A Show of Hands

The New York Times had an article by Stephanie Rosenbloom called “A Show of Hands” on 10/5/06 (it can no longer be read online without subscribing).
Some of what she said is that “Nowadays hand-holding has attracted the interest of scientists who are studying its effects on the body and mind. And sexual health educators say it is a much-discussed topic among gay students who now publicly hold hands more than ever before but still must consider whether they want to declare their sexuality.”
In many cultures, same sex hand holding and even arms around bodies as you walk together is not considered sexual at all. In our culture, for a parent and child to hold hands is a normal occurrence – at what age does this begin to be seen as a sexual couple, rather than a couple of another type?
When my niece was 11 or 12, she and I were out for the evening at a holiday festival gathering. We were enjoying our time together and holding hands as we left the event. A woman entering the event saw us walk out together (neither of us had ever seen this woman before), holding hands (my niece did look older than 12), and this woman took a deep breath and said “Oh, wow, you are lesbians, aren’t you?” My niece dropped my hand, I laughed and said “No, sorry, just loving relatives.” and we walked away. My niece has never held my hand again. That was a loss to me and I think probably to her also.
It is now more than 10 years later and my niece is a lesbian. She has a wonderful partner and is living a good life. I wonder how that incident impacted her thinking, if at all. We don’t talk about things like that, so I won’t ask her. But, I can ask you. Who do you hold hands with? Who sees you? Is it always sexual?


  1. I hold hands with my husband, my daughter, my mother, my father-in-law, my uncle, and Karen. I don’t think of it as sexual. I just like holding hands.

  2. Thanks for sharing that article – I always read the NY Times but must have missed this one. I liked the article but enjoyed your personal account even more – the stranger who made that comment seems quite ignorant and insensitive – I am surprised a stranger could make such a dumb comment and its unfortunate that your niece seemed to be affected by it when she removed her hands from yours after the woman said that.

    As for me, I hold hands with my friend in public and in private.

    I don’t feel it is sexual at all even though she is of the opposite sex. Its our way of being affectionate without having to be sexual – not sure if that made sense.

  3. My daughter & I still hold hands; not always, but sometimes, at home or just walking down the street. She is 21 and neither of us are lesbians. It is just a subconcious gesture of love to remind each other that we are never alone. It empowers us. How sad that the insensitivity of a total stranger should have the power to take that away from you & your niece.

  4. In my opinion, nothing short of some kind of penetration (and even then…) is always sexual. So, holding hands, hugging, moderate kissing also can be nonsexual. I guess the issue might be if initmacy, an expression of connection between people, is always sexual, and again I’ve to go with no. Something being sexual depends on the individuals involved, in my opinion.

    Being an hetrosexual adult male, I’m only comfortable, really, holding hands with female peers and in theory I’d be fine with holding my younger niece’s or younger nephew’s hand, but I’ve not any of those just yet. I haven’t the slightest idea the exact age that holding hands with relatives becomes questionable. But I do think it’s more about the age the young adolencent acts because again, sexuality is about what the individual’s thoughts. A mentally handicap 20 yaer old who has the mind of an 8year old holding the hand of their 45 year old parent isn’t very questionable, but if I were still holding hands with my parents in the same way I did when I was 8, I’d understand that coming off as questionable because of the sexual experience I’ve had being my age.

    I can understand the idea that when two people of seemingly relatively equal age are holding hands there is an assumed attraction between the people, and that assumption alone isn’t all that negative.

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