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  • Writer's pictureHina Siddiqui

Ways to Touch: Thoughts on Platonic Intimacy

Now listen closely children, this is important.

Romance and sex are NOT the sole provenances of intimacy.

You do not need to be someone’s significant other to touch, caress, hug and kiss (yes, even kiss).

You do not even need to want to get into their pants or build a family (or build a bear, if you are thus inclined) with them.

Romance and sexual attraction have nothing to do with sensual comfort. I mean, they could, but it’s irrelevant to the point I am trying to make.

Which simply put, is that there are ways to touch that are platonic, authentic and that is fumken enough.

Yes, you may quote me on this.

Please do note, that the principles of communicating boundaries and consent apply to all kinds of touch - you don’t get to pat someone’s butt without their sayso just because you have no lewd intention towards them - so don’t even go there.

The month of February is difficult for a lot of people. Especially for those that fall on the aroace spectrum. For those who participate in the consumerist philosophies of dedicating days to saints who may not even have given a damn about the actualities of love and devotion. For those who are outliers to the socio-cultural mould of "successful personhood". Those who buy into the idea that a fulfilled life is determined by one’s ability to partner (often monogamously and romanti-sexually) with another person. And for those who confuse the concept of care with the illusion of being in love. ( I know that’s a lot of controversial statements, and yes, I will fight you on those if you care to engage with an open mind.)

In short...

Love does not equal romance.

It doesn't equal a lot of things.

If you want to read more about my thoughts and research on that, you can start with my essay: Love is not a Perpetual Motion Machine.

And in order to celebrate platonic intimacy, I put together a list of prompts for this month - 14 of them. And then I wrote a ficlet for each of those that depicts a way to touch. I also used neopronouns - because there is no real reason for language to be as gendered as it is in today’s day and age - and after years of convent education and being lauded for my privilege and abilities with English, I need the damn practice.

So have a read and hopefully, have some comfort. And if you feel like it, go ahead, use these prompts and come up with your own ways to touch.

And who knows, maybe next year, I will throw this open in advance and Ways to Touch™ will become as big as all those October-November month-long events. What? A person can dream, okay!

1. A Kiss on the Forehead

It is the first day after the incident. This past week, they spent a lot of time talking about what had happened. Reiterating safety. Reminding him that he was brave and good. Reassuring him that none of what happened had been his fault. The bus stops in front of them. They kiss him on the forehead before sending him off to school.

2. Looping Pinkies

They had grown up together. Best friends for life. Even after she moved away for her job. Even after he moved in with his partner. Now, they walk down the shore, half-listening to the excitement of his children, the casual banter of their spouses, the sound of the waves breaking at their feet.

As always, little fingers intertwined. Smiling. Because some things never change.

3. Leaning on

The performance had begun, the audience was already warmed up and laughing. Ze stood in the first wing, just outside the light line, mouthing lines. She leaned against zirs shoulder, effectively blocking the blast of frigidity from the air-conditioning. The first scene change was fifteen minutes away. And until then the backstage crew could relax.

4. Boop

Kisses are for losers. So when ve returns from the podium, holding vis trophy up high, vis best friend gives ver a boop on the nose instead.

5. Hand to Lower Back

He has been sitting cross-legged since the dawn of time. Or so it seems. The pandit keeps chanting. The yajna smoke is burning his eyes. The chudidar is cutting off circulation to his feet. And his back is aching something crazy. He tries to unknot it without looking like a restless child.

The slow hand that comes to rest against his lower back almost makes him whine with relief. His sister always was observant. Slowly, she rubs some of the discomfort away. And he manages not to offend the gods.

6. Rubbing Knuckles across the Jaw

The appendix is a highly illogical organ. One second you are enjoying a run with your dog, the next it sends you writhing on the grass unable to even cuss correctly with the pain you feel. Ae doesn’t remember the ride to the hospital or the surgery that follows. When ae wakes up, the world doesn’t make sense. Ae inevitably ends up making a fool of aerself in front of the nurse, demanding to be unleashed and howling, quite literally, for aer beloved puppy who was abandoned to the cruel streets just because of a dysfunctional organ was being moody. The nurse smiles, reaches across the sidebar and gently rubs their knuckles across aer jaw.

“Your mum took the dog, now get some rest kiddo.”

7. Back to Back

Her partner only took this assignment to prove a point - that just because an officer has one teeny-tiny hyperglycemic episode, it doesn’t mean they can’t tough it out on guard duty. Only problem is, she is the one beginning to flag. Even though she’s never needed drugs to keep her blood-sugar behaved. God, she could use a chair. Or even a conveniently placed boulder. At this point, she’d even take something she could rest against. But the stupid parade ground has nothing! Just as she is about to give up, she feels her partner press his back against hers. Though he’s smaller in size, he is solid. Must be all that light exercise. She lets him take her weight. Back to back, she closes her eyes and sighs in relief.

“North perimeter clear,” he says.

