CUDDLING WITH STRANGERS by Rex LeBeau
by Rex LeBeau
Terror. Sheer terror. “What the hell am I doing?... Is this really what I need right now?... I don’t deserve any of it.” Those thoughts coursed through my mind as I stood in a pair of gym shorts and a T-shirt, trying not to tremble, as I stared down at the mattress in the middle of the floor. Salt lamps cast a warm light on the brown sheet covering the mattress. Fluffy pillows lined the head, stacked against the wall of the small room, part of a yoga studio in western Massachusetts. I hadn’t come there for yoga. I suffered from touch deprivation – skin hunger, a lack of human contact. I came to this small room to have a session with a professional cuddler. I’ve always had a complicated relationship with touch. When I was a little kid I hated being obligated to hug relatives, and found most physical contact gross and uncomfortable. I grew out of that touchaversion, thankfully, and now enjoy hugging friends. As an adult, hugs are the only regular contact I receive. I’m somewhere on the asexual spectrum, where I feel attraction but not very often, and my affections have never been reciprocated. My entire 33 years of gray ace (asexual) life lacked any romantic partner. Being nonbinary adds its own complications. Most of our vocabulary to describe sexual attraction falls within the gender binary; a lesbian is a woman who is attracted to women, for example. Words used to describe attraction to those outside the binary quickly leave our dictionary
behind: scoliosexal, gynesexual, polysexual. Never mind the fact that most online dating sites don’t accommodate anything more complicated than a man seeking another man, with no place for a nonbinary person in the algorithm. Being shy and offthe-charts introverted contribute to my chronically single status. Our culture associates touch with sexual attraction. We keep most people at bay with a handshake. Hugging usually involves some distance. Just look at the bro hug – a manifestation of fear of two men connecting. Our culture has a history of justifying touch when it’s based on desire, like going in for a kiss without asking or tapping that hot ass. For LGBTQ people, internalized shame and the systematic trauma of living in a cishet (both cisgender and heterosexual) privileged society can lead to isolating behaviors. Rejection from friends and family after coming out can ostracize LGBTQ people, denying them the human contact they need. Touch is necessary for survival, as many studies show, but the way our culture operates leaves some people deprived or violated. Up until this point in my life, I coped with the lack of touch by not thinking about it. I stayed busy, hung out with friends, caught a hug here and there. I had genderaffirming top surgery last February with an excellent surgeon in New York. Having a flat chest felt amazing; the recovery went smoothly, and I experienced no pain.
Options | February / March 2019
Then, to make a very long story short, everything went to hell with my job, leading to health insurance woes and a legal battle concerning workplace discrimination. This all proved too much to handle and I sank into a deep depression. I lay in bed crying, wishing I were dead or that there was someone who could hold me. Add a double dose of why-am-I-singleno-one-will-ever-love-me-there-must-besomething-wrong-with-me. The touch deprivation demon sank its teeth into my mind and wouldn’t let go. Maybe this was a solvable problem. Maybe I could find a platonic cuddle buddy if I could figure out how to ask for it. I explained my dilemma a to a worldly-wise friend and she suggested I find someone who does professional cuddling. “Wait. That’s a thing?” A quick Google search yielded the affirmative. I could pay someone to hold me without having to deal with possible romantic or sexual situations or relationships. I just had to choose the provider. I looked at a couple different platforms, picked the one with the style that matched my needs, then looked at provider profiles. Rhode Island didn’t have much to offer, so I looked at Massachusetts’ choices. I loved my new flat chest and did not want any awkwardness around my unconventional body. While the agency that trains the providers explicitly stated that all people are welcome clients regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, the profile
Options Magazine Feb/March 2019 Rhode Island's LGBTQ News Source since 1981 36 pages www.optionsri.org