Far from just warm and fuzzy, hugging is commonly rich with personal revelations regarding our sexual and gender identity, as well as sexual equality.
What got me to thinking about this? I was hanging out recently with this girl I used to date before I transitioned. We had a few drinks, shared a few laughs and caught up on old times. It was nice. Then when the time came to say goodnight, she moved in to make out with me. And that's when she cast me in my prior sex role - without even a second thought.
When I say "cast me in my prior sex role," I'm not referring to the kiss. I mean, I am in fact attracted to men and generally consider myself hetero, but that doesn't mean I have an aversion to kissing another woman. So the kissing was no biggie. It was the hugging part that got to me. In fact, it caused me to abruptly end the embrace due to my overwhelming feeling of awkwardness.
The reason? She automatically threw her arms around my neck. And that meant that mine wound up around her waist. So, there we were, the two of us locked in a hugging position normally assumed by a couple who relates to one another based on a traditional male-female dynamic.
Afterward, I began thinking about this incident, and how and why it seems that most self-identified straight women primarily automatically reach for the neck when romantically embracing a guy, based on what I've seen. Even in mainstream art and media, hugs traditionally are depicted with the woman's arms around her male partner's neck, particularly when a romantic kiss is involved. Anecdotally, wikiHow directs sweethearts similarly. See "Lover Hug" under "Step 2, Embrace." Excerpt from the hugging instructions:
Males: Carefully sliding your hands down from her shoulders, put them on her waist and slide them around her lower back ... Females: Extend your arms toward him and hold them around his neck and shoulders.
The fact that the position is so common and unquestioned makes me think it's due to the ingrained perception that men are the dominant sex by default. It seems that many women themselves still believe this at some deep-rooted level, so they tend to reach instinctively for the neck.
Reaching for the neck is in fact loaded with meaning, in my opinion, with the significance being that women's bodies generally tend to be much more objectified than men's. So when a woman (or someone who takes on a traditional female role in a relationship) reaches up to place her arms around her partner's neck, she is leaving her body open and available to her partner's touch -- surrendering it to her partner's hands. Also, if she has to stand on her tippy toes for it, she is that much more in a vulnerable -- or submissive -- position.
I will be the first to admit that I am primarily a traditional girl, and I like it when my arms are around a guy's neck, and his arms around my waist. And I know my friend well enough to say that she likely feels the same way. As far as the hug that we personally shared, she evidently didn't realize that we were essentially two women in each other's arms. If she actually had been fully aware of me in my new, female sex/gender role, I think things would have went differently.
Which leads me to this thought: I think queer couples actually put more thought and sensitivity into how they hug. Probably because they tend to be more in touch with who they are gender- and sexual identity-wise. I mean, it frequently takes a good degree of soul searching to discover, accept and assert yourself as gay, lesbian, bi, trans or queer. Hence, I think LGBTQ individuals are more in touch with and mindful of their partners' needs, because they know their partners have gone through a similar process and likely are very aware and open about what they need and want. I could be flat-out wrong, but that's my take, anyway.
Traditional heterosexual couples, meanwhile, are more apt to follow the cue of popular culture and social expectation when embracing in a romantic context, it seems. And it also seems like it doesn't matter who has the dominant role in the relationship. If deep down inside, a woman in a traditional male-female relationship feels like she has the dominant role over her male mate, I think she is still highly unlikely to part with convention and ask her guy to place his arms around her neck instead of around her waist. And vice versa.