8. Hand on Thigh

It’s a matter of texture. Denim is generally too coarse for her to wear, but it provides an excellent stimming surface in certain situations. She starts at the knee. Palm flat, she runs her left hand up his thigh. Once at the hip, she lifts and comes back to start again at the knee. Slow, measured, even strokes. With the other hand, she works on the presentation, correcting every single tedious error the new hire made.

“Who even uses clipart anymore?” she grouses.

He smirks at her. Then steals a strawberry from her fruit salad before logging into his video call. The juveniles the next table over titter at some nonsense. She presses harder on the next pass up his thigh.

Just another day at the office.

9. Playing with Hair

One does not simply touch a stranger’s hair. One may touch a friend or relative’s hair if permission to do so is sought and granted enthusiastically. One may frequently touch another’s hair only when such contact has been happily accepted and expected over time. Fae went through all these stages and several years before it became a daily ritual to set aside ten minutes between breakfast and work every day. Simply, for fae to play with her hair.

10. Arm across Chest

They could hear the wolves coming for them. Bleeding and battered, they’d still give the creatures one heck of a fight before inevitably succumbing to teeth and claw. The only thing stopping them from leaping forward was the arm held across their chest. The one with the sparkling eyes held them back with just that touch. The touch that quietly said, I’ll protect you this time.

11. Pets

“Pet me! Pet me! Pet me!” she squeals.

Holding up her finished art project, eyes gleaming with pride at the convoluted confection of glitter, newspaper bits and macaroni.

The teacher looks up at her and smiles. He did ask for something bold and original. That piece was certainly both of those and more. And she had even managed to keep her hair out of the glue this time. The teacher crosses over and bends down to run his hands over her head, lavishing the finished work with praise.

The rest of the class cheers and then diligently gets back to completing their own pieces, eager to get their heads pet.

12. Belly rub

Xe lies on the couch wishing that the idiot in the kitchen would STOP MAKING THAT MUCH NOISE! No. Cancel that. If xe is wishing, xe would wish that xyrs boss did not send the bloody intern to check in on xem. It’s not like xe hadn’t fallen sick before! A particularly vicious crash has xem groaning as xe drags xemself off the couch to investigate whatever new hell the intern has unleashed.

“What are you doing?” xe demands.

The young man straightens up from lifting whatever he had dropped with a start. There is a half-plucked chicken on the counter. The sight of it makes xyrs bile rise. Gagging xe turns away. Almost immediately, there is a hand rubbing at xyrs stomach. It makes the nausea calm down. Somewhat.

“I’m making soup,” the intern says with a smile.

13. Palm to Forehead

Playing on the field is a lot tougher in one’s thirties. One can’t just grab a ball and show up like one used to when one was a child. One has to make an event of it. One has to book the field out in advance. Then one has to check in with the rest of the bunch. Confirm and reconfirm times and dates. And send out google invitations to make sure 8 am, Sunday is marked on everyone’s calendar for Football at the Park. One is all stretched and warmed-up by the time the others start arriving. Greetings, banter, catching’s-up ensue. That’s fine, one accounted for this delay. By the time the two sides are formed and everyone is practicing passes, one is getting excited. So excited in fact that one almost misses her leaning against the goalpost instead of getting warmed up with everyone else. One runs up.

See the bloodshot eyes. The pale skin. The listless stance.

“Are you alright?” one asks

“I took a pill, I should be fine in a minute,” she responds with a weak smile.

One lightly places one’s palm against her forehead. As expected, it’s warm.

“Why did you come if you were unwell!” one scolds.

“You’ve been planning this for a month. I didn’t want to let you down.”

One rolls one’s eyes. The game starts as one escorts her back home.

14. Cuddle

Everyone had shown up wet. And the rain showed no signs of relenting. The chill and the damp was making everyone groggy. Coffee was in short supply. Maggi was being arranged though. So instead of doing what they had met up to do, everyone just puddled on to the rug, fed each other noodles and cuddled for the rest of the night.

There were a few pages that I kept open while writing these pieces that were great references for the conjugation, philosophies and cultural nuance of neopronouns. I am linking them in here, so do go check them out. And tell me about your experience using them in your writing or daily conversation.

The New York Times Guide to Neopronouns that gives a certain amount of history, a lot of cultural context to neopronoun usage and explains the relevance of neopronouns to neurodivergent, non-binary and fandom communities. Also, it has some great art by neopronoun users. which has a lot of resources for those looking to understand how to use neopronouns and evolve interpersonal language

I also came across interesting perspectives on love and loveless identities while doing some casual research for this piece, which I think are worth delving into:

K. A. Cook's (ze/hir/hirs - who literally coined the term Loveless Aro) essay I Am Not Voldemort: An Essay on Love and Amatonormativity on hirs website Aro Worlds is a great place to start questioning everything you know.

And, if you are looking for the basics on loveless labels, do check out the LGBTA wiki for a primer on Loveless Aromanticism.


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