It’s not really a secret, but there’s a certain tactic I employ at Jacks events that I learned while waiting tables for 20 years. It’s the “safe touch” tactic.
It works like this. When a good waiter is experiencing a warm exchange with a table, when he likes the people and can tell they like him (or her), they will—very briefly, very sparingly—touch the customer.
It’s a somewhat risky move, since there are many establishments with explicit codes of formality, but it does something magical to the customer. It is like a hot injection of human warmth through a simple application of a friendly hand on the shoulder in passing. You may have experienced this yourself and not noticed its effect, Indeed, it is intended to have a profound effect while not drawing attention to itself.
What is happening is this: whether the server’s motivations are sincere or ulterior (and it’s often a mix of both), he is giving a sip of cool water to a person who has just crawled in from the desert. He is satisfying a thirst so primal, but so long endured as to have been forgotten.
Here’s what I do: When I enter the playspace for Jacks events, I make a point of connecting above the waist, making eye contact, smiling warmly, and touching men on the shoulder in greeting. I give them the touch they crave; simple, human touch. What I am doing is helping them to be present, welcoming them as complete people, not just penises and desires for penis. I am making an overtly friendly gesture, establishing friendly touch as a cultural norm in the club.
I have the power to do this effectively, because everyone knows I am the leader of the club. Regardless of my objective value as a leader, I understand that we are animals that form tribal groups, and that all groups reflect the leaders in a multitude of ways. This is true of all human groups. Every business, club, sports team, political party… all reflect the leader. I know that, and I try to constructively build an honorable community by treating every individual with honor.
I consciously affirm each person I encounter with my attention, my generosity, my willingness to assert reasonable boundaries with kindness and compassion, my willingness to open myself up and share freely in a safe space. I do this especially with new members and, I hope, that expression of human values is reflected among the rest of the club membership to the point that it becomes a self-sustaining culture. A community.
I think that’s a better context for friendly sexual play than one that focuses on power, domination, submission, intoxication, desperation, fantasy, delusion and illusion. I see those destructive aspects of gay sexual culture as products of our persistent, internalized shame about our sexual natures, not only as men attracted to men but as the long-suppressed, horny primates we all are in our overly-civilized world.
We all need to be touched, especially when we are infants, but we never completely lose the need for simple physical contact. We’ve been communicating through touch far longer than we have through speech. Before we enter the circle of men and our focus turns powerfully to our central organs of pleasure, I see it useful to conjure the complete man through friendly touch, to bring forth the whole person by simply smiling, looking in the eyes and reassuring that they are viewed as okay, worthy of connection with their fellows, through the most fundamental connection: a friendly touch.
Writer, singer, baker, Mac geek, production artist, “daddy” and the founder/manager of Rain City Jacks, a non-profit J/O club in Seattle, Washington.