May 12, 2022

Pandemic Reflections: My Body Is My Own

The last two years have been so crazy, we're still making sense of them. They probably won't make much sense to any of us for decades to come. 

But very early on, it became clear that one of the silver linings of mandated "social distancing" was the fact that I got my personal space back. 

Personal space has always been important to me. It's not that I never wanted to be touched—it's just that I wanted the chance to be able to choose

When you're a kid, everybody thinks they can pat your head and pinch your cheeks, give you a hug, and make you sit on their laps. Even if there's nothing inherently wrong or creepy about their behavior, it's not always wanted. But when you're a kid, you don't always have a choice. 

As I got older, I became very physically close with certain platonic friends—snuggling with them in front of a movie, even sometimes sharing a bed during a sleepover. 

But not with everybody. 

I've always hated crowds, because I can't stand not having that buffer zone around my body. And then of course getting rubbed up against on the NYC subway made that about a million times worse. After that happened twice to me in my early 20s, I started showing up late to work every morning, just to miss that morning rush (and the crush of bodies around me).

Working in the music biz for over 15 years, I was constantly faced with unsolicited touches by strangers—in the best-case scenario, shaking hands, but in the worst-case scenario, being spun around like a rag doll by my bosses' best friend and business consultant in front of a room full of people. 

When I complained about that one, I was told, "He's just being friendly."

It didn't stop there. In fact, I was so hell-bent on succeeding in my position, I put up with business contacts who'd approach me with open arms and say, "Aw come on, I'm a hugger!" 

It wasn't sexual. But it was invasive. And it was unwanted. 

Working from home as a full-time writer over the course of the last six and a half years has eliminated the opportunity for a lot of that to happen. And for that, I'm supremely grateful. But in social circles, before the pandemic hit, I'd still come across someone who'd want to peck me hello on the lips or who'd linger a little too long while rubbing my arms. 

I never wanted to be rude. I'd just put up with it. Or I'd try to subtly inch away, hoping they'd take a hint.

The great thing about the terrifying infectiousness of COVID-19 was that all personal contact was shut down—governmentally

Sure, it was hard to not be touched by another human being for months. (Thank goodness for my cat.) I remember the first time a bartender accidentally brushed against my finger, the first time a fellow restaurant patron on an outdoor patio gestured towards me and hit my elbow. 

It was startling, but it felt good.

Far enough into things, there were certain people that I decided to break the rules with—certain people who I held so dear, it was worth the risk of catching the virus just so I could be close with them. 

And for a long time, people respected that. "Are we hugging yet?" became a common question, and it went both ways. I asked it, and I was asked. 

Elbow bumps and booty bumps became code gestures for "I still love you, but I'm being careful."

At some point—and I'm not sure exactly when—that all changed. Handshakes became routine again. 

Worse yet, hugs were offered—with the expectation (though, thankfully, not the insistence) that they'd be returned. 

"I'm not ready yet," I'd say. 

"I'm not doing that yet," I'd say. 

Except I'd only say those things to some people. Other people, I'd been hugging practically all along. 

Listen, I know those people I'm hugging are hugging other people—other people who aren't being careful and who might transmit an infection to me through my friend.

But, like I said, in special cases, I've decided it's worth it. 

I'm reticent, however, to let just anybody start hugging me. Hugs are special to me. I don't want to give them away so easily. 

And after a couple of years of having control over my body, I don't want to relinquish that. I keep wanting to shout, "My body is my own!"

I'm surprised at how many people aren't OK with that. 

Case in point: I was with a group of people today, and one person there—someone I'm not close with, someone I've never spent one-on-one time with or even talked on the phone with—offered me a hug and came at me with arms outstretched. When I gave her one of my usual lines, she backed off and said, "Fine. That's the last time I'll ever ask."

I'm not sorry, and I refuse to say I'm sorry. Sure, I feel kind of bad that she was so insulted. But I'm insulted that she refuses to respect my personal space—or that she feels entitled to such an intimate expression of affection (one I don't really feel that she's earned).

It shouldn't matter that she's seen me hug other people we both know. 

Her response just reaffirmed the fact that I did the right thing. I don't want to hug a person who would act that way when I choose not to hug them. 

It felt a little bit like when you don't give your phone number to a guy who asks for it—and then he calls you an ugly bitch and tells you he was never interested in you in the first place.

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