken his hand and held it. Apparently, men holding hands is not at all uncommon here (or so I am told - I've not really noticed) and has nothing at all to do with sexuality. He noted how cool he thought this was that men are able to express their feelings with one another through touch and that it need not be misconstrued or laden with sexual overtones. I noted how we in the Orthodox Church will from time to time greet one another with euro style kisses on each others' cheeks, but for most folks even this can be uncomfortable. I, however, not thinking myself a slave to my cultural biases figured that if I was ever called upon to hold a man's hand in Uganda I should have no problem doing so.
As fate would have it, I would have the chance to prove my hip worldliness the very next day when Patrick (one of the gentlemen here I am training), who I know very well, took up my hand while we were returning from lunch. While I didn't freak out or pull immediately away, alarm bells definitely began ringing in my head and everything within me suggested that this was not right. I was completely conscious of it all - including the conversation from the night before - and yet I could not handle it. After a moment I came up with some cause for breaking our hands free from each other and said nothing about it, believing that my discomfort with it was entirely well disguised.
Culture is a funny thing. In meeting people from foreign lands in America, we generally are very tolerant of their cultural peculiarities (in fact I receive training from work on how to do so) and so really I shouldn't feel bad about getting weirded out about holding hands with another adult man. (Honestly I kept thinking about that scene from "Planes, Trains, and Automobiles" when it was discovered that the two pillows were not pillows.) Fact is, where I come from if you are not my wife or one of my kids, we don't hold hands. And that's okay...but sometimes it is nice to challenge our cultural boundaries. It has a way of calling us out of one context and into another and if we are wise we may be able to see things more clearly in doing so. Don't get me wrong...I'm not a cultural relativist.
Anyway, it was definitely experience I was glad to have. None-the-less, I won't be reaching out to hold the hands of my guy friends once I get home...so fret not.
I saw it all the time in China 20 years ago, as well as men draping their arms over each other's shoulders while walking. Male/femaile contact? Nonexistent. Just a cultural norm which had everything to do with friendship and nothing more; didn't bother me after awhile.
I think your observations highlight how repressed our own culture is with respects to touching. Hetero guys wouldn't be caught dead holding the hand of another guy let alone violate personal space by standing too close. Schools are moving to ban any touching between teachers and students, as well as student to student touching. And yet, popular culture hyper charged with sexuality and the viewing of porn via the internet is off the charts.
Maybe it's because I'm in NYC, maybe it's because I spent so much time in Hollywood and the arts, maybe it's because I'm married to a ballet/modern choreographer, or maybe it's just because I was a big man-slut myself, but I don't think our culture is all that repressed.
I think this is also true if one looks at sexual norms and mores across a variety of cultures over the centuries. One will always be able to find anomalies and one will always find exceptions to those norms and mores or facts about what 'also' happened behind closed doors, but most cultures have looked more like today's Muslim or Mennonite worlds than like today's US or the West.
I always think of that scene at the end of Shakespeare's Henry V where the Kind is attempting to woo the Princess of France, in broken French - with her responding in broken English. He attempts to seal their wooing with a kiss only to have Kate respond "that 'tis not the fashion in France for the maids to kiss before they are married" - which is highly ironic, hilarious even, given the subsequent history of sexuality in France and the French court. And yet, it was more in keeping with the values and beliefs of society.
Even today, the way in which the sexes in traditional cultures - even traditional sub-cultures in the West - interact is far more 'repressed' than mainstream America. I think we are simply not as overly, freely, sinfully sexualized as has become the secular rage in the West. Are we perfect? No. But, even the term 'repressed' assumes a whole range of ideas and values about what it means to be human that are at odds with Orthodox Christianity.
I would also note that men and women of today are also far freer in their expression of affection with others than was previous generations in the West. I grew up hearing old German couples refer to each other as Herr and Frau X, because first names in public were too 'familiar', and I think many an older man felt far less affection from their fathers than do men of my generation - or than does my son.