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Hug/cuddle group for gay single men arrives in Chicago
by Dwight Okita

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I have a body pillow that I love to cuddle at night. Its gray fabric is covered with white stars. But there are some nights the body pillow alone just doesn't cut it.

I recently decided to start a Meetup group for single, gay men that focuses on hugging and cuddling. Most of the cuddle groups I'd heard of were for men and women, and I wasn't sure how a gay man might fit into such an equation. Truth is, I've been single longer than I've been plural and missed having someone to snuggle. I was looking for my tribe. One of our group guidelines is: "All humans deserve to be cuddled, whether partnered or not." I also knew that cuddling helps release oxytocin, a powerful hormone that gives a person a sense of connectedness and reduces anxiety. Oxytocin is released 20 seconds into a hug—but the problem is most hugs only last two to four seconds!

Our first man-hug Meetup took place at Center on Halsted in November, and was a nurturing mix of diverse music, a safe space and 13 men in search of tenderness and intimacy in a platonic setting. I recruited Charles Gamble as my co-organizer to help plan things because I could see he shared a similar passion. His Meetup experience had been with a lucid dreaming group; my Meetup experience had been with an anxiety support group. He's African-American; I'm Asian-American. I liked the diversity of all that.

Said one member, Edward, of our hug-centric November event: "I thought it was a great meetup. It was well organized and the guys were very nice. I thought it was a great way to bond and share energy. I felt happy and relaxed when I left." For the record, cuddle parties seem to have started in New York by two relationship coaches in 2004. And from that beginning, a kind of cuddle movement has sprung up over the past decade.

Dec. 12 cuddle event

The next event is Saturday, Dec. 12, 2-4 p.m., and will focus on cuddling. Charles and I are diving head-first into planning the event. This time, we will be in the North Center neighborhood at the lovely Rast Dance Studio. Attendees will wear clothes they can cuddle in, a blanket and a pillow, if desired. One must RSVP and pay $10 online in advance, rather than just show up.

Music will be played from my Bose bluetooth speaker connected to my iPod, which allows me to create unique playlists—from an orchestral piece called "Intro," by Camera Obscura, to Elton John's classic song of inter-galactic yearning ,"Rocket Man." With the blankets laid out on the wooden floor and the music playing, it may seem like a kind of slumber party for grown-ups. The $10 fee helps cover costs of space rental, music downloading, etc. Don't miss out on the Dec. 12 event or you'll have to wait a long winter month for our next gathering.

From our first event, we've seen how an hour and a half of human touch can give new meaning to the term "contact high." I tell people to think of this as "communal touch" rather than romantic touch ( though they may feel similar at times ). But if you're looking for a "happy ending," you will be disappointed.

Some other cuddle activities of interest

On Sunday, Dec. 6, our sister group Truthful Touch Cuddle Party will hold a screening in Rogers Park of a new documentary on the growth of the cuddle movement at 12:30-5 p.m. The event includes both the film and a shortened cuddle party, with men and women of various orientations. The fee to attend the whole event is $35.

Also there is a new startup website called . They have certified cuddlers in Chicago and New York. The program is geared for those who seek one-on-one cuddling rather than a group. The cuddlists listed on the website come from various backgrounds and professions, including social workers, artists, yoga teachers and many more.

So, dear readers: We look forward to seeing your shining faces in just more than a week. You must be at least 18 years of age, and a single gay man. No drama or sexual harassment allowed. Big hugs and cuddles to you all.

For more information, visit . Dwight Okita is the meetup organizer of the Hug & Cuddle Group for Single Gay Men, and is the author of The Prospect of My Arrival, as well as Crossing with the Light.

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